Make no doubt, the barbell back squat ranks as the king of exercises.
Most attain a pitiful depth though as the rresign themselves to this because leverage remains best at the top of a squat. Getting low enough to maximize tension, whereas the moment arm grows unfavorable but the muscles work hardest, feels challenging and requires far less weight. Many need to get lower on squats.
Much lower than a parallel squat will reduce tension and expose you to injury. Even the parallel squat, with the crease of the hip lining up with the top of the knee, just came about since powerlifting needed a clear standard for competition, not due to biomechanics or physiology. You only need to achieve a 60° angle at the hips and knees to get low enough.
As an example, consider that when jumping as high as you can, you descend to about this level. Although a full squat, in which you go as low as possible with the hips well below the knees, looks impressive, it really just serves the ego, not much differently than bragging about partial reps.
As you get lower, your lower back may start to round in addition to working your muscles at a weak length. The shearing forces on the knee increase greatly. Never elevate your heels or do anything else to artificially get this depth.
Do you aspire to heroism or enjoy your status as a weakling and a coward? Once you admit the value of getting low enough, you will find that a lack of depth usually comes from form issues and not a lack of mobility.
Use these tips to improve your squat depth.
If you don’t squat, you ain’t squat.
– A Legendary Hero
- Keep your elbows down.
Point your elbows toward the floor.This allows your hips to stay under you. When you squat with the elbows up, the hips jut out too far away. They fail to remain under your back. This makes the proper depth impossible to achieve without severely stretching your posterior muscles.
You naturally want to raise your elbows to form a platform for the barbell, especially with the low-bar squat. Although pointing your elbows down makes the barbell feel less secure, just do it. The bar will remain in the notch above the rear deltoids. You will find it less problematic then you would think. Make sure you pull your shoulder blades back enough if you feel it slipping. I also find it helps to imagine tucking your elbows into your sides.
Grip widely enough that your elbows naturally point down.
- Keep the chest up.
This will occur naturally if you point your elbows down.
- Point the toes out.
If your feet align straight ahead, you may find resistance to bend at the knee. This also internally rotates the hip, which can make hip extension less powerful. Point out about 30° (relative from straight) to start and adjust from there. The wider your stance, the further the toes will point out.
- Look forward.
If you look up toward the ceiling, you will feel too much tightness as you descend in the hips, lower back, and neck. Looking down will prevent tightness as you get lower. Strike a balance and look forward. This will feel comfortable. Find a point and fix your eyes there for the entire set.
- Avoid too wide a stance.
In addition to making the movement less complete, this will create too much tightness in your outer hips.
- Master the descent.
Descending too slow on the squat will blunt the stretch reflex. Keep in mind that in the bottom position, your muscles become weak. We can use stored energy to come back up though. Think of the quick counter-movement made with the arms and legs before someone jumps.
Going down too slowly will increase the weakness and make you want to cut the range of motion short. Go down quickly but smoothly. You want to feel tension in the muscles so never drop but otherwise go as fast as you can while staying tight. This takes practice.
- Spread the floor.
Attempt to part the floor between your feet as if creating your own personal earthquake. You should feel pressure on the outsides of your feet. This will allow you to get those crucial last inches at the bottom and keep your knees aligned with your ankles. Make sure you stay tight though, otherwise you will fail here due to the deeper stretch which weakens your muscles.
Get Low Enough on Squats
Getting lower on squats will always feel hard no matter what you do due to mechanics and muscle properties. The extra depth though can allow the pre-stretch though, helping you achieve better performance throughout the entire range of motion.
Get low enough on squats.