How Low Should You Squat?
All squats will go to one of 3 depths
Full Squat/Power lifting squat
Deep Squat - (Ass to Grass)
But which is best?
Some people say that going to low can be dangerous, while others will take to the internet to shame people who don’t squat all the way down.
This is one of those questions that leads to a lot of arguing and most people tend to miss the nuance in it.
Today, lets go over whose right? Whose wrong? And how low should you really be squatting?
In the lifting community partial squats are often frowned upon or in some cases activly shamed.
The reason is because those who do partial squats are typically young guys who want to pad their ego by putting more weight on the bar. The result is the weight is to heavy, they can’t get a full range of motion, and make less progress.
For almost all exercises full range of motion repetitions offer superior results in both strength and mobility. The squat is no different, if you wan’t to get the most benefit from your squat you should do the full range of motion which I will explain in a moment.
Squating low is often said to be bad for the knees and back - which is true if you do so with poor technique - but partial squats can often be worse than a full squat. The reason is because a partial squat allows you to add more weight to the bar. This excessive weight can be damaging to your knees and back.
So take some weight off and focus on technique. You’ll be better off for it.
With this said there are some exceptions.
When you should do a partial squat
If you are new to exercising and struggle doing a correct full range of motion squat then a partial squat may be for you.
Technique is always the most important factor when exercising. For many people doing a full squat correctly can be difficult either due to poor coordination or poor mobility.
Never do an exercise with poor technique.
This is true for many clients I work with. In these situations we will often opt for a partial range squat variation such as our box squat to build strength and coordination while we work on their mobility.
As they get stronger and improve we are able to use progressively lower boxes until they are finally able to do a full pain free squat.
Second Exception - Your an advanced trainee
For the advanced trainee (i.e. years of experience) gains and progress become hard to come by. In these situations the use of partial reps can be used to break plateaus or enhance performance.
However, if you have’’t been training at a high level for multiple years then stick to a full range for best results.
A full squat is the depth I recommend that most people do or strive to do.
A full squat is the depth at which the top of your legs are parallel to the ground.
A full squat effectively trains the quads(thigh muscles) the hamstrings and glutes(butt muscles) more so than a partial squat and with less risk than a deep squat.
The Deep Squat (Ass to Grass)
I consider a full deep squat a fundamental movement. A movement that we should all have. From an evolutionary stand point a deep squat is important.
Many evolutionary scientist view a deep ass to grass squat a human resting position. You can see this in action if you look at many eastern, native and non-developed nations. In fact it’s often referred to as the ‘Asian Squat’.
There is also evidence to show that being in a deep squat is beneficial for bowel movements, which makes sense since our ancestors didn’t have access to toilets.
The deep squat also would have been important for investigating objects on the ground and for picking up those objects. If you wan’t an example of this in action just look at any toddler and how they squat down to check out new things.
For these reasons I consider a full deep squat something we should all be capable of and one worth striving for.
When applicable I coach my clients to have the ability to perform a deep squat, however I do not use the deep squat for strength work.
The deep squat is not inherently dangerous, but does carry certain risk.
The issue of safety arises when we begin to add load(weight) to the equation. When we drop below parallel the forces on our knees change. We go from a compressive force to a sheering force. This is where the integrity of the joint begins to be challenged and where issues and injuries may occur.
We should all be able to do an ass to grass squat.
When we begin to add load above levels we would find in a natural environment then things become riskier and potentially dangerous.
It’s for this reason I coach the squat to power-lifting depth when training with loads. That is where the top of the thigh is parallel to the ground. It not ass to grass but it is low - usually lower than what most people typically do at the gym.
It’s a depth that will work the quads, hamstrings, and glutes effectively.
Going lower than this under load puts a large amount of sheer force on the knees and it's a risk-reward trade off that I’m not willing to make for the majority of people.
What about Olympic lifters?
What they do is amazing. They’re a good example of what the human body is capable of. However, I feel there are a few things to keep in mind before you use them to make the generalization that Ass to grass is not dangerous and the squat we should all strive for.
Selection Bias - Successful Olympic lifters and those who move significant weights are often the exception, not the norm. From femur length to the way their hips are oriented into their pelvis to their muscle fiber distributions - their bodies they are typically ‘built’ for the sport.
We only see the successful lifters. What we likely miss are all the people who may have tried Olympic lifting but failed. In this way, we have a selection bias. One that applies to most high-level performers. It’s for this reason why we must be careful when we try to apply the habits and activities of high level performers to he general population.
Injuries and unknown factors - No one ever talks about all the injuries. I know plenty of people who have squat, deadlifted or benched over 500lbs. It’s an awe-inspiring feat. However, what goes untold are the injuries that these same people suffered along the way.
As is often the case with controversial issues all sides are correct.
How deep you should squat depends on your goals and ability.
Strive for the mobility and coordination to do a deep squat.
When training for strength and muscle use a full power lifting depth squat for best results.
When learning or working through limitations use a partial squat to build your strength and ability.
And lastly, Always use proper technique
At Fitness Made Clear we take the health and well-being of our clients seriously. We constantly evaluate the risk and reward of each exercise our clients do to ensure that they see results without being injured.
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