Possibly the most argued and debated question in the fitness industry is this one: How low should I squat? The answer is not a simple one, it truly does depend on a number of factors. So let’s take a closer look.
“You must keep your knees behind your toes to prevent injury.”
I believe this is one of the most controversial statements ever made in the fitness industry. It’s based on research conducted in the 1960’s that claimed squatting below parallel should be discouraged because it de-stabilises the knee. Since then, research has refuted this claim, accepting that a healthy knee is designed to manage a deeper squat. But how much deeper depends on your own structural limitations and training goals.
DO YOU EVEN SQUAT?
One of the great benefits of squatting below parallel lies in the muscles that are engaged to drive you out of the bottom position. While the involvement of the quadriceps and hamstrings does not alter much based on squat depth, one muscle that works significantly harder in a deep squat position is the gluteus maximus – your buttocks! So if you’re working towards ‘buns of steel’, aim for deeper squats.
WHY ISN’T EVERYONE DOING IT?
Squatting deeply requires adequate mobility through your lower body, especially the hips and ankles. Some people just don’t have a good range of movement through these areas, which can be explained by Davis’ Law: ‘soft tissue will model to an imposed demand’.
This is basically a fancy way of saying that if you sit for extended periods your soft tissue (muscles and connective tissue) can adapt to this position. So when you ask your hips to move through an extended position – the bottom of a deep squat – they may be so used to being flexed that this lengthening cannot be maintained.
THE BOTTOM LINE?
Squat depth really does depend on a number of factors. While squatting below parallel has its benefits, it’s more important that the exercise is performed safely within your structural limitations. How you choose to incorporate squats in your training program also depends on your unique goals. That’s why it’s always a good idea to seek some advice from a fitness professional who can provide you with specific recommendations.