Squatting: How Low Should You Go?
For years the almighty squat has been held up as the king of all exercises and with good reason – it literally works your entire body. In fact it’s also the exercise that engages your core the most as well! And anyone who has performed a set of high reps squats will tell you just how cardiovascular they are.
But there’s a recurring argument that keeps popping up – how low should you go when squatting?
I have a few ideas on this one but first let me give you some background. There are two sides to this argument with one group saying you should only squat to just below parallel, with the other group saying you should go as low as you possibly can – basically almost touching the floor with your butt!
The former camp argue it’s unsafe to go all the way down as it puts your lower back in a vulnerable position and causes undue strain on the knees. Surely you’ve seen people squat really low, looking almost hunched over facing the floor, with their lower back acting as a fulcrum point. They drop to the ground and bounce ‘out of the hole’ back up to a standing position. That can’t be safe can it?
Then you’ve got your full range proponents who say that the shortened reps develop muscular imbalances and can lead to injury by strengthening your body in an unnatural range of motion. Their theory is your body is made to go through full ranges of natural motion and that you need to develop strength in complete ranges, not in partial reps.
So who’s right? It’s interesting how much things change in the fitness industry. Years ago I was certified my a very large and reputable agency whose philosophy at the time was towards a shortened range of motion on virtually every exercise. This was done to protect the joints supposedly. Within a few years there was a new head of training and the partial reps scheme went out the door. But I’ll tell you this much – I’ve always used full range reps in every exercise I’ve ever done – especially squats.
With the squat, if you cut the range of motion off at just below parallel, you’re missing the most important part of the lift! In the bottom 1/3 range of a full squat, your glutes, hamstrings and the teardrop muscle on the inside of your thigh get recruited heavily to initiate the lift. Stopping short of full range basically takes the squat and turns it into primarily a quads exercise with more emphasis being placed on the outside of the thigh. It’s simple really – if you want full leg development and strength, you must squat with a full range of natural motion. After all, your body is made and designed to squat deep, so why cut it short?
Of course form is paramount with performing a successful squat and preventing injury. You must first master a proper body squat before even thinking about putting weight on your back. I can’t tell you how many people I see that load the bar up with weight and have terrible form squatting. You must sit back on your heels, keep your back flat and chest up, and drive with the hips from the bottom position. Keep your feet shoulder width apart, slightly turned out and take a deep breath as you descend, blowing out as you stand. And when it comes to rep speed, control your descent to minimize overstressing the knees. However the ‘lift speed’ can be varied depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.
So when it comes to squatting I have to suggest that you use a full range of properly executed squats to reap all of the benefits that this awesome exercise has to offer – that is assuming you’re healthy and have no other limitations.
I believe in what’s referred to as organic or primal strength. Do you think our ancestors watched how low they squatted to protect their back? Do you see any animal in the wild using a shortened range of motion when moving about? See my point? I don’t believe in using partial ranges of motion on any exercise and definitely not with squats!
Want to check your squat form – than take a look at my How To Perform A Squat Video…
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