Proper squat depth is a hotly debated topic in the strength world and you’ll get a lot of different answers depending on who you ask and what their perspective is.
- In an ideal world, you’d squat to parallel or below. Deep squats are actually healthy for your knees and they engage your posterior chain far more than partial reps.
- In reality, most people lack the flexibility and mobility to squat below parallel with good form and without rounding their back. So in the real-world you squat as low as you can with good form, and then you work on your strength and mobility over time until you can squat deeper. Form trumps all so better to squat a little higher safely, then crush your back trying to go below parallel.
Is Squatting Below Parallel That Important?
Outside of power-lifting and some sports (that require a high-degree of mobility), squatting below parallel is not totally necessary. However, the deeper you can squat, the more benefits you will receive and I believe everyone should aim to squat deeper.
If you think about it, we are born with the ability to squat deep and we simply lose the ability to do so over time due to poor lifestyle habits and inactivity. I watch my two year old on a daily basis squat “ass to the grass”, so as adults we should be striving to regain that lost ability.
What Can You Do To Increase Your Squat Depth?
#1: Cue Yourself
Whenever I teach someone to squat properly, I’m usually amazed about how much progress they can make in the first 5 minutes of training just by me cuing them.
The top 3 cues I use are “Chest Up”, “Spread the floor”, and “Sit in the hole”.
- “Chest up” cues the lifter to stick out their chest and keep it high, allowing them to maintain good posture throughout the lift and focus on sitting back into proper position.
- “Spread the floor” cues the lifter to spread their knees apart. Legendary lifter Dan John said that squatting takes place between the knees, not over them. So “spreading the floor” allows the lifter to get in between their knees and engage their glutes and hamstrings. Otherwise, the lifter tends to make the squat quad dominant and they get out over their knees. Really bad position to be in if you want to stay healthy…
- When you “spread the floor” you create a void (the hole) in between you knees, which is where a parallel or deeper squat is made. By “sitting in the hole”, you naturally squat deeper and get a deep knee bend while engaging your glutes and hamstrings.
By cuing yourself, I can almost guarantee you will squat deeper from the outset.
#2: Crush Assistance Work
Assistance exercises are vital to training your mobility and flexibility that will lead to a deeper squat.
Other than barbell squats, you should be hitting a few of these exercises on your lower body days:
- Goblet Squats
- Front Squats
- Zercher Squats
- Single Leg Squats
- High-box step ups
These exercises won’t load the spine and allow you to naturally squat deeper than you would on heavy barbell back squats. My typical rep range for assistance work is 6-12, so a few sets in this rep scheme on lower body days will help you develop the mobility for a deeper squat.
#3: Isolate Your Posterior Chain
One of the few times I recommend isolation work is to bring up weaknesses. In this case, most people have weak hamstrings and glutes. This prevents them from squatting properly, and in some cases causes them knee pain.
Bringing up your posterior chain will alleviate both of these issues. Focus on glute ham raises and hip thrusts. Often times in my warm ups, I do several sets of glute ham raises, meaning I’m hitting my posterior chain directly at least 4 times a week.
- I mentioned this before, but form trumps all. If you can’t squat parallel or below, work with the 3 strategies I outlined and you will be able to squat deeper over time.
- Injuries, blown joints, knee pain, and other circumstances may prevent you from ever squatting below parallel. With this in mind, squat as low as you can while maintaining a neutral spine. You can still get great benefits from partial rep squats, and then crush the assistance work I outlined to augment your back squatting.