There seems to be a lot of confusion among coaches and students as to whether squats should be done all the way or only halfway. In most gyms today, a common instruction during squats, deadlifts, and lunges (as taught by many personal training organizations) is to not allow your knees to travel past your toes. Doing so will ultimately cause the destruction of your knees! I do not agree. There are certain instances where partial range of motion (ROM) is indicated, but for the most part, I teach people the full squat for the following reasons:
* It is the most primitive movement pattern known to man; our ancestors used to perform many daily functions (i.e. harvesting, gathering, hunting, cooking, eating, etc.) in a fully crouched position.
*Also, in case anyone hasn’t noticed, we spent 40 weeks in the fetal position (which is basically a full squat) before we entered this world. Did we go out with bad knees?
* We should strive to train at full ROM for each and every exercise. The squat is no exception.
* Every exercise produces stress around a joint: the body adapts to this stress.
* Co-contraction of the quadriceps, hamstrings, and gastrocnemius maintains integrity around the knee joint.
* Shear and compression forces occur around the knee joint (unlike the shear forces that occur in some open kinetic chain exercises for the lower body, such as the leg extension); however, the large contact area of the patella with the femoral groove (as knee flexion increases during the full squat) helps dissipate compressive forces.
*So, not only is the squat, as a closed-chain exercise, considered a natural movement pattern with high functional remnant, it’s also a safe exercise if performed correctly (and that includes full ROM!)
* Drawer tests are done at a 90 degree knee angle because there is a greater amount of laxity in the knee joint at that specific angle. So does it make sense to only go down to the middle where it’s most vulnerable, especially when larger loadouts can be used (because it’s so much stronger in this partial ROM?)
*According to Ironman contributor George Turner, the fulcrum moves toward the knee joint in a parallel squat as opposed to the muscle belly of the quadriceps in a full squat.
*Think about it, if you consistently train at a limited ROM, the chance of injury increases if you squat beyond your trained ROM one day.
* Partial squats performed regularly will decrease flexibility.
* There is a low incidence of low back pain and knee injuries in Aboriginal and Eastern societies that perform full squats on a regular basis.
* Even Olympic weightlifters who do full squats have fairly healthy knees compared to other athletes.
*Although you can find some research indicating that full squats are potentially harmful to your knees, only one study has shown this to be true. However, it was performed on a skeleton; the same results are not valid with the surrounding connective tissue. On the other hand, numerous studies show the benefits of full squats.
Unfortunately, many personal training certification courses teach half squats as a safe version suitable for everyone and this has now been set in stone. God forbid you deviate from this golden rule to do something our bodies are meant to do! Read this carefully: squats should be performed at full ROM where your hamstrings make contact with your calves (so no light is seen passing through your legs in the bottom position). It’s okay for your knees to roll past your toes (just don’t relax your knees in the bottom position). In other words, keep your legs tight and try to stay as tall as possible throughout the exercise. So the next time a fitness instructor comes up to you at the gym and advises you not to deep squat, tell them you can’t squat!