Nothing sparks up a debate quite like what constitutes the correct depth for a squat. You might find yourself watching other bros at the gym to justify the depth of your squat.
Or maybe you’ve heard that you should only descend until your thighs are parallel to the floor — any deeper and your knees are likely to explode. Others might scoff at any squat where your hamstrings don’t cozy up to your calves.
The truth is that neither side is right. Contrary to what the exercise police might say, there is no ‘one size fits all’ recommendation when it comes to squat depth. Squat depth is important but so is good form. So, what is good form when it comes to squat depth, and does it really make a difference when you squat all the way to the ground?
The Perfect Squat
How Deep Should You Squat?
With a few exceptions, you should squat no lower than the point where your hip begins to tuck under and you lose the natural arch in your lower spine. However, those limits are not the same for each person.
For some people, this might be parallel or slightly below. For others, you might be compromising form before you even reach parallel. The fact is, a very small amount of people can squat ass-to-ankles without compromising form.
When your spine flattens out with a heavy barbell across your shoulders, a large amount of hydraulic pressure is imposed on the discs in your spine. So before you let ego dictate how deep you squat, remember that ignoring what is happening to your back is increasing your chances of some kind of disc injury.
You should be asking yourself, is the potential benefits of squatting deep with a rounded spine greater than the risks involved in doing so?
Does How Deep You Go Matter?
Whether you’re striving for those serious gains or you’re just maintaining your current muscle mass, bending your knees to around 90 degrees is enough to achieve very high levels of muscular activity in your quadriceps.
In other words, squatting to parallel is enough to make your legs bigger and stronger. Many people argue the benefits of the deadlift, yet there is not one muscle group that is taken through a full range of motion during the deadlift.
Another factor to consider is do you need full range of motion? If you’re trying to strengthen your glutes and hamstrings, you really only need to do half squats and reverse leg presses to access those muscles. If you’re just beginning to bulk up, squatting slightly above parallel will still provide tremendous benefits; even if it wouldn’t count at a powerlifting competition.
The fact of the matter is, there are plenty of people who simply are not built to squat and will never break parallel without some kind of lumbar flexion no matter what they do. So, if you’re looking for gains but not looking to slip a disc or blow your knees out — you might be asking yourself, “How can I protect myself without skipping leg day?”
How Can I Squat Deeper Without Injury?
Nothing can be more frightening to an athlete than injuring yourself while working out. Despite all the horror stories about blowing out your knees while attempting to deadlift, a good, deep squat is very healthy for your knees and also recruits the hamstrings and glutes better than a partial range squat.
The problem is, most people lack the mobility and flexibility necessary to sink a squat a few inches below parallel without rounding their lower back. Our suggestion would be to squat as low as you can while maintaining proper technique and posture.
Two tips that can help you get a little deeper are to actively pull yourself into the hole with your hip flexors instead of just letting gravity do its job. Second, remember that squatting takes place between the knees and not over them. We’d also suggest adding in some assistance exercises to get that deep knee bend and full squat position.
This could be any of the following:
- Single leg squats
- Pistol squats
- Goblet squats
- Kettlebell front squats
- Weight vest squats
Implementing these tips will allow you to squat at the depth that is effective and safe for you. If you don’t believe there are any limitations to squatting ass-to-ankles check out this video below to see what it looks like to lift with your ego.