How low can you go? Squatting deep, below where your thighs are parallel to the floor has advantages that you don’t get from partial squats or parallel squats. If you can do one with good form, congratulations! Not everyone can squat below parallel with ease, but if you can, there are some compelling reasons to do so. Here are four ways deep squats can improve your strength and physique.
Build More Muscle
When you increase the depth of your squats and bring your buttocks closer to the floor, you expand the range-of-motion of the exercise and this stimulates greater muscle development. However, muscle development favors the quads over the hamstrings and glutes since squats are a more quad-focused exercise. Although some research suggests deeper squats target the glutes more than parallel squats, a 2012 study found no difference in glute activation between a partial, parallel, and deep squats. So deep squats may give you an overall lower body hypertrophy advantage because of the greater range-of-motion, you should still do other exercises to target your glutes and hamstrings.
May Help with Back Pain
Deep squats are one of the best exercises for strengthening your lower body. A strong upper body helps lower the risk of a back injury. The reason? If your lower body is weak, you’re the muscles in your lower back will have to “chip in” and generate more force when you bend over and try to raise your body back up. This places excessive strain on your lower back. Also, when you squat below parallel, your pelvis shifts backward, and this stretches the tight muscles in the lower back and may take some load off of your lower spine.
Increase Vertical Jump Height
If you play a sport such as volleyball or basketball, having a greater vertical jump height comes in handy. One of the best exercises for improving your vertical jump is a deep, back squat. How do we know this?
In one study, researchers asked a group of healthy individuals to train in one of three ways. One group did deep front squats, another did deep back squats, and the third did partial back squats. Beforehand, they measured their vertical jump height for comparison. After 10 weeks of training using their respective approaches, the researchers remeasured their vertical jump. The group that did partial back squats showed no increase in jump height. However, both groups that did deep squats improved their vertical jump height by a little over an inch.
Better for Your Knees?
Deep squats get a bad rap as being harder on the knees, but it’s not well deserved. Mastering deep squats can lower your risk of future knee injury by building stronger quads and increasing knee stability. When you go deeper, you also work the hamstrings and glutes more for a more balanced lower body strength. The key is to use good form. The best way to start is by using no resistance. Once you can do a basic, deep squat add light weights and build up strength by increasing the resistance over time.
To appreciate the impact of deep squats on the knees, you must understand the two forces your knees are subject to when you squat. The first is compressive force, the force generated by two structures pushing against one another. When you squat, the backside of your knee presses against the femur in your leg. As you go deeper, the force rises. Yet, healthy knees can handle these compressive forces as studies don’t reveal a higher likelihood of meniscus degeneration and arthritis in people who do deep squats. The menisci are the components of the knees that protect the knees against compressive forces.
In contrast, shearing forces are created by the bones in the knee sliding past one another. Shearing forces impact the ligaments in the knees. However, studies show shearing forces decrease as you descend below parallel into a squat. So, the ligaments in your knees don’t feel additional stress from squatting deeply. However, as mentioned, compressive forces rise as you descend below parallel, but this impacts the tibiofemoral joints, not the patellofemoral joints. Yet research suggests that healthy knees can tolerate these forces. Plus, over time, squatting below parallel can help better stabilize your knees. So, don’t assume that deep squats are bad for your knees if your knees are healthy.
You can reduce the compressive forces in your knees when you squat by using good form and lightening up on the weight or no weight. Don’t go heavy when you’re squatting deep. In terms of form, resist the tendency to lean forward when you squat. The further forward you lean, the more compressive forces your knees must bear.
The Bottom Line
Despite the benefits of squatting deeply, you need good hip and ankle mobility to do one safely. Also, not everyone can achieve the same depth or can pull off a deep squat because of mobility or stability issues. For example, people with long limbs will have a harder time achieving squat depth than someone with shorter legs. Before trying one, work on improving ankle and hip mobility and strengthening your core. Use no weight initially and keep the tempo slow at first since a fast tempo increases the force on your knees. Using a wide stance also reduces the pressure on your knees. As an extra precaution, talk to your doctor before squatting below parallel if you have a history of knee injury or knee pain. Take it slowly, use good form, and don’t push through if you experience pain or discomfort.
· J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Dec;26(12):3243-61. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31824ede62.
· AthleticLab.com. “The Effects of Squat Depth on Knees by Darius Marsh”
· Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: October 2013 – Volume 27 – Issue 10 – p 2879–2886
· Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27(10), 2013.
· J Appl Biomech. 2016 Feb;32(1):16-22. doi: 10.1123/jab.2015-0113. Epub 2015 Aug 6.
· ExRx. “Squat Analysis”
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