10 Stretches to Improve Your Squat Form | Prevent Lifting Injuries
Squats are a must-to do exercise if you’re working out legs at the gym. They’re excellent at building the ligaments around your leg muscle and significantly lower your chance of an ankle injury. Ironically, improper form while squatting can actually increase your chance of an ankle injury and also set you back in the gym.
No one wants improper form and that’s why you need to stretch before you squat. Improved circulation in the muscles will help you sink lower towards the floor during the exercise and help you hold the weight longer. If you want to start squatting properly, here’s everything you need to know.
What Muscles are Used While Squatting?
When squatting, you’ll being using these muscles:
- Quadriceps: This is the muscle group in front of the thigh that extends the knee. Quadriceps are the primary muscle used during the motion.
- Hamstrings: Located on the back of the thigh, hamstrings help you flex the knee, thus controlling the descent of your body so you don’t move down too fast.
- Glutes: Glutes are the largest muscle group in your body and their primary job is to extend your hips. It’s mainly used to push you back upward during the squat. T
- Calves: The calves help keep your feet stable by controlling the movement in your lower legs.
- Lower back: Also known as the lumbar spine, your lower back helps keep your torso. Proper form comes from this muscle group.
- Core: Your core is the entire front side abdominals and back side thoracic spine. The core muscles provide a solid foundation and act as your center of gravity while squatting. Given how important this muscle group is, you might want to stretch your core too before squats.
When squatting, no one muscle group works by itself. Each muscle group works together to bring your body down and propel your body back up.
Common Squat Injuries
Unfortunately, there are a number of squat injuries you can sustain if you squat with improper form. Here are some of the most common ones:
- Knee Tendonitis: It might be this if you feel a constant aching in the knee. Knee tendonitis can be caused by weak supplementary muscles and overuse.
- Low back tightness: Lower back tightness is one of the most common injuries that can occur while squatting. This usually results from a weak core.
- Hip Impingement: Pain in the hip usually happens because your hip flexors are too tight or you aren’t engaging your glutes enough.
- Ankle Strain: If you’re not positioning your feet properly, you’re putting yourself at risk of an ankle sprain. Strong knees and hips can prevent this.
- Torn muscle or ligament: Tears can happen for many reasons, but they usually occur because you’re overusing your muscles or putting on too much weight.
While squats are one of the best exercises to do, not doing them properly can injure a variety of areas. Make sure to consult a trainer if you want to ensure you’re doing squats the right way.
How to Prevent Squatting Injuries
Squat injuries can be scary, but you can prevent them if you know what you’re doing. Here are some of the best ways to prevent squatting injuries:
- Warm up properly: Warming up before exercising is essential for warming up your muscles. This spike in blood flow will help your body move easier, especially in colder temperatures.
- Maintain proper form: We’re getting kind of repetitive at this point, but we promise we say it because that’s how important your form is. Good form when squatting distributes your weight evenly, drastically lowering the chance of injuries.
- Gradually increase weight and intensity: Overuse happens when you do too many reps or try too heavy of a weight too fast. Increase weight and intensity gradually so that your muscles can effectively adjust.
- Strengthen supporting muscles: Squats use a variety of muscle groups because it’s a compound exercise. As with any compound exercise, you need to strengthen each supporting muscle group as you increase your squat weight. Doing this will prevent muscle strains and tears.
- Listen to your body: You can try to prevent injury with all the methods above, but nothing will work if you don’t listen to your body. If you feel like your muscles are on their last leg (no pun intended), it might be time to move on to a different exercise.
Combining these methods together can help you effectively prevent squatting injuries but at the end of the day, doing stretching exercises will keep your most important muscle groups healthy. Whether that’s before you squat or after, it’s single-handedly the most crucial thing you can do.
What You’ll Need
Before you start trying some stretches we’ll cover later, you might wonder what exactly you’ll need. The list is pretty simple. We recommend some type of mat for you to perform the stretches on, like our Rhythm & Blues Yoga Strong Mat (600+ 5-Star Reviews).
If you want to add more resistance to your stretches, you can also use a stretching strap or some type of weight.
The Best Stretches for Squats
Now that we’ve looked at the muscles used in squats, common injuries, and prevention strategies, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty. Let’s look at 10 stretches for squats that you can incorporate into your routine today.
10. Side to Side Leg Swings
Side to side leg swings are a dynamic stretch that will get your blood circulating quickly. The stretch is also a compound movement that promotes operational flexibility in the outside hip and groin.
Here are the steps:
- Start standing with a chair, wall, or other support in front of you. Use one or both hands for support.
- When ready, begin to swing your right leg out to the right side and up to hip height, while keeping the leg straight.
- Then, once you hit your maximum point, swing back down and across, bringing your right leg to the left side as you can go.
- Repeat 10 side to side swings each leg.
9. Toe Touch to Squat
The toe touch to squat mainly targets the hamstrings, lower back, and hips. Your hips and hamstrings help you activate the squat and your lower back plays a big part in keeping you stabilized. Toe touch to squat helps ensure none of these muscles get overworked.
Here’s how to do the stretch:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart
- Then, hinge forward and reach towards your toes, keeping your knees straight
- From the toe touch position, begin to lower your glutes towards the floor.
- Raise your chest up and keep your back straight while maintaining your hands on the ground (or your shins if you have less range of motion).
- Repeat for 10 to 12 repetitions.
8. Lunges with Upper Body Rotation
Keeping your upper body and lower body connected is vital for squatting properly. Lunging with upper body rotation opens up your hips and thoracic spine. Here’s how to do the stretch:
- Start by standing up straight
- When ready, step forward with your right leg, bending your knee to form a lunge
- Next, keep your left leg straight and strong, and press your hip forward
- Then, bring your left elbow to the outside of your right knee, and twist your torso to the right
- Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds, and release
- Repeat on the other side
7. Plantar Fascia Stretch
The plantar fascia stretch is a simple way to improve ankle mobility quickly and relieve tension in the plantar fascia. This is the thick band of tissue that runs along the sole of the foot. As we mentioned above, your ankle keeps you grounded and is one of the most common areas of injury for squats. Here’s how to do the plantar fascia stretch:
- Start on all fours on your Yoga Strong Mat with your toes tucked.
- Raise up and start to sit back on your heels, with your glutes comfortably on your heels. You should feel a stretch on the bottom of your foot.
- Hold for 30 seconds
6. Ankle Rocks
Ankle rocks are one of the most valuable stretches for squats because the ankle can hinder your squat depth. With ankle rocks, the intent is to increase the range of motion in the foot complex for squatting. This allows your body to sink deeper into your squats.
Here are the steps:
- Start in a half kneel position with your right foot in front.
- When ready, drive your right knee and ankle forward over your toes. You may also feel a stretch in your left hip flexor.
- Then, once you reach your max range of motion, rock back to the starting half kneel position and repeat the rocking motion, forward and back.
- Repeat for 10 to 12 repetitions on each ankle
5. Wide Stance Rocks
Wide Stance rocks target the inside of the hip because it stretches the groin with the hip in internal rotation. This makes it easier to get more depth on your squats and even helps for things like pilates workouts.
Here’s how to do a wide stance rocks stretch:
- Start on all fours facing the long side of your mat
- Then, turn the toes outward so the insides of your feet are facing the ground.
- After that, start to spread the knees out as wide as you can on the mat. Toes should still be pointed outward, and your hip is internally rotated.
- If you feel a good stretch, start to rock the hips back and forth and side to side for 30 seconds.
4. Kneeling Glute Stretch
Opposite to the wide stance rocks, the kneeling glute stretch targets the outside hip. Do this stretch alongside the wide stance rock to give your hips the maximum range of movement possible. To do a kneeling glute stretch:
- Start in a downward dog position and bring your right leg forward towards your arms.
- Starting off, swivel the foot so the foot is towards your left wrist and the right knee is towards your right wrist - making the shin almost parallel to the top of your yoga mat
- Then, drop your shin to the ground and drop your back leg as well.
- To sink further into the pose, untuck your back toes to lay the back leg fully. Pull your chest forward and then begin to lay forearms down to the ground if accessible.
- Hold 5 breaths. Repeat on the other side.
3. Split Stance Rock to Tall Split Kneel
Dynamic and compound movements are crucial for a thorough and effective stretch. The split stance rock to tall split kneel activates the glutes and simultaneously mobilizes the groin and hips.
Here are the steps:
- Start in a half knee side lunge position. Your left knee should be on the floor bent under your hips, while your right leg is straightened out wide.
- Then, begin to drop your butt towards your left heel.
- After your butt reaches your heel, engage your glutes and rise up, sitting tall in the half kneeling side lunge position.
- Repeat 10x rocks and switch sides.
2. T-Spine Rotations
If you exercise frequently, your back can often have muscular restrictions. With T-Spine rotations, you’ll relieve tightness in your back, lats, and upper body, while also alleviating stiffness to help you squat better. Here’s how to do the stretch:
- Start on all fours on your mat
- Then, take your right hand and place it behind your head with your elbow out wide.
- Now, drive your right elbow up to the sky, opening up the chest and rotating the spine.
- After you reach your max stretch, return to the neutral starting position.
- Repeat 10x on each side
1. Full Dynamic Squat
Full dynamic squats help prepare your hip and groin muscles for any squats and weight-lifting exercises. The stretch dynamically expands your full body range of motion and relieves tightness that might be restricting your range of motion.
Here are the steps:
- Start standing with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width and toes externally rotated to point slightly outward.
- Reach for your toes to get a hamstring stretch.
- Slowly squat down so your hips drop below your knees or as deep as you can manage.
- Take your elbows and anchor them to the inside of each thigh to increase the stretch in the groin and help keep your hips open and knees out wide.
- Hold for 10 seconds then rise up to standing and repeat 10x
Start Stretching Today
Squats are one of the most injury-prone exercises you can do. That’s why you see weightlifters stretch thoroughly before attempting any weight on the bar. If you love doing this compound exercise, we highly recommend using the stretches above to keep your chance of injury as low as possible.
For those who are looking for other stretches they can incorporate into their warmup and cooldown routines, check out Yoga Strong’s Online Workouts. We incorporate different stretches, yoga poses, and workouts to help you take control of your body again.