This is Your Quick Training Tip, a chance to learn how to work smarter in just a few moments so you can get right to your workout.
If you want to witness a perfect squat, watch a toddler pick a toy off the ground. Instead of bending over at the waist (and toppling headfirst), you’ll see him keep control of his upper body as he pushes his hips back, bends his knees, and lowers his body by sitting back into the movement, dropping down until his thighs touch his calves.
For trainers, it’s a thing of beauty to watch, as this natural, innate movement pattern is seen far less frequently among adults. Somewhere between toddlerhood and adulthood, many of us lose the ability to perform a deep squat safely and effectively. But if you’ve retained the hip and ankle mobility that allows you to go “ass to grass” with good form, there’s good reason to follow the toddler’s lead.
A study conducted on 53 men found that the deep squat can produce greater gains in absolute and functional strength and performance than the parallel squat (i.e., thighs parallel to the ground). Still, there are those that warn against dropping below parallel, arguing that doing so increases the stress and strain on your knees. But there’s not a lot of science to back that up. Indeed, the very same research mentioned above shows that the deep squat is no more dangerous for your joints than the parallel squat.
Your move: If you’re blessed with above average lower body mobility—but only IF that’s the case—consider going past parallel when you squat. It’s almost always better to build strength through a full range of motion than through a partial one, as the former translates better to the real world.
Want to work your way to a deeper squat? Build up to it by honing your mobility and form without a load. Check out this guide to help you on your journey. Just remember that your lowest point should be one that maintains tension in your core, glutes, and hamstrings—if you’re working with a load, you need to control it throughout your rep, and you shouldn’t be bouncing at the bottom to stand back up.
But don’t sweat it if you can’t get your butt lower than your knees without falling backwards. The deep squat might have an edge over the parallel squat when it comes to building strength and power, but it’s only a slight one. So only drop as low as you can go with good form to maximize your gains while keeping yourself off the disabled list.
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