Why is it that when we are young children we are able to squat? Well you might say everyone can squat? That maybe but not a REAL deep squat with their bums touching their ankles and with such perfect form! They squat instinctively as a continuous movement from standing up whenever they want to lower themselves to ground level. One and two year olds can commonly be seen playing in a stable squatting position, with feet wide apart and bottom not quite touching the floor (Slentz and Krogh, 2001).
So why is it that we lose this ability as we get older? Well actually in Africa and Asia this position is still a common trait in the adult population. So why is it in the western cilivastion we lose this ability? It is mainly due to habitually; we created chairs so there is no need for us to full squat anymore for the challenging protocol of sitting. As we sit around a lot of the time can result in tightness and altered muscle length-tendon relationships
So how does this transcend into the exercise/strength training world?
The squat is considered one of the ultimate lifts in strength training. It is a compound exercise that trains the muscles of the legs; the primary muscles that are engaged are: quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteus maximus (ACE, 2011). They also develop other area’s of the body known as secondary muscles (synergists/stabilizers): transverse abdominis, erector spinae, abductors, adductors, soleus and gastrocnemius (ACE, 2011). When performing either a front or back squat using a barbell then the muscles of the arms and shoulders become incorporated (Rippetoe, 2007).
Squats are commonly performed to varying depths. Squatting below parallel qualifies a squat as deep while squatting above it qualifies as shallow, (Brown, 2000). Some authorities caution against deep squats, (Kellis et al, 2013) though the forces on the ACL and PCL decrease at high flexion, compressive forces on the minisci and articular cartilages in the knee peak at these same high angles, (Clarkson and Gilewich, 2013).
So what is the ideal depth you should perform for optimal muscle recruitment?
Escamilla (2001) reported that: ‘Low to moderate posterior shear forces, restrained primarily by the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), were generated throughout the squat for all knee flexion angles. Low anterior shear forces, restrained primarily by the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), were generated between 0 and 60° knee flexion. Patellofemoral compressive forces and tibiofemoral compressive and shear forces progressively increased as the knees flexed and decreased as the knees extended, reaching peak values near maximum knee flexion. Hence, training the squat in the functional range between 0 and 50° knee flexion may be appropriate for many knee rehabilitation patients, because knee forces were minimum in the functional range. ‘quadriceps, hamstrings, and gastrocnemius activity generally increased as knee flexion increased. Although it is good for people who are in rehabilitation to use partial squats it should be noted that healthy people should squat using full range if their technique is good. However if their technique is not good then the individual should work on this.
So how do you perform the ideal bodyweight squat?
Here are the cues:
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart.
- Keep your feet pointing straight forward.
- Keep yourself nice and tall (shoulders back/big chest).
- Head in neutral/looking straight in front.
When descending into the squat:
- Keep your weight to the mid/back of your feet.
- Bend both your knee’s and hips at the same time (imagine your trying to sit onto a chair behind you.)
- Keep your knee’s tracking over your toes.
- Keep a big chest and head in neutral.
- Once you get to a sticking point imagine you are pulling yourself closer to the floor.
- There are some great demonstrations of how to perform a squat and different variations: just click on the below link
So a lot of people can no longer squat to the same depth as a baby however they can be trained to get more depth and even perhaps restore the lost art of, ‘baby squats!’ If you have healthy knee’s and you have good technique then deep squats are fine to perform. Here are a few video’s of what someone performing squats with great technique should look like:
Clarkson, HM, and Gilewich, GB. Musculoskeletal Assessment: Joint Range Of Motion And Manual Muscle Strength. Baltimore, MD: Williams and Wilkins, 1999. pp 374. 10 Feb 2013
Escamilla, RF Biodynamics Knee biomechanics of the dynamic squat exercise Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: January 2001 – Volume 33 – Issue 1 – pp 127–141
Kellis, E, Arambatsi, F, Papadopoulos, C. Effects of load and ground reaction forces and lower limb kinematics during concentric squats. J Sports Sci 23: 1045-1055, 2005. 10 Feb 2013
Slentz K, Krogh S Early Childhood Development and Its Variations (2001)