One of the first movements we ever teach a new athlete is the air squat. One of the first movements we test with an experienced athlete is the air squad. Why? Because the air squat is perhaps the most fundamental movement we do in fitness. We can learn so much about an athlete just by watching his/her air squat.
From the start of the squat, an experienced coach is going to focus heavily on your heels. As you squat, your heels should remain planted on the ground the entire time. However, we are willing to bet that anyone who squats in front of a coach has heard some semblance of a reminder to keep their heels down. For some, this can seem like an impossible task. Either your heels are down and you feel like you are going to fall over. Or your heels have to come up to maintain your balance.
So, what causes this? And, how do we fix it?
For most people the issue is in the ankle. The question is whether you are able to move your knee forward over your toes without you heel raising off of the ground. It is called dorsiflexion.
When you squat, your knees must track forward if you have any chance of maintaining a good squat position. When you push your butt backwards, your center of mass shifts backwards. At this point, if you want to avoid falling over, you have one of three options: your knees track forward, your chest falls forward, or your knees cave inward.
If you’ve ever heard your coach tell you to drive your chest up in your squat, you are likely compensating for tight ankles by dropping your chest forward. If you find it impossible to keep your heels down during movements like wall balls, you probably have tight ankles. Sometimes, your tight ankles will cause your knees to cave in sparking a cue from your coach to drive your knees out.
Bottom line, you need to increase your dorsiflexion. There are a million ways out there to increase your ankle mobility. Better yet, increase your calf flexibility. Start googling or check out the video below. Sometimes, all you need to do is get into a lunge position and gently push your forward knee forward over your toes. If you feel a good stretch up the back of your leg, stay there and hold for 30-45 seconds. If you have stairs in your house, stand on the edge and let your heel drop. Do one ankle at a time.
Unsure if your issue is tight ankles? Ask a coach to test your dorsiflexion.
Oh, one more tip, get rid of the high heels, Olympic Lifting shoes, or any other shoe that artificially lifts your heel.