Squatting Deep… Have You Been Doing It Wrong?
No one wants to be the guy that posts his epic workout video on Instagram, only to have a bunch of people critique his technique. I’m totally guilty of rushing to judgment and adding a critique, particularly when I was just studying to be a personal trainer and thought I knew it all. I swear I try not to do it anymore.
Now, instead of telling someone to do this or that. I try and ask questions to find out what they are trying to accomplish. If I do feel that I can help them. I try and give them a compliment first and then give them a tip on how to do it better. So all us keyboard warriors, let’s practice.
HYPOTHETICAL SOCIAL MEDIA POST
Me: Awesome, keep killing it in the gym Timmy! What are you training for – speed, strength, just building muscles?
Timmy: Thanks, Jake! I’m just trying to look better without a shirt this summer. I’m not quite sure how to use these Kettleballs, but I watched a Jillian Michaels video.
Me: Cool, keep it up. One suggestion though, you might want to pay attention to your low back. Try to move through your hips more and don’t let your back round and extend so much. If you need any help, just let me know bro! Oh, and it’s Kettlebells, not balls.
So that’s an example of a helpful exchange online. Here’s an example of what we often see though (just for comparison).
Me: Dude, Timmy who taught you to Squat? Seriously, I warm up with twice that much weight and I Squat ass to grass bro! Those partial Squats are for pussies!
Timmy: Screw you!
See the difference?
The problem with this last scenario is that I neglected to ask why Timmy was doing partial squats. I didn’t ask about what he is training for. Maybe his hip is totally jacked up and he can’t squat any lower? Maybe Timmy has explosive diarrhea and he just can’t squat deep without… never mind.
Or, maybe if I would have asked Timmy, I would have found out that he is training to dunk a basketball and he thinks that by limiting his depth to a position that he uses in his sport, he will increase his performance. Whether or not it does or doesn’t, then we could have a discussion online about how and why. This is how you learn. This is also how you avoid the “we do it this way because my high school gym teacher taught me how” way of thinking.
Squat depth is the perfect example of why more is not always better. Chances are that if you worked out in a gym before and actually did squats, then you have tried to squat really low. Then you realized that it’s tough to squat super low with a big, heavy bar on your back. So either you took some weight off the bar and/or you limited your squat depth. Or you sucked it up like a man! JK.
But what if I told you that deep squats may not necessarily be the best thing for your performance on a bike? Mind blown yet? What if that dude doing partial squats on Instagram actually knew his shit?
First, before I make my case for why limited depth squatting can be beneficial – let’s get a few things out of the way…
- A deep squat is important, but not necessarily necessary for most sports performance. If you don’t get into those specific joint angles (deep squat) often in your sport, chances are training almost exclusively in a deep squat position is not optimal.
- You should have the mobility to do a deep squat for resting positions. If you squat down and can only stay there for a limited time with mild to excruciating pain… then your mobility sucks and that’s a whole other blog post or two.
- You should take periods throughout your year where you actually maintain and train the deep squat. I’m not saying to never squat deep again. It’s important to maintain the strength and mobility you already have but not very important to continuing developing a non-specific movement.
- Partial squatting could put more load on the knees. Although counterintuitive, deep squats are thought to recruit more glutes and hamstring to stabilize the knee. For some, deep squatting may be better for their knees. As with any exercise, start slow and build up load and volume over time.
How Deep Should BMXers Squat?
I think we should look at the hip, and knee angles that are required for our most powerful movements on the bike. If we look at sprinting, the angles of our joints are really not all that similar to a traditional deep squat.
If you compare the angles of a deep squat to the angles we see
while sprinting, you will see that they are really quite different.
So, why wouldn’t we just squat deep just in case we do need to bend our knees that far? Isn’t more, better? I don’t think it is, so I used some technology to find out some key metrics during the movement.
I did some back squats using my body weight (200 pounds) as the load. The test involved 3 reps of a full squat (hips below the knees). I rested for a couple minutes and repeated the test with a partial, half squat. Here is what I noticed…
- With a half squat, my peak average velocity was over 30% higher than the full squat.
- The maximum force was only slightly higher during the full squat than the half squat.
- If the force numbers were similar but the velocity of the movement was much faster during a half squat, this means that the total power created was substantially higher (sorry, I don’t have the exact numbers).
While squatting deep will build more strength throughout a full range of motion, it will also cause us to hit lower power numbers. Full squats don’t allow us to replicate the speeds of pedaling a BMX bike. In BMX, the name of the game is producing power quickly. With these findings, I can’t imagine why a BMX athlete wouldn’t spend some time training the squat pattern to a depth that more realistically emulates the pedal stroke.
I’m not the only one to come to this conclusion either. There was a study done last year that showed quarter and half squats to be far superior to full squats in improving 40 yard dash times and vertical jumps over the course of 16 weeks. While the sports scientists did not study any BMX performance metrics, I think it’s logical to assume that there would be a similar carryover into pedaling a bike.