Deep Squatting 101

Deep Squatting 101

Explaining why total body exercises like deep squats will help you get bigger, faster, and stronger.

The biggest misconception about squatting, and deep squats in particular, is that they’re extremely hard on both your knees and back. Is that really the case? Simply put: no. Research shows deep squats actually activate and strengthen your knees, glutes, and lower back almost twice as much as parallel squats, meaning more muscle, more strength, and fewer injuries (so long as you’re doing the exercise properly). Still not convinced that deeps squats are worth working into your routine? Well hopefully the points below will bring you over from the dark side.

What is a Deep Squat?

Let’s start from the top, shall we? A deep squat differs from a parallel squat because the goal is to bring your thighs below parallel, placing the hip joint closer to the ground than the knee joint. Some call these ass-to-grass squats, some call them going below parallel, and others just say they’re resting their hamstrings on their calves. I could personally care less what you call them so long as you do them, and do them properly.

Attaining Proper Flexibility

Now that you know what they really are, let’s discuss why you’re probably not doing them. Believe it or not, most healthy athletes can perform bodyweight deep squats with little, or no, trouble at all. The two biggest inhibitors (besides mental) to performing deep squats pain free are technique, and flexibility of the hip and ankle joints. The technique for deep squats is the same as it is for regular squats, except your feet can be set at a slightly wider stance and, or, with your toes pointing slightly outwards to allow more space for hip flexion at the bottom. To improve flexibility of the joints, think about following a proper dynamic warm-up, flexibility drills, and un-weighted squat repetitions through the full range of motion.

Will I Hurt My Knees Doing Them?

Even with all of the benefits of deep squats, there are some people (i.e. your grandparents for starters) who shouldn’t do them. As a rule of thumb, if a person, young or old, experiences pain during bodyweight squats in positions below parallel, deep squatting is not for them. That said if you’re young and have no history of injury (looking at the entire 1R nation right now) you shouldn’t rule out deep squats because you’re afraid of loading on the weight.

Research shows stopping above parallel is in fact more stressful on your knees than going below parallel, and that the knee joint can actually experience greater stress in leg extension and leg press exercises. So step away from the machines, get under the bar, and get on your way to becoming bigger, faster, and stronger.

The Bottom Line

Any athlete who has to run, jump, or exert any type of lower body force should want to increase their hamstring and glute strength. Research has proven time and again that deep squats activate both these muscle groups better than traditional squats, and are actually safer for you in the long run. Why? Because the movement in your joints will not only make you more flexible, but will also help strengthen all of the muscles around your joints as well.

Oh, and did I mention that you’ll also activate your midsection more as well? Pretty sure I don’t have to spell it out for you, but more core activation leads to a better six-pack.

Get it? Got it? Good.

How to Incorporate Them

You now know what they are, why you should be doing them, and how you should be doing them. But how should you incorporate them into your lifts? Glad you asked. The maximal load you use for deep squats will likely be less than what you can normally use for ¼, ½, or even full squats (don’t act like that’s not what you’re doing right now). Knowing that, start off with 75% of the weight you’re using in your current program and focus on two things: staying on your heels and getting to a point where your hamstrings touch the back of your calves.

Once you grow more comfortable you’ll be able to really pile the weight on, but in the early going take it slowly and focus on form. Remember, if you’re putting in the effort and really getting deep there’s nothing to be ashamed of. But if you’re still doing those glorified calf raises after reading this article, well… that’s a different story.

To maximize your muscle and strength gains when doing deep squats 1R would recommend the following supplements:

  1. Optimum Nutrition AmiNO Energy - This preworkout supplement contains vital amino acids and beta alanine to get you ready for any workout that may come your way
  2. Cytosport Creatine - By increasing your body's ATP production creatine will help you become more explosive, more powerful, and more athletic when taken before or after lifts
  3. Optimum Nutrition 2:1:1 Recovery - The carbs and protein will help you recover and build lean muscle faster after tough workouts
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About the Author

Veronica Dyer, CSCS is the Director of Strength & Conditioning for Olympic Sports at Syracuse University and is responsible for working with volleyball, women’s lacrosse, women’s soccer, swimming and diving, tennis, and softball teams. Before that, Dyer served as an assistant strength and conditioning coach at Northwest Missouri State University and was a graduate assistant in the Syracuse strength and conditioning department for three years as well. As an undergrad, Dyer was a member of the Syracuse track and field team from 1995-2000 and was honored with the Lucille Verhulst Sportswoman of the Year award in 2000. After school she placed third in the 100-meter hurdles at the Canadian Olympic Trials in 2000 and was also a member of the Canadian National Team at the 2001 World University Games in Beijing, China.