Overhead Squat Woes: Is it ankle mobility or motor control stability problems?

posted in: ankle, front squat, overhead squat, squat | 0

Overhead squatting is probably one of the most challenging position for most homo-sapiens. For most of us, it’s either because of limited mobility or limited motor control. But how about ankle mobility for overhead squat?

According to Gray Cook, a founder of Functional Movement Systems, poor motor control causes mobility problems over time. This means that the poor ankle mobility and hip mobility you or your athletes have developed most likely came from the poor positions and adaptive postures you have held for the past 20+ plus years of your life.

But let’s not take Cook’s word for it. Let’s test it ourselves. Bret Contreras (aka “the Glute Guy”) talks about how to build stability in a squat position using a kettlebell. This simple test helps determine if your ankle immobility or your motor control is your primary limiting factor. There are, of course, many other tissues that can come into play and impact external rotation and flexion in your hips, but let’s leave that for another blog.

The Test
1. Test your overhead squat – feet forward underneath the shoulders, knees out, hips externally rotated, upright torso, elbows locked out in overhead position (either PVC or bar). Can you get below parallel with upper torso parallel to your tibia (i.e. shins) with your feet staying straight forward?

1a. If Yes, then great! Work on the banded overhead squat I talk about in this video as part of your warm up. You can do this eyes open and eyes closed. Hold the bottom position 10 seconds, repeating for 8-10 reps.

1b. If No – i.e. you fell over, your feet splayed, your torso became perpendicular to the ground, or you just generally looked like a newborn bird, then…

2. Test Ankle Dorsiflexion – standing upright with your heel on the ground, see if you can get your knee at least 4 inches past your big toe at least.

2a. If Yes, then you have adequate dorsiflexion. Next, can you get into a pistol position with appropriate hip external rotation while keep your foot active (domed) and facing straight forward?

2b. If Yes, then it is not an ankle issue and you most likely have a motor control problem. To work on this, perform the Goblet Squat stability/motor control exercise (seen in the video) for 10-15 reps pausing at the bottom to drop the weight and pick it back up. The weight gives you a counter balance and fires up your midline which helps you stabilize. Practice this daily and re-test your overhead squat.

2c. If No – you cannot pistol and you cannot get your knee past your toe, then work to improve your ankle Dorsiflexion (both soft tissue and capsule).