“Full Squats keep you honest and encourage you to achieve functional mobility. They allow you to train better for full structural balance”
From the Worlds Greatest Strength Coach Charles Poliquin
Unfortunately safety concerns for the full deep squat traces all the way back to the 1950’s thanks to some very crude research by a gentleman named Dr. Karl Klein. His simple, basic and now considered crude researchapparently showed excessive stretching of the ligaments of the knees and therefore concluded that this was compromising the stability of the knee. This report grew in impetus and was spread through numerous articles with many ‘experts’ jumping on this bandwagon;
Human Science, and the understanding of biomechanics and physical movement have improved massively since this time and todays science is showing a very different report. Science today now shows very clearly that the knee ligaments and the cartilage within the joint are actually under the least amount of stress at the bottom of a deep squat. The ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) is possibly the most well known ligamental structure of the knee and is often guilty of severe injury in sports such as football and also skiing. However it is now very clear that in a squat that the most stress placed upon this ligament structure is during the initial 4” of the squat. Likewise the posterior Cruciate ligament sustains its maximum force above parallel. In fact modern biomechanics and science now clearly show that the deeper you squat the safer it is on the ligaments. In addition Weightlifters and Powerlifters have been proven to have less cartilage wear and tear and less laxity to their knee ligaments than most typical active sportsmen and most definitely inactive people. Squatting to and above parallel is mostly a quadricep and ankle dominant exercise. Squatting below 90 degrees requires much more work from the functionally important posterior chain. The Glutes, Hamstrings, Hip musculature and Core are all involved massively much more when squatting below parallel therefore providing added support to stabilize the knee joint structureactually meaning squatting deep may have a protective effect on the knees. In summary WHEREVER POSSIBLE THE HIP CREASE SHOULD ALWAYS GO BELOW THE LINE OF YOUR KNEES WHEN SQUATTING
This doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone should now load up a barbell on their back and squat ‘Ass to Grass’! Squat depth should be based upon an individual’s ability to maintain safe, effective technique whilst limiting unwanted pain. Poor movement patterns with an excessive load is what increases the risk of injury. EVERYBODY of whatever age or history should however work and progress towards squatting to full depth everyday and as often as possible. In many cultures the deep squat is still considered the typical resting posture and is even a position maintained for eating and socialising! Unfortunately most people who complain of discomfort whilst trying to get into a full squat have merely become victims of our modern western society culture which allows us to sit in chairs for most of the day. THIS IS WHAT IS CAUSING KNEE PROBLEMS as it reduces the useable range of motion in one of our most important joints. For all of us from the old and sedentary to the World Class Athlete should squat daily in some form and always work towards squatting full depth to the floor. Recent studies of over 2000 people between the ages of 50-80 have in fact very clearly shown that a full sit to a floor followed by an unaided stand and repeat is a clear predictor of longevity and who will live longer. Without being able to squat down to the floor and have the strength required to stand back up could very well mean that you are losing years on your life. There are many forms of squats that can be employed ranging from Bodyweight Squats, single leg squats, Weighted front and back squats, overhead weighted squats and varying foot stance squats. The most basic and beneficial squat movement that we should all perform everyday is the Buddha Squat, Paleo Squat, Sumo Stretch Squat as it is known in different ways. The movement however simply requires us to ease into a Good full deep squat position whilst maintaining a good healthy upright spinal position with our elbows resting between our knees and our hands typically clasped. We should hold this position as long as possible at numerous and various points in the day whilst also gently and subtly mobilising our hips and ankles in this position. As a factual true story I can tell you that 4 years ago at the age of 42 as I started to realise that the life I lead as an Ironman, Ultra Runner and Extreme Endurance Athlete wasn’t quite as healthy or a true indication of overall fitness as I once thought….. I started to turn my attention back to the Gym and Basic Strength Training that I had neglected for a number of years. I was SHOCKED that despite my apparent superhuman physical abilities I could no longer even place an empty barbell on my back and squat to a full position without pain, discomfort and quite often losing balance and stability and falling over??!! This was another sign to me that I needed to rethink my Training strategies and lifestyle. EVERYDAY from that point I worked on being able to work myself into a Full Deep Squat. I will not deny that I worked a little through the Pain Barrierand definitely had a period whereupon my knee joints were more painful daily than ever before. However this pain did diminish and in fact ultimately disappeared as I retrained my body and my knee joints to work and stretch through its necessary functional range of motion that I had neglected for several years. Today I think nothing of Squatting regularly with over 300lbs on my back. Squatting to full depth on one leg and squatting ‘Ass to Grass’ whilst balancing over 175lb overhead. I also don’t have any knee pain whilst driving or sitting. If you have a little discomfort when squatting deep DO NOT BE AFRAID OR HIDE from this necessary movement, learn and train yourself to progress to it EVERYDAY. THE BENEFITS OF A FULL SQUAT 1.) By recruiting and activating more Muscle Fibres it ultimately builds more Strength and Muscle
2.) There is a substantial increase in Muscle Force production which in turn research has shown will IMPROVE ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE with evident increases in quicker sprint times and improved vertical jump height
3.) It builds a Functionally better human body by utilising and strengthening the Posterior Chain
4.) It improves Flexibility and Mobility by fully stretching the muscles and joints
5.) It places less strain on the spine. There is a two-fold effect that due to the added activation of the hamstrings, hips and core musculature that this will result in more stability for the spine. In addition squatting deep prevents you lifting as much weight as only lifting to above parallel. This in turn means that the lighter loads result in less strain being put on the spine.
6.) Due to less forces on the knee joint and less strain on the spine there is in fact less injuries with controlled deep squats with good form than there is with squatting above parallel.