(My take on staying limber after finishing the 30/30 squat challenge from Ido Portal & ideas to improve your resting squat without doing the challenge itself)
It’s been 6 months now since I finished the Ido Portal inspired 30/30 squat challenge, where you spend 30 minutes a day (accumulated) in a resting/deep squat for 30 days total.
What I didn’t realise when I first finished the challenge was just how popular my documentation of my journey would be. At the time of writing my YouTube video is sitting at 318,000 views and hundreds of comments! What’s more is my subscriber count went from 3/400 in January/February, to nearly 3.5K as we speak!
For whatever reason, the YouTube algorithm – and by extension – you guys, loved it. And I want to express my sincerest gratitude for every view, like, comment, subscription and read of the article too.
Now I’ve come down from going ‘mini-viral’ I’ve realised it’s only right to offer you a follow up to the challenge. And not in the form of what I’m doing now, but rather an up-to-date take on keeping (if not bettering) your squat once you’ve done the challenge.
A life sentence?
As with most short intense bursts of work, like the 30/30 squat challenge, the drop off after is quite often equally as intense. The fall from grace is steep, and it makes sense: you go from full boar to cold turkey and expect things to not drop off?
Normally at the end of such a challenge there are two personas we see…
Person A has incredible results and loves how nice their squat feels, but also knows the sheer amount of time they’ve put into this (15 hours, 900 minutes or 54,000 seconds, for those who haven’t seen my YouTube intro;)) isn’t sustainable.
Nevertheless though, they feel forced into carrying on beyond 30 days just to averse any possible loss. Inevitably the story ends in a tale of burnout and despise for the position and the challenge in general.
Person B has been counting down the days until the challenge ends so they can put their feet up and not have to squat so much each day. Finally, they’ve made it. That was a good experience but not one they want to repeat anytime soon. Then weeks and months go by, they try a squat and it feels as bad as it did on the first day of the original challenge.
The SWEET spot
I’m pleased to tell you I didn’t carry on squatting after the challenge. I actually vowed back then to drop down to 5 minutes per day but intensify the approach in the form of elevating the toes, demanding more ankle flexibility.
I didn’t do that either…
And yet I can still sit in a comfortable resting squat pretty much as good as I did at the end of the challenge. Even my unweighted pistol squat sit is as good as ever on my left leg – and my left ankle was always notoriously tight!
So, how’s it done?
As a quick disclaimer, many of the ideas and exercises you’ll see will be very similar to the legendary KneesOverToesGuy’s system, except here we will be applying it directly to the context of deep squatting as opposed to eliminating knee pain. Anyhow, big up the KneesOverToesGuy for putting out so much GAME-CHANGING content over the years!
Factor 1 –
Calf Stretching (NO) Tibialis Strengthening (YES)
Stretching the calves does work but is it fun? No. Is it time consuming? Yes. Are you likely to stick to it? HELL NO.
The solution is heaven sent: The Tibialis Raise.
I started doing these around the time I finished the squat challenge as I knew my tibialis was weak from the immense burn I’d get in them when squatting long (on one of the days I did the whole 30 mins in one squat ;)). And why wouldn’t it be weak? I spent ZERO time with it contracted/engaged pretty much my whole life.
The simplest way to go about training these is the back to wall version. This way you don’t need equipment and your costs are kept to zero. Not to say the tibialis bar is bad as the nice thing about it is the incremental/precise loading that you don’t get with the wall version.
But the wall version will suffice for the majority. I’ve built up in reps and angle on these from 3 sets of 15 at really modest angle months back, to 4 sets of 25 at a steeper angle today. This has kept my ankle mobility more than any period of calf stretching that I never even stuck to because let’s face it, it’s duller than dishwater.
Factor 2 – USE THE RANGE WHEREVER POSSIBLE
Heavy ATG squats? Not necessarily. Going ATG in warm ups or lighter sets? Absolutely. Using the range is key here. You can’t expect your body to keep what it deems surplus to requirements, and a resting squat will always be surplus to requirements if you never do it.
I’ll admit it’s a little easier for me as I do a plethora of classes per week, spanning different disciplines but a big chunk being pilates & yoga. In these classes I always make a point to visit the good ol’ resting squat! Even in general warm ups, the squat to fold is a staple…
The good news is maintaining takes much less than gaining. This goes for lots of things within movement, the resting squat being no exception.
Factor 3 – Calf Training Done ‘Properly’
This one may seem a little counterintuitive; working the muscles you need to lengthen?
Hear me out…
Sure, tight calves will hinder your squat, BIG TIME, and is the most common reason you hate the position so much. But your calves aren’t tight from training them too much, they’re tight because they’re always in a limited position – i.e. never fully lengthening or shortening.
Full range of motion strength training is one of the best ways to develop flexibility anywhere – even more so when done progressively. Most people do calf raises really half-assed. They bounce up and down and never even go near a full stretch at the bottom – this is a fine recipe to make an already tight calf/ankle tighter.
Full range of motion strength training is one of the best ways to develop flexibility anywhere – even more so when done progressively.Tweet
These are another GAME CHANGER. A winning combo; mobility and better calf gains too courtesy of the stretch.
For a long time now, I’ve been doing 3-5 second stretch pauses at the bottom of every rep I do on a single leg calf raise. And these are weighted too, which adds to the stretch. To add even more spice to the concoction I consciously try to pull my toes up to my knee aka fire up my tibialis while I lengthen the calf.
Factor 4 – Hip Flexor STRENGTH
It’s easy to get caught into thinking the ankles are the only thing limiting a deep squat. They aren’t. Your hip flexion or more accurately, your active hip flexion can too.
People are terrified of strengthening their hip flexors for fear of making them tighter as they’re already ‘chronically tight’. Paradoxically though, those with the tightest hips usually have the weakest hips.
If we look at what happens at the hip when you’re in a squat you’ll see why having good active range in the hip flexors is really helpful…
The ability to pull the knees up as high as possible makes the squat position more active and stable than if you were just using the weight of your body to force you into the position. Initially that’s what will happen as you acclimatise but for long term maintenance, you want to be able to have active control in that range through the hip flexors.
How to do it?
There are many methods but the most applicable one to deep squatting is the bent knee raise or hold, which can be done either with just your bodyweight, with a partner’s resistance or with ankle weights/added weights.
Standing in free space is one thing but we can make the dish hotter by doing this back to wall – not letting the body come away from the wall will lock you in and prevent any cheating.
If you’re someone who’s never done any hip flexor work at all, a 30 second high knee hold on each side will have you whimpering from about 10-15 seconds onwards. If you’re lucky.
I was introduced to the world of hip flexor end range work thanks to my front splits journey, where I spent lots of time working on the straight leg version, lifting my foot off a high support and not letting my body compensate at all.
Another really neat drill is the knee to chest hold (passive stretch) where you release the hands and fight to keep the knee as high as possible (even if it’s a losing fight against gravity at first, the idea is to get better with time).
Credit to the genius that is Ryan Faehnle for this one…
Strong hip flexors aren’t just so you can sit in an ass-to-grass squat, they’re key for almost all athletic endeavours. There’s a reason Usain Bolt did lots of hip flexor raises…
Bonus Factor (5) – Glute Strength/Hip Flexor Length
“When will he talk about all the hip flexor tightening we’ve been doing so far?! Surely we need to offset this, huh?!“
We do wise one. And that’s where this bonus comes in: having strong glutes and strong/long hip flexors that can tolerate load.
Think of this as the other part of the puzzle. The theme we’ve been seeing all the way through so far is strength through length, right? But maximally shortened hip flexors are just one section of the puzzle…maximally lengthened hip flexors are the remaining part.
Again, sadly, most people’s idea of stretching their hip flexors is dropping into a yoga lunge for 30 seconds, letting their low back arch and willing the time to pass before changing to the other side, and then not doing the stretch again for another few weeks.
This is a one way ticket to the land of no gains. You might be (almost) stretching the end ranges but there’s no strengthening, so the range will never become normal.
There are two drills that strengthen the hip at length while strengthening the glutes at their max contraction zone alongside: the lunge heel drive & the long lunge itself.
The lunge heel drive is essentially a single leg curl in a lunge position. You put the hip flexor under stretch then contract the hamstrings and glutes to intensify the stretch further. The strength stimulus here repatterns your nervous system into releasing the hip flexors as it now deems a bigger range ‘safer’, as you’re stronger there now.
The long lunge is very similar except the back leg is straighter/as straight as you can get it, but the aim is much the same: strengthening the glutes in their maximum contracted/shortened position.
If you’re on the ball you’ll have noticed these are drills straight out of any good front split training syllabus! And no, you don’t need to take them that far but just improving your active range in these drills will do wonders for the function of your hips.
People who can lift and hold their heel to their butt (ACTIVELY) are as rare as hen’s teeth…strong and low active long lunges are equally as mythical. It’s only those who’ve been mad enough to attack the front splits intelligently that will have any level here. But this range is super beneficial for so many things.
As I said in the original squat challenge video: some hip flexor stretching can be useful for offsetting all the time spent in that maximally flexed hip position.
And if this is all too ‘yoga’ for you, we can put a weight training spin on it in the form of the sadly forgotten front foot elevated split squat (FFESS)…
For years it’s like we only cared for the rear foot elevated/Bulgarian split squat and almost didn’t know you could do it with the front foot elevated. But thanks to Ben Patrick aka KneesOverToesGuy, the FFESS is back in fashion again – and for good reason.
With this you can kill 3 birds with one stone: you can strengthen each leg individually in the deep knee bend/squat pattern, you can mobilise and stretch the back hip/quad along with the front ankle, all while building muscle in the process and addressing any imbalances between sides!
A no brainer!
Hopefully this concoction is useful to you. If you get good at all these 5 factors you can have a pretty banging resting squat without spending all that time sat in a squat, believe me.
Does this mean the squat challenge shouldn’t be done?
The squat challenge is super useful as a reset button, if you will. But it’s not a lifelong approach. Again, as I highlighted in the video: not everyone will be able to, or even benefit from, 30 minutes a day; you can improve the position with much less work, particularly when you’re smart about it.
The ideas here are the smart approach to squatting better. All you need to do now is put them into action!
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