Squat: How Low to Go?

Squat: How Low to Go?

You're probably wondering how deep should you squat? Whether you're a beginner or more experienced, you've obviously heard about squatting, but for it to be effective, it has to be done properly. So how low should you go to squat the right way?

Ideally, to squat the right way, you should go as low as possible, only if your body allows it. Your knees should be bent at an angle of at least 120 degrees. The back should remain straight during all the descent and ascent to protect the lumbar spine. 

Of course, there are more elements to know when you are squatting, we will detail them below, but the posture remains one of the most important notions to master. 

What is the squat?

Squatting allows you to work several muscles, including the legs and glutes muscles. It is a polyarticular exercise that focuses mainly on the lower part of the body and increases strength and muscle mass. 

There are also several types of squats:

  • The quarter squat: the knees are bent at about 70 degrees;
  • The half squat: the knees are bent between 90 to 110 degrees;
  • The deep or full squat: the knees are bent at 120 degrees or more.

The squat is a very popular exercise, but it is also a very controversial topic. Many professionals recommend squatting without any problems, while others are wary of the risk of injury, especially in deep squat. 

Let's see how it is by reading on. 

How deep should you squat?

The purpose of squatting is to get your glute as low as possible, but only on one condition: that your body is made for it. This means that as soon as you can no longer hold the right position during the descent phase, you have to stop the descent and go back up.

How do you know when you've lost your posture? It's simple, you lost your posture when you have a posterior pelvic tilt: when the iliac bones in your pelvis move backwards. If you continue to descend with a posterior pelvic tilt, you may injure yourself because there will be too much pressure on your lumbar spine and intervertebral discs.

If you are unable to hold a neutral pelvis posture (the recommended one), several factors may be involved. These may be a lack of mobility in the ankle or in the hip capsule, and pelvic or hip stability issue. It may also be due to stiffness in the hamstrings or adductors. An hip anatomical restriction can also be the source of the problem.

For safety, it would be interesting to work on these areas with flexibility and mobility exercises to reduce the risk of injury during your future squats, to improve your posture and to be more efficient. 

6 tips for pain-free squatting

  1. To squat properly, you should avoid placing the barbell on the upper traps to prevent the risk of nerve compressions. Instead, place the barbell on the middle traps.
  2. Always keep the barbell in the same axis. Misalignment of the bar, either forward or backward, is unfortunately too common error. You commit it when you only raise your hip and on a second part you have to raise your chest in the middle of the movement to compensate and to realign the barbell.
  3. Contrary to popular belief, it is not advisable to look straight ahead during the whole movement. Instead, keep your head in line with your spine. Do not break this alignment by looking straight ahead during all the descent or ascent. You must keep your back straight from the hip to your head. To do this, your head and your eyesight must be slightly bent (as in the photo above).
  4. Don't worry about squatting knees over toes. Biomechanically, our body is made to bend our legs so that the knees move forward. If you try to hold them backwards, you put too much tension on some tendons, and that means pressure, which bring to potential injuries. Always keep your knees facing outwards. If your knees have a tendency to goes in (knee valgus) during the ascent phase, reduce the load.
  5. Your feet must be in constant contact with the ground, just like your heels. Your feet are your two main points of stability.
  6. Learn to control the descent phase, especially the impulse between descent and ascent. This is when you risk losing proper posture and you goes to a posterior pelvic tilt. The more you control your descent, the more you will maintain the proper pelvis posture, i.e. your back straight.

Deep squats: good or bad idea?

If you're wondering how low should you squat, you've probably heard many different opinions on the subject. Some love it, some don't, and it's not easy to know where to stand. 

The full squat has many benefits but to take advantage of it, it is essential to think about your safety, your posture and the correctness of your movements. Gains it's cool, but stay in health it's better.

So is it recommended to deep squatting? The answer is yes, if your body allows it, you will have understood it. To convince you, you should know that several studies are looking into this topic. Here is what they show. 

The deep squat, done correctly, is no more dangerous than other strength training exercises. Indeed:"Concerns about degenerative changes in the tendofemoral complex and the seemingly higher risk of chondromalacia, osteoarthritis and osteochondritis in deep squats are unfounded." Hartmann H, Wirth K, Klusemann M. Analysis of the load on the knee joint and vertebral column with changes in squatting depth and weight load. Sports Med. 2013 Oct;43(10):993-1008. doi: 10.1007/s40279-013-0073-6. PMID: 23821469.

Half and quarter squats allow you to lift more weight, but also increase the loads and forces pressing on your knees. Keep in mind that the greater the bending of your knees, the larger the contact surfaces and the less forces acting on your knees.

This is because the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments are there to protect the knee joint, and this joint is much less stressed when your knee is bent. Deep squatting therefore causes no more damage to the ligaments than any other strength training exercise.

Moreover, unlike deep squat, training in half or quarter squat, carried out with higher loads, will in the long term promote the appearance of joint degeneration in the knees and spine.

In conclusion, this study states that : "Provided that technique is learned accurately under expert supervision and with progressive training loads, the deep squat presents an effective training exercise for protection against injuries and strengthening of the lower extremity."Hartmann H, Wirth K, Klusemann M. Analysis of the load on the knee joint and vertebral column with changes in squatting depth and weight load. Sports Med. 2013 Oct;43(10):993-1008. doi: 10.1007/s40279-013-0073-6. PMID: 23821469.

Well, contrary to what you might think:"The squat does not compromise knee stability, and can enhance stability if performed correctly."Escamilla RF. Knee biomechanics of the dynamic squat exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001 Jan;33(1):127-41. doi: 10.1097/00005768-200101000-00020. PMID: 11194098.

You read that right. Squatting, far from causing injuries, even prevents them. How is that possible? Injuries are sometimes due to joint weakness, stabilizing muscles, muscle imbalance or lack of flexibility. Deep squat strengthens your joints and improves lower body muscle coordination.

Deep squat also increases flexibility and the coxofemoral joints mobility, as well as the talocrural joint, and strengthens the balance, reducing the risk of broken bones. 

Squatting is not only increasing muscle mass or strength, it is also excellent for your health as it helps you remove toxins and waste from your blood. In fact, the squatting position promotes the proper circulation of water, blood and lymph in your body, as well as the good nutrients necessary for your development.

Far from being to be banished, deep squat is an excellent exercise, as soon as you learn the good posture and the right technique. If you're not sure how to go about it, be sure to read again our tips above or do not hesitate and contact me directly. Have a great workout!

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