Whether you should do static or active stretches before a workout is an ongoing debate in the fitness community.
However, after analyzing dozens of data while factoring in my personal experience, I concluded that dynamic stretches are better for a few reasons.
In fact, one of the studies I read recently titled “A review of the acute effects of static and dynamic stretching on performance” claims that a warm-up for minimizing injuries and maximizing performance during a workout should include: (1)
- Submaximal intensity aerobic activity
- Large amplitude dynamic stretching
- Sport-specific dynamic activities
In this article, I will mainly focus on dynamic stretches and cover the seven best active stretches (mobility drills) you should incorporate before every squat session so you can crush your PRs and worry less about injuring yourself.
- 7 Best Stretches Before Squats
- Can Foam Rolling Before These Stretches Improve My Squat Performance?
- What Is the Main Difference Between Static and Dynamic Squat Stretches?
- Wrapping Up
- Article Updates Timeline:
7 Best Stretches Before Squats
Below are the seven best stretches you should incorporate before every squat workout:
1. Cat-Cow Stretch
Cat-cow stretch is a quadrupedal exercise focusing on moving your spine in the sagittal plane. By doing so, you are primarily working on your thoracic mobility and preparing your spine for the intense workout sessions.
Remember, the movement in this exercise must be limited to your thoracic spine, while the lumbar and cervical should be mostly stable.
- Assume a quadrupedal position on your hands and knees on a yoga mat (technically, your toes, too, so quadrupedal may not be the best term to describe this setup, but we will use it for the lack of a better word).
- Ensure your wrists are under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
- Keep your spine neutral and gaze down towards the floor.
- As you exhale, slowly push the middle of your back toward the ceiling using your abdominal muscles.
- Simultaneously, tuck your chin into your upper chest and look at your navel. This is the cat pose.
- Now, as you inhale, tilt your pelvis and let your tailbone stick up.
- Lift your head while simultaneously moving your shoulders away from your ears. Gaze slightly upward as well. This is the cow position.
- Alternate between these two positions for recommended reps.
Pro Tip: To deepen the cat-cow stretch and enhance overall spinal articulation, visualize your spine moving one vertebra at a time, like a wave flowing from the base of your spine to the crown of your head. This will promote greater mindfulness and connection with each segment of your back.
2. Lying Thoracic Spine Rotation
Some also call this exercise the thoracic open book stretch, as it mimics turning the pages of a book.
Primarily, we aim to increase thoracic mobility in the transverse plane with this exercise while also activating those small but necessary muscles in our back.
Those are usually pivotal for better spine stability during complex movements such as squats and deadlifts.
- Lie on your side on the floor.
- Bend your knees and hips at a 90-degree angle and extend your arms straight in front of you.
- You can place your head on the floor or place a foam roller or a pillow beneath it for better comfort while ensuring your head is in line with your spine.
- Exhale and simultaneously “open the book” by raising your top arm toward the ceiling and bringing it to the other side in a sweeping motion.
- Keep your eyes locked on your hand and move your head in tandem.
- Focus on only rotating from your thoracic spine while keeping your knees together and hips stacked.
- Once you’ve reached your thoracic spine’s furthest point of rotation, pause and maintain that position for a brief one to two-second count.
- Take a few deep breaths and return to the starting position by reversing the entire movement.
- Perform six reps, then change sides.
I remember one of our coaches saying: “First, we open and read the book like traditional Chinese people did, then we switch sides and read like our teachers taught us in school, but we never listened to them.”
Pro Tip: Keep your knees pressed together and your abdominal muscles contracted throughout the exercise to ensure the rotation is isolated to the thoracic spine.
3. Point Ankle Dorsiflexion
Ankle dorsiflexion is crucial for achieving proper squat depth. No matter how mobile your hips are, your squat depth will be limited if you have limited dorsiflexion.
- Mark a spot on the floor 10-15 cm from a wall.
- Assume a half-kneeling position and place your front foot behind the marked spot.
- First, push your front knee straight forward, aiming to touch the wall.
- When you reach the end range of motion, hold for one second and return to the starting position.
- Second, push the knee diagonally on the right side and aim to touch the wall again.
- When you achieve the end range of motion, hold for one second and return to the starting position.
- Third, push the knee diagonally on the left side and aim to touch the wall again.
- Hold for one second at the end of the range of motion and return to the starting position.
- Repeat this sequence six times, and then switch legs.
Pro Tip: Avoid lifting your heels off the floor while consciously visualizing contracting your front lower leg (tibial) muscles to efficiently increase your dorsiflexion range of motion.
4. Frog Stretch (Active Variation)
The frog stretch is an exercise I perform before sleeping every night. It has helped me increase my hip mobility and adductor flexibility substantially more than any other stretching exercise I have ever tried. However, we will add a dynamic element to this exercise to make it even more effective.
- Assume a starting position on all fours on a yoga mat.
- Place your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips.
- Slowly widen your knees as far apart as you can go comfortably. Keep your feet in line with your knees.
- Transition to your elbows.
- Now, slowly start to sink your hips toward the floor while pushing them backward. This is done by simultaneously flexing your knees and hips.
- When you feel more uncomfortable than usual, return to the starting position and repeat.
- Flow backward and forwards between these two positions slowly and with caution. You don’t want to strain your inner thighs.
Pro Tip: Actively engage your core and maintain a neutral spine throughout the movement. This will protect your lower back and allow for a deeper and more controlled stretch in the hip adductors.
5. Toe Touch to Squat
Toe touch to squat is another excellent dynamic exercise that will open your hips and allow for better squat depths, one of the most important things for keeping your squat form in check.
- Assume a standing position with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and turn your toes slightly outward.
- Bend forward by hinging at your hips and touch your toes with your hands.
- Slowly enter a deep squat position while keeping your hands on your toes throughout the entire movement.
- In the bottom position, spread your knees as wide as possible. Make sure to keep your back flat in the bottom position.
- Slowly extend your knees to return to the starting position and repeat.
Pro Tip: Concentrate on synchronizing your breath with your movement. Inhale as you hinge at the hips to touch your toes, and exhale as you lower into the squat. Use the breath to enter a deeper squat position and enhance the stretch through your hamstrings and lower back.
6. Dynamic Leg Swings (Sagittal Plane)
Dynamic leg swings are an excellent exercise to prepare your legs for all that’s coming during your heavy squats. They will effectively activate those hip extensors while also stretching your hip flexors.
- Stand beside a squat rack or any other study equipment that ensures stability.
- Swing one leg back and forth as high as possible while holding onto the squat rack with the other hand.
- Repeat for 10 to 15 seconds, then switch sides.
Pro Tip: Keep your upper body steady throughout the exercise, especially your lumbar spine. Limit the movement to your legs for an overall better stretch.
7. Dynamic Leg Swings (Frontal Plane)
Essentially, dynamic leg swings will help open your hips even more, preparing them better for what’s coming during your back squats.
- Stand upright in front of the squat rack and grab it with both your hands.
- Swing one leg across your body while keeping the other leg and upper body steady.
- Perform this movement for about 10-15 seconds, then switch legs.
Pro Tip: For a more potent dynamic stretch in the working hip, keep the leg you’re not using still by engaging the glutes and quads on that side.
Can Foam Rolling Before These Stretches Improve My Squat Performance?
Definitely. Foam rolling is excellent to incorporate before these stretches for numerous reasons, some of which are:
- Increases blood flow
- Reduces muscle tension
- Improved overall mobility
- Enhanced muscle receptivity
In fact, a study titled “Is Self Myofascial Release an Effective Preexercise and Recovery Strategy?” found that foam rolling, as a form of self-myofascial release (SMR), has a positive effect on joint range of motion and overall decreasing soreness and fatigue levels. (2)
However, speaking from experience and after looking at several studies, I can confidently state that deep SMR practice before a workout can be detrimental and induce numerous negative effects on the upcoming workout.
I recommend gentle, surface-level SMR as the perfect solution before a workout to achieve better ROM and decrease fatigue.
This means performing just around six reps of foam rolling repetitions for each muscle group before a particular workout.
What Is the Main Difference Between Static and Dynamic Squat Stretches?
Static stretching involves extending a muscle to its furthest point and holding that position for a certain period, typically 15 to 60 seconds. On the contrary, dynamic stretching involves active movements where joints and muscles go through their full range of motion.
This is also when you hear the terms ‘active range of motion’ and ‘passive range of motion.’ So, an active range of motion is achieved through contracting your muscles, which results in joint movement, and a passive range of motion is achieved through the help of an external force such as a training partner or floor, for example.
Do I need to stretch before doing squats?
Absolutely, you need to stretch before every squat session. However, conventional static stretching isn’t the best choice to increase your squat performance and overall hip mobility. I advise every weightlifter to perform active stretching in the form of mobility drills before squat sessions.
Active stretches will warm your muscles better, naturally improve your dynamic range of motion, and prime those muscles necessary for executing a squat.
How do you warm up before squats?
You warm up before squats by doing the following things. First, you foam roll the prime movers and synergist muscles during squats. Second, you perform some type of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching for your quads, hams, adductors, and abductors.
Third, you hop on a treadmill to perform some type of light 3-4 minute cardio. And lastly, you perform some of the active mobility drills we discussed in this article’s main section.
How do you stretch your legs before squatting?
You stretch your legs by performing a series of active mobility drills. Avoid passive stretching before your squats. The primary focus of your warm-up and mobility drills is to prepare your body, most importantly your lower body, for the upcoming lifting session.
Warming up improves the overall elasticity of your muscles, activating prime movers and synergists. Mobility drills also increase your active range of motion.
Is it good to stretch after squats?
Static stretching after intense lifting sessions is generally not recommended. This is because you further damage your muscle tissue by performing this type of activity when, in reality, you should focus only on recovery.
However, I generally recommend stretching those muscle groups that weren’t primer movers or “heavy” synergists during squats or dedicating an entire training session to static stretching. Static stretching has its time and place; this is not one of them.
To sum it up, avoid stretching muscles such as your quads, hams, and glutes after squat sessions, and instead, stretch your upper back and other similar muscles that aren’t the prime movers during squats.
How do I loosen my knees before squats?
To clarify first, you can’t technically loosen up your knees. However, you can loosen the muscles surrounding the knee; the most important ones are quads. So, you should aim to perform some type of active mobility drills that incorporate knee flexion. One example is actively rocking on the sides in the deep squat position.
You will also loosen up your adductors, which are crucial for performing squats correctly and without injuries.
You must incorporate active stretches or so-called mobility drills before every squat session. They will effectively improve your range of motion and increase overall performance.
In addition, they will also lower the risk of potential injuries, which is as important as improving your lifting performance. In the comments below, share the stretches you do before a lower body training session.
- Behm D, Chaouachi A. A review of the acute effects of static and dynamic stretching on performance. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2011;111(9):2633-2651. doi:10.1007/s00421-011-1879-2
- Schroeder, Allison N. BS1; Best, Thomas M. MD, PhD2. Is Self Myofascial Release an Effective Preexercise and Recovery Strategy? A Literature Review. Current Sports Medicine Reports 14(3):p 200-208, May/June 2015. | DOI: 10.1249/JSR.0000000000000148
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Article Updates Timeline:
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January 16, 2024
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