This is Your Quick Training Tip, a chance to learn how to work smarter in just a few moments so you can get right to your workout.
With the possible exception of the crunch, no exercise elicits as much—or even more—controversy than the squat. Leaving alone the whole debate over whether or not you should do it at all (you know where Men’s Health stands: do it), the issue trainers love to argue about most is the exercise’s ideal depth.
On one side are the ass-to-grassers, who maintain that you aren’t doing a proper squat unless your hams hit your calves. Anything less won’t move you through a full range of motion, and, therefore, won’t optimize your gains. On the other side are the trainers who believe that you should only lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Anything more, they argue, will increase the strain on your knees and, as a result, your risk of injury.
Which side is correct? Both. The ideal squat depth for you is determined entirely by your own unique anatomy and biomechanics.
Your move: Descend only as low as you can with perfect form. In practice, that means dropping until you can no longer keep your back flat, weight centered on your feet (don’t let your heels lift), and knees tracking with your toes.
If you have exceptional hip and ankle mobility, you’ll be able to achieve the “ass-to-grass” ideal, which most people haven’t done proficiently since they were toddlers. If you have the typical adult hip and ankle mobility, you may very well have to stop when your thighs are parallel to the floor—and that’s perfectly fine. Research shows that the “parallel squat” is highly effective at building lower body strength.
And if you have to stop before you reach parallel, don’t sweat it. When it comes to the squat, form trumps depth every time. Plus, the more you practice it (and try other drills and exercises to supplement your sets), the greater your mobility will become, and the farther you’ll be able to descend safely and with good form. There are other considerations like foot positioning to consider, too—so make sure you’re squatting to the best of your ability for your body.
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