Why Deep Squats Are Good for You

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The ability to perform a picture perfect (deep) squat pattern demonstrates that someone has proper ankle dorsiflexion, hip flexion, thoracic extension, and glute activation.
Ever wonder why we perform deep squats (that is, squats below parallel) in the first place? Has your doctor ever told you that squatting deep is bad for your knees? Read what the folks at T-Nation have to say about deep squats and why they are good for you. In addition, you’ll find some good tips on how to increase your mobility to perform a deep squat.

“Squat Like You Mean It”

The ability to successfully perform a deep squat is a fairly good indicator of one’s overall fitness level and movement quality. Is it the end all, be all? Absolutely not, but it ranks right up there.

Squatting, for all practical purposes, is a complex movement that requires stability of the trunk and mobility of the extremities through constantly changing tension and position.

What limits squat depth? “Stiff ankles, poor hip mobility, poor core stability” and more…
Moreover, the ability to perform a picture perfect (deep) squat pattern demonstrates that someone has proper ankle dorsiflexion, hip flexion, thoracic extension, and glute activation, which, as my good buddy and ass-Jedi Bret Contreras has noted, helps counteract or “undo” much of the musculosketetal issues we see in every day society: low back pain, anterior knee pain, hip pain, hamstring strains, and groin strains, to name a few.

Lastly, the ability to perform a deep squat demonstrates one’s obvious ninja-like qualities. But that goes without saying.

Yet some people just aren’t ready to head to the gym on any given day and squat. They could have really stiff ankles, poor hip mobility, poor core stability, or something more structural in nature like femoral acetabular impingement – all of which can play a role in whether someone can squat to depth.

Yes, Squatting Deep is Safe for Your Knees

Depending on your athletic background, squatting below parallel may be a foreign concept to you initially, or you may have been told by a health professional that squatting deep is not good for the health of your knee. However, this has not been proven to be true.

At the risk of preaching to the converted, I can’t emphasize enough that squatting deep is not dangerous for the knees.

It was shown that there was no discernible difference between three different squat depths (70, 90, and 110 degrees of knee flexion) with regards to patellofemoral joint reaction force and patellofemoral joint stress.
A deep squat requires that the anterior surface of one’s thigh drop below knee level on the descent. If one has the ability to go lower, great! But I find the above criterium to be a fair starting point, and tends to be far lower than what most trainees are used to in the first place.

Just to clarify, I’m not saying that everyone needs (or has) to squat “ass-to-grass.” I’m not that naive nor pigheaded. The fact is, not everyone can (or should) squat below parallel without considering their training history, injury history, postural deficiencies, and/or mobility deficits. I’d be remiss to state otherwise.

Incidentally, what I find ironic is that most people (personal trainers included) think that squatting with a limited ROM is a safer way to squat. Epic fail.

Furthermore – and this should put the nail in the coffin – in a study titled “Patellofemoral joint kinetics during squat in collegiate women athletes” by Salem and Powers, it was shown that there was no discernible difference between three different squat depths (70, 90, and 110 degrees of knee flexion) with regards to patellofemoral joint reaction force and patellofemoral joint stress. (Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon), June 1, 2001; 16(5): 424-30)

How Do I Squat Deeper?

You need to address…

  1. poor ankle mobility
  2. poor hip mobility
  3. poor thoracic mobility
  4. lack of core stability
Not everyone walks into the gym with a perfect, deep squat; in reality, most of us have to work hard to reclaim the stunning squat we once had when we were toddlers (have you ever watched a little kid examine something on the ground??). Below are some common squatting issues with some ideas for fixes; as you address these weaknesses, your squat will, undoubtedly, improve also. Take the time to warm-up properly and do your mobility homework.

1) Poor Ankle Mobility

To perform a proper squat (or lunge for that matter), the ankle needs or requires roughly 15 degrees of dorsiflexion (think pointing the toes towards the shin). However, because we often wear cinder blocks for shoes, many trainees have really limited ankle mobility.

Improving ankle flexibility “will help clean up your squat technique.”
While admittedly an oversimplification, lack of dorsiflexion can lead to a cascade of events when squatting: anterior weight shift, pronation, tibial internal rotation, femoral internal rotation, knee valgus, heels coming off the ground, squat technique that makes my eyes bleed.

Luckily, there are a handful of simple drills you can do to help improve ankle mobility (again, specifically, ankle dorisiflexion) that will clean up your squat technique.

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