Do we always need to squat as deep as we can?
Like a true political response …. there are two answers to this question depending on the context.
Every sports person should aim to squat as deeply as they can to improve their mobility. Performing regular good deep squats ensures and maintains good ankle, knee and hip health. Which is why I always have my athletes squat as low as they can, BUT and its a big but….I only have them perform below parallel squats in a warm up routine or during less intense (lighter weight) sessions like a preseason adaptation period or a hypertrophy phase. I ensure all athletes keep a nice deep squat in these sessions to maintain a healthy mobility and minimize injury. Like a tap that is turned only partially every day, it soon becomes stiff when it comes to full rotation, the body’s movements are similar, if you don’t use it you lose it. I tend to use more front loaded squats in a warm up such as a nice deep ass to grass goblet squat with a dumbbell. I don’t mind athletes using a deep back squat during a less intense session either such as a deload or reset week.
OK so everybody should squat deep in warm up and less intense sessions, what about when training max strength?
I include deep below parallel squats in programs when training powerlifters and Olympic lifters. Power lifters because they are required to by the rules of the sport. Therefore the appropriate stress must be applied to the muscular system and the CNS throughout the full rage of motion in order to develop strength from acute flexion to full extension . Similarly with Olympic lifters – because they pull such a massive weight from the floor, to successfully complete the lift it is necessary to get as low as possible in order to catch the bar, it goes without saying then that the body needs to be trained to deal with the stress of going that low in a squat position at such a high intensity.
I avoid below parallel squats for most other athletes when training for max strength. Anything over 80% 1RM and that is the end of going low. I stick to parallel at deepest or box squats. The simple reason is, high intensity deep squatting is not needed as it provides no added advantage. The vast majority of sports do not require that force be generated from a position of such acute flexion of the hip knee and ankle. Look at the angle of hip, knee and ankle of athletes when they are Sprinting, jumping, cycling, tackling or scrummaging in rugby etc, they never reproduce that deep squat position. Most of these activities demand that a large amount of force is generated from a much shorter range of motion, well above parallel. Therefore, for me it is not worth the extra injury risk of sinking lower in a squat for most athletes when training max strength. Particularly when there are no benefits associated with that risk. Max strength squats from a box or from parallel are more than sufficient to get the adaptation required for sporting performance for most sports. I apply the same philosophy or concept when it comes to programming Olympic lifts, I often opt instead for alternatives and when I am using Olympic lifts as part of my programs I use the shortened, hang or power versions, but that’s a post for another day.
So in summary if you are training for sporting performance then keep squatting deep at lower intensities to maintain mobility. When it comes to that max strength and power training, then stick to squatting parallel or above. Unless your sport is shifting iron that is.