Best Squat Mobility Drill to Improve Your Range

Here's how to REALLY improve how low you can squat

By Coach E

Best Squat Mobility Drill to Improve Your Range

Getting stuck when squatting? This squat mobility drill goes beyond the myths to teach you the truth about how to improve your squat depth.

A Misguided Myth

I’ve seen it online and I’ve overheard it in the gym: “I can’t squat low because of my tight hip flexors.”

Ladies and gentleman, this makes my skin crawl!

This thought process doesn’t pass biomechanics 101 and it definitely won’t help you squat deeper.

It’s easy to get swept up in something you read online, but let’s take a look at the biomechanics of squats and then I’ll teach you a squat mobility drill that will ACTUALLY help.

Squat Science

To understand why hip flexor tightness isn’t blocking your squat progress, let’s take a quick look at the anatomy of these muscles, shall we?

You’ve got two major hip flexors: iliopsoas, a muscle that runs from vertebrae in your low back and your pelvis to insert on your femur (or thigh bone) and rectus femoris, a two-joint muscle that is part of the quadriceps group and crosses both your hip and your knee.

You’ve got two major hip flexors: iliopsoas, a muscle that runs from vertebrae in your low back and your pelvis to insert on your femur (or thigh bone) and rectus femoris, a two-joint muscle that is part of the quadriceps group and crosses both your hip and your knee.

Image by www.yoganatomy.com

We’re going to focus on your iliopsoas, because that’s the hip flexor that has the most impact on your squat depth.

If this muscle, which runs down the front of your pelvis to your thigh is tight and shortened, it puts you in a position of hip flexion – i.e., the position you need to be in to squat deep.

To lengthen or stretch this muscle, you’ve got to go into hip extension – or reaching or leg out behind you.

If this muscle, which runs down the front of your pelvis to your thigh is tight and shortened, it puts you in a position of hip flexion – i.e., the position you need to be in to squat deep. To lengthen or stretch this muscle, you’ve got to go into hip extension – or reaching or leg out behind you.

So if your hip flexors are tight, the motion that will be limited is HIP EXTENSION, not hip flexion.

In short: it can’t possibly be your hip flexor tightness that is holding you back from squatting deeper AKA flexing your hips more!

BUT this doesn’t mean that your hip flexors aren’t involved in squat mobility. It’s just that your hip flexors need to be functional at their shortened range to maintain stability of both the lumbar spine and hip joint, not that they need to be stretched because their shortness/tightness is impeding your squat depth. [1]

Iliopsoas Activation is Key

Remember that your iliopsoas originates at the lumbar spine. If this muscle is weak or has trouble firing correctly when it’s shortened, you’ll either be stuck in a shallow mini-squat position, OR you’ll be able to go lower, but you’ll lose your neutral lumbar spine and go into spine flexion and/or posterior pelvic tilt.

In other words, as your squat gets deeper, your shortened iliopsoas isn’t able to activate correctly and you’ll go from a neutral spine to a rounded low back – aka the dreaded squat butt wink.

This might be busting another common myth you’ve heard: that tight hamstrings lead to butt wink. In reality, the iliopsoas is way more at play than your hammies.

So let’s learn how to train your iliopsoas and other hip flexors to fire correctly so that you can get into a deep squat position with control and proper form.

An Effective Squat Mobility Drill

This squat mobility drill is an End Range Expansion (ERE) technique that will help you improve mobility and range.

This position mirrors a deep squat on one side of your body and helps you train control over the range and with the other leg being behind the body, it helps to stabilize the pelvis and spine so you can develop this control in a neutral (safe) position.

This is a level 2 ERE technique, meaning we’re activating in more planes of motion and making it a bit more complex, but as long as you take the time to understand what you’re trying to do inside your body opposed to just mimicking the way the technique looks, you’re golden.

Unilateral Deep Squat Level 2 ERE

squat mobility drill - Unilateral Deep Squat Level 2 ERE

  1. Get into the half kneeling position with your left leg in front of you – go as deep as you can when maintaining a neutral pelvis and spine (like you’d want at the bottom of a squat)
  2. Put your hands on the ground to the inside of your front foot and start to lift your front foot off the ground – taking a slow 360° breath as you hold
  3. Slowly return the foot to the ground and drive through the front foot as if you’re going to stand up (but don’t) – hold for a slow 360° breath
  4. Next get as tall as possible and press your left hand on the outside of your left knee, gradually increasing activation between hand and knee and breathing – hold for a slow 360° breath
  5. Next activation is to take your left elbow to the inside of your left knee and press them against each other increasing contraction intensity – hold for a slow 360° breath
  6. Return to the starting position and switch sides

Repeat for 1-3 cycles per side and get up and squat and I bet you’ll feel much different.

Use this ERE technique to build strength in the shortened range of your hip flexors to create greater squat depth and control than any hip flexor stretch you could possibly find.

If you’re ready to keep moving beyond the myths and want to learn other biomechanically sound methods to improve lower body function, check out my Hip Control course.

It’s full of unique, effective ways to improve your hip function, mobility, and control. Don’t just take my word – here’s what Ryan has to say about it:

“I invested in this course because I was looking to increase flexibility and control for my kicks in Muay Thai and for my guard work in BJJ. I have previously used other courses of Eric’s and I was sure this would not disappoint.

I can get deeper into squats without pain or binding. I feel like I can move with more control and my balance is better too. Additionally, after not going to the gym for 6 months and only doing my martial arts and the Hip Control program I hit an all-time personal record with my dead-lifts (about 30lbs above my previous PR) which I fully attribute to the increased strength in my stabilizer muscles from doing Hip Control.

Standard “gym class” stretches like trying to touch my toes, do “the splits” and the like. I would see improvement while I was doing them every day but if I missed any time my results would vanish.

The clear and detailed guide videos that walk you through each technique before going “live.” Having the coaching videos separate from the follow-along videos made it nice and convenient.” – Ryan

And next time you hear someone blaming their squat mobility on tight hip flexors, shoot them a link to this squat mobility drill so they can learn the truth about how to improve squat depth.

About the Author

Eric Wong (aka Coach E) is the founder of Precision Movement and has a degree in Kinesiology from the University of Waterloo. He's been a coach since 2005 and spent his early career training combat athletes including multiple UFC fighters and professional boxers. He now dedicates himself to helping active people eliminate pain and improve mobility. He lives in Toronto (Go Leafs Go!) with his wife and two kids and drinks black coffee at work and IPAs at play. Click here to learn more about Eric.

  • Wes says:

    Coach E,

    I am 38, have been an athlete for my whole life, and received a degree from SDSU in Kinesiology, emphasis in Athletic Training in ’08.

    I have never been able to do a proper squat because of not being able to get low enough. I have heard everything from ‘tight hip flexors’, to lack of range in calf muscles, to not getting the butt muscles activated. This has plagued me my whole life in one of the most practical movements being ‘out of my reach’. I have reached out to a surfing coach (I used to surf when I lived in CA), and he couldn’t help me with improving or diagnosing my issue without subscribing to his personal training, which I couldn’t afford. No one understood my problem, and I have felt if I just keep on stretching and working out, I’d eventually get it. My dad, a doctor who has always been in shape, could do squats just fine and recommended I just keep doing them with my legs wider and my body would get used to it eventually. My best friend in SD, a physical therapist and someone with over 20 years’ experience with Kung Fu, and now 10 years with Systema, had me doing that form you showed in the video stretching out in a lunge type position. I was in one of his Systema classes and after I moved away from CA, I never really did the stretches again.

    I’ve been working out here in my small town at the Y and have been incorporating exercises such as squats and deadlifts in the mindset of doing them with little weight to begin with and expecting my body to just get the hang of it eventually when moving up to higher weight. Two weeks ago, I felt a slight pressure in my lower back, which has been a problem of mine since I was a Freshman in HS football and I spear-headed a guy in a tackle. Every year since then, I would feel that sharp tinge one day picking something up, and it would get worse for about 10 days until I couldn’t even move my neck very much, then it would subside and feel normal. My PT friend asked if I had any nerve damage in my right big toe, and sure enough, I couldn’t feel the top of my right big toe! He told me there is a nerve connecting from the lower left side of the back to the right big toe.

    As I’ve been working out at the gym for the last couple of months and increasing the weight slowly and trying new exercises out (like deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, Bulgarian split squats, etc.), I’ve been able to increase my lower body musculature (I’ve been all upper body /chicken legs) which has kept my spirits high. However, two weeks ago I was doing 170lb deadlift sets with 7 reps and felt tightness in my lower back just left of my spinal cord (pretty much where it had been hurt in the past). Squats were next for me, but the tightness (dull pain) made me re-think my next exercise to not put more strain on my back, so I switched to leg press. When I started doing the leg press, I felt that tinge still in my lower back, so I stopped the workout knowing a couple week back pain might follow. Although it hasn’t been as bad as it’s been in the past, I have stayed away from the gym and have felt like putting socks or pants on sitting in the bed has been extremely difficult (which is a major pain in the pride for being the only male in the house [4 daughters] and the strong guy that can handle anything). While I was working today on the computer, I looked up ‘lower back pain for two weeks’ and your videos showed up.

    I’m tired of not being able to do such a pivotal exercise correctly and also have connected my lower back pain to not being able to do something that is taken for granted by so many athletes. Your videos have given me a glimmer of hope and I just read your email about your lower back pain since you were 14 years old, so I will do everything I can see to increase my flexibility and mobility of my hip complex until it helps. Your descriptions sound just like my PT friend, as well as your martial arts background.

    Thank you, Coach E, for the work you put in. I will support you as many ways another man can if you can help, and I’ll make sure to tell my PT friend who is still in CA and may never pay off his school debt with as little as PTs get paid. He’s been trying to get something together to mix martial arts with physical therapy, so I’d like to maybe have him look at your methods and see if he can’t do something similar to it. All any of us Kinesiology people want to do is help people to become more mobile and in turn happier.

    -Wes

  • ScottLeclair says:

    Is this exercise part of one of your programs?

  • Judith Bucholz says:

    Very informative Eric. Wow could not even lift my leg off the floor. I appreciate your commitment to this work Eric.

    • Coach E says:

      Thanks Judy – and way to keep working at it. Try starting with hands on something off the floor i.e. a chair and work your way down.

  • Anonymous says:

    I must say that was awesome relief for me. I did it 3 times. I have had a tight hip and has been confirmed to be a hip impigement. Weak right glute medius/ minimus, tight hip flexor, (weak at times) retus femoris, Adductor, ITB, pirformis and referral pain down the hamstring. After seeing a number of sport physio’s with no real relief. I can now feel my right butt and feel so much looser, even in my lower back. I still need to work on this, not 100% yet, but thankyou

    • Coach E says:

      Hey Anonymous – keep faith, we will crush the evil corporations one day (V for Vendetta reference for the uninformed).

      You’re welcome – glad you’re feeling something moving positively. Great to hear that I can help where others have failed.

  • >