When it comes to mobility challenges, it seems like mastering the flat-footed squat is one of the trickiest. Progress can be frustratingly slow, and even if we do get our heels down, we often find ourselves uncomfortably hunched in the bottom position. Rarely is it a position we’d consider rest. In this article I want to introduce you to some of the most effective tools to unlock freedom in your squat. 


Keep in mind: there’s no overnight fix. But if you commit to the process of freeing up your joints, you’ll find that the benefits extend far beyond gains in the gym.


What Makes a Squat?

The full squat involves big time flexion of the hips, knees, and ankles. I’m going to avoid the mobility versus stability debate and focus on the deeper issue: control over range of motion. You need to hone in on your body’s ability to organize its various components within a given task.


Breaking Muscle Shop

Let’s take a look at some common sticking points. Test and retest your squat before and after each exercise to notice any differences in quality of movement.


flat-footed squat

An essential piece of finding your perfect squat is patience. [Photo courtesy of Chandler Stevens]


Build From the Ground Up

Even if you swing kettlebells barefoot and nail those single-leg balances in yoga class, you likely have an issue with your feet. Your feet are designed to be some of the most sensory-rich pieces of real estate in the body. But we give them a bland diet of sensations and situations. We lock them in shoes, train on flat floors, and generally give them the perfect conditions to atrophy. 


An athletic foundation is built on your feet, and these lessons don’t go away. Controlling your toes is a crucial step. Start with this:


  1. Press your outside four toes down, and slowly attempt to raise just the big toe on each foot. Don’t be surprised if you encounter cramping in the foot. That’s a sign from the nervous system that you haven’t mastered control in this movement.  Perform this 12-15 times.
  2. Reverse the pattern. Press the big toes down into the ground and attempt to raise the lateral four toes. Even if you can’t yet lift those toes, focus on the intention of lifting them to rebuild your neuromuscular control. Aim for 12-15 repetitions.


Retest your squat now that you’ve found your footing. Has anything shifted?


Controlling Dorsiflexion

Moving up the chain we often see problems with dorsiflexion (i.e., bringing your foot towards your shin). This is especially problematic with ladies who wear heels all day, but many men’s shoes have excess heel as well. This chronic plantarflexion position eventually limits your ability to dorsiflex entirely.


Step one is to gradually switch up your footwear. Think wide toe box, and zero drop heel to ball. But we also need to regain control over our ankles’ ability to dorsiflex. Here’s where the elevated step drill comes in:


  1. Place a rolled up towel or mat beneath the ball of one foot, high enough that you feel a slight stretch along the back of that leg. Maintain your footing and stand in this stretched position for 15-30 seconds.
  2. Gradually begin to press the ball of your lead foot into the towel, as if you were going to smoosh it into the ground.  Actively resist the stretch from step 1. Don’t raise the heel. Hold this tension around 30 seconds.
  3. Actively deepen your stretch, driving your knee forward toward (or over) the ball of your foot. Think of pulling your foot up toward your shin. Expect to cramp a bit. Hold this tension 15-30 seconds.
  4. Maintain position (stay tall with your heel on the ground) and begin to step your trail leg forward and back over the towel. Slow, controlled steps are key.


Repeat on the other leg, then check in with your squat once again.


Controlling Hips and Knees In Deep Flexion

The triple flexion position is one we rarely find ourselves in, so our neural pathways for this movement may be a bit fuzzy. In the video below I’ll walk you through an interesting way to explore variety within this position, helping you find new options for organizing flexion.



Unraveling the Spine

Spinal movement is a fundamental prerequisite of our more advanced patterns of movement. But too often we have sticky spines, and we lack control over its huge range of motion. This is where the spinal wave comes in. Think of it as the slowest cat-cow of your life.


  1. Begin on hands and knees.
  2. Gradually begin to reach your tail to the sky, arching your back one vertebra at a time.
  3. Slowly move from the lumbar spine to the thoracic, moving with control.
  4. Let the movement grow to encompass your neck as well, ending in a global spinal extension. Try to hold in this final position for 15-30 seconds, engaging through the back-body.


Honing in on your ability to control spinal movement will help you find more uprightness in your full squat, making it a much more comfortable place to be.


There’s No Perfect Squat

We’ll never find a perfect movement. What you can do instead is optimize your ability to control a wide variety of positions. This is where MovNat ground drills excel. By exploring novel positions and joint configurations you can learn how to better manage your body. The following video demonstrates some common ground patterns that can help you rewire your squat.



Putting It Together

When it comes to mastering the flat-footed squat, you have an entire system to organize. You need to have adequate control over your range of motion, and this requires a two-pronged approach. Address the musculoskeletal system along with the nervous system if you truly wish to find freedom in any of your movements, including the flat-footed squat.


This article was originally published on Breaking Muscle US.


If your hips need even more work, try these on for size:

5 Stretches to Regain Hip Mobility and Flexibility

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