I have been asked many times about squatting below parallel. For this response, I am going to move beyond all the Old School thought processes on why squatting below parallel is bad for the knees. We have moved well beyond that and know it is BS. It has been proven incorrect time and time again by professionals way smarter than me. Instead, I want to focus on the performance aspect of the squat.
The squat is arguably the most fundamental movement for building strength. It is also the most aerobic of all the barbell movements for developing cardiovascular endurance when coupled with a press, such as everyone's favorite, the Thruster or a even a Wall Ball.
In competition, specifically the sport of fitness, as we know it...Crossfit. There are certain standards to adhere to when performing any variation of the squat. The common denominator being that we strive to achieve a full range of motion. In the squat, the hip crease is below the horizontal plane of the knee and upon standing the hips and knees are fully locked out. This serves two purposes:
One cannot perform those lame ¼ squats and claim they are the fittest on earth. To achieve that title you must perform them to the above standard and be more efficient at them.
Additionally, we are working on developing our metabolic capacity. The best way to do that is to move full range and not cut corners. This is essentially the same as doing 9 reps instead of the 10 that were prescribed. Really, in the end you are only hurting your own progress.
The grey area here is that fine line between a good rep that sits just below parallel and the one that goes all the way down. YES, if it is below parallel it counts and you could claim your title! But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves and spend that prize money just yet. Our goal in our trainings is to increase metabolic capacity, right? By stopping short we are actually destroying efficiency which is a key component to building our capacity.
Here is the magic bullet. All that energy used to slow or stop the load and change direction at the precise moment of hip crease half and inch below parallel is killing your performance. Also, if you are wrong by half and inch because you are in the 10th minute of a 12 minute AMRAP, where your judgement and body awareness is a little off, you know: that moment when you start to ask yourself if you are on round 5 or 6 or rep 9 or 10? Congrats you just earned a NO REP which was an entire waste of time and energy. Good thing you have a judge to guide you through that whole process because logical thinking ended about 8-9 minutes ago.
Instead of trying to ride the line or toe the edge of what is acceptable shouldn’t we be focusing on it NOT being questionable? I don’t think many of us intentionally got just the right amount wrong so we still had and A in Math.
Your muscles have some elasticity to them for a reason and that reason is not because God said you will be sore someday and you will need to stretch! By squatting all the way down well below parallel you are tapping into the amazing rebounding ability of your muscle fibers which can help launch you out of that hole using far less energy as the slow down or hit the brakes and change direction method described earlier.
If this can be achieved I would venture to say you just increased your metabolic capacity a little. That 8-9 minute Karen time may just become sub 7.
To prove my point, take your right hand and place it over your heart, now lift your middle finger and hit your chest as hard as you can with it. Ouch, hahaha. Might as well have been a fly landing on you. Now with your left thumb pull your right middle finger back as far as you can without hurting yourself and let it snap back down to your chest. Congratulations, your middle finger is more functional than you thought!
The squat-in all of it’s glory and many different applications is only effective if performed correctly and with a full range of motion. It may take a little mobility work to get there but thank God we have the ability to stretch.