Squatting burns lots of calories and can increase muscle mass quickly. Unfortunately, most folks do not squat properly. They either do not use the right technique or do not squat deep enough. Frankly, it is easy to learn the proper squat technique, but squatting deep can be hard and even painful for some.
In this article, I will show you various ways to improve flexibility and attain the deep squat. But, maybe you do not want to squat deep – maybe you think squatting below parallel is bad for your knees. Well, this is usually a big worry for most folks, so let us address it right now.
Are Deep Squats Bad For Your Knees?
The argument that deep squats are bad for your knees is based on a study conducted in 1960. In the study, researchers found that Olympic lifters had loose knee ligaments while the control subjects did not. These findings made the American Medical Association conclude that deep squats are bad for the knees.
But, later studies which used the same test technique did not find such results. In fact, new studies show that deep squats improve knee stability.
In a nutshell – deep squats are not bad for your knees, unless you have a previous knee or hip injury. If you have healthy knees, deep squats will improve your knee and hip flexibility.
In fact, it is only in the West deep squats have been demonized. In some African and Asian cultures, people sit in the deep squat position for long periods.
The truth is, you can benefit from parallel squats, especially if you are using weights. But, since you are doing body-weight squats – you should maximize on range of motion.
Deep Squats vs Parallel Squats
Both variations build muscle and strength, but deep squats are more effective. In a study where subjects were doing weighted squats, researchers found that parallel squats were better for improving vertical jump. And deep squats were the best for strengthening the lower body and increasing muscle mass.
You may be able to do more reps with parallel squats, but studies show that you will be less muscular. If your goal is bigger and stronger legs – deep squats is the way to go.
Note that doing deep squats incorrectly could hurt your knees and cause lower back pain, so learn the proper squat technique.
How To Do Body-weight Deep Squats?
- Stand upright in a stance wider than shoulder width. The toes should be slightly facing outward.
- Place your hands on behind the ears or put them out in front to help maintain balance.
- Lower yourself by bending the knees and dropping the butt as if you are going to sit on a chair.
- Squat until the thighs rest on the calves – avoid rounding your back (keep it flat). Keep your heels on the floor throughout the movement.
- Then slowly rise until you are upright and repeat.
Keep changing the stance variation to see what works best for you. It is worth noting that close stance squats improve balance and stability more than wide stance.
You are probably wondering why some people can squat deeply while others can not. So, let us look into the reasons – why it is hard for adults to do deep squats?
Reasons You Can Not Squat Deep
1. We Do Not Squat Deeply Regularly
You will notice that babies can stay in the deep squat position for long. But, most adults can not even get in that position.
That is because we spend many hours sitting on chairs and cars and with time we lose the ability to squat deeply. For some Africans and Asians it is easy to squat deeply since they do it frequently.
2. Tight Hip Flexors
Hip flexors are the muscles above the quadriceps (front thigh) and they control flexing in the hip joint. Tight hip flexors are a common problem nowadays because most people spend long hours sitting in the same position.
When these muscles are tight, they reduce flexibility and prevent the deep squat movement.
How To Determine If You Have Tight Hip Flexors?
- Grab a pole at your waist height to help maintain balance, then do a squat from that position.
- You should be able to squat below parallel when holding on to the pole.
- If you can not squat below parallel when supporting yourself, you probably have tight hip flexors.
3. Weak Core Muscles
We use the core in every full body movement. And a weak core can prevent you from squatting. Note that your core might be weak even if you do abdominal exercises. So, do a test to determine your core strength.
How To Determine If Your Core Is Weak?
- Hold the plank as long as you can.
- If you start feeling pressure in the lower back muscles instead of the abdominal muscles – chances are your core is weak.
4. Tight Calf Muscles
Calf muscles can also stop you from squatting deeply.
How To Determine If Your Calves Are Tight?
- Place your heels on a low platform then squat with the heels elevated.
- If you can squat deeper than you usually do – your calves are reducing your squat depth.
5. Weak And Tight Upper Back
Upper back tightness is usually caused by long hours of sitting or training chest muscles more and ignoring back muscles. This reduces your flexibility and causes the back to be curved when you squat.
A hunched back is one of the signs of weak and tight back muscles.
6. Weak Glute Muscles
Glute (butt) muscles are important for lower body strength and balance. In fact, we use them in all leg movements, and you can not squat properly if they are too weak.
The knees coming close to each other when you squat is a sign of weak glute muscles.
How To Squat Deep?
The truth is everyone can squat deep – unless you have a previous injury, in that case, see a chiropractor before you apply the tips below. Here is how to attain – deep squat, or full squat, or ass to grass…whichever name you prefer.
1. Do Deep Squats Hold Everyday
This is by far the most important thing for improving your squat depth. It will improve hip, ankle and hamstring flexibility. It will also improve your balance and get you used to being in the squat position.
Basically, squat as low as you can and hold that position. Start with one minute holds then work your way up to 5 minutes. If the deep squats hold is painful, grab a pole or hold on to a sturdy chair for support.
Most people find it easier to squat in a wide stance, so try different stances to find the one you are most comfortable with. Once you have improved your flexibility with the squat hold, start strengthening the weak muscles.
2. Practice Split Squats
Split squats will definitely improve your squat depth – they loosen the hip flexors and strengthen the glute and hamstring muscles. Remember to keep your upper body upright when doing split squats.
3. Strengthen Your Core
A strong core is important for maintaining balance and stability. Do exercises which strengthen the abs, glutes and lower back muscles. Here are exercises for each muscle group:
4. Warm Up Before Squatting
Warming up actually improves mobility and range of motion. Do a 5-minute warm up before you start your workout.
The warm up must activate all the muscles and joints used when squatting. A full body exercise like jumping jacks will get blood flowing in all the muscles and joints.
5. Do Hip Mobility Stretches
Frankly, you can improve your squat depth with the 3 tips above only. But, doing stretch routines can help you attain the deep squats faster. Here is a hip mobility and flexibility routine that works:
You may also want to stretch your hamstrings to increase your flexibility.
I have found th,at people never take action when they are bombarded with tips for doing something. So I have tried to keep the tips minimal. And I can guarantee you that they work – so, start applying them today.
You will burn more calories and increase muscle mass faster when you start doing full squats. In the meantime, keep on doing parallel squats as you improve your flexibility.