Tag Archives: ankle mobility

Sumo Deadlift Mobility

sumo-deadlift-dan-green

The sumo deadlift is a little more intricate and technical than the conventional deadlift, which I have covered more in depth in this article. I recently started using the sumo deadlift in my own training and came to find that my hip mobility wasn’t quite as good as it should be for an optimal pulling position with the sumo setup. I will outline below what I did to begin solving the problem! I still have to improve further, but I’m on the right track and seeing great improvements already.

 

How to Pull Sumo

I’m not going to write out a full tutorial here, but if you’re interested in how a sumo deadlift should be pulled, read this.

You can also look up Dan Green deadlift videos on YouTube, if you’re a visual learner.

 

Sumo Deadlift Mobility Demands

The sumo deadlift places a great demand on hip mobility and also ankle mobility. I’ve covered both topics in the linked articles, but I’m going to just give you a few mobility drills and stretches I have personally found helpful in getting into a better sumo deadlift position.

These stretches are what I specifically use for the sumo deadlift position as part of my daily stretching and warmup routines. You should still be stretching your other problem areas as well.

Super Frog Stretch

This is a great way to stretch your hips from Kelly Starrett (Supple Leopard). I’d recommend doing this after lifting and on your off days. Ideally you should stretch your problem areas at least once per day.

Wide Stance Pause Squats

These will stretch your hips a lot in what I guess you can call a weighted dynamic stretch. Take a stance that’s as wide as you can go, while still reaching parallel. Pause at the bottom for the stretch to happen.

I usually do these toward the end of my workouts with very light weight.

Compress Your Hips

Using a Voodoo floss band, wrap your hip(s) up. Then do some hip stretches (i.e. the couch stretch or a half kneeling hip flexor stretch), light sumo deadlift (this will give you a great chance to open up the hips in the exact position you’re trying to improve) and/or light wide stance pause squats. Below is a video showing WTF I’m talking about.

Floss Your Hips

This is basically a hip flexor stretch using a resistance band. I do this as part of my warmup routine.

Mobilize Your Ankles

This is my favorite drill to improve ankle mobility, which – along with better hip mobility – will put you in a better position for sumo pulling.

I usually do this briefly as part of my warmup and then spend another 4-5mins on it after the workout as part of my stretching at the end of the workout. How much time you should spend on it depends on how tight your ankles are.

 

And that’s about it! I have to add that I’m not a doctor or a personal trainer, so take what advice you find helpful with that in mind. As always, I’m just sharing my personal experience and hope it benefits you in some way.

Squat Assistance Work

In this article, I’m going to break down my approach to assistance work for the barbell squat. If  you’re interested in information about the squat movement itself, read my Squat 101 article.

 

More Squats

To get better at the squat, most of my assistance work is simply squatting more. Because I currently use Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 (with principles from his new book Beyond 5/3/1), I do my warmup sets and then my 5/3/1 work sets. This is the main portion of my workout that almost never changes (unless I’m maxing out), but the rest of the workout will vary from cycle to cycle or even week to week.

Personally, one of the things I struggle with is speed, so a lot of my squat workouts recently have had a dynamic work component. This means, for example, that I will do 8 sets of 2 repetitions with 60% of my one repetition maximum. You can get a lot more details about the Dynamic Effort Method from ‘The Westside Barbell Book of Methods‘ (by Louie Simmons from Westside Barbell). You can also read about it in Jordan Syatt’s article ‘Incorporating the Dynamic Effort Method‘. The main point to take away from that is to find a weakness in your squat and improve it.

Similarly, if you’re weak out of the bottom of the squat, pause squats are a great idea. When you reach the bottom position of the squat, stay there for a second, and then use your glutes (as you always should) to squat back up. This almost eliminates the stretch reflex (or the ‘bounce out of the hole’) and allows you to train your glutes, which are extremely important for a strong squat. The pause squat variations shown in the video of the month I posted up a couple days ago are also great and will improve your flexiblity a lot.

Again, all of these are just examples. The point is to find what a weakness is in your squat and attack it with some variations of the squat. Bands and/or chains might also benefit you to alter resistance. I would recommend reading this article about bands and chains written by Dave Tate.

I also do front squats as a warmup on my deadlift day, which increases my frequency for the squat (along with other benefits).

 

Posterior Chain Work

Because I squat high bar, the movement places more stress on my quadriceps than my hamstrings. As a result, I do some work for my posterior chain after I’m done squatting.

Band Good Morning

This is quickly turning into my favorite posterior chain exercise.  I choose this variation of the Good Morning movement for a very simple reason: At this point in the workout, I’m generally tired of having a barbell on my back from all the squatting, so I choose to do these with a band instead. It allows me to get some valuable posterior chain work in without having to put a barbell on my back.

If you have access to a safety squat bar, it might make the regular Good Morning a more feasible option for you. A video of the Band Good Morning is below, but I actually hook the band to something in front of me as shown in this video. Also check out this video about the Barbell Good Morning.

Stiff Legged Deadlift (SLDL)

Another excellent exercise for your hamstrings and entire posterior chain.

Cable Pull Through

This one is great for your hips as well.

Kettlebell Swing

These will also hit your hips and your entire posterior chain. They will also help make you more explosive.

Glute Bridge

I also like to do a band variation of this movement right now because most of my energy is used for squats, but doing them with a loaded barbell is a great idea as well.

Hip Thrust

Another great one for your hips and glutes.

Glute Ham Raise

I can’t do a posterior chain exercise list without these.

 

Abs

Strong abdominal muscles and core stability are important with the squat. I don’t like sit ups, because they tend to involve the lower back (not in a good way) a lot unless your form is absolutely perfect. I’m also not a fan of most crunch variations for the same reason, but I do like the one below.

Standing Cable Crunch

I actually do this one on my deadlift day, because it’s basically the opposing movement pattern. It could easily be used on squat day as well though.

Ab Wheel Rollouts

These are my favorite abdominal exercise. It’s optimal to have an ab wheel to perform this exercise, but you can also load some plates on a barbell and do rollouts with that.

Planks

These are a great exercise to build some baseline core stability. I think you should be able to hold a plank for 60 seconds or longer. The ability to hold your core stable will help in keeping your torso rigid during the squat. This will help prevent rounding in your back. The Hardcore Plank can also be a challenge on its own. Some more plank variations are shown in the video below.

Rotational Core Exercises

These are mainly to strengthen your obliques. Elliott Hulse describes a few variations in the video below.

 

Explosiveness and Conditioning

Dynamic effort or speed squats as described above (in the ‘More Squats’ paragraph) will help develop more explosive power and speed, but there are some other ways to do this as well.

Box Jumps

Other jump exercises can also benefit you. You can make jumping an entire separate workout, so choose something simple if you’re doing it at the end of a squat workout.

You’ll need something like a plyo box to jump onto. You can also build your own.

Sprints

My favorite are hill sprints. Jim Wendler also recommends them in his 5/3/1 book, which is the training program I follow as mentioned above.

Prowler Pushes

These are terrific. Like sprints and jumps, you might want to make these a separate workout. You’ll need a prowler or just get the Butcher from Rogue. It’s basically the same thing and a little cheaper I believe. Or you can go all out and get this badass push/pull sled.

 

Lower Back

A lot of the posterior chain exercises will target this (i.e. the Good Morning and SLDL), but if you need some more lower back work, here are a couple exercises I like.

Back Extension or Hyperextension

You can also use a jumpstretch band and wrap it around your neck. Or simply hold a weight. (My personal preference would be a band though.)

Reverse Hypers

Who better to teach it than Louie Simmons?

 

Unilateral Exercises

While I don’t think it’s wise to replace bilateral leg exercises with exercises done on one leg, I do think unilateral exercises can be a nice addition to your squat workout. Below are a few exercises I like.

Bulgarian Split Squat

Pistol Squat

 

Lunges

There are a ton of different lunge exercises you can do. They’re great for increasing flexibility and also strengthening your legs.

Body Weight Forward Lunge

You can add a weighted vest, a barbell (front rack or on your back) or hold dumbbells to make it more difficult.

Rear or Reverse Lunge

This one is shown with a front loaded barbell, but you can do them without weight, with dumbbells, etc. as well of course. I actually prefer these over forward lunges.

 

Other Things to Consider

Obviously the list above is not a complete one of all the options available to you. They are simply a selection of my personal favorite exercises within those categories. I don’t do all of these exercises every squat workout, but I try to hit my weaknesses in various ways when I have the energy and time. You will have to prioritize what is most important to you and select exercises accordingly.

Hip flexibility and ankle flexibility are very important with the squat. I’ve written articles on both topics already, so I’m not going to cover them in this article. It’s already getting long with all the exercises. Most of my mobility and active recovery work is done with separate workouts, but a nice way to finish a squat day is to do a few explosive hip mobility drills as seen in the video below.

 

I think that about covers my approach to assistance work for the squat. This actually turned into a longer article than I was expecting. Again… I wouldn’t recommend doing all of the exercises listed all the time. They are just some options I like to target weak areas. Simply squatting a lot will usually translate to a stronger squat, but sometimes you need to tweak things a little bit to improve something.

I’m not a doctor, personal trainer or anything like that. I’m simply a guy who loves to lift weights and acquire knowledge on the topic. If you have something to add to this article, feel free to leave a comment.

Improve Hip & Ankle Mobility – Video of the Month

This one is from Jonnie Candito, who is quickly turning into my favorite YouTuber, about two great exercises to improve hip mobility and ankle mobility. The two exercises are a narrow stance pause front squat and a wide stance pause back squat. A bonus of the front squat variation is also a thoracic mobility improvement. I will be including these movements in my own training for sure. The video is below.

Ankle Mobility

Other Mobility Articles: Shoulder Mobility | Thoracic Mobility | Hip Mobility

 

Adequate mobility throughout the body is important, especially for people who lift weights and athletes that have to move efficiently. Even non-lifters and non-athletes can benefit from postural integrity however, so there is really no valid excuse to have poor mobility. With that being said, the ankles (and adequate range of motion within them) are part of an important foundation that allows you to have better mechanics in all sorts of movement patterns from walking to squatting.

 

Do You Have Decent Ankle Mobility?

A great way to test ankle mobility quickly is to check whether or not you’re able to get into the bottom position of a pistol squat. A pistol squat places a lot of demands on ankle mobility. Where you’re able to compensate more easily for poor ankle mobility in a bilateral squat, the pistol squat will expose your weakness. The video below from MobilityWOD is where this idea came from.

Strength or lack thereof could be a limiting factor in this test, so if you can’t do a pistol squat and you believe it’s because you simply aren’t strong enough to do a unilateral squat movement, then keep it bilateral. Do a regular body weight squat: Heels on the ground throughout the movement with weight distributed through the tripod of your feet. Your feet should be turned out slightly at about 15° and people with exceptional ankle mobility will be able to keep them pointed straight forward. Don’t try to keep your feet pointed straight forward, unless you know you have great ankle flexibility. This can cause knee pain without the required ankle mobility. Why? Answer part 1 and part 2. 🙂 Squat all the way down with the knees tracking your feet (at minimum) or preferably outside your feet. If your knees cave inward during any part of the movement, or you simply can’t get them to at least track your feet, there is a very good chance  you should work on hip mobility. (Note: This does not mean you have adequate ankle mobility, it simply means you have poor hip mobility.)

When doing the squat movement, see if you notice your feet turning outward as you squat down. If this happens, there is a good chance you should work  on ankle mobility. The turning out of the feet is how your ankle compensates for less than optimal mobility to reach depth on the squat. Great hip mobility can compensate for this a little bit, but you should still strive to at least have good ankle mobility.

 

Improving Ankle Mobility

Now that you kind of know where you stand with regards to your ankle mobility, it’s time to improve it.

One of my favorite ankle mobility drills is this one from Kelly Starrett.

More ankle mobility drills: Foam roll your calves like this and stretch them like this. Also mash your calves like this. Improve ankle mobility with a box, jumpstretch band and a friend like this. More ankle mobility work being done here. Another good ankle stretch is this one. If you’re looking for a badass foam roller, the Rumble Roller is your best bet. Your cheapest option is getting a PVC pipe though. Pro tip: Wrap it in duct tape to make it less slippery.

Fix your feet! The feet are also important. Mash them like this with a tennis ball, lacrosse ball (what I use personally) and/or golf ball. Also worth watching: Rebuilding the Feet (from MWOD) – Part 1 and Part 2

 

Compensating for Ankle Mobility Issues When Squatting

Now you know how to improve your ankle mobility, but it’s not going to be completely fixed overnight (while you will notice a difference immediately after self myofascial release) and there is a very potent trick to quickly mask a deficit in ankle flexiblity: Wear Olympic weightlifting shoes to squat (high bar, Oly style squat with a fairly narrow stance) or when you perform Olympic lifts like the snatch or clean. The 0.75″ heel lift in these shoes allows for greater ankle range of motion, which in turn enables you to squat deeper with less than optimal ankle and/or hip flexiblity. Oly shoes also give you a very stable platform to squat from, because they don’t compress like most other shoes. This doesn’t mean you stop working on mobility. It simply means you can compensate a little bit for less than optimal ankle mobility.

adidas-power-perfect-2

Note: If you squat low bar with a wider stance, you’re probably better off wearing flat shoes like Converse Chuck Taylors. More on that in my article about lifting shoes.

 

Conclusion

There is usually a fairly easy way to address a mobility or pain issue. In this case, we have a lack of flexibility in the ankle, so we attack what’s above it (the lower leg) and what’s below it (the foot) to improve it. Coupled with poor ankle mobility can be knee pain, which we try to improve by fixing hip mobility and ankle mobility. Above and below again.

And that wraps up ankle mobility. As always, it’s just my opinion. I’m not a doctor or physical therapist. I’m just a guy who lifts and reads. If you have anything to add, leave it in the comments and I might edit this article to include it.