One of the most common questions surrounding how to perform squats properly is: “How deep should I squat?”
Knowing how low to squat or how deep to squat will help ensure that your squat workouts are effective and safe without posing an increased risk of injury to your knees, back, hips, or ankles.
In this article, we will discuss the proper squat depth, looking at the ideal recommendations and tips for how to increase squat depth to maximize your gains.
We will cover the following:
- Is Squat Depth Important?
- How Deep Should You Squat?
- Tips For Squatting Correctly
- How to Squat Deeper
Let’s dive in!
Is Squat Depth Important?
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of analyzing how deep to squat, it’s important to mention that although achieving the proper squat depth is indeed an important component of correct squat technique and execution, many athletes and strength coaches place an abundance of importance on squatting depth when evaluating one’s form and technique.
Even though it is certainly important to have an understanding of how low to squat and to try to execute the ideal squat depth, there are other crucial components to proper squat execution that should not be overlooked when evaluating your squatting technique.
For example, other important aspects of the proper squat form include foot placement and toe positioning, back/spine posture, and how the knees are tracking both in the frontal plane (not collapsing in) as well as the sagittal plane (not extending beyond the toes).
Although we are not going to look at each of these important form cues of proper squatting technique in this article, it is still worth establishing that while achieving the correct squat depth is absolutely an integral component of proper squat execution, it is not the only factor that you should be focusing on when critiquing your squat exercise.
With this necessary point covered, it is still important to recognize that knowing how deep to squat and achieving the proper squat depth should still certainly be one of the main factors that you pay attention to during your squatting workouts.
So, why is squatting depth important?
The most common squatting depth mistake that beginners or deconditioned individuals make is not squatting deep enough.
This reduces the workload on the glutes and places emphasis on the quads. Plus, evidence suggests that while a 90-degree squat can reduce stress on the knees by about 28%, it can increase stress on the back by over 1000%!
How Deep Should You Squat?
Now let’s look more specifically at how deep to squat based on the ISSA recommendations for proper squat depth.
In general, unless you are deliberately trying to do partial squats or particularly deep squats for various reasons, the standard recommendation for a good squat depth is to get your thighs just below parallel or get the hip crease just below the level of the knee joint so that you are slightly lower than a 90° angle in your knees.
Many personal trainers and strength coaches often recommend that beginners start out by just aiming for getting the thighs parallel to the ground with a 90° angle in the knee.
It is a little bit easier to come out of the squat if you are not so deep, and achieving that last little bit of range of motion to sync your hips down further requires a lot more core control and hip and ankle mobility, often at the sacrifice of other aspects of proper squat forms.
However, once you have mastered the squat and are working with a proper weight that you can handle, you should be trying to achieve the proper squat depth and get your thighs a little lower than parallel to the ground.
The proper squat depth with the hip crease slightly lower than the knee joint originated with powerlifters but has since infiltrated the rest of the strength training world and become the accepted standard squat depth.
A shallow squat is considered to be anything where the squatting depth is less than this squatting depth, so even just getting your thighs parallel to the floor is technically just a partial squat.
If you want to further distinguish squat depth in shallow squats, partial squats are considered to be any squat where the knee joint angle is up to about 135 to 120° (about halfway to 2/3 of the way bent to 90 degrees)
A parallel squat is when you get your thighs close to parallel to the floor or achieve a knee joint angle of 90° (sometimes 10 degrees shy of 90 degrees).
The ideal squat depth is when your knees are at a slightly acute angle, so anything just under 90° so that you are a little deeper than your thighs parallel to the ground.
A deep squat is considered anything where you sink even lower, generally at least 10° past a horizontal thigh.
In most cases, recreational and competitive athletes are aiming to achieve the proper squat depth, but there are instances where you might purposely be performing shallow or deep squats.
Partial or shallow squats can be useful when you are trying to work on certain aspects of your performance or beginning to work with a heavier weight and need to reduce the range of motion before getting to the sticking point of the squat, which is the lowest squat point.
Additionally, if you are trying to do met-con workouts with lots of rapid squats to increase your heart rate, aiming to increase muscular endurance by doing 100 squats for a squat challenge, or trying to increase vertical jump, you might purposely do partial or parallel squats rather than worrying about maximizing your squat depth.
On the other hand, if you are trying to build mass with hypertrophy squat workouts, you will likely be best served by adding in some sets of deep squats to maximize your time under tension.
Additionally, powerlifters and strength athletes looking to maximize strength and power output may add a set or two of deep squats with a slightly lighter weight so that going heavier with the reduced range of motion using just a normal squat depth will be even easier.
Training beyond the sticking points of the squat, which is again the lowest point of the squat before you press up to standing, can help train your body to deal with correct squat form and technique with heavier weights.
Tips For Squatting Correctly
As touched upon earlier, when performing squats, it’s not enough to just worry about the depth of your squat.
You want to make sure that you are keeping a neutral spine by deliberately pressing your chest up and out and keeping your shoulders back and down. Engage your core and glutes to keep your back straight.
Make sure that your knees are tracking straight from both a side to side and frontal view.
Do not allow them to collapse inward as you squat down, and do not allow them to track forward beyond your knees.
You really need to sit your hips back as far as possible, as if reaching your butt into a chair, rather than allowing your knees to come forward and your butt to drop straight down.
The eccentric portion of the squat, which is lowering from the standing position down to the bottom of the squat, should involve flexion of the hips, knees, and ankles.
Go as slowly as possible through the eccentric portion to maximize the time under tension and the strengthening benefits of the squat.
When you achieve the correct squat depth with your hip crease below the level of your knees, press forcefully through your heels and explode upward, initiating a triple extension of the ankles, knees, and hips to return to standing.
Remember to keep your core engaged, your shoulders back and down, and your chest up so that your spine remains neutral and supported.
How to Squat Deeper
There are a couple of common problems that often prevent weight lifters from achieving the proper squat depth. If you are trying to learn how to squat lower but are struggling, consider the following tips:
#1: Lighten the Load
One of the primary reasons why you may not be able to squat deep enough is because you are lifting too heavy.
In this case, your brain is unconsciously stopping you from achieving the proper squat depth, knowing that it will be impossible, or nearly impossible, to rise back up out of a deeper squat without collapsing down to the ground.
It is better to use the proper squat technique and achieve the standard squat depth than to always lift heavier and “cheat“ by doing shallow squats.
Try reducing the load by 10% and seeing if you can get deeper into your squat.
#2: Work on Ankle Mobility
The most common reason why people can’t squat low enough is due to a lack of ankle mobility.
If you have tight calves, ankles, or Achilles tendons, your heels will pop up when you try to squat low. This will make it difficult to stay balanced without falling forward and will make it equally challenging to stand up from the deep squat.
Begin working on ankle mobility with ankle mobility exercises such as heel walks, calf stretches, ankle alphabets, and foam rolling the ankles and calves.
You should try to do some ankle mobility work every day and focus particularly on dynamic ankle warm-up exercises before squatting workouts.
A temporary modification you can make when you have tight ankles is to place your heels on a weight plate when you perform squats. This will allow you to squat deeper while still having your heel supported rather than popping up off the ground.
However, this should be a temporary training tool, and you should try to focus on increasing ankle mobility.
For more information about a common squat technique error, check out our guide to butt-winking while squatting here.