Some gym goers may tell you that deep squats are bad for your knees and that you avoid them at all costs. Hopefully by the end of this blog you can give a rebuttal to their point of view. Deep squats are where your hips go well below your knees on the bottom part of the movement. Simply going to parallel is a half squat and anything less can be deemed a quarter squat. Squatting with bad form can injure your knees regardless of the depth. Your knees have been proven to be more susceptible to injury at a 90 degree knee flexion angle. So half squats are actually more dangerous to your knees than deep squats. Misinformation, ego, and laziness are the 3 main reasons why someone may choose to do a quarter/half squat. They are easier and you can load up the bar much more to show off to your friends. Definitely not a good reason to do partial reps!
Athletic performance – When you execute an exercise through the full range of motion the carry over to athletic performance is much greater. Vertical jumps, sprinting, and even long distance running can benefit from deep squats. When you squat deeper more muscle activation is required, leading to a greater force output in other activities such as jumping or sprinting. This can be described as the post-activation potentiation (PAP) effect. The deeper the squat the greater the PAP effect. A strong lower back is needed for a deep squat and this helps prevent hamstring injuries for long distance runners.
More strength and muscle gain – The lower you go, the more your glutes and hamstrings get activated during a squat. You won’t need to go as heavy as a half squat, but you will get more actual strength transferable strength. Lifting more weight on a partial rep loads your joints more than it does the muscle. Just because you have a lever advantage on a quarter squat does not mean your muscles are doing more work.
Reduce the risk of injury– As previously mentioned, going only to a 90 degree knee flexion puts your knees at a higher risk of injury. Usually people tend to go heavier doing partial reps (compared to full reps) as it’s easier. Putting a heavier load on your back and then stopping at the most injury prone angle, increases your injury risk. Going deeper will in fact decrease your risk of injury (as long as your knee alignment is correct) if you go past the point of the highest risk. Your joint, connective tissue, and bone strength also increases the most when you go through the full range of motion.
Better recovery – Exercises that load your spine (squats, overhead press, deadlifts etc) take longer to recover from because they’re more taxing to your body compared to most other exercises. Doing heavy partials will tax your body more but work your muscles less, than a relatively lighter squat that’s at full depth. You can also strengthen your spine without having to risk going overly heavy on a partial squat. Your bone mineral density can improve with good squatting form and this can prevent the potential risk of osteoporosis in the future.
Not everyone can effectively execute a full squat because of mobility and flexibility issues. However, if you strive to eventually be able to squat deeper, it will ensure that you address any mobility issues you may have. You will need to focus on stretching, mobility drills, and working on muscle imbalances to put yourself in a position to squat deep. Improving the way we move will make us feel fitter, pain free, and as strong as possible. Leave your ego at the door and go as deep/heavy as you can with good form.
Written by Coach Rishi Haria