Can’t Squat Deep? Mobility Is Your Secret Sauce for Squatting Lower

Cathe Friedrich working on her squat mobility


The barbell back squat is a foundational movement for building lower body strength and power. Yet many lifters can’t squat deeply enough to get the full benefits. Have you experienced this? You descend into the squat, fighting to keep your chest up and knees out. But you’re stopped short while your hips are still above parallel.

What gives? Most likely, it’s poor mobility in key areas like your ankles, hips, and thoracic spine. If mobility is a problem, you’ll have a tough time squatting to depth, even if you focus on technique. Let’s look at how limitations in each of these regions impact squat mechanics.

Let’s start with your ankles. First, you need a good dorsiflexion range of motion in your ankles to squat to parallel or below parallel. This means your knees should be able to travel forward over your toes. If you don’t have this range of motion, you’ll compensate by rounding your back or by lifting your heels off the floor when you squat. This limits your squat depth. Plus, you place more stress on your knees and spine. You can improve your ankle mobility with mobility exercises and calf stretches, so the muscle and connective tissue around your ankles are less tight and you have more fluid mobility.

The Problem of Poor Hip Mobility

Now, let’s move up the chain to your hips. You need a sufficient range of motion in your hip flexors to get to the bottom of a squat. Plus, tightness in your glutes and adductors will restrict your motion when you descend into a squat position.

A sign that you lack hip flexibility is that you tuck your pelvis under (posterior pelvic tilt) as you lower your body. Have someone critique your form, so you’ll know whether you’re doing this. Not only does a posterior pelvic tilt reduce your ROM, but it places more strain on your lower back, a major no-no for spinal health. Plus, limited hip internal rotation keeps your knees from tracking properly over your toes.

Lastly, let’s look at an area that most people overlook, thoracic spine mobility. You need mobility in your upper back to keep your torso upright when you squat. As you descend into a squat, your hips shift back, and your trunk leans forward. Without adequate thoracic extension, you can’t counterbalance, and your chest shifts down. This positioning places added shear stress on your lower back.

Are there gender differences that affect squat performance? According to one study, hip flexion and ankle dorsiflexion are limiting factors for men while dorsiflexor strength and ankle dorsiflexion limit squat performance most in females.

Here are some telltale signs that mobility issues are reducing your squat performance:

  • Your heels stubbornly rise off the ground when you squat. This is a good sign that you don’t have good ankle dorsiflexion and hip flexion. It also means you lack adequate hip flexion and ankle dorsiflexion. You can correct this by adding banded squats and single-leg work to your routine to strengthen your stabilizing muscles.
  • You’re leaning forward when you squat. This usually means you’re compensating for tight hips and poor mobility in your thoracic spine. As you descend, your hips tuck under and your chest collapses forward to maintain balance. Work on mobilizing your hip flexors and thoracic spine, so you can stay more upright.
  • Finally, there’s the infamous “butt wink,” where your tailbone tucks under and your lower back rounds at the bottom of a squat. If you do this, you need to work on hip and ankle mobility.

Simple tests you can do to pinpoint limitations that keep you from squatting deeper include:

  • Wall ankle mobility drill: See if your toes can touch the wall while your heel remains flat on the ground when you lunge forward.
  • Thomas test for the hips: Lie on your back and pull one knee toward your chest. See if your other leg can stay flat on the ground.
  • Thoracic extension test: Lie on your stomach and see how much your upper back can arch off the ground.

Now, let’s summarize how you can correct these issues:

  • Banded ankle distractions: Use a resistance band to gently stretch and expand your ankle mobility in different directions.
  • Hip CARs (Controlled Articular Rotations): This involves doing controlled movements of your hips in various directions to improve flexibility.
  • Thoracic extensions on a foam roller: Lie on a foam roller with your upper back and use your body weight to gently stretch and mobilize your thoracic spine.

Use these approaches and be consistent about it. A few half-hearted stretches before squatting won’t make a difference. Dedicate time in your training to correcting mobility sticking points, even on days you don’t train. And be mindful when you squat by using proper technique every time you squat.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to experiment with squat variations. Doing a classic high bar back squat may be your goal but it will be challenging if you have mobility restrictions. Instead, elevate your heels on plates or focus on doing a perfect goblet squat in the short term until you correct mobility issues. These variations are more forgiving if you have hip and ankle limitations, as they allow for a more hip-dominant movement pattern. work on them with targeted mobility exercises. With this approach, you’ll get there!


  • Endo Y, Miura M, Sakamoto M. The relationship between the deep squat movement and the hip, knee, and ankle range of motion and muscle strength. J Phys Ther Sci. 2020 Jun;32(6):391-394. doi: 10.1589/jpts.32.391. Epub 2020 Jun 2. PMID: 32581431; PMCID: PMC7276781.
  • Schoenfeld, B. J. (2010). Squatting kinematics and kinetics and their application to exercise performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(12), 3497-3506.
  • Swinton, P. A., Lloyd, R., Keogh, J. W., Agouris, I., & Stewart, A. D. (2012). A biomechanical comparison of the traditional squat, powerlifting squat, and box squat. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(7), 1805-1816.
  • Myer GD, Kushner AM, Brent JL, Schoenfeld BJ, Hugentobler J, Lloyd RS, Vermeil A, Chu DA, Harbin J, McGill SM. The back squat: A proposed assessment of functional deficits and technical factors that limit performance. Strength Cond J. 2014 Dec 1;36(6):4-27. doi: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000103. PMID: 25506270; PMCID: PMC4262933.
  • Menzies R. Thoracic Mobility Exercises for A Strong, Pain-Free Back. Healthline. Published May 9, 2022. Accessed June 23, 2024. https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness/thoracic-mobility-exercises
  • Kim SH, Kwon OY, Park KN, Jeon IC, Weon JH. Lower extremity strength and the range of motion in relation to squat depth. J Hum Kinet. 2015 Apr 7;45:59-69. doi: 10.1515/hukin-2015-0007. PMID: 25964810; PMCID: PMC4415844.

Related Articles By Cathe:

Squatting for Flexibility: How Squats Can Improve Your Range of Motion

Which Squat Variations Target the Glutes the Most?

Why Squat Depth Matters

Squat Depth: How Low Should You Go?

3 Reasons Your Glutes Aren’t Developing

Squats vs. Lunges: Which is Better for Glute Development?

The Surprising Fitness Benefits of Half Squats

Flat Buttocks: Can You Reshape Your “Bottom Line?”

What Are the Best Exercises to Boost Flat Buttocks?

How Effective Are Deadlifts for Glute Development?

Strength Training: Why You Need to Focus More on Your Posterior Chain

What Happens When the Largest, Strongest Muscle in Your Body is Weak

Related Cathe Friedrich Workout DVDs:

Lift, Move & Restore

Lower Body Workout DVDs

Hi, I'm Cathe

I want to help you get in the best shape of your life and stay healthy with my workout videos, DVDs and Free Weekly Newsletter. Here are several ways you can watch and work out to my exercise videos and purchase my fitness products:

Get Your Free Weekly Cathe Friedrich Newsletter

Get free weekly tips on Fitness, Health, Weight Loss and Nutrition delivered directly to your email inbox. Plus get Special Cathe Product Offers and learn about What’s New at Cathe Dot Com.

Enter your email address below to start receiving my free weekly updates. Don’t worry…I guarantee 100% privacy. Your information will not be shared and you can easily unsubscribe whenever you like. Our Privacy Policy