The Importance of Shin Angle and Ankle Mobility
By: VIDA Personal Trainer Jack Baker
I want to start this section off by saying no squat is “perfect”. Squat patterns change on a case to case basis due to differing limb and torso lengths since no two people are the same. That being said, there are definite movements patterns everyone should do to maximize muscle growth, improve strength, and avoid injury when doing mobility squats.
One of the most consistent problems I see, as a trainer, are people squatting with their knees behind their toes. The cause of this can be from a variety of reasons, and could quite possibly be from just plain old bad form, but the most consistent reason I see people squatting behind their toes is from bad information they’ve picked up. A lot of information that has either been moving around the internet and from person to person is from old powerlifting techniques, and where as those are still very relevant, those techniques work best with single and double ply lifters (lifting in a squat suit). If someone is lifting in a squat suit it allows the wearer to sit back into the suit utilizing the posterior chain (low back, glutes, and hamstrings) more so than a raw squatter (no squat suit) who must utilize and rely on their quads more so then their posterior chain.
For a raw squatter, the posterior chain is very helpful but is used mostly in a supporting role to the quads. This is where shin angle and ankle mobility is very important. As the squatter descends their knees need to track over the toes allowing the pelvis to sit in between your hips causing a soft tissue exchange between your hamstrings and calves and the torso to be upright (depending on limb lengths). This positioning allows your quads to take on most of the force and protects your knees from injury. The wrapping effect that happens when the hamstring touches the calf which acts somewhat like an airbag cushioning the knee and lowering sheer forces. This is also considered a full squat which, if done properly, will allow for the most quad growth as well as strengthening your squat.
If one cannot achieve a shin angle that tracks over the toes allowing full depth (hamstrings touching calves) without needing to push the glutes back, it can be because multiple reasons. One possible issue is ankle mobility. Mobility is key because it will allow the lifter to get into optimal positioning so this should always be assessed before squatting. If ankle mobility is poor the knee will not be able to track over the foot comfortably or without the heels raising off the ground forcing the lifter onto their toes. An easy fix to this is elevating the heels, either on a PVC pipe or small plates. This will allow a plethora of ankle mobility that should allow the lifting to squat fully and correctly if there are no other issues, this will have to be determined by a trainer or yourself. Stretching can be done to allow for more ankle mobility. This video from Dr. Quinn Henoch goes over various ankle mobility exercises that can be done to help shin angle which will allow full depth in the squat, allowing bigger and stronger muscles.
Again, this is just one possible issue out of many that could be affecting your squat, this is not the be all end all to squatting properly. Most times trunk mobility issues can affect shin angle and full depth of your squat. If ankle mobility improves but an optimal shin angle is still hard to achieve then other possible issues need to be assessed.
Interested in squatting with Jack? Shoot him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!