Squats: How Deep is Deep Enough?

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Question: When we lift weights doing squats at school the coach wants our butts almost on the ground but it kills me to do that. I just wanted your opinion, is it necessary to get that low to get results from squats?
Answer: Squats along with deadlifts when done with a barbell, are both difficult to do but are both highly effective in building muscle, strength and serving as the basis for pure power that will transition easily to the football field. I mention deadlifts because they are essential to building a strong squat. The better you deadlift the better your squat will get because deads are basically squats done while holding a bar and strengthens the spinal erectors and medial glutes. Both exercises involve almost every skeletal muscle in your body during the exercise. Squats seem to work only legs because the weight rests on your shoulders but your upper body has to support the weight and maintain balance as you transition down from a standing position to a point where the center of your thighs are parallel or just below parallel to the floor. There are bodybuilders and powerlifters who have thighs so tremendously large they look like they are bottomed out when they squat but if you look at the center of that leg mass they are just below parallel instead.
By remaining at this point instead of bottoming out they keep the pressure evenly distributed across their hip flexors, glutes, quads and spinal erectors. This even distribution protects the knees keeping them from shifting forward which would increase the pressure on them and protects the lower spine and medial glutes by preventing your pelvis from rolling under. That rolling under occurs when your pelvis changes it’s natural tilt and causes the spine to open up in the area around L2, L3 and L4. Find your natural range of motion and work within that range according the parameters of safe movement. Overextending a bad position is never a good idea and has the potential for injury.
Another position that can be difficult for some people is the high-bar squat which is most commonly taught. If you happen to be an individual who has a natural roundness to your shoulder structure then consider changing to a low-bar squat which is commonly used by powerlifters. This change will prevent lower back soreness or injury to the lower back of those who can’t naturally elevate the ribcage during squats to support the weight. One of Lee Haney’s favorite saying was, “stimulate it, don’t annihilate it.” In this case if it feels more painful than productive then change the method to get the same results.
In closing, a case study revealed last year that partial reps were as productive at increasing strength as were full reps. If you have an injury that prevents a certain range of movement you can still do the exercise with partial movements and get results without irritating an injury. Get your squats deep but not bottomed out.
God bless and keep training,
Daryl

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