Should You Squat Arse-To-Grass Deep? [Risks, Rewards & Who Qualifies]

This is a highly debated topic in the health and fitness industry. The deep squat advocates (I’m one of them) will cite the obvious benefits to squatting full range of motion. A deep squat activates a lot more quads and glutes due to the stretch shortening cycle.

Deep squatting also promotes healthy mobility in the hips, knees and ankles … and if done carefully, will provide a good stretch to the lower back.

But does this warrant everyone attempting a deep squat under the barbell?

Recently I wrote an article based on a discussion with colleague and friend Tom Cartwright on the topic of weight lifting technique.

If you missed it and are interested you can go here.

During the conversation … whilst discussing round back, versus straight back lifting … we uncovered another very important topic; should there be a standardized method to lifting, or should it be more personalized based on the individual?

Because there are also risks associated with full range of motion movement; particularly deep squatting. Especially if you have the physical limitations I’ll discuss momentarily.

In addition, based on the individuals goals … there may also be benefits to partial range squatting. Take for example the powerlifters squat versus an Olympic lifters squat.

I’ve personally watched friends of mine change from squatting full range to a partial range to support a transition from bodybuilding to powerlifting. Their squat increased in weight exponentially … and they were far more competitive as a result.

On the other hand, suggest that to an Olympic weightlifter and you’ll do them a major disservice. They need as 

much depth as possible to get under the barbell.

Taking all this into consideration you could say that what works for one person may not work for another. Our bodies each have their nuances which warrant adaptation to our lifting technique.

When considering how you should perform a lift, its first important to understand your body. More importantly, your bodies anatomical limitations.

When discussing this on Unity-V episode 003, Physical Therapist Tom Cartwright used a good tennis analogy …

“We’ve all probably seen tennis players hit a ball. If you watch Federer and Nadal play, you’ll notice they both have two very distinct styles.

“Even if we were somehow unable to notice the superficial difference in appearance … we would still be able to identify who they are based on the way they play. Because they both have a very different way of hitting a ball.

“This is because the inner mechanics of their bodies are different.

“Although every young tennis player is taught certain universal techniques to hit a forehand or backhand … once their game develops, the execution of each stroke will look different.

“That’s because we’re all different.

“And we have differing physical attributes.

“We’re different heights. We have different shaped joints: and our muscle proportions are different. Even though we were taught how to use the racket in the same way, due to our anatomical limitations, we always end up with different playing styles.”

The point Tom makes is, like tennis (or any sport), weight lifting should look different from person-to-person.

Just like a good tennis coach can get the best out of their players irrespective of unique idiosyncrasies … a good strength coach or personal trainer should adapt movements based on the individual.

For example, some people have got a history of back problems, and you’ve got to address them in a certain way. These individuals may benefit from straight back lifting as opposed to Sarah Key’s suggested round back (see previous article here … or watch the full interview here).

Some people probably shouldn’t squat deep due to a history of bad knee injuries … or the immobility through their ankles. If you’ve had meniscus damage or tear, taking your knee past 90 degrees in a squat may exacerbate any existing issues.

In addition, poor dorsiflexion through the talocrural joint (a synovial hinge type joint in the ankle, between the tibia, fibula and talus that permits dorsiflexion and plantarflexion of your foot) will also restrict your squat.

A lot of the time we hear people saying, “I can’t squat because I’ve got tight calves.” But often it has very little to do with calf length. It can also be related to the actual joint structure itself.

Meaning, no matter how much they stretch their calves they will not be able to flex the ankle forwards enough for a deep squat.

In which case … you definitely shouldn’t try to squat arse-to-grass!

Another big limiting factor is the shape of our hips. Your pelvis determines largely how well you’ll squat. The way your acetabulums (the socket that the femur sits in) are pitched will determine your ideal foot stance and the angles that your knees should be set at.

I often coach people who’ve been told over-and-over to keep the knees parallel in a squat. You know … you hear trainers say, don’t let your knees bow out or buckle inwards.

But the knee must travel in accordance with the pelvis. Locking them in place is suicide for your knee!

Failing to explore and respect these limitations will almost certainly result in injury. In addition, failing to properly understand the individual’s goals will certainly hinder their performance.

In which case, don’t try to go arse-to-grass.

Don’t be upset about it either …

It’s not your fault … it’s mum and dad’s fault!

Unfortunately they’ve given you a set of genes that don’t promote full range of motion squatting. So just squat to your genetic limitations.

Start by aiming to hit just above parallel. Then see what happens in the lower back and posture.

You should be looking for postural compensation. Meaning, your body compensates in other areas … like your lower back, upper back or shoulders … because you can’t complete the range in the restricted joint.

It’s extremely important that that’s reinforced. It’s one of the first things we teach our tribe here at Unity Gym. I guess you could say, we embark on a lot of personal self discovery.

Our people are properly supported to find those norms for themselves.

Another great insight Tom spoke about on Unity-V and the Sound of Movement Podcast was that he thought the body has an innate intelligence, and often gets us to do what’s best subconsciously.

Occasionally if we’re injured it may trick us.

But a good functioning body will usually force us to do what we need to do, based on our anatomical capabilities.

My advice is to embrace the initial phase of learning. Give yourself plenty of time to discover your limitations and you’ll unlock the best techniques for your body.

As your mobility and strength improves over time, your body will unlock … often allowing you to increase your range of motion.

Keep working on mobility and strength. Keep progressing. It’s a big process. A long journey of self discovery.

Be patient, and embrace it!

Cool Opportunity For 10 Lucky Readers!!

P.S. If you’re ready to embark on your own journey of self discovery listen up … in conjunction with the launch of the Federal Government’s Sport 2030 plan and Sport Australia’s ‘Move it’ initiative we want to help encourage people to MOVE more. Not just any old movement! Optimal … Unity Gym … style movement which includes the support and coaching that will empower you to find your optimal lifting technique.

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This is NOT your average gym program folks! And this offer is NOT available to the general public! This will be a unique opportunity for a few lucky people to come a try our Foundation Movement System (FMS) for half price with zero obligation to join afterwards.

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Before I go … please note, due to our cosey gym and limited trainers we can only offer 10 places … so get in touch quick!

P.P.S. If you like what we do and would like to learn more about our program, here’s the best 3 ways I can help you get lean, strong and healthy:

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