This is a common question I have gotten as a personal trainer, and one that is “controversial.”
I thought of this post after I saw elite runner Lauren Fleshman post a video of her team mate doing a barbell squat. Someone commented that she should be going all the way down, and then debate ensued. Well, Lauren answered with a great, informative response, and others were debating. I’ll post her answer in a bit.
The question I always get is, “Should I squat all the way down?” (Ass to grass if you will).
You may hear this a lot (that you should), but I’m going to tell you that you shouldn’t (my opinion). Here are 2 reasons:
You don’t have the flexibility or mobility to do so. Your hips might be tight. Your lower back might be tight. Or your core may not be strong enough. If you try to squat lower than you can, you could end up hurting yourself, and your form will definitely suffer.
The “tuck.” If you don’t have the flexibility, then your lower back will certainly tuck under, which puts a lot of stress on your lower back. Here’s what this looks like:
What causes the tuck? Here’s what trainer Tony Gentilcore says:
A vast majority of people (not everyone) are sitting in posterior tilt all day, and as a result the hamstrings tend to get stiff(er) relative to the anterior core.
Ask someone to take a video of you squatting, so you can determine if you have a tuck. If you do, Tony has some great videos to help fix the problem.
I urge you not to force yourself to squat lower than you are able to! At the same time, don’t be one of those people who loads up the bar with weight, and just squats a few inches. I read somewhere that doing loaded squats and only squatting like 1/4 of the way down puts way more pressure on your knees than going parallel. So if you can’t go parallel OR a little above parallel, work on mobility first, and then attempt to squat.
If squatting to parallel is an issue for you, try out front squats.
The different placement of the bar helps you use your core more, and it helps a lot of people go deeper than a back squat. You could also try placing plates under your heels in a back squat, to help you go a bit lower. I did this with my brother, and in a few weeks he was able to remove the plates.
Okay, back to Lauren Fleshman. So someone told her to squat all the way down, and she told that person that he didn’t know about runners mechanics and why they don’t squat all the way down. I asked her to explain and this was her response:
I squat to 90 degree, mainly because I can’t go all the way down yet. But for me, I think 90 degree squats are fine. Trust me, you will feel it. It is tough. To recap, here’s what you can do to improve your squats:
- Work on flexibility and mobility. Foam roll! Foam roll right before squatting too to help with range of motion.
- Put plates under your heels to help you go a little bit lower. The plates elevate your heels, which helps if you lack flexibility.
- Try a front squat. If you’re intimidated to try it with a barbell, try it with a kettlebell first.
- Go to parallel or slightly above – nothing wrong with that.
- If you can’t squat at all, work on bodyweight squats to get the form down, then slowly add weight with dumbbells. Also do other leg exercises instead, like lunges, split squats, leg press, etc.
Do you do barbell squats? Have you tried front squats?
Would anyone like a post going more into depth about squat variations, perhaps with a video?
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