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Deep Squatting – Page 2

by Anders Hansson

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Definition and execution

What counts as a deep squat? There are many different names for squat variations of different types and depths. Sticking to ordinary squats with the bar behind your neck, your feet not too wide apart, and a descent caused approximately equally by the bending of the hip joint and the bending of the knee joint, we can distinguish four different types of squat with names based on their depth.

The term “deep squat” is used for all squats where you at least reach the same depth as in the lower left image. In our training group we aim to go deeper than that: as deep as the hamstring muscles allow, when they can not be stretched further – as in the lower right image.

Almost all healthy people can learn to perform a deep squat. A person with a long thigh-bone (femur) relative to the rest of the body, however, has less freedom of movement and often need practice to find the groove, while a short legged person often gets it right in his or her first attempt.

Limited mobility of the ankle (sometimes blamed on “short Achilles tendons”) is often pointed out as a limiting factor, but that is actually very rare. In fact most people can learn to reach a deep position with almost vertically aligned lower legs (tibias) and therefore hardly need to mobilize the ankle at all. The difficulty is rather due to inexperience and an incorrect technique that can be quickly corrected. To better understand how the squat movement is restricted in purely geometrical terms, the interactive application below is very helpful.

Fun? Almost like a game, isn't it? For more fun – sore arms and a thrashed keyboard – please test our bench press game!

For a successful deep squat it is crucial to keep the pressure on the rear part of the foot and you do that by sitting backwards as well as down. The upper body will lean forward, which requires muscular stabilization of the lower back to maintain its normal curvature throughout the entire movement. If lordosis is not maintained, i.e. if the lower back is rounded, the compression on the discs between the vertebrae will be uneven and this may cause injury when the load is very high.

When you reach the depth where the hamstrings can not be stretched further, and thus prevent further flexion of the hip joint, it is time to stop and ascend. At this point there is usually room for further flexion of the knee, but to maintain balance (and prevent falling over), this must be matched by flexion of the hip. As the hamstrings don’t allow this, the only alternative is to flex the lumbar region, but this will make you lose lordosis and should therefore be avoided.

There is of course much more to say about technique, common errors and dangers. We recommend Mark Rippetoe's book Starting Strength, whose 50-page chapter on squats, manages to deal with most of it, while also giving coaches good advice on how to best teach the exercise.

Note that the two-dimensional side perspective is a simplification that does not take account of the abduction and outward rotation of the femur (abduction gives wide distance between the feet, outward rotation gives a larger angle between the feet). In standard squats, these components are not so significant that we need to take them into account in our reasoning.

Since you lower yourself as far as possible, it is easy to be consistent in depth and execution. And since depth and execution very much affect the load (more on that below) you are in full control of the training parameters and obtain a fair picture of your physical status. When squatting shallowly, there is a tendency to get shallower as the weights increase, and thus deceive yourself that you are going heavier than you actually do. Have you really become stronger or have you merely changed the way you execute the lift?

We can therefore formulate one of benefits of deep squats compared with shallower squats like this:

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