I've seen this too many times to count. An athlete loads up a ton of weight on a Back Squat, lowers a few inches and thinks he or she actually squatted.
Newsflash—this is not a Squat.
In case you haven't heard, the Squat is considered the King of all exercises. But squatting for only part of the full range of motion takes away most of its benefits. Would you ever bench only halfway to your chest? Not a chance.
There's some debate about how deep athletes should squat. For the vast majority of athletes, it's best to squat until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
Squatting through the full range of motion effectively targets the major muscle groups in your lower body, including your glutes, quads and hamstrings. Moving through the full exercise recruits more motor units and muscle fibers, increases time under tension and leads to greater overall strength and size gains. Also, it's important to strengthen your muscles through the range of motion you are required to use in your sport.
When proper depth is not achieved, underdevelopment of the hamstrings and glute muscles occurs, along with overdevelopment of the quadriceps. This is because the quadriceps are the prime movers in Squats performed with a short range of motion. Over time, this can lead to a disproportionate distribution of strength, flexibility and overall development among the three major leg muscle groups. Many knee injuries, including ACL tears, can be attributed to underdeveloped hamstrings and glute muscles, which is why equal development is crucial in your training program.
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Squat depth is mainly a concern for people performing barbell Back Squats, but it also applies to other Squat variations. If this is difficult to achieve, seek advice from a certified strength coach to help you get to the proper depth for your body type. The goal for all exercises is to realize the greatest potential benefits, and performing an improper Squat can lead to disastrous results in the future.
Here are a few things you can do to learn to achieve proper squat depth.
This is a fantastic exercise for learning how to squat in its own right. But it's also an easy way to learn the proper depth, because once your elbows touch your thighs, you know you're at 90 degrees.
Squat to a Box
We aren't talking about Box Squats where you actually sit briefly on a box. Next time you're squatting, set up a knee-high box behind you. Sit your hips back and squat down until your butt taps the box. Use the box until you have mastered reaching the proper depth.
If you find that squat depth is problematic, there's a good chance you need to use less weight. Too much weight is one of the primary reasons why athletes fail to squat low enough. So take a step back and achieve your perfect squat depth, then add weight. If you can't hit a full Squat, you're probably lifting too heavy.
Do Third-World Squats
The Third-World Squat is essentially just a deep Squat hold. It opens up your hips and improves ankle flexibility—two critical components of squat depth. Hold this for 30 seconds every day to get the benefits.
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