Decades ago there was a misunderstanding about deep squats and knee issues. Several studies have proved performing a squat in full range of motion has several benefits. In this article you will see the reasons backed by research regarding full range of motion when squatting.
Squats optimally train the lower body and the ability to perform a quality squat is an indicator of your overall movement quality.
A few key terms before you read:
- Hypertrophy – an increase in size of the skeletal muscle.
- Range of Motion – the full movement potential of a joint – usually it’s range of flexion and extension.
Five Reasons to Perform a Deep Squat
1. Promote Lean Body Mass
A 12 week study compared two groups of people - one group performed shallow squats (around 60 degrees of knee flexion) and one group performed deep squats. At the end of the 12 weeks, the group who performed deep squats increased the lean muscle mass of the legs. Additionally the study found that the group who performed deep squats also had increased the muscle cross-sectional across the entire frontal thigh. The group who performed shallow squats only had increased hypertrophy in the uppermost thigh region. Bottom line - deeper squats yielded more hypertrophy in the entire leg.
Another 12 week study indicated that full squats increased muscle mass and reduced fat mass in the legs of the participants. One group did their legwork from 0 to 50 degrees. The other group did the same workout but performed the movements from 0 to 90 degrees. After the 12 weeks the strength and size of the muscle was greater in the group with the longer range of motion. Researchers also measured fat stores within the affected muscle and they were reduced more in the group with the longer range of motion.
2. Full Squats Impact Your Vertical Jump
A Blomquist study showed that athletes who performed deep barbell back squats were able to increase their vertical jump by 13%. The second group who only performed partial squats experienced a 7% vertical jump increase.
3. Full Squats Promote Spinal Stability and Bone Density
Full depth squats increase bone mineral density. This is especially crucial for women approaching the pre-menopausal stage. Full depth back squats increase the strength of the lower back. They are all-around safer to perform since you must use a lighter weight to squat lower as opposed to using a heavier weight to perform a partial squat.
4. Full Squats for Healthier Knees
A 2013 Hartmann showed that full squats put less compressive forces on the knees than partial squats. The study says “As you squat lower, the contact between the back of the thigh and the calf reduces the knee-joint forces. In addition, allowing the knees to move freely during a deep squat motion builds passive (ligament and tendon) and active (muscle) strength.” Having healthy knees is important no matter what age or stage of life you are in. We all need healthy strong, stable knees to navigate uneven terrain, play a sport or even pick up heavy objects.
“Science now tells us that the ligaments inside our knee are actually placed under very little stress in the bottom of a deep squat. The ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) is the most well known ligament of the knee. ACL injuries are common in popular American sports such as football, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, etc. The stress to the ACL during a squat is actually highest during the first 4 inches of the squat descent (when the knee is bent around 15-30 degrees). As depth increases the forces placed on the ACL significantly decrease. In fact, the highest forces ever measured on the ACL during a squat has only been found to be around 25% of its ultimate strength (the force needed to tear the ligament).” (Source - Squat University)
5. It Won’t Hurt Your Knees
In the 1950’s and 1960’s there were notions that deep squats raise the amount of compressive forces on the knees and could potentially cause meniscus damage. Studies have been proven that there is no cause and effect relationship between deep squats and a greater susceptibility to injury. If this notion were true that would mean that powerlifters and weightlifters (who sustain loads more than 5 times their body weight) would have extreme pain and arthritis in their knees after years of lifting. This is not the case; they actually have healthy knees.
Considerations and Squat For Life
Every client should be able to perform a full depth squat without any added weight. There are even studies to indicate that the ability to perform a deep bodyweight squat is correlated with longevity. Squat depth should be correlated to good form. Injury history is also a consideration. Proper training programs will encourage full range of motion squatting with varying loads on scientific programs.
Perform your squats to “your” full range of motion - a range that you can safely perform without compromising safety. The goal should be to increase your range of motion if you can’t get into a full depth squat. Squatting low can increase your performance and the look of your legs. The same “range of motion” principle can be applied to other movements as well. It’s better to lighten the load and perform the movement through full range than to lift a heavier load a partial distance.
Deep Squats and Injury Prevention
A 2013 study from Gorsuch showed that having greater low back strength through squatting to full range decreased the instances of hamstring injuries in runners. The more stable their lower back was, the less chance they had to sustain a hamstring injury.