Legs

How Deep Should I Squat – 4 Reasons For Poor Squat Depth

how deep should I squat

Deeper squats are going to give you the most bang for your buck when it comes to overall leg development.  

But certain factors may be limiting your ability to achieve a full depth squat.  

If you’re a powerlifter, or just getting into the sport, you’ll know that parallel squats are all that’s needed in a comp environment.  

powerlifter-in-singlet-preparing-for-squat

Other sport athletes, like basketball players, may stick to fairly shallow squats as their overriding goal is to improve explosive power and athletic performance for when they’re on the court.  

Depending on what you’re trying to achieve, it’s common to ask yourself “how deep should I squat?”

Keep reading, as in this article we’ll be addressing this question, and giving you some tips for improving your squat depth.  

How Deep Should I Squat

For the average person, you should be aiming to squat to a full range of motion.  

This means going as deep as your mobility and anatomy will allow, while remaining in control of the descent and ascent of the squat.  

Essentially, the ideal squat depth will differ from person to person.  

If you’re new to squatting you may find it difficult to achieve a decent depth, but that’s OK.  

Deep squats take practice and should never be forced as you’ll increase your risk of injury.  

When it comes to squatting to 90 degrees (when your hip crease is in line with your knees), this is the required powerlifting squat depth in a competition.  

So, if you’re squatting specifically for this sport, your goal will be to go as heavy as possible with the focus on getting your upper legs parallel to the ground in order to pass the lift.  

Woman-Barbell-Back-Squatting

Powerlifters are typically lifting much heavier weights when compared to the average gym-goer, so going any deeper will just expend more energy and make it harder to complete the lift for no added benefit.  

As long as they hit parallel, the lift will be counted towards their combined total.   

When it comes to a partial squat, sometimes called a half squat, this is when you squat to around 45 degrees.  

This depth is more suited to someone who may have poor ankle and hip mobility or want to keep stress off the knee joint.  

heavy-barbell-back-squat

It’s worth noting that issues with your ankles and hips can be addressed through various mobility exercises eventually leading to greater squat depths.  

If your goals are to build muscle, improve your mobility, and burn fat then you should work towards achieving as deep a squat as your ability will allow.  

It’s a good idea to start off with what you can comfortably perform and factor in work that will improve tight hip flexors and address any mobility issues.  

Over time, you’ll find you can achieve a greater squat depth.  

deep-barbell-back-squat

When it comes to muscle group activation, both back squats and half squats have been shown to elicit similar results when it comes to quad muscle growth.

However, the partial squat leads to greater recruitment of the gluteus maximus and stabilizer muscles.  

Why You Might Be Finding It Hard To Squat Deep

Unless you have fantastic hip and ankle mobility combined with the perfect anatomical makeup to allow for deep squatting, most people find it hard to squat deep, especially when starting out.  

There can be several reasons why you may be finding it difficult to squat to parallel and beyond, let’s look at these below and some workarounds to help you fix these issues. 

Your Hip Flexors Are Tight

Tight hip flexors are really common and this can impact your ability to descend into a deep squat.  

Aside from this, it can also lead to other issues like lower back pain which can also have a detrimental effect on your overall squat technique.  

The most common cause of hip flexor tightness is lifestyle factors including prolonged periods of sitting and lack of exercise.  

These contribute to lack of hip mobility and poor posture which exacerbates a lack of hip flexion.  

Several static stretching exercises can help to loosen up tight hip flexors.  

Two particularly effective exercises are the pigeon pose and the butterfly stretch, both of which are yoga-based movements designed to stretch out not only your hips but also your thighs, groin, and psoas muscles.  

The butterfly stretch is the easiest of the two so start with this one first.  

You Have Poor Ankle Mobility

Mobility restrictions to your ankles usually mean you find it hard to bring your toes toward your shins (known as dorsiflexion).  

This is usually combined with limited internal rotation of your shin bone.  

Muscle imbalances and lifestyle factors tend to cause these issues. 

The deeper you try and squat when your ankle mobility is limited, the more your torso will start to lean forward.  

This in turn causes your lower back to round leading to poor squat form.  

Exercises like ankle circles and the weight-bearing lunge are perfect for improving a lack of ankle mobility.  

Simply perform ankle circles by sitting on the edge of a chair, raising one foot, and rotating your ankle both clockwise and anti-clockwise then repeat on the other foot.  

The weight-bearing lunge is done by getting yourself into a half kneeling position and gently leaning forwards until your knee passes over your toes.  

Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds and then repeat on the other leg.  

Your Squat Form Is Poor

As the squat is a multi-joint compound exercise that works several muscles at once, it can be challenging to perform.  

What we often see is rounding of the lower back which leads to something known as butt wink.  

This means that the pelvis tucks under at the bottom of a squat which increases the risk of injury. 

Other common problems with squat form include leaning too far forward and allowing the knees to cave inwards as you get to greater depths of the movement.  

A good way to get your body used to squatting is to start with bodyweight squats and perform them to different squat depths.  

This will allow you to concentrate on proper form before moving over to a barbell squat.  

If you’re comfortable squatting with weight but find you suffer from too much forward lean, you could try front squats or goblet squats which will force you to adopt a more upright torso throughout the exercise.  

This will encourage better squat form and prevent your lumbar spine from rounding. 

Anatomical Limitations

Anatomical limitations refer to certain structural factors in a person’s body that can affect their ability to perform certain movements, including the squat.

While these limitations differ from person to person, some common anatomical factors that can impact squat performance include the following:

  • The shape and structure of your hips can impact your range of motion therefore affecting your ability to squat deep. 
  • ​Long femur bones (the thigh bone) relative to your torso can impact squat mechanics. 
  • Some people have a more flexible spine, making it easier to maintain a neutral spine, while others may experience stiffness or restrictions.
  • The width and depth of your pelvis can affect the optimal squat stance.  
  • Aging can result in natural changes to joint mobility and flexibility, affecting squat performance over time.

Many people can work with their unique anatomical features by adapting their squat technique, adjusting their stance, and incorporating targeted mobility exercises and strength training.

For example, consider using the high bar squats technique, where the barbell is placed on your upper traps.

This can facilitate a more upright torso position and reduce the forward lean associated with long femurs.

For those with deeper hip sockets, you could try adopting a wide stance squat such as the sumo or perform heel elevated squats to allow for a deeper squat depth.  

What Are The Benefits Of Deep Squats

Deep squatting, where you descend into a position where your hip joint is below the knee joint, offers a variety of benefits for overall lower body strength, mobility, and functional movement.

Here are some of the key benefits of deep squatting:

When you’ve addressed any mobility issues and can squat to a good depth, you’ll find that this continues to improve the health of your hip and knee joints.

Regularly performing deep squats helps improve flexibility in the hips, knees, and ankles and can be beneficial for those of you with sedentary lifestyles.  

Deep squats engage various muscle groups, including your quads, hamstrings, glutes, adductors, and calf muscles.

Over time, this can lead to increased strength and muscle mass.  

Maintaining proper form during a deep squat requires engagement of the core muscles.

This helps strengthen the abdominal muscles and lower back.

Deep squats mimic the movement patterns needed for various daily activities like sitting down and standing up.

This makes them a functional exercise that can enhance overall functional fitness and improve movements you encounter and perform in everyday life.

Final Thoughts

To sum up, the depth of your squat will depend on things like your individual biomechanics, flexibility, and overall fitness goals.

The benefits of deep squatting, such as increased range of motion, improved flexibility, and better core strength, are substantial. 

However, it is crucial to prioritize proper form, listen to your body, and understand that the optimal squat depth will vary depending on the factors as mentioned above.  

The key is to find a range of motion that you find comfortable and is within your ability.  

This is important to maximize the benefits of deep squatting and minimize the chance of injury.  

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