Squatting is one of the best and most widely accepted exercises to improve strength (particularly lower body), coordination and balance. We often see many athletes not squatting deep, and by this, we mean past parallel and so that your hamstrings touch your calves.
This isn’t to say that we must ALWAYS squat deep as there is definitely a time and a place for partial squats, especially considering they have been shown provide more carryover over power production than deep squats.
HOWEVER, for an athlete to not be able to squat deep which is a basic human function and health in the pursuit of chasing such a narrow adaptation, is in our opinion, a failing of the coach.
Here are four reasons athletes should squat deep.
1. Health – Being able to $hit properly and avoiding hip & knee replacements
Health precedes performance and the deep squat is critical for pelvic floor and digestive function. We want to optimise the body’s movement AND function in as many ways as possible. In terms of positioning for releasing your bowels, the deep squat is optimal and why you can now buy footstools to raise your feet off the ground when you go to the toilet.
Just about every person who walks in and can’t squat deep has either serious knee, hip and/or back pain. As the soft tissue around the knees, hips and lower back become weak and tight from our western culture of sitting. It starts moving less fluidly, then we run on a poorly functioning knees & hips for years, cartilage and meniscal damage occurs because the full joint surface doesn’t get developed and one thing leads to another until it doesn’t function at all and arthritis sets in. At this point, we need a replacement. Full squats help improve dexterity around the knee & hips so when we see our athletes squatting deep we know we’re building a competitive advantage.
2. Increase Muscle Activation, Muscle Mass & Glute Recruitment
Most athletes have dormant glutes and hamstrings which are the powerhouse for running, jumping & sport. They drive acceleration and provide the hip extension for powerful jumps. Have you ever seen a sprinter with a small ass? During the top half of the squat, the quads, in particular, the VMO is the prime mover as the leg and hip create internal torque. As we move past parallel however, the glutes and hamstrings become the prime movers. Get stuck in the bottom of your squat? It’s probably because you have weak glutes and hamstrings. The glutes also help control internal rotation which helps stabilise the knee when under load. More stable knee = fewer knee injuries.
Recruitment and activation don’t stop there though. The trunk – transverse abdominals (abs), obliques and erectors (lower back) – are all heavily activated and under more tension for a longer amount of time during a deep squat. We’ve seen massive changes to trunk strength and overall muscle mass when deep squatting. A stronger lower body and core will allow you to move better with less pain and injuries.
3. Injury Prevention
How does healthy hips & knees improve performance? Well, generally better function = fewer injuries. Deep squatting, when done correctly, involves many of the joint stabilizers in the ankles, knees, and hips. The coordination and balance required to perform quality deep squats engage the stabilising muscles to reinforce the larger muscle groups.
In addition to the knee and hips, feet and arches of some athletes, in particular kids are shocking and the mobility of their ankles is equally horrible. The feet affect everything going on throughout the body as the foot is the only point of contact with the ground and where forces are imparted and absorbed initially. If the foot and ankle aren’t functioning properly, this shortens the running gait which makes you unable to achieve your full stride potential, and can also increase the potential for rolling ankles and tearing ligaments, not to mention developing issues upstream that will eventually sideline the athlete.
4. Run faster and jump higher
A bit of research goes a long way, so we’ll leave it up to the researchers to guide us here. In a research paper, they showed an increase in vertical jump between 5-8% for the deep squat group “Deep front and back squats guarantee performance-enhancing transfer effects of dynamic maximal strength to dynamic speed-strength capacity of hip and knee extensors compared with quarter squats.” and “The front squat & back squat attained significant elevations in vertical jump and standing long jump”. (Influence of squatting depth on jump performance. Hartmann H1, Wirth K, Klusemann M, Dalic J, Matuschek C, Schmidtbleicher D.)
Deep squats build the ability to deliver more force to the ground. This is the foundation for running faster and jumping higher. More force production = go further and faster when you’re just moving your own body weight.
1. Comfort, P., & Kasim, P. (2007). Optimizing squat technique. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 29(6), 10.
2. Hakkinen, K., Pakarinen, A.,Alen, M., Kauhanen, H,. Komi P.V. (1988). Neuromuscular and hormonal adaptations in athletes to strength training in two years. Journal of Applied Physiology. 65(6). 2406-2412
3. Hamlyn, N., Behm, D., Young, W. (2007) Trunk Muscle Activation During Dynamic Weight-Training Exercises and Isometric Instability Activities. J Strength Cond Res. 21(4). 1108-1112