Back in the Rack: Squat Supple

Last post, I introduced a new rule of thumb for prepping yourself for a squat program: for every 1 month you haven’t been squatting, allot 1 week for reintroduction of squat training before you officially get started.

Regardless of the timeline, all returning squatters need to accomplish the same things during this transition phase:

Recapture ROM and tissue compliance

Reintroduce eccentric loading and DOMS

Reactivate neural pathways and maximize motor recruitment.

Today, I will be discussing the first item on the list: recapturing range of motion and tissue compliance. This will likely be the first task you ought to tackle. For example, if you tried to focus on neural recruitment first, your stiff, unused tissues could be handicapping you by forcing you to adopt undesirable motor patterns.

For this type of session (Recapturing ROM and tissue compliance) I’ll usually attempt the following:

  • Decrease sympathetic tone

  • Address major adhesions and scar tissue

  • Mobilize key joints

  • Integrate today’s goals into a squat

Part A is a fancy way of saying, “relax.” Lay on your back and do some slow, easy, deep belly breathing. Try to keep your chest still, and breath into your hips and lower back. This is going to tone down any chronic tension you might have in your muscles, and make your body more receptive to the skills and drills ahead of you.

Part B is necessary because if you haven’t been squatting your butt off for the past couple months, you’ve probably been sitting around on your butt. Sounds similar, but there’s a big difference! The squat requires great flexibility… the squat develops great flexibility… and taking a layoff from squatting will lead to a great loss in flexibility.

This part will be largely individualized. One thing I like to do is lay on my back and stick a lacrosse or tennis ball in my butt cheek. Not doing anything special, just shifting around and contracting my glute against the ball. The glutes are one of the first muscles to lose length and tone, and this will help wake them up.

I also like to use “voodoo floss” above and below the knee. The calves, hamstrings, quads, adductors, and IT band all pass through this general area. One might refer to it as a “mobility Mecca.” So, by wrapping some stretchy rubber tightly around these origins and insertions, and doing some gentle walking and knee bending, I get to rip and shear a bunch of key tissues that might be stiff and dusty.

Part C usually comes down to the ankles and hips. I mobilize my ankles so that my knees can track properly over my feet. I mobilize my hips so that this tracking can happen in an outwards direction, instead of straight forward, which allows me to squat in a more upright fashion.

For the ankles, I’ll usually attach a resistance band to the bottom of a rack. What I want to create is a situation where the band is looped around my ankle, very close to the top of the foot, and the band is stretched backwards behind me. This will pull the shinbone back off the foot and create a bit of space to allow for desirable ROM in the ankle. I’ll do some gentle dorsiflexion, trying to push the shin forward over the foot.

For the hips, there are all sorts of fancy drills. To keep things simple, I’ll usually lay down on my back, with my butt against a wall, and my legs straight up the wall. This may take a bit of shrimping and scooching to get in a good position: I want my spine in a straight line and my shoulders flat behind me. From here, I just let my heels slide down the wall, out to the sides. I like this one because it allows me to relax and let gravity do the work. It also forces me to keep my back flat while working on the hip position I want.

Part D involves some actual squatting! This is the part that is most obviously related to our goals. I’ll warn you however, that by skipping straight to this part in your reading and in your workout, you are simply making things harder on yourself. Remember, this session is about putting the pieces in place to squat heavier later!

My go-to for this session is pause-squatting. Generally, this will involve holding in the bottom of the squat for 3-5 seconds. The exact number of seconds is not so important, as long as you are accomplishing the following:

Maintaining a solid, tight torso

Sitting down to your true bottom position

Releasing most of the tension in your legs (but not your torso!)

The pause squat has a number of relevant benefits: it limits the amount of weight you can use, it limits the speed at which you enter and exit the bottom position, and it gives you a chance to explore and spend some time hunting for our ideal squat position while under some load. So, you are minimizing your potential for injury and soreness caused by rebounding out of the bottom, and you are focused on the position of your limb segments, instead of the speed at which they are moving.

In terms of a prescription, I would stick with light weight, low reps, and moderate sets; remember, the goal of this session is to recapture ROM and tissue compliance, not to build muscle mass and strength. Light weight means 30-40% of your 1RM. If I used to squat 405, then for this session I’ll want to be working with weights around 135. Low reps means 2-4 squats in a row: including the pause, this actually adds up to quite a lot of time under the bar. Moderate sets means 5-7. This will give me a decent number of breaks and fresh exposures to the target stimulus, reinforcing the positions I am are after.

Remember, the goal of this session is to recapture ROM and tissue compliance, not to build muscle mass and strength!!

So there you have it: a simple start to a protocol for reintroducing squat training after some time away. In subsequent sessions, you will want to expand your focus to:

Reintroduce eccentric loading and DOMS

Reactivate neural pathways and maximize motor recruitment.

These goals will be discussed in the next instalments of “Back in the Rack.” Thanks for reading!

Lucas

#squatprogram #squattraining #mobilityforsquats #flexibilityforsquatting #squatflexibility #squatstrongprogram #beginnersquatprogram

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