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I've read a lot lately that if I want to build a lot of strength and start thinking seriously about putting on some size that I should use squats as a core workout. I'm only 65kg (143 pounds) and have never really done any weight training. I do however use my boxing bag every night for about half an hour and do a handful of exercises using my own body weight such as pushups / handstands / plenty of core work.

I've given squats a go but I am having two problems:

  1. Balance - this is probably due to point two, but maybe worth its own mention.
  2. It seems as though my ankles don't bend forward enough to squat down as far as I need to.

To help with the balance issue I have been using dumbbells in each hand (I find this significantly easier than a barbell on my shoulders). As for the latter issue though, I'm not sure if this is quite common and I should try stretching my ankles a few times a day until they bend forward further or if I'm doing something completely wrong.

Did anyone else have this problem when starting out? How should I take care of it?

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What type of squat are you doing? How low are you trying to go? –  user3085 May 29 '12 at 15:29
I'm not sure if this is your problem, but make sure you are using flat shoes, and if you don't have flat shoes then you need to do squats barefoot. Doing squats with orthotics or similarly arched shoes makes it difficult to go all the way down without losing balance because it starts your ankles out further than they should be. –  Moses May 29 '12 at 16:56
You could be flatfooted, or may have a slight muscle imbalance caused by the shoes you wear. –  Evan Plaice May 29 '12 at 17:37
I think most adults have trouble at the start because most of us work sitting down and do very little lifting. See my comment below for "Starting Strength". For another take on dumbbell squatting Google "Dan John goblet squats". He is a big name high school coach and says teenagers can't squat either. –  medmal Aug 6 '12 at 17:16

4 Answers 4

up vote 2 down vote accepted

When I started squatting, I had trouble with balance, hip mobility, and ankle mobility. The mobility issues plus lack of proprioception in my back caused balance issues. Squatting more helped. I did third world squats throughout the day and kept squatting every workout.

I recommend warming the ankles up with lots of joint rotations (e.g. 20 in both directions) and more squatting. The squatting ankle stretch is very productive. It is performed here by Catalyst Athletics with bodyweight, but can be assisted with a dumbbell, barbell, or other weight on the top of the thighs or knees:

squatting ankle stretch

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If your problem seems to be directly related to tight ankles, your soleus muscle is probably tight. The heel cord is made up of the gastroc and soleus muscles.

To stretch correctly, you need to stretch your calf muscles with the knee straight (to elongate the gastrocs) and with the knee bent (to elongate the soleus). You'll feel the gastroc stretch higher in your calf and the soleus closer to the ankle.

When you stretch both the gastroc and the soleus, make sure that your heel is in line with your foot. For an effective stretch, avoid letting your heel roll in or your arch collapse.

As previous stretching questions have addressed, passive stretching is not recommended prior to your workout as this can result in injuries. Before working out an active (dynamic) stretch or warm-up is better.

Other tight areas that can restrict your form and affect a balanced squat are your hip flexors and gluteals. This q/a, What are some good stretches to help with squatting?, gives you some good info to address these areas.

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Yes, start with lighter weights and go as deep (a little bit below your knee level). Improve that form and start with heavier weights. You going to be ripped.

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Can you include some references to show why your answer is correct? –  Nathan Wheeler May 29 '12 at 15:03
"Starting Strength" by Mark Rippetoe is the go o reference for the big lifts (squatting, deadlifting,...). He feels that the squat improves the squat. He is very detailed about the form from head to toe and how to attain it. –  medmal Aug 6 '12 at 17:08

I agree with Nathan. Form is very important with squats when you're starting out, or you'll never make it to higher weights. However, if your ankle flexbility is low, it could be better to work on this directly. Your calves and shins should be worked on, and you need to get better with plyometric/ballistic movement. Being able to vertically jump high is rather dependent on ankle flexibility because that allows you to get lower (i.e. like in a squat) but in the right position to jump.

When you can go from standing to a crouch (hands out in front of you), without falling backwards, and without your heels ever coming off the ground, then you have gain good ankle flexibility.

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