Do You Really Need to Squat Below Parallel?
Squats are great exercise for building strength and size. However, they’re not just good for those reasons; they’re also very useful when it comes to injury prevention. If you’ve ever been injured before, then you’ll understand why I’m so keen on them! When performing squats, the knee joint is constantly being put under tremendous stress from the weight that’s being lifted up. This is due to the fact that the hips are moving back and forth while holding onto the barbell.
When performing squats, you need to make sure that your knees don’t get any kind of pain or discomfort during these movements. If they do, then you may have developed some sort of problem with your knees which will prevent you from doing them safely.
The first thing you want to do if you think that you might have some issues with your knees is to stop doing squats until you see a doctor. There are many different things that could cause such problems, but there are two main ones:
Knee Pain – This is one of the most common causes of injuries in athletes. Many times it results from excessive use of the quadriceps muscle group (the front four muscles) without enough rest between sets. If your knees are feeling pain during squats, then it’s possible that you’re using the quads too much. This can sometimes occur if you’re new to squats and aren’t use to the movement yet.
Patella Tendonitis – Another common knee injury among lifters is the irritation of your patella tendon, which is also known as “jumper’s knee.” Unfortunately, this injury can also sometimes occur even without doing any jumping! It’s usually due to overuse of the quadriceps muscle group (as mentioned above), as well as using poor squat form.
These are the two most common causes of knee pain for people who squat, but there are other less common reasons as well. If you ever experience any pain in your knees when doing squats, it’s highly recommended that you cease doing them until you can see a doctor.
Of course, if your knees are feeling fine and you’re just curious about whether or not you should be squatting below parallel, then you can do a simple test to see whether or not you’re using your knees correctly. Find a pole that’s about knee height and stand in front of it. Then, try to squat down until your butt touches the pole and stand back up again. It may take some practice, but in time you’ll learn how to do it correctly.
If you’re able to do this correctly, then your knees won’t go over your toes during the movement. If you’re new to squatting, then your knees might come over slightly. This is fine; just make sure that you don’t let it go too far where it becomes uncomfortable. Whenever you’re squatting, make sure to keep a slight bend in your knees and not completely straighten them.
This will help you from jarring your knees (and other parts) when you squat. In fact, it’s actually better for your knees to have a slight bend to take some of the stress off of them and place it on the muscles instead. This is why most powerlifters squat with a bend in their knees rather than going all the way down.
Dumbbell squats are another great option for those with knee problems that prevents them from doing normal barbell squats. You can do these inside a power rack to help you from falling over backwards. If you do not have access to power racks, then you can also do them between two benches.
Your knees should bend more than they would during a normal barbell squat, but you still want to keep that bend throughout the movement. Some people find dumbbell squats to be much easier on their bodies when compared to barbell squats, so keep that in mind as well.
6. Squatting Too Heavy, Too Soon
This is another major mistake that causes many lifters to experience a lot of pain when they squat. See, the problem with most people is that they tend to try to lift more weight than their bodies are ready for. This can cause a lot of problems not only in the short-term, but in the long-term as well.
Squatting too heavy, too soon is the number one reason why all of your friends begin to get injuries after starting to work out. It doesn’t matter if they’re doing barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell squats; if they’re increasing the weight too quickly or using a weight that’s too heavy, then they’re going to suffer the consequences eventually.
This problem is pretty obvious, which is why I don’t need to go into too much detail explaining it. Instead, I’ll give you some tips on how to figure out what weight you should be using for your squat.
The first thing you need to do is take a look at your current strength.
What’s the heaviest weight you can lift currently for either a single repetition or a few reps?
Let’s say, for example, that you can squat 300 lbs. for a single repetition. This is a good start; now let’s find your three rep max.
Take 95% of 300 (which is 295), and then do that x3. So, 3×295 is 855. According to the chart below, an intermediate lifter with one year of lifting experience should be able to squat between 550 and 600 lbs for three reps. So, in this case, you would need to either continue working with the 300 lbs for multiple sets or increase the weight in order to reach your goal.
Of course, you may be someone who has been lifting for several years. In that case, 550 lbs would be less than your three rep max, which means that you would need to increase the weight as well.
Of course, these are just guidelines of where you should be. Some people may be able to squat higher than others with the same amount of experience and vice versa. It just depends on the person. Also, keep in mind that these are only for the squat. If you’re using a different exercise for your legs or you’re using barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell, then use this chart plus 50 lbs to get an estimate for your three rep max.
Here’s a chart to help you figure out what weights you should be using:
Reps 1 2 3 4 5 % of 3 RM 40 400 360 320 280 300 85% 385 345 305 265 225
7. Allowing Your Knees to Cave In or Go Outside your Feet
Your feet should be shoulder-width apart for the squat. You don’t want to place your feet too far apart because this will cause your heels to rise off the ground causing unnecessary strain on your Achilles tendons. On the other hand, if your feet are too close together, then you’ll lose balance during the movement and place more stress on your muscles.
Also, make sure that your knees don’t go in the direction of your big toes as this will cause unnecessary stress on your knee joints. Your kneecaps should always remain pointed directly ahead of you. If you find that your knees are caving in, then try widening your stance and / or placing your feet higher off the ground such as on a couple of books.
8. Using Too Wide of a Stance
As I just mentioned, there’s a balance you need to find between having your feet too close together and too far apart. This will also affect your balance during the movement. If your feet are too far apart, then you’ll lose balance as you’re coming down from the squat and when you start returning back to the standing position. This could cause you to fall or strain your muscles.
However, if your feet are too close together, then you run the risk of placing unnecessary stress on your knees as mentioned in #7. There’s a common misconception that you need to have your feet very wide apart in order to perform a deep squat. This is untrue. In fact, the average squatting depth can be achieved with a foot positioning of between just narrower than your hips and slightly wider than your hips. With this positioning, you shouldn’t experience any unnecessary stress on your knees or lose balance while performing the movement.
9. Straining Your Lower Back
Your lower back is extremely important when it comes to heavy compound movements such as the squat. It’s very easy to strain this area if you don’t prepare it properly. In fact, a strained lower back is one of the most common ailments that people suffer from when they begin performing barbell squats. Now, a strained back isn’t something that will keep you out of action immediately, but it still hurts like hell and can be very debilitating.
There are a few things that can help to prevent you from straining your lower back when squatting:
a) Make sure that your lower back is strong enough to handle the movement. This means that you should perform specific lower back exercises on a regular basis. Some examples of these are: hyperextensions, reverse hypers, and good mornings.
b) Keep your chest up and your shoulders back as you descend into the squat.
c) Keep your knees and feet pointing in the direction of your toes at all times.
d) Descend with the weight and squat below the parallel position or even to where your thighs are just above the floor. Don’t bounce out of the bottom position. Lower yourself in a controlled manner.
e) Push with your legs and drive your hips forward as you ascend out of the bottom position. Don’t try to pull with your arms or push with your legs. Your legs should drive your hips forward as you ascend out of each repetition.
f) Remember to keep your breathing controlled throughout the set. Inhale as you lower yourself and exhale as you drive up.
g) Always keep your head in a neutral position. Don’t allow it to look down as this can cause unnecessary stress on your lower back.
If you’ve been training with weights for any length of time, then there’s always the chance of suffering from a “weak link” in the chain so to speak. This means that your body might suddenly not be able to handle a certain amount of weight without weaknesses being exposed in muscle groups that were never previously a problem. These weaknesses can sometimes make unexpected appearances when you increase the weight and find that you are unable to perform as well as usual.
This is known as “discovering your weak point”. There is no such thing as a “bad workout”.
10. Bouncing at the Bottom of the Movement
Beginners are usually the ones who bounce at the bottom position of their squat. This isn’t necessarily a “no, no”, but it can be dangerous if performed incorrectly.
Bouncing at the bottom can take stress off your muscles, but it can also take stress off your CNS (central nervous system) because it puts your body in a position of elasticity. As you may or may not know, your body naturally wants to stay in a position of stability. In other words, if you were to hold a weight out in front of you at arm’s length, your body will naturally resist if you try to drop that arm behind your back. This is because your body wants to avoid being in an unstable position.
When you bounce at the bottom of a squat, you potentially put your CNS in a slightly vulnerable position. More stress isn’t taken off the muscles, but it is taken off the CNS. If you do bounce at the bottom, then try not to do so excessively. A little bit of “bounce” is fine, but too much can overwork your CNS.
The next time you are in the gym, pay attention to your fellow lifters. You’ll notice that most of them bounce at the bottom. This is a common technique for most of the recreational weight trainers out there who don’t know any better. Most of them also don’t own a lifting belt, which is an even worse offense!
The next time you’re in the gym, watch some of the other weight trainers and you’ll notice most of them bouncing at the bottom, which is fine as long as they aren’t doing it excessively. Also, be sure to pay attention to how much they are lifting. More than likely, they aren’t pushing themselves very hard because they’re relying on momentum instead of pure strength.
If you find that you are one of these people who bounce at the bottom, then I’m going to give you the same advice I give to myself when I catch myself doing it.
Stop bouncing and start grinding.
Grind out those last couple of reps and really feel the burn. This is how you’ll get the most out of your workouts because this physical sensation we call “the burn” is what’s going to give you results in the long run.
What if I’m so weak that I can’t lift the weight without bouncing out of my bottom position?
If you’re really weak and can’t lift a weight without bouncing out of the bottom, then you need to either drop the weight, or put more elastic bands on the bar. If the weight is still too heavy, then it’s time to move up to the next amount (whether that be in weight or sets).
If you’re using elastic bands, try putting them on the bar in different locations. Sometimes this helps. You can also try using other types of resistance such as chains or plates, but I’ve always found that free weights are the best way to go.
Keep in mind that it is very hard to progress if you do not push yourself. You will not get stronger by lifting light weight and bouncing out of the bottom position. You will not get results by lifting light weight and bouncing out of the bottom position.
If your goal is to get bigger muscles, then you need to lift heavy weight and push yourself to the point that the last couple of reps are extremely hard to complete. If your goal is strength, then you need to lift heavy weight and push yourself to the point that you fail (temporarily fail) at the bottom of the squat.
Always remember that “more is not always better.” Overdoing anything is never a good idea. Be sure to take time off in-between your heavy workouts.
How do I get out of the bottom position of the squat?
The first thing you should know is that this is a perfectly normal question for a beginner to ask. There are two main reasons for this:
This is a very unnatural movement pattern. We don’t sit in a position like this in everyday life, so your body isn’t used to it. For this reason, you’re going to have to learn how to get out of the bottom of the squat in a safe manner that prevents injury to yourself. You’re using muscles in a way that they aren’t used to being used.
The best way I can describe the bottom of the squat is that it’s like riding a bike uphill.
When you ride a bike uphill, you have to pedal backwards in order to keep moving forward, right?
Well, it’s very similar in the bottom of the squat. In order to stand back up out of the bottom position, you have to use muscles in a way that they aren’t normally used.
When you start with the bar on the supports of a power rack, step back and bend your knees slowly while keeping your chest up and your back straight. Take a deep breath and relax as you go down towards the bottom of the squat. Try to sit back instead of just falling backwards. This will take time, but eventually you’ll be able to get into the bottom position and pause without any problems.
Keep your head up, look forward, and push with your legs as you rise out of the bottom position. Always go down at a slow and controlled pace. Never rush or bounce out of the bottom. The purpose of the bottom position of the squat is to stretch the muscles that you will then use to lift the weight off of the supports of the power rack.
When you first start out, don’t go to the point of discomfort or pain, because that’s just going to make things harder in the long run. Depending on your flexibility and the amount of time that you’ve been squatting, you may or may not be able to go all the way down to the bottom position right away. That’s perfectly normal and to be expected.
What do I do if my knees start caving in when I squat?
First, make sure that you’re always pushing your knees out when you squat. Many people neglect this simple trick, but it really helps a lot with the stabilization of the knee joint. This takes tension off of the joint and prevents injuries. Don’t be afraid to put the weight down and practice.
If this isn’t the problem, then you need to think back to what I said about flexibility being a factor for beginners.
Do your knees cave in when you’re just sitting in a chair or lying down?
If so, then you may very well just be need more flexibility.
How can I tell if my hips are tight or my ankles and knees are weak?
This is going to require a little experimentation on your part. Start by assuming your typical squatting position. Now try to move your knees forward and then outwards. You want to be able to move them at least up to a point where your heels are actually behind the rest of your foot. Now try squatting and see if your knees cave in anymore.
If this solved the problem, then you need to focus on stretching the muscles in the back of your legs and increase the flexibility in that area. Use the thigh stretching device that I mentioned earlier and some other stretches as well.
The second and more common reason for this problem is weak ankle and knee joints. If this is the case, then you want to increase the strength of those joints. Use the squatting exercise to strengthen these muscles. As with any exercise, start out light and work up gradually.
How can I tell if my hip thrusts are weak?
You need to start out with a basic squatting position. Now thrust your hips forward and put all of your weight in the seat of your pants. You want to keep your back straight and not bend at the waist. If you have weak thrusts, then you’ll find that this is going to be fairly difficult for you. You’ll also find that this puts more strain on the muscles that run along the front of your thighs (quadriceps).
If your thrusts are weak, then you need to start doing some thrusting specific exercises. You’ll find a couple in the next section.
I’m getting pain in the arch of my foot when I squat with a heel supported squat stand and I can’t go all the way down anymore.
What should I do?
In this situation, you’ve got two choices: avoid injury or avoid weakness. First, let’s talk about the injury. If you’ve got pain in the bottom of your foot, then it’s probably because your plantar fascia is becoming tight and overstretched where the Achilles tendon attaches to your heel.
This eventually causes pain because the muscle is trying to shorten under the weight of your body and it can’t given that it is already stretched as far as it can go.
This could be an issue if this is a chronic condition because you’ll need to stop weight training until it heals, but the good news is that this is completely correctable with the following stretch:
Get a towel and put your foot (either one) on the edge of a stair with your toes hanging over the edge. You should feel a moderate stretch in the back of your calf. Now lean forward at the waist and try to bring your chest toward your leg. You’ll feel the stretch get more intense in your calf. Hold this position for thirty seconds, then relax and repeat until you do two sets of twenty.
Now if you don’t want to deal with an injury, then you need to start doing some exercises that address your weakness at the bottom of deep squats. Unfortunately, most athletes never squat low enough or with a heavy enough weight to really work the range below the parallel position. This puts them at a great disadvantage when they are required to do so.
To deal with this weakness, you need to start doing some special high-rep, low-weight, low-rest sets of full squats. I’d start out doing sets of twenty repetitions and only take a rest long enough to change the weight. You can also do these as drop sets. Start with a heavy weight, then after you can no longer maintain good form, remove some of the weight and keep going.
How many times should I squat or do hip thrusts before washing my shorts?
Many people like to over-complicate things in an attempt to justify their own existence. As such, I’ve seen people suggest that athletes should only squat or hip thrust a certain number of times per week.
Due to the nature of their activities, professional athletes are obviously going to train far more than the average person, but even with their training they are never going to exceed the number of hip thrusts and squats that the average person can do in a week.
So why do professional athletes like to limit their own strength training?
The answer is money. If you’re a strength coach and you claim that your team shouldn’t hip thrust or squat more than three times a week, then you’re obviously going to save time by not having to teach them everything. You can’t be expected to run the same drills for football for twelve weeks out of the year. You need to have fresh material so that you have something new to sell the coaches.
Just as a car engine has a certain number of revolutions it can make in its life before the bearings, gaskets, and other internal parts fail, so do the hip joints and other parts of the body have a certain number of hip thrusts it can do before they wear out.
So does that mean you should never do more than eight sets of hip thrusts a week?
Not at all. You just shouldn’t do them seven days in a row. They should be a part of your routine, but not the only thing in your routine.
The fact that a car can run several hundred thousand miles before it needs to be replaced doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t change the oil and replace the oil filter every five thousand miles. Likewise, just because the hip thrust can be done daily without issue, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a break from them every now and then. I suggest taking a break from them every three to four weeks. Three weeks is too long since the muscle will forget how to correctly perform the movement pattern, and four weeks is too short since you’ll still have some soreness during that time, which may hinder your ability to perform the exercise properly. In addition to taking a break from the hip thrust, it would also be wise for athletes to take a week off of any exercise they are experiencing pain with.
This means that if you have a nagging knee injury, you shouldn’t perform any exercises that focus on the knees, such as lunges, split squats, or front squats. You can still do hip thrusts, deadlifts, and back squats though, since these don’t place a great deal of stress on the knee.
Even with taking breaks from the hip thrust appropriately, they can still be used in the off-season for building up strength and size gains.
SHOULD I DO PUSHUPS, CHINS, OR Dips
WITH MY WEIGHT BEHIND MY HEAD?
How you position your body to perform an exercise can either increase or decrease the range of motion. Some people prefer a shorter range of motion because it enables them to lift more weight. Others prefer a greater range of motion because it places less pressure on the joints and tendons. If you are in-season, you’re better off not doing any heavy hip thrusting and sticking with glute bridges and back extensions instead. Not only are these safer, but they’re also more likely to keep the muscle fibers lean and tight rather than adding extra fat that will be burnt off come off-season.
Can I add weight to my hip thrust?
Yes, you can add weight to your hip thrust, just don’t add too much too quickly.
The dip is one such exercise that can be performed in a variety of ways, each of which has different advantages and disadvantages.
Dips can be performed with your hands placed at different widths. Narrower grips will enable you to lift more weight, but this also shortens the range of motion and decreases the involvement of the chest. Wider grips will enable you to involve more of your chest musculature and stretch the shoulders more. Here are some guidelines:
1. The first time you try hip thrusts, use less than your body weight (if you weigh 200 pounds, try doing hip thrusts with 150 pounds).
2. Once you can hip thrust 150 pounds X 12 reps, increase the weight by 50 pounds.
3. Once you can hip thrust with the new weight X 12 reps, add another 25 pounds.
4. Narrower grips also place more stress on the triceps.
If you’re a bodybuilder, it’s best for you to choose a narrow grip; if you’re an athlete, you may benefit from a slightly wider grip.
You can add weight to dips in various ways, such as by placing a weight belt around your waist or holding onto a dumbbell between your feet. Continue this process until you start experiencing pain in your lower back or glutes.
5. If you’re an athlete whose sport involves running (i.
e. soccer, football, track, etc.) or has a high-speed component to it (i.e. hockey, basketball, etc.), then your hips and glutes are crucial for the main actions involved in those sports, so it is recommended you thrust with at least half of your body weight.
By using these two methods, you can easily add 100 pounds to your dips; just make sure that the belt fits snuggly around your midsection and that you place the weight in your feet properly.
Performing weighted dips is a great way for athletes to build mass, as it involves a large amount of muscle and triggers significant hormonal changes. This is why it’s popular with football players, wrestlers, and boxers. It will also enable you to build strength rather quickly.
If you’re an athlete whose sport does not involve running or a high-speed component (i.e. wrestling, boxing, weightlifting, rugby, etc.), then your hips and glutes are still important for your performance, but to a lesser degree than the sports listed above. If you’re in this category and you hip thrust at least 1.5 times your body weight, you will maximize the strength benefits to your performance.
Remember to use proper technique and not to swing your body too much or else you can hurt yourself. Always remember to dip at a controlled pace, even if the weight is light. This will ensure the proper firing of the muscles involved in hip thrusting and dipping and will prevent injury. After a month of training, you should be able to hip thrust at least your body weight. At this point you may wish to switch from hip thrusts to back raises or glute/ham raises.
This is because the muscles of the lower back are involved in a large number of strength and power movements, such as sprinting, jumping, and changing direction. It would be a good idea for you to strengthen these muscles to prevent injury due to poor lower back strength. Be sure to keep a slight arch in your lower back at all times, as this will protect your lower back and keep it safe.
The hanging leg raise is the best way to strengthen your core for sports such as basketball, football, hockey, soccer, rugby, wrestling, and any other sport which involves twisting and turning.
The leg raise works the entire core quite well; however, certain parts are hit harder than others.
In order to strengthen your lower back, you will need to place your hands at least shoulder width apart and raise your legs at a 90 degree angle. You should feel a stretch in the middle of your back when you first perform this exercise. As you gain strength, you will be able to place your feet closer and closer to your hands until your legs are straight up. As with the hip thrust, always maintain control over the weight; do not swing or jerk. The upper and lower abs are worked during the entire movement, but the obliques are mostly worked on the upward movement.
While this does work the obliques pretty well, they can be targeted more efficiently with more specialized exercises such as the side bend for the external obliques and wood chops for the internal obliques. If you have trouble feeling your obliques working, it would be a good idea to do those two exercises in addition to hanging leg raises.
The hanging leg raise develops static strength, which is the ability to maintain a position rather than moving a weight through space. This is an important quality for sports such as basketball, football, rugby, hockey, soccer, wrestling, etc.
The hyperextension works mainly the lower back and the hamstrings; however, it also works the upper back a bit.
While this movement does strengthen the lower back, it does not do so in a sport-specific manner. It also strengthens the hamstrings, which are not heavily involved in any sport, and are commonly injured. This movement can be useful to athletes who experience lower back pain or hamstring strains and wish to strengthen these areas; however, it is not a movement that I would recommend to most athletes. If you choose to include them in your training program, perform them after leg workouts only.
2.1.4 Stiff-Legged Deadlifts
The stiff-legged deadlift is a great exercise for the hamstrings in a neutral position (legs straight). It also strengthens the lower back, and does not overly stress the spinal erectors. It does not work the hip extensions like the glute/ham raise or the back raise, however, so you may wish to perform this exercise along with one of the others.
Sources & references used in this article:
You don’t know squat without an active hip by M Rippetoe, S Bradford – Crossfit Journal, 2008 – crossfitdenver.com
The SCIENCE behind DEEP SQUATS by ER Pappas – relentlessathleticsllc.com
Take a Break From Weights: How to Train Intuitively by C Stevens – breakingmuscle.com
Injury Prehab With Natural Movement by C Stevens – breakingmuscle.com
The Case of the Squat Part II by NV Blog – nickvardavas.com
Deep Squats by JS PICP III – general-stuff.38656.n3.nabble.com
Simple Tips to Improve Essential Natural Hip Function by B Taylor – breakingmuscle.com
Why Everyone Can & Should Squat the Same: 101 Truths by J Seedman – advancedhumanperformance.com
concussion, neck by S Haran – arrowptseattle.com