How Low Should You Go? Squat Depth Explained

The squat is the number one movement glorified on social media as the “booty builder” and criticized by many when not descending below parallel. Yes it's true it will build your backside, however not everybody should be squatting to or below parallel.... I can explain, I promise. 

When it comes to a sport such as powerlifting, plain and simple, it’s about hitting depth and getting the hip crease below the knee angle. Doesn’t matter how you do it. Olympic lifters have to catch their lift in the bottom position, and getting deeper is often times advantageous and almost impossible to avoid in competition unless you're an absolute beast and you're doing powers on the platform. Anyways, for the lifter training hard while trying to regain/maintain mobility, reduce pain in joints, and keep a proper level of coordination between body parts, the squat is essential. Not only as the main lift but as an accessory/general movement pattern. However for those with pain or a plateau that as been lasting for some time, this may mean cutting depth on the actual lift and incorporating tempo work and isometric holds at varying positions. And for those with a perfect squat, working on bodyweight positions with mid-range pauses and slower tempos can serve a beneficial purpose as well. 

For weightlifters the squat is not just a squat, it is also a positioning/coordination drill for the pelvis, lower extremity, low back, thorax, and upper extremity along with being a mass and strength builder. Treat it that way. For example, if most of your lifts are performed low-bar then have another day in the training cycle dedicated to high-bar or at least incorporate some high-bar/front squat variations in your warm-up for increased mobility, coordination, positioning, joint loading and warming up the tissue. Maybe if your feeling risky work in some light quarter squat pauses while focusing on breathing and not overarching your spine... Which leads to my next point...

The squat is essentially a "Rehab/Prehab" exercise in itself as long as it is done properly.

As I mentioned above, some athletes/weightlifters will run into issues such as pain in the hips, knees, back, etc. When that happens going "too deep" may be a problem. It is then necessary to step back and break down the movement, whether that means performing a paused squat slightly higher than parallel or maintaining a 3-second eccentric (lowering) phase, the body has to rebuild the ability to absorb load in a coordinated manner with whatever range of motion available. This may mean quarter squatting to maintain a neutral spine/pelvis and proper lower extremity patterning.  

Remember the squat as a main lift needs to be trained as such whether that's high-bar, low-bar, or front squat. It needs to be loaded and progressed overtime to elicit a stimulation and adaptation. That will never change. However like any lifter that has been in the game for awhile, the joints start to ache, the weights plateau and the frustration sets in. This does not mean to completely give up on the lift itself, instead something needs to be altered to regain your strength and position. Whether that means implementing a "rehab/accessory" squat in addition to your competition squat or adjusting the entire competition/training squat, something has to be done position-wise 9 times out of 10.

Take-home. For the sake of this blog, joint coordination/mobility, pain, and training load will dictate depth, range of motion and position. Remember squats performed through varying ranges of motion (even quarter squats) are therapeutic and supplemental in addition to your full range competition squats and should be considered when mechanical pain or plateaus arise. 

If you have any questions regarding proper squat depth, form, or motion please post in our Facebook group (Click the link below) and I will be more than happy to discuss further in depth with you. In the meantime, please seek help from a coach, trainer, or any other healthcare professional if you need help assessing such motion in-person.  The Facebook group is a great place for discussion about anything squat, weightlifting, muscle or joint related as well.

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