By Chris and Eric Martinez
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Question: So we basically have 3 classifications when it comes to the squat, these being: A- Full range of motion squats (ass to grass) B- Parallel squats (Knee joint horizontally aligned with the hip joint) and C- Partial squats (quarter squats). For the first question, where do you think each of these squat forms has its place? For the second question, how deep should an individual squat looking to A- Induce muscular hypertrophy (muscle growth) B- Improve athletic performance and C- Increase strength?
The answer to all of those questions is specificity. If someone just wants to be well rounded and have overall functionality then the full squat will be best. If someones sport requires them to jump for example from parallel, like in volleyball then they should mimic that in the gym and squat parallel. If someone is a skier and takes off from a full squat they should perform full squats. That is where specificity comes into play. However if someone is a powerlifter they should maximize their depth and squat based on competition rules. Finally, if an individual is a bodybuilder I would recommend full range of motion squats because research indicates that full ROM results in greater muscle hypertrophy and activation of growth factors. So again IT ALL DEPENDS on the desired outcome.
Dr. Jacob Wilson, Ph.D., CSCS*D is a professor and director of the exercise & sports nutrition laboratory in the department of health sciences and human performance at the University of Tampa, Tampa Fl. Jacob has published over 70 peer-reviewed papers, and abstracts on sports nutrition, supplementation, and resistance training in athletic and clinical situations. His research has covered both the cellular and molecular responses to supplementation and nutrition, as well as the whole body changes in muscle size, strength, and power. Dr. Wilson is also a proud member of the International Society of Sports Nutrition and National Strength and Conditioning Association, and President of the website Abcbodybuilding.com
Personally I think that a person interested in growth, strength, and performance should squat as deep as they can without lumbar flexion or pelvic tuck. If the lumbar starts to flex or the pelvis starts to tuck under, that’s probably too low. It’s important to note however, that a certain amount of those problems can be fixed via practice, however everyone’s structure will only allow so much. I cannot squat high bar ass to the grass without lumbar flexion. I can squat below parallel however so I go as low as I reasonably can. When I compete in powerlifting, I’m looking to get the most poundage I can within the frame of the rules so in that case I will squat just below parallel. I really don’t see much point in partial squats, they emphasize poor form, don’t activate the posterior chain nearly enough, and encourage you to handle weights you would otherwise not use. I’ve heard some people say you should do partials with heavier weights to get used to the heavier weight, but I’ve seen no evidence that actually translates into carryover for a full depth or parallel squat, nor would I expect it to.
Layne Norton is a professional natural bodybuilder and powerlifter. He also holds a PhD in Nutritional Sciences and owns BioLayne LLC a consulting company providing coaching for bodybuilders, powerlifters, and athletes looking to maximize performance and body composition.
First part of the question-
With bodybuilding/powerlifting, the partial squat should probably never be performed. Research suggests that it results in less total muscle activation and with respect to powerlifting, it doesn’t train the actual movement you will be required to perform in competition.
As far as the other two are concerned, with powerlifting, I think it would be wise to stick with squats that are just below parallel, because that is the depth required for a ‘good lift’. Unless you just feel more comfortable going ‘ass to grass’, I don’t see a reason to do it with powerlifting because it will take pounds off your total.
Second part of the question:
First, it is important to understand that muscle hypertrophy is a local response, so if you want a muscle to grow, you have to activate it. Also, assuming you are trained, increases in strength are largely coming from increases in muscle cross sectional area. In my opinion, it is really hard to tell from the available research which one is actually better for total muscle activation, due to some possible methodological issues with how they set the load. For example, some studies comparing depth use a percentage of 1RM for the full squat to set the load for the other two depths. In other words, the intensity would be less for a parallel squat because you are using the 1RM load for a full squat, which is harder. However, if I had to give a recommendation, I would say load the bar and squat to a minimum of below parallel.
For athletic performance, I’d recommend performing the squat to a depth that is most specific to your athletic event.
Jeremy Loenneke is a PhD student in Exercise Physiology at the University of Oklahoma. He has previously earned a Masters degree in Nutrition and Exercise Science from Southeast Missouri State University. He is also a competitive bodybuilder and powerlifter and proud member of Team Norton and the DRG.
1. I believe the best answer to this question lies in accordance with the principle of specificity; meaning each respective variation of the movement should be utilized where/if it fits to the movement patterns and needs of the athlete’s sport. So obviously a powerlifter is going to want to utilize full squats in training because that fits the specifications of which upon they are judged. Conversely, a high jumper or basketball player may benefit from high velocity partial squats to improve their vertical jump. There is really no one size fits all answer, it is just what fits that specific individual best.
2. A. Full range of motion, no question. Activation of many of the prime movers in the squat vary and predominate at different regions of the movement, therefore if you want the squat to be a compound movement as it is intended, you need to use full range of motion. Additional, there are a myriad of myogenic stimuli directly associated with stretch under load. Definitely form and full ROM over simply absolute poundage when it comes to hypertrophy.
B. The answer to this would be the same as the answer to question #1. Specificity!
C. The answer depends upon which type of strength; isometric, concentric, eccentric, or the successful completion of a power lift. If you are trying to increase strength in a very specific portion of the ROM of an exercise, specific loading in that region would produce the best strength gains for that region. A real world example of this is the floor press, board press, or the use of accommodating resistance in strength training. If we are talking the successful completion of a full lift, you need to train the full lift primarily to increase your strength in it. Partial work should only be used as an accessory tool.
CISSN, CSCS, RD
USBF Professional Natural Bodybuilder, USAPL/IPF Raw Powerlifter
Outwork Apparel Sponsored Athlete
Owner of Denovo Nutrition
Thanks for allowing me to chime in on the Round Table Questions.
Full ROM, Parallel, and Partial Squats all have their place depending on what the goals are for the individual and their abilities and limitations (i.e. flexibility, joint/bone structure, previous injuries, etc.).
If an individual wants to improve their top half, lock out, portion of a squat then the Partial Squat would be ideal for that specific goal as it trains exactly that. This squat will also help with mind-to-muscle, glute and quad, activation for beginners or those rehabbing an injury without progressing too fast into a Parallel/Full ROM squat.
In my opinion, the King of Kings in squatting is the “Ass to Grass” squat, as one is training the movement through full ROM, recruiting more muscle fibers, giving the individual greater potential for growth and functionality. The Parallel Squat is fairly close to the Full ROM Squat, so unless the individual is just wanting to train to parallel, is cautious about hurting their knees or believes that “Ass to Grass” is the incorrect way of performing, then just do “Ass to Grass”.
For the second question of this discussion, all 3 squats can improve hypertrophy, improve athletic performance, and strength. The Partial Squat would relate mostly with athletic performance as most athletes don’t perform a full ROM squat when playing their sport. Hypertrophy and strength can happen with all 3 squatting techniques depending on the training demands and loads placed on the movement and muscles. It comes down to what the individual is training for, the purpose, and with that they can choose which technique will give them the results they’re looking for.
Jon R. McQueen, CSCS, CPT, PES, CES
Owner/Trainer/Coach of Elite Conditioning in San Diego, Ca
Mike T Nelson-
In general, it depends on the person’s structure which includes limb length and also soft tissue. Many people’s bodies are just not ready to go really deep on a squat, which is fine. The goal is to slowly progress to a deeper squat over time. I prefer my clients/athletes to go with a lighter load for a greater range of motion (aka depth) than to load up and go very high.
Keep in mind that you don’t always have to do a barbell back squat either. You can do a Front Squat, Goblet squat and other forms too.
I watch and test the athlete’s form to see what depth is best for them. You can also have them lie on their back and passively move their hips to see how far they can currently go (a tip I got from Dr. Stu McGill). According to McGill, certain people have a hip structure that will not allow them to go much past parallel without a lot of movement in the low back. In the end, it will vary from one person to the next and it is not worth forcing just to get deeper.
For the second question, how deep should an individual squat looking to A- Induce muscular hypertrophy (muscle growth) B- Improve athletic performance and C- Increase strength?
For hypertrophy we need to look at overload. Overload is 1) intensity (% of 1 rep max aka the weight used), 2) volume (weight x sets x reps) and 3) density (volume / time). For hypertrophy (and strength) the goal is to do more/better of each one over time. More volume, more weight and a better density by rotating each one per exercise session. A great pattern is volume, volume, volume, density, intensity.
Let’s say you squat on Monday and Thurs, here would be a simple progression
Day 1, Volume -135 x 5 for 2 sets (takes you 8 min 37 sec)
Day 2, Volume – 135 x 5 for 3 sets (takes you 11 min 42 sec)
Day 3, Volume – 135 x 5 for 4 sets (takes you 15 min 13 sec)
Day 4, Density – 135 x 5 for 2 sets (takes you 6 min 37 sec –2 minutes less than day 1)
Day 5, Intensity – 145 x 5 for 2 sets
You get the idea.
This will also increase athletic performance for most too, but my preference there is to make sure all the reps are done with great speed. If you can measure speed with a tendo or video–even better. More speed = more tension on the muscle = more strength and a bit of hypertrophy too.
If you have any pain, do NOT keep doing that exercise! Cut the dept or weight or pick something different. If you keep exercising in pain, you will just get more and more pain which will inhibit your gains in hypertrophy and strength.
Michael T. Nelson MS, CSCS
PhD Candidate, Exercise Science
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Full range of motion squats are great for those who have adequate mobility/stability and want to focus on balanced develop of strength throughout the body.
Parallel squats are probably superior if your only goal is to move maximal weights, and/or to compete in a powerlifting meet.
Partial squats should be reserved for specific weakness training, someone who has suffered knee/hip issues and where increased depth increases pain/discomfort, and/or during various times of the year to maximally overload the body.
For the second question, how deep should an individual squat looking to A- Induce muscular hypertrophy (muscle growth) B- Improve athletic performance and C- Increase strength?
A – If you want hypertrophy, I think you need to go through as full a range of motion as possible. More ROM equals more time under tension and more growth. However, you could also say that a parallel squat could help here, too, as you can increase loading to a degree.
B – For athletic performance, again, you can argue for either full ROM or parallel stance squats. Anything that loads the glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps in concert will be beneficial. Partial squats would be used minimally, if at all.
C – If your’e looking to maximize strength (especially in a powerlifting competition) squatting to just below parallel is probably the best option, although you can use either A or C at various times of the year to maximize performance and strength gains.
Mike Robertson, M.S., C.S.C.S., U.S.A.W.
President, Robertson Training Systems (http://www.
Co-Owner, Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training (http://www.IFASTOnline.com)
Ranked one of America’s Top 10 Gyms by Men’s Health Magazine in 2009
Most people should stick to the parallel squat simply due to the vast number of lifters who possess an inability to maintain a neutral spine when full squatting (usually do to poor ankle dorsiflexion mobility or poor hip flexion mobility). Those who can full squat while maintaining a mostly-neutral spine and pelvic position should stick to full squats as they’ve been shown to lead to greater vertical jump improvements.
In addition, full range movements have been shown to lead to greater hypertrophy compared to partials. Partial squats can be performed as a supplement to full squatting, which is a wise-strategy to incorporate sporadically throughout the year as heavier loads can be used to overload the top ROM, but it does not replace the full squat! For maximal hypertrophy, full squat. For maximal athletic performance, full squat. For maximal strength – it depends on the goal. For an Olympic lifter who catches the snatch and clean in a deep squat, the full squat will be most appropriate. But for a powerlifter who only needs to reach parallel, a parallel squat is most appropriate most of the time, however going slightly deeper and slightly shallower from time to time is a wise-strategy for variety’s sake.
Bret Contreras is a National Strength and Conditioning Association – Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Certified Functional Movement Screen Expert. He has over 15 years of experience working as a certified personal trainer.
Each of the squat depths you describe have potential application to training programs. As with almost all aspects of training, the answer as to when to utilize one vs. the other is “it depends.” With respect to hypertrophy, I generally suggest full squats for a majority of sets as they tend to maximize the hypertrophic response. That said, there are potential benefits to partial range movements as they allow heavier loading opportunities (i.e. greater mechanical tension) for the quads, which are maximally worked at ~90 degrees or so.
With respect to athletics, my philosophy is to look at the athlete’s chosen sport and then apply the principle of specificity. In a sport such as volleyball, for example, the athlete would be best off focusing the half squat since this is the maximum depth at which they perform while a baseball catcher would derive greater benefit from the full squat. Again, though, I will generally incorporate deep squats into all athletic programs as there is transfer to basic skill.
Finally, partial squats are applicable to those rehabbing from various lower extremity injuries. As with every exercise, it is essential to tailor the program to individual needs and abilities.
Brad Schoenfeld, MSc, CSCS, CSPS., is an internationally renowned fitness expert and widely regarded as one of the leading authorities on body composition training (muscle development and fat loss). He is a lifetime drug-free bodybuilder, and has won numerous natural bodybuilding titles including the ANPPC Tri-State Naturals and USA Mixed Pairs crowns.
Check out Brad’s new book“The Max Muscle Plan”
First and foremost I am very pleased to take part in a discussion, which addresses the squat. The reason being, the squat is the undisputed ‘king’ of all lifts. Essentially, if you went into the gym and only had time to perform one lift; it would be most advantageous to choose the squat. From muscle activation to bone mineral density along with the ability to develop mental toughness and the necessary work ethic to be a successful strength athlete, the squat is king. Thus, for these reasons discussing the squat is of paramount importance.
Concerning, the first question it is imperative to point out USA Powerlifting (USAPL) defines achieving appropriate squat depth as the following: “the top of the surface of the leg at the hip joint must descend until it is below the top of the knees.” Therefore, if you are not achieving this depth as a minimum then to put it simply you are not squatting. By definition ‘quarter squats’ do not exist, they might be referred to as a ‘partial knee bend’ but a ‘quarter squat’ is most certainly not a squat.
Figure 1: USAPL Squat Depth
Figure 1: Representation of acceptable squat depth in the USAPL in which the top of the surface of the leg at the hip joint has descended below the top of the knees.
Squatting For Muscle Activation and Hypertrophy
Regarding muscle hypertrophy, data does exist which analyzes Electromyography (EMG) activity of the ‘squat’ to various depths. This data has demonstrated that the activation of the gluteus maximus is greater during the concentric portion of lift when the eccentric phase is taken to greater depth (1). Even though, this study also reported no difference in muscle activation of the quadriceps and hamstring muscles at different depths, there seems to be no benefit to ‘squat’ above parallel. Additionally, a common fallacy of a below parallel or full range of motion squat is that it is ‘bad for the knees.’ However, data suggests that to effectively train the knee extensors a deeper squat depth is needed (2). Further, a lighter load can accomplish effective training of the knee extensors with a deep squat depth (2). Therefore partial ‘squats’ with heavier loads will not provide the same benefit to train the knee extensor muscles as, will deep squats; even when the partial ‘squats’ use a relatively heavier load.
Squatting for Strength and Skill Acquisition
Similar to increasing cross-sectional area (CSA) of the muscle a squat should always be performed to the USAPL definition of minimal squat depth or beyond. It has been demonstrated that when squatting to a greater depth during training greater strength has been achieved which has led to augmented jump performance when compared to ‘quarter’ squats (3).
Additionally, muscle activation as noted by EMG activity will also play a role in strength as will developing proper motor patterns. When training a squat for strength purposes it is paramount to examine this lift as a ‘skill.’ The more this skill is performed it is reasonable to suggest the better one will become at squatting. Ultimately, when a skill is performed frequently, neuromuscular adaptations will increase due to enhanced skill acquisition. Therefore, if a squat is defined as, ‘the top of the surface of the leg at the hip joint descending below the top of the knees’ then this criteria, should always be met when squatting for strength, with no exceptions. If squat depth varies from session to session then motor patterns may be altered and ‘squat skill’ may be impaired. This is analogous to most sport skills in that the more correct practice, the better the subsequent performance. But, make no mistake the practice must be ‘correct’; meaning that a differing depth is now practicing a different skill.
Squatting for Sport Performance
When using the squat as a mechanism to improve performance in specific sport such as football, track and field, etc. It is important to make the distinction that the squat in this case is not the outcome variable of primary importance, rather; the primary importance is placed on increasing performance in the specific sport. In this case the squat should be performed in a way that has the most transfer to the specific sport. Moreover, a common component of many sports is jumping performance and as previously stated greater squat depth will lead to greater jumping performance (3).
Ultimately, it is also important to note that for the squat, strength is correlated with total volume performed (4). Similarly, muscle growth and strength are dependent upon total work/volume performed and not exercise-induced myofiber damage (5). Therefore, when training the squat the lifter should aim to periodize his/her training to optimize total volume performed over the course of a training program to maximize both hypertrophy and strength adaptations.
Finally, always keep in mind that when training if you are allowing your training partners to squat high then you are not being a good training partner or a good friend. To put it simply, as USAPL Coach of the Year Matt Gary stated, “Friends don’t let friends squat high.”
1. Caterisano, A., Moss, R.F., Pellinger, T.K., Woodruff, K., Lewis, V.C., Booth, W., and Khadra, T. The Effect of Back Squat Depth on the EMG Activity of 4 Superficial Hip and Thigh Muscles. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 16(3): 428-432, Aug. 2002.
2. Bryanton, M.A., Kennedy, M.D., Carey, J.P., and Chiu, L.Z. Effect of Squat Depth and Barbell Load on Relative Muscular Effort in Squatting. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 26(10): 2820-2828, Oct. 2012.
3. Hartmann, H., Wirth, K., Klusemann, M., Dalic, J., Matuscek, C. and Schmidtbleicher, D. Influence of Squat Depth on Jumping Performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. [Epub Ahead of Print], 2012.
Michael C. Zourdos, Ph.D., CSCS
Exercise Science and Health Promotion
Florida Atlantic University
Business on Facebook: DUP Training Revolution
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Well lets see – considering entire books have been written on this topic (or at the very least some lengthy chapters in books), I’ll do my best to keep this answer as succinct as possible.
Coincidentally I recently spoke on this very topic a few weekends ago at the first annual Cressey Performance Fall Seminar, where my topic revolved around squats, the actual title was: Deep Squats – Are They Worth It?
But I also had a “fake” slide that followed which highlighted a different – albeit less PC – title: Deep Squats: Are they Worth It? In a word, “YES!” But that doesn’t mean you have to be a douchy coach/trainer and not understand that the Mayan Apocalypse won’t begin if one of your clients doesn’t squat or squat ass to grass.
Obviously I had a bit of a tongue-in-cheek tone to my presentation, but in reality the answer to any fitness question is the proverbial, “it depends.”
In short, it comes down to this. I don’t necessarily believe in contraindicated exercises (with a few exceptions), but rather believe there are contraindicated lifters. I think there’s no argument that squats are a fantastic full-body movement that’s a staple in any well-rounded strength and conditioning or general fitness exercise routine. When it comes to exercises that provide the most bang-for-our-training-buck – whether we’re referring to power development, improved strength and performance, or aesthetic goals – you’d be hard pressed to find any exercise more baller than squats.
What’s more, squats help to “offset” many of the muscular imbalances, dysfunctions, and weaknesses we often develop from sitting at our desks all day, wasting away in front of our computers doing work/updating our Facebook status for the 47th time today.
When someone demonstrates a nice, deep, crisp squatting pattern, they’re also demonstrating that they have ample ankle dorsiflexion, hip flexion, hip abduction, lumbar stability, t-spine extension, glenohumeral mobility, and core function to do so in a safe manner. That’s saying a lot, and in my opinion, kind of a big deal!
To that end, if someone is able to prove to me that they can squat to ample depth (in this case where the anterior surface of the thigh is below knee level), I’m going to work with it. If they have it……I’m obviously going to use it!
Rarely, if ever, am I going to go out of my way to include partial squats into a program. Sure we could make an argument for bodybuilders who have aesthetic concerns, but I don’t train bodybuilders and I think the research is pretty clear that squat depth – regardless of load – is paramount when it comes to hypertrophy gains anyways.
Bringing our attention to parallel squats: from a “protection” standpoint, you could also make the argument that the knee is most vulnerable at the 90 degree mark. The ACL/PCL/MCL/LCL are in full “protection” mode in full knee flexion and full knee extension; where it’s most vulnerable, though – especially when it’s loaded – is at the half-way point.
This isn’t to say that everyone’s kneecaps are going to explode and that squatting to parallel is dangerous – I’m NOT stating that at all. All I’m saying is that it depends. Everyone is different.
In fact, I’m a HUGE fan of box squats – which generally teach people to learn where “parallel” is or lower. They keep people honest. And, they place much more emphasis on the posterior chain (hamstrings and glutes), and area where many people are woefully weak in the first place.
I know I’m all over the place here, but I hope I’m getting my message across. How “deep” someone squats is going to depend on a few factors. I mean, ask someone who’s had multiple knee surgeries, scoliosis, spondylolisthesis, femoral acetabular impingement, or just someone who can’t keep a neutral spine in deep hip flexion (ie: the butt wink) to squat deep, and it’s a disaster waiting to happen. You can’t pound square pegs into round holes and expect a good outcome.
All that said, and to round things up, I think the general consensus on my end – especially as a strength coach who’s job it is to make my athletes bigger, faster, and stronger in the safest and most time efficient manner possible – is that if they have the ability to squat deep (again, anterior surface of the thigh below knee level) then I’m going to use it. I think in every aspect – hypertrophy, strength gains, improving athletic performance, making people off the opposite sex want to see you naked – squatting with a full ROM is more advantageous.
Conversely, if I have to regress the squat and take the time to reduce the ROM and teach a proper hip hinge pattern, with the goal to teach them to eventually squat to depth safely, then I’ll do it. Moreover, I’m also not that pigheaded to understand that it’s not the end of the world if I can’t have a client squat. Sometimes it’s just not worth it, and there are plenty of other way to induce a training effect in the lower body whether we have to stick to things like trap bar deadifts, barbell supine bridges, pull-through, or just single leg work.
It’s all good.
Tony Gentilcore, CSCS, CPT
Ass to Grass Squats: Has it’s place for those clients/athletes wanting to get better in Olympic Lifts and that are required to LIFT this way for their sport, e.g. football players as part of their strength program. lifting as a TEAM etc.. Also for individuals who have the MOBILITY to do so, without MOBILITY to Squat this deep, not going to happen. One does not just have to use a BARBELL for this type of squat; KB, DB’s, Sandbags, can help improve mobility for this deep a squat.
Parallel: If one does not have the MOBILITY to Squat lower, this range is fine. When the RISK of squatting LOW (as in ass to grass) outweighs the reward. Certain field sport athletes do not need to squat FULL ROM (ass to grass) for their sport – Soccer, Lacrosse etc..
Quarter Squats: Great for bodybuilders who specifically want to overload the Quads… to initially get comfortable with the squatting movement in general…
How deep question?
1. Muscular Hypertrophy – What are you trying to build – Quads and Glutes – then ass to grass is better – little or no hamstring recruitment
A wider stance – box style better for the glutes
2. Improve Athletic Performance? depends on the individual sport. If it requires Olympic Lifting for training. If you are powerliftng as a sport the federation rules will govern how deep one has to go… guidelines set Again – the RISK v.s the REWARD here.. each person should try each type of squat and choose in consultation with a great strength coach.
3. Strength – ass to grass the best to build POWER .. the shortest distance between 2 points that you can lift will help build strength.
Todd Durkin, MA, CSCS, NCTMB
Owner, Fitness Quest 10 & Todd Durkin Enterprises
Head, Under Armour Performance Training Council
2004 IDEA & 2005 ACE Personal Trainer of the Year
The answers to all the questions lie in the physics of the movement and the resulting response on the tissue via mechanics, neurology, and biochemistry—kind of a “duh” statement, but most people don’t understand how many things there are to consider in a question like this. Every type of squat can have value, but as you asked, it depends on the goal and, of course, the risk versus potential gain.
I’ll start with A: Full Range of Motion –
Great for warming up and great for athletic performance. The deeper you go, the more lumbar and patella-femoral joint stress. Going very heavy on ATG squats is inviting major injury.
B: Parallel Squats –
Most people can comfortably achieve parallel with a decent load on their back, but some may not have the flexibility to avoid clam-squatting. Form and safety should govern depth and squat type. When you go to parallel, you will transfer a lot of force into the adductors, glutes, hams, and low back—from the quads. That makes it a functional movement and important if you’re a powerlifter and judged on depth, but for bodybuilding needs, it’s not as necessary as most people would think. If you are safe in that range of motion, it’s still valuable, but it may not be where you want to stay for your heaviest squatting.
C: Partial Squats –
Here is where you can stop just shy of deloading your quads and transferring a tremendous amount of force to your accessory muscle groups. I don’t think a half squat does much for you, or even three-quarter, but stopping two to four inches above parallel so you’re in a full athletic posture and able to drive out of the squat allows for more direct force to stay on the quads and with more weight used. It’s safer and it has a place in lifting. The other muscle groups can be easily integrated in leg press, lunges, reverse lunges, goblet squats, and even dead lifts, so I’m a fan of heavy, somewhat-above-parallel work for quad overload. There’s no doubt that the motor units recruited favor the quads in an ongoing set done in this manner, but I have done and I do recommend squatting in all these ranges for different reasons. It comes down to knowing the physiology of muscle recruitment.
Joe Klemczewski, Phd
Licensed Physical Therapist
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist
Drug-free Pro Bodybuilder
Founder, The Diet Doc LLC
1) Because of a number of reasons typically involving flexibility or prior injury (either or both of these combined with lever lengths that are not conducive to full depth), some people simply cannot do ATG squats. And frankly, unless you’re planning on competing in powerlifting, the world will not end if you’re one of these deep-squat-challenged people. Some folks believe that squatting mastery automatically translates to athletic greatness – that’s just nonsense. Just go as deep as your structure/flexibility will safely allow, and progress within those limits. Parallel squats are something that most people can do without many issues. Even though parallel squats might not always be seen as ‘competition depth’, these are perfectly fine for strength &/or hypertrophy progression in the target muscles. It’s tempting to dismiss partial (quarter) squats completely, but they have been seen in one study to help subjects overcome squatting strength plateaus. Furthermore, they can be loaded heavier than full-range squats, and the bar just looks so cool with all those plates on it. On a serious note, partial squats do not have a solid research track record of translating to better measures of athletic performance compared to full squats. In fact, it’s thus far been the opposite. I’ve read the case for advanced athletes incorporating partial squats to overload the top range of motion and build ‘angle-specific’ strength within a functional range related to their sport. However, I’m skeptical of the effectiveness of the approach compared to just sticking with the old standard, at least until the evidence mounts to the contrary. Getting good at a given sport largely hinges upon skill progression while doing the actual sport, not squatting within a particular ROM.
2) This is a relatively simple answer that applies to all of the goals you listed. Trainees should descend as far as possible while maintaining good form and control of the movement, while of course avoiding the aggravation of any pre-existing joint pathology (which in some cases can limit ROM). In most cases with healthy trainees, the target depth would be at least to parallel. I’m not convinced that there’s a tremendous universal advantage to go from parallel to ATG. However, I don’t see how it can hurt; there’s insufficient evidence to deem deep squats inherently riskier than parallel. With any movement, striving for full ROM shifts the bias away from the tendency to ego-lift with loads that exceed the trainee’s control.
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