The ability to squat is a fundamental human movement. In fact, the ability to squat well is part of normal human development. If you watch a small child, you will notice that their ability to squat deeply with an upright torso is effortless.
In many developing countries, the ability to squat well into old age is also very normal.
Some of this is due culture and habits. Many of these countries have true squatty potty type commodes.
In these regions, people need to squat several times per day just to use the bathroom. In addition the resting position in many cases is a squat type of posture versus sitting slumped in a chair. They are constantly putting their body at the end ranges of motion that are necessary to maintain a squat.
In the west, our need to squat deeply is rare for most activities. When you combine that with sedentary type work environments, many westerners develop mobility restrictions that keep them from achieving a good squat.
In order to achieve a full depth squat with an upright torso, adequate mobility is needed in the hips, knees, and ankles.
Some ways to improve hip mobility in the bottom of the squat are though some active mobility drills. A few of these drills include a supine hip IR position and supine ankle hip dorsiflexion.
This drills can help regain to lost mobility though engaging muscles through a full range of motion.
Once of the ways to improve knee flexion are though mobilizing the big toe and knee flexion/rotation drills. There is a muscle that goes from the bottom of the big toe all the way up to the middle of the fibula (the smaller bone in your lower leg) called the flexor hallucis longus (FHL). For some people improving their big toe movement can improve full knee flexion.
If we still aren't getting improvement, we can try a mobilization with movement of the knee into internal rotation with some fibular glide.
To improve mobility at the ankle, simple exercise is half kneeling ankle dorsiflexion with a dowel.
If a pinch in the front of the ankle is felt, a variation of this drill that may clear the pinch is banded ankle distraction.
If you have cleared your mobility restrictions, patterning the squat through a toe-touch squat is one of my favorite ways to restore a squat.
If you’re at a loss at how to improve your squat, try out a few of these mobility drills and correctives first. Then move into re-patterning your squat. Having a decent squat should be a prerequisite before you add any load and potentially set yourself up for injury.