According to the lore of the hardcore, if you fail to squat deeply enough, you can count yourself among the numerous wimps and cowards. In most cases, this ridicule is well-deserved. Restricting your range of motion to near the top will maximize leverage. This may make you feel strong but does little to create tension. Tension is the main stimulus for muscle growth.
According to the length-tension relationship though, you only need to reach 60° at the hips and knees to achieve enough range of motion. This takes place roughly at the midpoint of the fullest possible range of motion for a squat. The hip is furthest from the knee when measured horizontally here. This position creates the most tension since the components that form the contraction sites overlap best here.
Getting lower than this can still aid the pre-stretch, allow some negative work, and perhaps boost the secondary growth factors. A full range of motion is unnecessary though.
Powerlifting needed a standard to judge the squat. The crease of the hips lining up or falling just below the top of the knee came into practice because it provided a clear reference point. This is known as a parallel squat.
Olympic weightlifters need extreme flexibility to perform their lifts in competition. Therefore, they chose to adopt the full squat. This met the demands of their sport best.
These athletic considerations then penetrated the realm of the regular lifter. Now many advocate a parallel or deep squat without thought. They fail to question the reasons behind it.
Consider that these expectations have no bearing on the burdens your genes expected through countless years of evolution. Our anatomy and biomechanics developed without expecting a great range of motion when requiring strength.
I still see more trainees stop way too high versus going too low though. Yes, you need some range of motion but just not too much. The parallel squat goal works well for many but perhaps not for all.
By trying to reach a very low depth though, ordinary people will purchase shoes with high heels. This brings about many issues. The influence of these sports on general fitness has made specialized support gear seem necessary for everyone. Of course these products are promoted nonetheless. They create profits for the companies behind them.
Consider these factors in choosing the right shoes for lifting.
It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.
– Muhammad Ali
- They should have low heels.
Low heels have these advantages:
- They reduce anterior knee stress and allow more hip extensor involvement.
- They allow more stability.
- They allow more plantarflexion.
High heel Olympic-style shoes, often with a pronounced heel of at least 1/2” off the ground, allow more flexion at the knees. This allows an artificially low depth your body is ill-prepared to handle. It forces the knees to surpass the toes when viewed from the side. This more closely approaches the position of a front squat, which harms the knees through too much unbalanced stress. Shearing forces affect the anterior portions of the knees. These overwhelm the exercise and will cause pain and discomfort.
They make you too upright as well. This prevents your hips from extending away from your body. They will also throw your forward, like having a barbell too high on your back for squats. This harms your stability and places more stress on the lower back due to the longer moment arm. Weightlifting shoes facilitate explosive lifting, a bad idea anyway, and make it harder to control your descent on the squat.
These shoes allow less plantarflexion. They change the angle of your foot relative to the ground, keeping the large gastrocnemius muscles of the calves too shortened, reducing their contribution. Many that complain that squats fail to address the calves well enough feel so because they use high heel shoes. A low heel option will also build up the muscles of your feet, since more of the foot stays in touch with the ground.
- They should have little to no cushion.
You need a solid sole that resists compression. You want the heel and mid-foot to plant firmly into the ground. Cushioning will waste force out the sides and affect your balance. Stability is essential for fully expressing your strength and staying safe, allowing the force you exert to travel in the right direction.
- They should use supportive material.
You want to strike a balance between mobility and support for your ankles. Make sure the sides stay intact. You should feel secure enough everywhere.
Make sure the bottoms give good traction. This also has to do with the surface. Stay away from lifting on certain kinds of carpet. Rubber or wood work best.
- You should probably have shoes.
Though our feet work best barefoot, this is tough to do in modern times. Concrete and other material throughout much of the world can be hazardous to our skin. Some muscles in our feet have atrophied and adjusted for a lifetime of using shoes.
Minimalist shoes may work well for you. These allow more flexibility but provide no arch support. Experiment with them but be honest if you feel discomfort and pain. You may need to return to more regular shoes. Consider working into them through walking first.
Squatting barefoot may make sense as well, especially if you only have poor shoes. Once again, proceed sensibly and assess how you feel truthfully. How things ought to be may fail to match how things really are. Abandon this ideal if you encounter problems.
Use the Right Shoes for Lifting
A more demanding style of performance does not always mean a better stimulus. Too much range of motion may feel harder but reduces tension. This harms the stimulus for more size and strength. Remember that a deeper squat may harm your knees and bring other troubles too.
Chuck Taylor shoes work very well due to their style and durable canvas material. These will not work well for intervals though. If you perform them after your lifts, change into more athletic shoes. The bounce these shoes provide suit the need for speed such as when sprinting and jumping. These shoes will challenge your stability when squatting and during general lifting though.
Use the right shoes for lifting. If you lack mobility for the squat, make sure to warm up and stretch lightly prior to your workout. Stay patient and know that you can work on your depth gradually. Avoid relying on the wrong shoes to correct these problems.