Ask the Expert: How deep should I squat?

Strengthening the Forces

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By Dr. Darrell Menard OMM MD, Dip Sport Med

Q: I recently added squats to my training program. I don’t squat deeper than a sitting position to avoid hurting my knees. Other gym rats tell me I would benefit more from doing deep squats. How deep should I squat to maximize my training benefit without putting my knees at risk? – Careful

A: Dear Careful, great question! Squats are a great way to develop lower body strength, and using proper technique is essential to reducing your risk of injury.

Much of the squat depth controversy is the result of research done by Dr. Karl Klein in 1961. He assessed the knees of competitive weight lifters and body builders, and concluded these athletes were at greater risk of having looser knee ligaments. Based on these findings, he recommended squat depth be limited to thighs being parallel to the floor, and this was widely accepted as the truth. Since then, several researchers have re-examined this issue. Contrary to Klein’s work, they found weight and power lifters tend to have more stable knee joints, and the risk of ligament injury decreases the deeper you squat.

While these scientific findings are encouraging, they don’t mean deep squatting is safe or useful for everyone. Here are some important things to consider when deciding how deep to squat:

  1. How deep does your job or sport require you to squat? Very few people need to be able to squat deeply.
  2. Some people’s anatomy denies them the flexibility needed to safely do a deep squat, while others lack the strength. Don’t deep squat with weights if you can’t do painless deep squats using just your body weight.
  3. Good technique is extremely important. The normal curve of your lower back is very important; if you lose it while squatting, you increase your risk of injury. Limit your squat depth to the lowest point you can go before you lose the normal curve of your lower back.
  4. Do you have knee or hip problems such as meniscus tears, arthritis, anterior knee pain or instability? All these problems can be aggravated the deeper you squat. If you have any of these problems, limit your squatting to a pain free range of motion.

The bottom line: Deep squatting may offer some training benefits but may not be possible or safe for some because of their anatomy or injuries. Unless you need to perform deep squats, you will do just fine limiting your squat depth to being parallel to the floor.

Exercise is medicine!

Dr. Menard is the Surgeon General’s specialist advisor in sports medicine and has worked extensively with athletes from multiple sports. As part of the Strengthening the Forces team, he works on injury prevention and promoting active living.

Strengthening the Forces is CAF/DND’s healthy lifestyles promotion program providing expert information, skills and tools for promoting and improving CAF members’ health and well-being.


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