Updated: Oct 21, 2020
To start, I want to debunk a big misconception about squatting. Some people believe that the knee shouldn't go past the ankle because it is bad for your knee. Where exactly did this myth come from? Well, when the knee goes too far forward, it can sometimes cause pain in those with patellofemoral joint dysfunction. This is the joint between your patella or kneecap and femur or thigh bone. While this is true, we shouldn't make up rules for squatting that only apply to those with this type of dysfunction.
It is true that we don't want to bend forward with only the knee, like the picture on the left, and not use our hips. But we also don't want to avoid anterior knee translation altogether, like the picture on the right.
If anterior translation of the knee is something you've been avoiding, stop reading this blog right now, go to your local squat rack, and let your knee go forward. Simple as that. Now you can squat deeper.
However, for most people, it's not as simple as a quick change in form.
The joint that most commonly limits a deep squat is the ankle. Limited ankle dorsiflexion keeps the knee from translating anteriorly and also forces the center of gravity backward which can actually create more knee pain. Squatting deeply also prevents injury. Besides the current research that actually says that a deeper squat decreases joint stress, a deep squat can prevent the build-up of excess stress throughout the body. If you want to read more about that research, check it out here.
A squat requires adequate range of motion in every joint from the head down to the toe, and if one joint is limited, there will be compensations elsewhere. And that is how you get injured. So, making sure that you have adequate ankle motion actually prevents injury elsewhere in the body such as the knees, hips, and back.
So let's talk about what dorsiflexion is and how to get more of it.
Dorsiflexion is the motion of the ankle as the top of the foot goes closer to the tibia or shin bone. The opposite motion is called plantarflexion. In a squat, the motion of the ankle is dorsiflexion.
Sometimes an ankle may look like it is dorsiflexing during a squat, but actually, the foot is pronating because the ankle is restricted. This means that the arch of the foot collapses in order to achieve what looks like dorsiflexion instead of the ankle itself performing the motion.
So, while we do these exercises, we will be using a small hand towel to protect our arch when necessary.
Here are the 5 exercises to improve ankle dorsiflexion in squatting
Foam Rolling of the Calves
Body Weight Squat
So there you have it! Continue to work on ankle mobility and strengthening to get that range of motion. Keep in mind that the ankle is only one of the joints that needs to be optimized in order to perform a perfect squat.
Dr. Joey Luo