It’s one of the great debates of muscular training. How low should you squat? Should you stop when your thighs are parallel to the floor, or should you get your bum to the floor? For ease we will refer to a squat that takes your hips below your knees as a full squat, and one that takes your thighs to parallel from the floor as a half squat.
One of the best arguments for doing a full squat is that it moves your hips, knees and ankles through the full range of movement. Doing full range movements is important as it strengthens the whole muscle and doesn’t create tight and shortened muscles in other areas.
There are reasons to do half squats. If you are new to training or are being rehabilitated from an injury then you may just not be able to go below parallel, due to their mobility being limited. A very smart decision at this stage would be to focus on increasing your mobility before you focus on your squat training. Becoming a supple leopard by Kelly Starrett is a great resource for a wide range of mobility issues. Either way the aim if you can only currently do half squats should be to build up to full. However it is often claimed by people that doing full squats will ‘destroy your knees and your back’.
Is there any truth to this? We luckily a study was conducted in Sports Medicine in 2013 that looked at this very fact. The results where conclusive. Not only does doing a full squat not put extra pressure on your back and knees, it actually puts less pressure on them. To quote them ‘When compared with half or quarter squats, in deep squats less knee joint and spinal joint stress can be expected’. Some of the major takeaway points from the study include:
- The concerns about degeneration to the tissues of the knee are unfounded. The tendons and ligaments will adapt to the increased loads.
- At the initiation of the up phase, during a half squat, there is actually increased compression stress on the knee.
- The spine adapts to deep squats by increasing bone density and increasing the strength of the ligaments and the back muscles. These gains lead to a stronger support structure.
- When performing a half squat a greater amount of load is required to achieve the same adaption effect as a full squat. This increases the pressure on the knee and spine even further.
So there you have it. Full squats are the way to go. To make sure you are doing them correctly focus on your upper thigh at the bottom of the movement. If you put a marble in the middle of your thigh at this point, it should role towards your hips, not towards your knee.