How low should you Squat?
Ah the Squat, the king of the exercises...or so they say. Squat depth is a key topic of conversation between fitness professionals and athletes. Many people think that squatting is bad for your knees and back, this is of course a myth. Performed correctly, the Squat (in all its variances) has been proven to be an extremely useful tool for increasing the musculature, strength, mobility & stability around the knees, hips and back. Of course, special considerations have to be made for indivduals with specific problems with those areas (and more), but the squat can help for both pre-hab and re-bad processes.
The main muscle groups worked within a squat are the Quadriceps - responsible for resisting knee flexion eccentrically and extending the knee concentrically. Hamstrings - responsible for co-contracting with the quadriceps to exert a counter- regulatory pull on the tibia, helping to neutralize the anterior tibiofemoral shear imparted by the quadriceps and thus alleviating stress on the ACL (BRAD Schoenfeld), as well as assisting in hip extension. And Glutes - responsible for stabilising flexion and extension at the hip. Of course there are also the upper back, spinal erectors and trunk.
Studies have shown that squat depth influences glute activation - i.e. The lower you go the more activation there is (Caterisano et al). Studies have
also shown that quadricep activation peaks between 80-90 degrees of flexion. So by achieving knee flexion levels below the knee mark, both the Glutes, quads and hamstrings will be activated. This is also optimal when performed the Squat for dynamic sport scenarios where full knee and hip flexion are often needed.
Individual anthropometrics and other factors will play a role when performing squatting movements. E.g. Someone with longer femurs will have to push their bum back further in a squat to achieve acceptable levels of flexion (depth). It is also crucial to understand the reasoning behind why they are performing the squat in a certain way. E.g. if the individual has issues with spinal compression, dumbbell or belt squats would be more appropriate. Also, if an individual has hip flexion and ankle dorsiflexion issues - raising the heels will help that individual achieve a better ROM until mobility has improved.
So, like many questions to do with fitness - context is key. RAFAEL F. ESCAMILLA showed that training the squat in the ranges between 0 and 50° knee flexion may be appropriate for many knee rehabilitation patients, because knee forces were minimum. So partial squats do have their place. However, if your knees are healthy and you want maximum muscular activation then performing full depth squats have shown to produce the best results as long as they are executed properly.
What we need to do is look at everyone individually. 9 times out of 10, Squatting to full depth will be more appropiate because of the increased muscular activation amd movement similarities (if your sport requires a high amount of knee and hip flexion the full depth squatting will be needed). However, as seen above, if you do have knee issues then partial squatting will be benefical for you.
Please get in touch if you have any further questions on Squats, or anything else fitness!