No-one wants to be the guy or girl half, or worse yet, quarter-squatting their way through the workout.
1) It doesn’t build strength in the bottom position of the squat, which is often where people struggle the most, especially in weightlifting.
2) If you’re a powerlifter it won’t count in competition.
3) It just makes you look goofy and incompetent.
So How Do We Define Squat Depths? (Biomechanics)
The picture diagram below isn’t perfect (the parallel squat needs to be about another inch down) but it’s a decent reflection and description of the overall differences between each position
How Do You ACTUALLY Achieve a Full Depth Squat
There are usually 2 things preventing a full depth squat, motor patterns and mobility.
If your problems are mobility/flexibility related then no amount of coaching tips or cues are going to help you. For example, it doesn’t matter how much someone tells you to keep your knees forward at the bottom if your ankles are too tight to dorsiflex properly.
For mobility/flexibility fixes, there are plenty of great resources online, maybe check out ‘squat university’ or perhaps buy yourself a copy of ‘the supple leopard.’ Alternatively, check out my blog on lower body flexibility for weightlifting and do what I describe there.
For motor pattern related problems, however, there are a few incredibly useful cues and tips that I’ve found helpful for developing a full-depth squat…
1) Correct Stance and Set Up
So many times people come to me asking why they can’t hit depth, only to have a completely inappropriate foot position. If your feet are super narrow and facing directly forwards you’re probably going to have a hard time squatting deep. I’ve seen some 50kg female lifters get away with it, but if you’re taller, heavier or more male then you’ll want to make some changes.
> Feet wider than shoulder width apart
> Feet turned out, anything from 20-40 degrees is usually fine
2) Sit Down Not Back
Now, I’m aware that the amount to which you move your hips back will vary depending on whether you’re using a high bar or low bar style. Personally, I coach high bar squats to almost all of my weightlifters and athletes as it carries over better to the demands of most sports.
When high-bar squatting, you want to move down and not back. So you DO NOT start the movement by pushing your hips/butt back. Instead you bend at the knees and hips simultaneously, keeping your balance over midfoot.
Imagine trying to place your butt in between your heels.
3) Spread the Floor
It’s really common to see someone’s knees and ankles start to collapse inwards as they try to go deeper into the squat. This messes up their balances and prevents them achieving full depth as they’re not stable enough.
By trying to ‘spread the floor’ you’re actively moving weight towards the outside of your foot and activating your glute medius, which should lead to a more stable position, less collapse inwards and more depth in the squat.
4) Lower the Load
The last tip I’m going to give, and probably the hardest one to hear, is that you might need to lower the load you’re using. If you’re used to half squatting 150kg you might have to drop back down to 80-100 kg for a few weeks to relearn the movement properly and develop strength in those unfamiliar ranges.
I can promise you though, that full Range of Motion Squats with less weight will torch your legs just as much (maybe even more) than those really heavy half reps. Plus, they’ll only generate about half the total systematic fatigue, so your legs will get a great workout without beating up your entire body quite so much.
5) Pause Squats Are Your New Best Friend
If you want to get comfortable in the bottom position of the squat, then pause squats are an incredibly effective way to accomplish that. You’re looking to control your squat down, pause for a count of 3 at the bottom, then go back up.
And make sure you stay tight in the pause. Big brace, chest up, legs driving hard enough to keep you in position. You want to look like the picture on the right below and not the picture on the left.
Summary – How to Full Depth Squat TLDR
Work on hip and ankle mobility, use the correct stance, lower the load, sit down not back, spread the floor and try some pause squats.
If you do all of those things for at least 4 weeks, I can damn near guarantee that you’ll be well on your way to a full depth squat.
And as always, if you want a coach and a programme that you can trust, you can book a quick call to chat with me right here.
‘Til Next Time
Msc Strength & Conditioning
British Weightlifting Tutor/Educator