How low should you go?

Squats often get a bad reputation as anecdotal reports come up here and there:

“My knees ache, I reckon it’s from the heavy squatting I used to do in the gym years ago.”
“Don’t go below parallel when squatting – you’ll trash your knees.”

The problem is that a squat is no longer a squat – it’s a partial squat! The fear that squatting deep (below parallel) damages the knee joint has most likely stemmed from physiotherapist’s experiences of patients citing squats as the cause of their knee problems.

However, I would ask the following questions:

1. Did the participant have any pre-existing injuries?
2. Was the participant always squatting with proper technique? (Chest up, Knees forward, Elbows directly under the bar)
3. Was the Participant going deep enough? (You may think this is a typing error(!) but i will follow this up later on)
4. Was the participant using weights a lot greater than he or she was previously accustomed to?

The reasons I ask these questions are because:

1. Any pre-existing knee, hip, lower back or ankle injury is susceptible to further injury due to the heavy loads involved in the squat. These are the joints that are involved in supporting the load, and they are responsible to ensuring the bar travels along the right path. This also includes any flexibility issues, for example: Poor ankle flexibility will lead to exaggerated flexion in the hip and less flexion in the knee; If the knee does not travel over the toes, more stress is placed on the hip and lower back.

2. Good technique is crucial, as the participant could be prone to injuries to the back, the knee and ankle in particular; Rounding of the back will increase the pressure on the lower back (which can be extremely important as heavy loads are often used; Squatting less than parallel de-stabilises the knee joint, leaving it susceptible to injurie at heavier loads or when the knee has to go through full range of motion (for example, in sports). As discussed above, flexibility issues can affect squat technique, and also fatigue also sometimes goes unnoticed. When someone is exercising for an excessive amount of time (or has been excessively training the last few days/weeks) technique can suffer. With the squat being a Compound movement and the injuries that can result from fatigue, it is recommended that the squat is done early on in a workout, and that a mirror is used to check form.

3. The knee is a Hinge-joint. Think of the hinge on the door of your bedroom. If you were to push and pull the hinge through only half its range of motion, what would happen? The hinge would operate smoothly in the ‘used’ range, but would be stiff in the unused range. Similar with the knee, if the lower half of the squat range is not trained (or used), then as soon as the knee has to go into that range of flexion – injury may occur. The knee will nearly always have to go through the full range of motion in most sports – such as getting up off the floor, jumping and kicking. Look at the following picture:

Does the knee go through its full range of motion? The answer is YES!

We have simply lost this ability to squat deep through limiting our range of motion through lack of practice. Use it………………………… or lose it!

4. If he or she uses a lot more weight than they are accustomed to, injury can easily occur. If the particpant is untrained/novice, the muscles of the thigh (Quads and Hamstrings) may not be strong enough to control the load – resulting in a quick and deep descent. This load may force through any flexibility issues, causing a bouncing off the calves and a rounding of the back. Therefore, continuous and safe progression is key to strengthening the legs… but increase the range before increasing the load.

John Cammish (B.S.C) is a local East Yorkshire Fitness Bootcamp Instructor and real-world fat loss expert. He has helped countless individuals change their lives through postive habits with a focus on tried and tested methods. For more details about Personal Training, Fitness Bootcamps, Free Articles and more – check his website ( and his Bootcamp Blog (






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