How To Do Perfect Squats For Your Body
I listened to a podcast recently where a very famous strength coach said that to get maximum benefit from squatting, you should squat ass to grass. His advice, in a half joking form, was this: Get deep enough so you leave a stain on the floor with your butt sweat. But should we all take that kind of thinking literally? Or is this just bravado that fails to take into account how to do perfect squats for your body?
Should You Really Be Squatting Ass To The Grass?
There are shirts and slogans and instagram memes pumping up the deep squat, as well as many other exercises. They all essentially say the same thing: if you train "this way" (i.e. squatting ass to grass), you're hardcore/legit/doing it properly/getting max gainz, and if you're training "another way" (not squatting deeply), you're an idiot/not hardcore/not doing it right/wasting your time/a total gym newb.
The problem is this: people hear someone famous saying "you must squat ass to grass," but they don't necessarily understand the nuances.
I love squatting. I competed in weightlifting for a number of years and tried to push my squat up as high as I could. I've coached many other lifters and athletes and I believe the squat is a fantastic exercise. I also think it's a worthwhile goal for most people to work toward being able to comfortable sit in a deep squat.
If you can squat ass to grass with good form, then you probably should. But what I've learned is this: applying an arbitrary range of motion to everyone doesn't make sense.
Why *SOME* Coaches Push An All Or Nothing Attitude
The question I have is this: As coaches why do we feel compelled to ask our clients to do something that their body isn't ready for? Isn't this setting them up for failure/injury instead of success long term ?
Part of the answer is in the culture of "legit reps" vs "no reps". This makes sense in competition. At a powerlifting meet, everyone needs to squat to a standard depth to make it fair. In CrossFit, everyone needs to perform exercises with a certain range of motion to ensure an even playing field. But in the gym for general fitness, those movement standards don't have the same place. Instead, as coaches and trainees we need to be asking ourselves specifically why am I performing - or asking a client to perform - an exercise this way? Is it consistent with their goals and needs. What are the risks? What are the benefits?
Saying something like "everyone needs to squat below parallel" doesn't ring true, because in my experience, many people simply can't make it happen with perfect form. If they're moving with compromised form, something is going to break eventually.
What should I do with my 50 year old "general health and fitness" client, who has a history of back pain and who badly rounds her back when she squats below parallel? She can squat to parallel (but not beyond) with perfect form. She's been getting stronger and improving balance and fitness by training this way. If she doesn't have the extra time/resources/motivation to put toward a mobility program to get her squat deeper, should I stop her from making productive improvements in a parallel squat?
Personally, I think that's crazy.
A Better Training Plan: Do Perfect Squats For Your Body
We can debate over whether a client like this should be prescribed a squatting variation in their training, but one thing I hope we can all agree on is that this person shouldn't be asked to squat below parallel when they're unable to do so properly. Many trainers pay lip service to this idea, yet many of their clients squat with poor form.
When it comes to the squat, the basic rule is that you should go down as low as you can while maintaining correct alignment. I cover the basic standards for this (i.e. how to determine how low you or anyone else should squat) in The Quantum Back Squat Manual.
When it comes to any other movement, the idea is the same. Work through as big a range of motion as you're able with good form. Pretty simple, right?
If that range of motion isn't sufficient for your goals, then work to improve it. This is accomplished with a well designed mobility plan targeted to your limitations. If you put the time in, you'll see results.
I do believe that just about everyone should be capable of a deep squat with enough practice. And it's a good fitness/health goal to have. But if you can't do it right now, don't sacrifice your form and dramatically increase your risk of injury just to fit in.
Do what you need to do, not what's it popular.
The Key Take Away: think about your why
Full body movements (squats, deadlifts, pushing, pulling, etc.) are magic for the body. They're our most potent tools to unlock our potential for true fitness.
But they're also no joke and need to be treated with respect. These movements come with increased loading and complexity and are therefore just a potent at producing injuries if done incorrectly. Don't be in a rush. Take your time. Make sure you're doing them properly and adjust the movement based on what your body is capable of doing perfectly today.
When it comes to exercise selection and range of motion, let's always ask the question: why are we doing what we're doing? What are my training needs?