Squat Depth for Athletes

by: Josh Bryant

Fifteen years ago, a majority of commercial squats were higher than a Bolivian stilt walker with an overactive pituitary gland.

Now days, a common mistake is athletes squatting lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut.

Not everyone needs to squat ass to grass, regardless of what some gurus claim.

In powerlifting, squat depth is determined by competition specs; this article is aimed at tactical athletes and traditional athletes who want to know how deep they should squat.

Baby Squats

Babies are the antithesis to proper motor control and ideal muscle function, regardless of what your favorite childless, hippie “cat dad” fitness cult leader claims.  

How can babies be the Rolls Royce of muscle function if they do not have the stability or motor control to balance on two legs. Additionally, babies have more bones in their bodies than adults for the simple fact that many of their bones have not fused yet, this allows babies an exaggerated range of motion that adults should not attempt to replicate.

Third World Squats

What about the “third world squat”?

The third world squat is common in Asia, it is simply where an individual relaxes in the deepest squat position where their butt nearly scrapes the floor.  Because this looks like what babies do, it is assumed that modern day society and technology have ruined everyone’s squat mechanics. 


A squat performed to gain strength and a third world/ baby squat are two totally different movement patterns with juxtaposed recruitment patterns. 

In the third world squat, it’s passive because you relax; so, there is little, if any, muscle activation because the person is simply expending as little energy as possible as they distribute the load on their joints, tendons, ligaments and connective tissues.

Squatting for strength is an active squat!

 The lifter is forcefully firing her muscles to maintain stability, motor control, force and muscle stiffness, which makes the muscle act as shock absorbers, in turn, relieving strain off the joints. When a heavy passive squat is executed, the muscles are in a very relaxed state, specifically on the negative portion of the lift, causing stress on joints and connective tissue rather than muscles. 

 In this state, reciprocal muscle groups are not being used to get the lifter into position through high levels of co-contraction. In fact, squatting this way has an individual use gravity and external load to get into position. 

Here is the take home.

Strength Squats

Squatting in this third world style uses low levels of proprioception and muscle activation because muscle spindle recruitment is grounded on amplified muscle stiffness and co-contraction, which are non-existent in a passive squat, henceforward the movement pattern is wild and messy.

Mobility for most tactical athletes is not the problem.

More common is a lack of motor control, stability and tightness; as they gain this, the squat, through the ideal range of motion, will become more natural.  Tactical athletes do not want to gain range of motion they are unable to stabilize. Overdoing mobility exercises and stretching can desensitize muscle spindles and give way to squats with excessive range of motion (ROM).

Generally, athletes should squat to a parallel depth. 

Unlike partial range of motion or passive third world squats, parallel squats maximize activation, muscle tension, internal fortitude, intramuscular tension, hypertrophic response, build limit strength, maximize safety and offer the best transfer of training. 

Squatting mechanics vary some, person to person, and this is usually the argument for different depth prescription; it is based off variations in human anthropometry. The biggest differences are usually how much mobility someone has and what is their maximum range of motion — not their ideal squat depth.   A clear majority will get their best results squatting about parallel depth.

Final Thoughts

Let’s stop talking and hit the squat rack!

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