If you’re on Myprotein’s website and looking through the training articles, I am just going to assume that you already squat and know the plethora of benefits that they provide (and if you don’t and this is the first time you’re hearing about them, you definitely should add them to your routine asap! Pending you have no physical impediments that won’t allow it, but that’s a topic for a different day).
Anyway, the squat has been called the “King” of all movements and is one of the three core lifts that almost every person should incorporate. It truly is a full body movement that calls into action numerous muscle groups, but again, that’s a topic for a different day, so I digress.
How Deep Should I Squat?
One of the biggest questions surrounding this movement is “how deep should I squat?”, “should I squat high or low bar?”, and “is squatting ass-to-grass really necessary?” To start, squatting ass-to-grass or rather, as low as you can possibly go, is more than likely not safe and certainly not necessary for 99% of people. As far as depth is concerned, the accepted norm is to go to parallel or slightly below parallel (this position is rather difficult to describe, but the picture below is a good indication – more or less, you want your hips to be slightly lower, about parallel with the floor, or where your hips are about level with your knees).
For those who disagree with everything I have said so far, I’ll point you to a study that I found online: a study was done by Dr. Rafael Escamilia- a professor of physical therapy at California State University, where he took a look at 70 studies in regards to the biomechanics of the squat. The results that he found concluded that bending the knee to roughly 90 degrees was more than enough to achieve high levels of muscle recruitment, aka, deep enough to build all of the muscles in the lower body, which is what we are all aiming for.
To close on this portion of the discussion today, I would like to leave you with one closing thought: there is no “one size fits all” guidelines for the squat or most exercises to be perfectly honest. Everyone has different extremity lengths, leverage points, and even as simple as how tall someone is can lead to changes in form that work better for certain individuals that would critiques by most as “bad form”. In general, as long as you aren’t putting yourself in a position for injury and the technique you’re using works for you and allows you to handle the heaviest loads, I say go for.
How To Squat Deeper
There are really three major hindering factors that enable someone from achieving good squat form or hitting depth: they are, lack of mobility, lack of proper form, and lack of stability. Now, you may have noticed that the word “lack” appears in all three of those points, and that’s for good measure; this means that, although they may be hindering factors now, you can improve them all one by one and in turn, improve your squat.
1. Lack of mobility
In today’s society most people spend a good part of their day sitting in chairs in front of compute- be it in the classroom/library as I am currently or at their desk for their day job. This leads to tight glutes, hamstrings, quads, and really your entire lower body which obviously will not aid you when trying to load hundreds of pounds on your back and squat down towards the ground. Also, slouching over said computer, desk, etc as most of us do- again, myself included, could hinder you from keeping your chest up, your head neutral, and your torso upright- all key technique points of a proper squat. Never fear though, there is a solution. I would recommend finding a specific squat focused stretching routine that will open up your hips and loosen up all of those tighter areas. Foam rolling is also a good thing to implement for overall health, but can also aid you here as well.
2. Lack of proper form
Two major issues that most people face is their chest falling forward or not staying upright throughout the movement and their knees caving in. In order to counter these things, I would recommend these exercises that you could do either before or after your session to reinforce good form. For the first issue, you could try bodyweight squats while facing a wall which will ensure that you hold the proper position or even something as simple as using a very light load and performing perfect reps until you get completely comfortable with the movement. As for the knees caving in, you could try doing bodyweight squats with a band around your knees which will literally force you to push your knees out or again, training with light loads and implementing proper form over and over again is never a bad way to approach it.
3. Lack of stability
This really goes hand in hand with both of the above points. Stability throughout the squat or really any compound movement is the key to maximizing the loads you can handle as well as preventing injury. As far as general guidelines to increase this area, as long as you are training your body completely, you will become stronger overall and that will translate to helping your squat. In addition, a few form cues can also aid you; the ones that I focus on the most are retracting the scapula and imagine pulling the bar apart on your back, keeping your head neutral and your chest up to avoid falling forward, push your knees outward, and having your breathing on point. Breathing is one of the most important things that people overlook; for myself personally, I take in a huge breathe right before the descent and then exhale and explode out of the hole.
I hope that this article cleared up a few of the misconceptions about how deep one really should squat to maximize the benefits of the exercise. Similarly, if you are having issues achieve proper depth or performing the exercise with good form, doing the things I mentioned above have certainly helped me in my training and I think could aid some of you as well.