How deep is deep enough when it comes to squats? Well, as Chad Vaughn Olympic Lifter and coach has proclaimed more than once; “If you have to ask then you’re not low enough!” Maximum squatting depth occurs when the back of your thigh contacts the calf muscles and your legs cannot physically come any closer. Often the lower buttocks will be nearly touching the back of the heel and Achilles tendon. All too often in CrossFit athletes aim merely to place the hip crease below parallel when in fact there are several more inches of travel left before bottoming out. Turning this into habit is not only extremely inefficient but dangerous and places the knee joint under tremendous load and sheer forces. It also severely limits the amount of weight an athlete can handle during squatting and Olympic Lifts.
My trainees have learned well by now not to even consider asking to increase a load on the bar until they can demonstrate maximum depth with their current load. Half depth squats with heavier loads are not an accomplishment but a shortcut and considered cheating among
my athletes. I don’t tolerate it and will no rep anyone who displays this habit out of safety concerns. Stopping a squat at or around parallel forces the knee and the tendons and ligaments supporting it to act as a brake to the load instead of allowing the powerful and elastic leg muscles to not only absorb the weight but help propel it vertically again on the rebound. All too often I have born witness to athletes blowing out their knee by following the age old advice of not squatting below parallel. The fact is that an athlete cannot squat with proper technique; a vertical torso and even weight distribution without breaking parallel.
It takes time to develop range of motion and flexibility in the hip girdle. Those who spend their days in seated positions will need to work doubly hard to loosen up atrophied hip flexors and IT bands in order to develop the strength needed to achieve full depth squats without inward knee collapse and excess outward foot angle. Steady knees and feet pointed forward during squats stems from the ability to generate torque from the hips not from wishful thinking and lifting shoes. If you have weak hip abductors then you’re better served squatting with lighter weight while working on maximum depth and mobility then in trying to stack on as much weight as possible. The weight will come in time with increased depth tighter control and better hip control. The only thing that comes from bullishly pushing forward with a limited range of motion with heavy weights is injury.
Another aspect of full depth squatting that is often over looked is ankle and foot mobility. We see this best in moves like Pistol Squats and Heavy Snatches. If you lack mobility in the ankle joint these moves will continue to frustrate you until you take the time to develop flexibility and strength here. Spiderman Lunges and static air squat rocks are excellent at decreasing the angle between foot and shin and allowing maximum range of motion. In fact the very reason we wear lifting shoes at all especially during Olympic Weightlifting is to increase the range of motion in the ankle under heavy load. I frequently advise my training clients to add yoga and sand running to their workout regimen to increase ankle and foot flexibility and strength. The feet and ankles are the foundations of your entire body and ever heavy lift we do; yet all too often they are either completely ignored or under-trained.
So here’s a recap:
Always practice full range of motion.
- Good squatting form is about mobility and generating torque from the hips.
- Try to get your butt as close to your heels as possible at the bottom, torso nearly vertical, knees out, weight centered on your heels.
- Regularly practice mobility exercises in the ankles and feet
- Never sacrifice full range of motion for heavier weights; this is your ego putting your joints in danger.
- Be patient and complete the process, elite athletes aren’t born they’re made through practice attention to the fundamentals and discipline. Shortcuts only lead to injury and getting no-repped!