4 Squat Variations You Should Be Using If You Lack Mobility

The ability to squat is one of the most basic human movements. Unfortunately as we age, experience injury, and spend long periods of time sitting at desks and in the car our body loses the valuable mobility that it once had. Loss of mobility in our hips, spine, shoulders, or ankles can make the back squat a difficult and awkward exercise to perform. And despite all of these common mobility restrictions the back squat is still one of the most frequently performed exercises in the gym.

Because a mobility restriction makes back squatting a higher risk exercise to perform does this mean that squatting is something you should be avoiding when in the gym? Not necessarily. Like most other exercises you can always make modifications in order to make it safer and more effective for you.

This article will show you four ways to modify the squat that’ll allow you to safely execute the lift and reap all of the lower body strength benefits while you are concurrently working on improving your mobility.

1. Mobility Restriction: Thoracic Spine & Shoulders

 Left: Limited Active Shoulder External Rotation. Here back squatting isn't the best option because shoulder doesn't have enough mobility to safely hold loaded barbell.  Right: Good Active Shoulder External Rotation. 

Left: Limited Active Shoulder External Rotation. Here back squatting isn't the best option because shoulder doesn't have enough mobility to safely hold loaded barbell.

Right: Good Active Shoulder External Rotation. 

Fix: Safety Bar Squats

The safety squat bar (SSB) rests on your back like a barbell, but instead of having to lock your shoulders into an externally rotated position on the bar the SSB allows you to grab onto handles by your side. This makes back squatting feasible for those who lack mobility in their thoracic spine and shoulders. 

2. Mobility Restriction: Lumbar Spine & Rib Cage

 Here you can see Dan has a hard time controlling preventing his ribs from flaring and his lower back from extending too much. 

Here you can see Dan has a hard time controlling preventing his ribs from flaring and his lower back from extending too much. 

Fix: Front Squat

Because the weight is now loaded in the front of your body it forces you to better engage your anterior core and control your spine and rib cage position. This works well for those learning to squat with a barbell who have trouble preventing their lower back from arching when working out. 

3. Mobility Restriction: Hips

 Limited hip flexion and internal rotation can making achieving depth difficult when squatting. 

Limited hip flexion and internal rotation can making achieving depth difficult when squatting. 

Fix: Box Squat

Using a box when squatting will intentionally limit your range of motion. This can be helpful for those who lack hip mobility and tend to lose good position with their hips and spine when squatting too deep. 

Mobility Restriction: Ankles

 Limited ankle dorsiflexion can also make achieving depth difficult when squatting. 

Limited ankle dorsiflexion can also make achieving depth difficult when squatting. 

Fix: Add Heel Lift

Incorporating a heel lift into your squat eliminates your ankle from having to dorsiflex during the squat. This tends to clean up squat technique a ton for those with ankle mobility issues. 

In Summary

Back squatting is a great lift to build lower body size, strength, and power, but it does have a much higher technical demand than most think, especially for those who lack mobility in certain areas. Because of this the back squat shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all of lower body exercises. Understand where you lack mobility and train hard to improve it, but while doing so learn how to best modify the squat based on your mobility to continue training the lift while staying healthy!

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