Should I Squat?
“It’s bad for your knees to squat deep”
“People in 3rd world countries have great squats and no ankle, knee, hip, or low back pain”
“Deep squats cure cancer”
These are examples and opinions surrounding the squat use as an exercise. Orthopedic surgeons used murky research performed with subjects not well versed in squatting, with external loads to depths not below parallel as empirical evidence for decades that squatting was bad for you knees. Similar to the food pyramid and fear of fat this was repeated for so many years that it became absolute truth to the general population. Chances are if you are reading this article you are not the general population as you are more involved in your own health and fitness.
On the opposite side of the spectrum you have “professionals” in the exercise world that believe that everyone should deep squat under heavy loads. People who can’t or don’t squat to these standards are often looked at as if they have a major character flaw. I intentionally used quotations for professionals as the field of fitness is more or less the Wild West in many ways. Many of the professionals do not possess the knowledge and expertise to appropriately assess and correct a dysfunctional squat pattern. Hint: 99% of the time the fix is not to just instruct an individual to squat lower.
The natural questions are should I squat? It is followed by how deep? How often? How much resistance?
The answer………………………………………………….IT DEPENDS!
Should I Squat?
First and foremost if you have pain with squatting you need to see a movement professional who can properly assess, diagnose the cause of pain, and provide a treatment plan. Your movement professional that you choose is up to you. (Disclaimer-I am Physical Therapist and I believe that a great PT is a great option. However for every great PT you will find 10 or 20 not so great. I feel the same way about chiropractic care as well.) When pain free I highly recommend the use of the squat within your exercise or training program.
How deep should I squat?
Everyone has a different anatomy. In order to have a beautiful deep squat with an upright torso a lot of things need to be in place. Bony anatomy of the ankle, knee, hip, spine, and shoulders are very important. While most individual will have the capability of a below parallel squat, some individuals will not have the bony anatomy to allow below parallel depth safely. After bony anatomy then soft tissue plays a role. This can include muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, and other connective tissues. Decreased tissue extensibility of the plantar surface of the foot, heel cord, calf region, hamstrings, spine, hip flexors, abdominal region play a role as well. After joint mobility and Tissue Extensibility Dysfunctions are cleared then stability and motor control plays a role in proper squat depth. You can think of stability and motor control as your brain’s Central Processing Unit for all of our movement patterns.
So the answer is that you can/should squat to depths with loads, velocity, and rep ranges that you can control. Every time you improve your joint mobility, tissue extensibility, and/or stability and motor control you will achieve a greater movement quality and overall ROM. This new ROM is inherently weak and should be trained accordingly.
Example: 300 lb max back squatter achieves 1 inch greater depth in squat capability
Normal 5X5 weights range in the 210-250 lb range
Prescription: Strengthen that ROM progressively beginning in the
150-175 range before addling load aggressively to
Lock in new ROM and avoid injury
If your trainer can’t clearly explain these concepts to you I recommend that you find another professional that can help you in your squatting journey.