The other day, I was doing a Foundations with a new client, Dana H. She’s strong and otherwise mobile, so I was initially perplexed as to why she was unable to do a good air squat. She couldn’t get below parallel, nor could she keep her torso upright. After a few minutes, we discovered that her issue was simply immobility of the ankles.
With her permission, I took some pictures to demonstrate the mobility issue, and a quick fix for athletes with poor ankle dorsiflexion.
In Figure 1, we can see the angle of ankle flexion, angle A1 is about 90°. This prevents her from flexing her knees, angle B1, more than about 90° as well, and causes her to have to lean very far forward to keep her balance. We can see that the angle of her torso to the ground is about 30°.
In Figure 2, I’ve had her put her heels on a couple of plates, elevating her heels by about an inch and creating a “heel cheat.” You can see that the ankle angle, A2 is still about 90°. But angle B2 is much more acute, enabling her to get her femurs parallel to the ground, and also improving her torso posture by 20°.
The “heel cheat” is one of the purposes of lifting shoes; they let you keep your torso angle while getting a deep squat without having extremely flexible ankles. Now, I’m not suggesting that you neglect your ankle mobility by using lifting shoes or by standing on plates all the time, but until you develop good ankle flexibility you might want to try these quick-fixes to get the most out of squatting. Ideally, you’ll be doing ankle mobility work every day until you can squat without extra assistance.