A Deep Investigation into the Safety and Performance of the Deep Squat: Part 4 – Hip Mobility and Squat Depth

By djpope

November 29, 2015

deep squat, flexibility, hip health, mobility, squat

SFMA hip flexionOur favorite joint to talk about during the squat is surely the hips.  They’re a huge player in a successful squat and a big area that requires addressing when our squats look sub-par.  In order to complete a deep squat properly, we’re going to require quite a bit of what’s called hip flexion (or the ability to touch your thighs to your chest while in supine).

Several articles ago we spoke about why our athletes compensate in the squat.  When athletes lack hip flexion a couple things tend to happen:

  1. Compensatory lumbar flexion or low back rounding
  2. Hip external rotation and horizontal abduction of the hip
    • In this case our athletes compensate with a wider stance and increased toe out (Remember the example above in the supine knees to chest test where our athletes can get the knees to the chest with exaggerated knee out position but not with the knees closer together).  You see this scenario a lot in individuals that lack pure hip flexion and internal rotation motion.
  3. Hip internal rotation and adduction of the hip
    • This scenario happens frequently in individuals that like a wide stance during the squat (Think powerlifting, low bar back squat).  These athletes struggle with knee position during a squat (particularly at the bottom of the squat).  Tight adductors would create some compensatory knee-in at the bottom of the squat as those muscles are being lengthened with increased hip flexion

Remember that all of the above issues can occur from motor control and stability issues as well as true “stiffness” problems.  When addressing these problems we should first clear up any existing stiffness issues and then reinforce with motor control exercises and exercise practice.

First off, how do we assess the hip into deep flexion?  Easy, lie on your back and have someone bring your knees to your chest (See above image).  Can you get your thigh to your chest without rounding the lower back?  Do you have to really externally rotate the hips (Get more space between your knees) to get your thighs to touch?  I typically allow the athlete the same amount of space between the knees and feet that the athlete should be using during their squat stance (i.e. try to mimic their squat stance while on their back).

Often times you’ll see one side worse then the other, which is definitely something you’ll want to keep in mind when applying a corrective strategy.  Having the thighs touch the chest without low back rounding and coming off of the table is our goal from a hip flexion and deep squat perspective.

So, if we can’t complete the above test properly, which areas do we need to start thinking about addressing?

  • Musculature: Adductors and Glutes (Posterior Hip Musculature)
  • Posterior Hip Capsule / Joint restrictions
  • Our Bones
  • Motor Control Issues

In the videos below we address the adductors, glutes, posterior hip muscles, joint restrictions as well as motor control issues.  Here are some of my favorite hip mobility exercises with explanations presented in our continuum format:

Here are some of Dave’s favorite drills with a few extra hip internal rotation, extension and motor control drills added into the mix:

As shown in the 1st video, we should be testing our squat prior to starting these exercises to see if we’re actually making a change during these drills.  You can also use the same knee to chest while lying on your back as a re-test (Probably the more appropriate test given we are not addressing the ankle).

Remember the continuum concept here.  We’re interested in creating more mobility and then reinforcing it with motor control drills.  Also keep in mind that some of these hip internal rotation drills can help improve deep hip flexion as well.  So get out there assess and work on those squats.

Now, you probably noticed we didn’t talk about boney restrictions at the hip.  Well that’s because discussing boney structure is opening a big old bag of worms.  I saved this for next week.

Get ready for hip worms, 

Dan Pope DPT, CSCS

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