If you have spent any time in the gym you would have seen people with massive legs squatting heavy and squatting deep. Research is increasingly showing that using your quads full range of motion, especially that deep stretch position, is an important factor for growing big, strong and injury-resistant legs.

But before you start forcing your squat deeper every training session, It’s not just about how low you can go; it’s about optimizing your form and maximizing the benefits of the exercise. In this article, we’ll be drawing directly from our 10+ years of S&C coaching experience to explore the significance of squat depth, techniques to enhance it and approaches you can use to massively improve your squat.

WHAT IS SQUAT DEPTH?

Squat depth refers to how low you descend during a squat exercise. Measured by the angle formed between your thighs and calves at the lowest point of the movement. The common and most prevalent standard for a “achieving” depth in your squat is to reach 90° or your thighs parallel with the floor.

Of course 90° is a fantastic place to start, but stopping your movement at 90° means you haven’t reached your squats full range of motion, sure it might get you three white lights at a powerlifting competition but it won’t be the most effective or safest way to train long term. So how deep should you be squatting?

looking at the biomechanics of the human body, a person with femurs as long as LeBron James is going to have a different range of motion and therefore a different optimal squat depth as you, with this being acknowledged a general rule of thumb for a full deep squat is to aim for 120° or to a depth where the hip crease drops well below the top of the knee. (Again this will vary depending on your body)

how to improve squat depth

BENEFITS OF SQUAT DEPTH

Squatting to the previously mentioned depth, offers several significant advantages over stopping at a 90° angle. it has been shown that deeper squats can elicit improved muscle activation engaging a wider range of muscle groups, including the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps, leading to greater overall muscle development of the lower body.

Additionally, deeper squats promote increased joint mobility and flexibility, reducing the risk of injury and enhancing functional movement patterns with both deep front and back squats guaranteeing performance-enhancing increases of dynamic maximal strength to dynamic speed-strength capacity of hip and knee extensors compared with shallower range of motion squats.

Plus, there’s some solid research (Pedroso et al. 2021) suggesting that deep stretches on muscles are a big factor in hypertrophy (building muscle size).

FACTORS THAT INFLUENCE SQUAT DEPTH

Squat depth is influenced by multiple factors. These will include things that you cannot change linked to your genetics like your biomechanics (like longer femurs) as well as other things that can be worked on such as flexibility and muscle strength.

Strength levels in the muscles involved, particularly the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings, dictate the ability to support the body through various depths. It has also been shown that specifically your hip mobility and your ankles level of dorsiflexion to be two of the main driving factors for achieving greater squat depths. So in summary, you’ve got…

  • Hip mobility
  • Ankle mobility
  • Body type (especially femur length)
  • Strength levels
  • Body awareness and technique

IMPROVING YOUR SQUAT DEPTH

Looking at the factors listed above, training specificity can play a strong role in improving your squat depth; exercises like mobility drills, stretching, and progressive overload through the entire range of motion of the squat can help strengthen the movement pathways and make incremental positive changes to your overall squat depth.

Additionally, neuromuscular control and technique refinement heavily contributes to achieving optimal squat depth for performance and injury prevention, so working through these deeper movement pathways specifically in your dynamic stretches and warm up sets can help strengthen your control and technique leading to greater depth and muscle development at longer lengths.

Here are some great pre-squat mobility drills that we’ve found effective with our athletes…

ExerciseArea TargetedSetsReps/Duration
Ankle flexion (dorsiflexion)Ankle3 each side10-12
90/90 hip stretchesHips3 each side20 seconds
Knee over toes lungeAnkle/Hips3 each side8-10
Banded hip distractionsHips2 each side10-12
Psoas quadricep stretchQuads/Hips2 each side20 seconds
Example Pre-squat Mobility Routine

*Before moving to your working sets, program weighted warm up sets. (for working on squat depth I like barbell pause squats at 60% working weight)*

RAISING YOUR HEELS

Raising your heels, by placing small plates under them or wearing weightlifting shoes can enhance your squat depth by altering ankle dorsiflexion. This minor modification will reduce the demand for ankle mobility, which will allow you to achieve a deeper squat position. It’s something we use quite frequently with our 1:1 coaching athletes to get them experiencing a full depth, deep squat even when lacking ankle mobility.

Elevating the heels shifts the body’s centre of mass forward, facilitating a more upright torso position and redistributing the load across the lower body. This adjustment often permits greater depth without compromising form, enabling you to engage muscles effectively throughout the movement. However, it’s essential to address underlying mobility issues for long-term improvement and injury prevention.

Here are some squat variations we’ve used to help athletes work on their depth

ExerciseSetsReps
Box squat38-12
Heels elevated goblet squat38-12
Hands assisted barbell squat35-8
Heels elevated barbell squat (front or back)35-8
Example alternative squat exercises to help increase range of motion

**You will most likely have to lower your weight when focussing on training through your full range of motion and with raised heels, this is normal and will in the long run lead to improved size and strength gains**

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

How do I get more depth in my squats?

In order to increase your squat depth you need to increase your ankle and hip mobility and move through your full range of motion when possible. You also need to work on your lifting technique, coordination and leg strength.

What squat variation is best for depth?

All squat variations have different biomechanics so will vary wildly in terms of range of motion and maximum weight lifted. With that in mind, heel elevated front/goblet squat will most likely have the greatest range of motion and allow you to achieve the most depth.

What muscles affect squat depth?

The muscles that affect squat depth are: Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes and Calves, amongst a number of supporting muscles and ligaments.

Why can’t I squat deep?

There are a number of factors that could be affecting your ability to squat deep. In terms of things that can be changed, you may have tight or weak hips and ankles inhibiting your ability to squat deeper. You might also need to work on your squat technique and control.

Is it harder for tall people to squat deep?

Femur length rather than overall height determines your genetic disposition towards squat depth. So no, not all tall people will have a harder time squatting deep. That being said a large percentage of tall people also have long femurs and as such will have a harder time reaching a deep squat. If this is you, you’ll likely have to work a bit harder to achieve a deep squat, but when you do it will be incredibly impressive.

WHAT NEXT?

So now it’s time to put this all into practice and start squatting deeper!

  1. Try the warm up exercises and squat depth progressions a try over the next few weeks and give your hips and ankles time to adapt to it, maybe add in a few extra warm up sets to really move through your maximum range of motion.
  2. If you still feel you need a bit more guidance or support, then feel free to reach out and we can chat about 1:1 coaching, or drawing you up a custom programme.

‘Til next time

Jacob

REFERENCES

  • Endo Y, Miura M, Sakamoto M. The relationship between the deep squat movement and the hip, knee and ankle range of motion and muscle strength. J Phys Ther Sci. 2020 Jun;32(6):391-394. doi: 10.1589/jpts.32.391. Epub 2020 Jun 2. PMID: 32581431; PMCID: PMC7276781.
  • Hartmann, Hagen1; Wirth, Klaus1; Klusemann, Markus2,3; Dalic, Josip1; Matuschek, Claus1; Schmidtbleicher, Dietmar1. Influence of Squatting Depth on Jumping Performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 26(12):p 3243-3261, December 2012. | DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31824ede62
  • Kubo K, Ikebukuro T, Yata H. Effects of squat training with different depths on lower limb muscle volumes. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2019 Sep;119(9):1933-1942. doi: 10.1007/s00421-019-04181-y. PMID: 31230110.