Deep Squats vs. Shallow Squats – Which is Best?

By Marcherry Garnica
May 13 2015
deep squat woman

Deep Squats vs. Shallow Squats – Which is Best?

Squats are one of the most used movements in Crossfit and any other training program and there’s a damn good reason why. Squatting is a full body movement that gets most of your lower body muscles firing up.

While this compound movement is a fundamental strength exercise, there are conflicting beliefs on the proper form (going ass to grass or shallow dips) and what will cause injury vs. what won’t. 

Studies have shown that both deep and shallow squats have benefits, but it depends on what you’re looking to get out of your workout. For example, shallow squats (squats reaching a 60 degree knee angle) can improve your vertical jump performance, but deep squats (below 90 degrees) are more effective at increasing your muscle mass and strength.

What this means is that if you are an athlete who trains for plyometrics then a shallow squat is likely the way to go. If you’re looking to get hulked out, then you’re going to want to deep squat.

Let’s just assume you want to build overall strength; is it safe to squat so deep?

As you likely know, your knees are a crucial joint during the squat movement and often the first area to feel pain when you’ve done something wrong.

To fully understand your potential for injury, let’s talk about the forces involved when you squat below parallel with a loaded bar. First of all, your knee joint is faced with two opposing forces; shear and compressive. 

Shear force refers to the “stress’ placed on your ligaments during this movement, while compressive force refers to the force absorbed by the cartilage in your knees.

There are two main ligaments used to stabilize your body during a squat, your ACL and PCL. The ACL and PCL (or anterior cruciate ligament and posterior cruciate ligament, if you wanna get all technical on me) cross over one another at the knee joint, grasping onto the femur and tibia, to help stabilize the knee.

As you start to induce knee flexion and sink into your squat the stress on your ACL and PCL ligaments reduces so you can continue to go deep, while the force on your cartilage increases. 

Turns out, your body is quite adept at handling stress placed on the cartilage as long as you follow these simple principles:

  • You perform this movement with a load that allows you to maintain the correct posture
  • You do not have any preceding knee injuries or contraindications that will negatively effect this movement
  • You have good ankle and hip mobility

If you fit the bill then drop it like it’s squat! If you aren’t quite there then spend some time focusing on your ankle and hip mobility and reduce the load of your bar when squatting so you can maintain perfect form.

A great way to achieve this is by using a box. Lightly load your bar, stand in front of a box, keep your chest high, back straight and core strong. Start sinking into your squat and lower until your bum touches the top of the box. As your position, mobility and strength improve, you can start going freestyle. 

Tell me; what has been your biggest challenge with squatting? Share in the comment section below and feel free to share this article with your friends! 

4 thoughts on “Deep Squats vs. Shallow Squats – Which is Best?”

  1. I used to be able to squat well below 90 degrees with fairly heavy weight ( for me). Then several months ago hurt my meniscus doing box jumps and am still struggling to get back to where I was. Very frustrating!!!

  2. Great article! Any thoughts or suggestions for people that have had total knee replacement? Range of motion seems to be an issue as I struggle getting below parallel, especially when I lift heavy.

  3. i find it hard to squat because i have flat feet? don’t know if that makes sense.. like my feet are hard to stabilize when i get down

  4. I used to be able to squat with no issues, but I had 2 foot surgeries. The surgeries have caused some instability on the foot. I have acquired snapping hip syndrome and some transverse abdominal/periformis issues from the instability. I have no issues with db squats, kb squats. I am slowly incorporating back squats into my workout: some free some box.

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