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I was told that I was doing the squats incorrectly because I was lifting the heels. I was told to try and do them without lifting the heels but I can't lower myself more than a few centimeters. The problem is not pain, I just feel tension in the back of my legs and at the point that the legs connect with the feet, but I don't feel any pain. The problem is that I just can't go lower, I feel locked there. I am young (24) and I haven't been diagnosed with any mobility problem.

There's video of me trying to squat. As you can see, there is a huge difference between what I can do with/without lifting my heels. I show as well the position in which I need to place my whole body to be able to put the whole foot on the ground.

How do I improve my squat if I can't keep my heels on the floor? Which exercises would help me the most? I am a gym member, but the instructors there are too busy to help people with particular issues.

UPDATE

First of all, thank you very much for your answers. I really appreciate people spending their own time on helping me. Thank you very much.

I have been reading all your comments and answers, and I decided to upload two more videos.

Do you feel discomfort, kind of like stretching between the top part of your feet that goes up by your tibia bones(on both of your legs)? That's exactly it.

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Stand in front of a door end-on so that you can grab on to both sides of the doorknob. Put your feet wider, point your toes out, and try again. This question may send you to other helpful resources. –  Dave Liepmann Jan 14 '13 at 1:29
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What is the your score on this test: sportspodiatryinfo.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/lunge-test4.png (see how far you can put your foot from a wall and still be able to touch your knee to it without lifting your heel). –  Kate Jan 14 '13 at 3:42
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Here is another question/answer about tight ankles and squatting. –  BackInShapeBuddy Jan 14 '13 at 4:38
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Yeah, that's about it. <10 would confirm mobility problem. It can also be used as a comparative test (left vs right) and the two would normally be within 1cm of each other. –  Kate Jan 14 '13 at 16:14
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Not being able to do a heels-on-the-ground 3rd world squat is a diagnosed mobility problem in my opinion. Adrian, were you trying to work on barbell or dumbbell squats when you discovered this issue? –  Dave Liepmann Jan 14 '13 at 20:21

7 Answers 7

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Not being able to do a heels-on-the-ground 3rd world squat is a major mobility problem in my opinion. If I were you, I'd do the following:

  • Squat all the time. At least a half-dozen times a day, stop whatever you're doing and practice your third-world squat. Use a table or door for balance until you can do it without one. Spend some time down there. Tell your body that this is something it has to do well.
  • Stretch your calf muscles frequently. I've found improvement in my squat mobility with doing these stretches several times a day. It's dramatic.
  • Warm up thoroughly before your lifting workouts. You should have broken a solid sweat and be warm all over before trying to squat with an external load. Make sure to move all the involved joints--ankle, knee, hip--though as much range of motion as possible, several times, to get them ready to improve that range of motion.
  • At the end of your lifting workouts, while you're still warm but stretching won't interfere with resistance exercise, work on improving the maximum amount of time you can spend in the bottom of a proper squat. Improving my maximum from thirty seconds to six minutes helped my hip mobility enormously.
  • In order to develop proprioception (the sense of where your body is), squat with a broomstick. The video shows a Romanian deadlift; do the same thing but squat: hold it against your back while you squat. Work on having it touch at no more and no fewer than three places as you squat: the back of your head, between your shoulderblades, and your sacrum (back of the hips/top of your butt).

I would also spend some money on a private lesson with one of the trainers. Ask them who can help you with your specific goal of achieving a deep squat with heels on the ground.

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Than you very much for editing my post, I know it was a bit chaotic :) Thank you very much for your extensive answer as well. I was watching this video: youtube.com/watch?v=7XwKnk16Zbs and I realised that his legs are quite open. I tried to do it like that (more open than before and with the toes looking outwards). My wife was watching, and she said that my calfs get pararell to the ground, without helping myself with anything. I feel tension but not lasting pain, my wife says that my back gets in a funny shape, though. –  Adrian Jan 16 '13 at 12:23
    
@Adrian Glad to hear it helped. The cue is "push the knees out". Keep working on a straight back, though. Air squats round the back more than barbell squats in my experience, but working towards a straight back even with air squats helps barbell-squat posture. –  Dave Liepmann Jan 16 '13 at 14:21
    
@Adrian The 'third world squats' were pointed out to me by Dave on a similar question of mine and they worked great! –  Marty Feb 12 '13 at 5:17

This is completely a range of motion problem. The tendons and muscle down your calf and into your feet lack necessary range to squat without lifting heels to release pressure. You look like you're keeping almost exactly a 90 degree angle. There are other exercises you can use to increase range of motion, probably continuing to squat and "force" range can be dangerous, if you're using weight that is. Instead focus on stretching exercises, and using foam rollers or hard rollers to tenderize the tissue down there. You absolutely CAN increase your range of motion, squats are meant for heels! Your form of the squat is also a bit wrong though. It's hard to explain in text but to squat properly you've got to stick your butt out like you're going to sit in a chair, you look like you're trying to sit your butt strait down between your legs. You can find videos on proper squat technique but the point is, you have to play with different squat forms to find where your personal physiology fits. Some bodies need feet farther apart than others, some all the way to sumo squats. Some with toes pointing almost strait forward, and some needing to point outward to varying degrees. You may be able to squat better on your heels by taking a wider stance and pointing your toes out a little more, just be sure to keep your knees above your feet and not collapsing to the inside of your stance.

Once last trick to keep you off your toes: take a book or piece of wood and put the front part of your feet on the book as you squat. This forces you to stay on your heels more. A proper squat form has all the power coming up through the heels. If you find you have to get on your toes to stand up, the form is not correct. Stick your butt out, your chest out, your head up, and squat through your heels. Work on range of motion as a secondary activity. Good luck!

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Here is a video link on proper squat technique provided by @Berin in this answer about how to squat: "Mark Rippetoe has a video where he is doing classroom instruction for the squat. What's important to pay attention to whether you plan to use a barbell or not is the diagram on the whiteboard and the body position during the squat." –  BackInShapeBuddy Jan 14 '13 at 23:23

Here's a link to some 'possible' issues with your squat: http://stronglifts.com/7-ways-to-keep-your-heels-on-the-floor-on-squats/

From what I can see in the video, it's probably a combination of glute activation and hip flexor. My recommendation would be to try goblet squats (http://youtu.be/QrVgpDOLlgM) and kettle bell swings (http://youtu.be/0_XjJjLc7NE) for 2-3 weeks. Each of those weeks try the body weight squats every other day and see if there's improvement.

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I have the very same problem. The reason for being unable to squat down for me without lifting my heels is the lack of flexibility in the area of the tibia bone(not sure what it is called in english). Anyhow try the following to see if flexibility is the problem for you as well.

Go close to a desk/table or just anything you can hold onto as you are squatting down(keep the object in front of you). Now after you grab that object begin squatting down slowly leaning towards the object(without lifting your heels). As you go down your knees should go forward towards your the toes of your feet(in order to keep your balance). Do you feel a discomfort feeling, kind of like stretching between the top part of your feet that goes up by your tibia bones(on both of your legs)? I am sorry I am unable to explain this better.

If that's your case then I can give you some exercises for improving the flexibility in that area.

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Here is a video with some mobility exercises from the Swedish MAQ "school" (Muscle Action Quality), see Demo of exercise.

It is a great combination of exercises for mobility, no weights, only a stick. Basically the combo consists of "dead lift" with straight legs, a front squat and a squat with straight arms. All done in a slow and controlled manner. Most gym have light wooden sticks that you can use for this.

I have done this as a warm up exercise for a couple of years and my mobility has increased dramatically compared to when I started.

Given that you are quite immobile, I wouldn't start with any weights at all. Instead focus on this kind of drills that are similar to core, posterior chain focused weight lifting.

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This is more of a comment than an answer. I actually have the same problem. Lately, I have had a low-back issue, and due to it, I realized how not flexible I am. I am now seeing an athletic therapist, and I'm doing a little bit of pilates and lots of stretch classes.

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Is there a way that you can answer the question directly by telling us how the athletic therapist helped you? –  Freakyuser Feb 4 at 5:22

Spread your legs apart and lean forward when you squat down.

Part of the issue could be that your legs simply are not strong enough, yet. You could use a Smith Machine to help build your legs up until they are capable of supporting all of your weight.

Smith Machine Squats

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Why not just use less weight? –  Kate Jan 14 '13 at 18:53
    
Did you see the OP's video? He can not do this with NO weight, so he can't really go down in weight unless he ties Helium balloons to his belt. –  jp2code Jan 14 '13 at 19:28
    
Air squats do not equate to barbell squats in mechanics, and neither equate to Smith machine squats. It's common to be able to barbell squat without being able to air squat while keeping heels on the floor. –  Dave Liepmann Jan 14 '13 at 19:51
    
The question is tagged incorrectly. Is that correct? –  jp2code Jan 14 '13 at 20:06
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I understand just fine; it was your question about tags that I was asking about. I simply disagree with your recommendation of the Smith machine; I think it's the wrong way to develop squat strength and the wrong way to improve mobility. We'll have to agree to disagree. –  Dave Liepmann Jan 15 '13 at 15:51

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