*The terms full-squat, deep-squat, ATG squat will be used used to refer to the same thing…squatting in a manner that minimizes the distance between the butt and the floor.
More gains of course.
The “best” long-term evidence we have is a 2013 study comparing partial squats to parallel squats and and you can guess the parallel squat saw the largest improvements in both size and strength1. Fortunately, we do have acute evidence that suggests there should be greater gains seen in the full-depth squat. Keep in mind that in order for hypertrophic adaptations to occur it is important to generate substantial forces within the muscle, for which the tension placed on each muscle is key for greater motor unit recruitment and ultimately hypertrophy. A 2012 study investigating a measure of muscle tension relative to maximum muscle force (known as relative muscular effort or RME) found that the quadriceps experienced the greatest tension in a full depth squat and this didn’t appear to be related to the load lifted so long as the load was greater than 50%. In the same study they noted increased RME in the hip extensors (glutes) with deeper squats and increasing load. 2 But what about the glutes? There are tons of Instagram posts telling women to squat deep to build up a bigger booty. For years a 2002 study was quoted as proof that there is greater glute activation in a full depth squat, the issue with that study is the fact that the same absolute load was used to test the partial, parallel, and full squat.3 Clearly the half squat is much easier to handle heavier loads so in that study it was essentially comparing a higher intensity as well as greater depth and thus failed to isolate the variable we’re concerned with…depth. Fortunately, Contreras and his team investigated EMG activity in the front, full, and parallel squats using relative loads (an estimated 10RM for each squat variation) and found EMG activity in the glutes to be quite similar between the parallel and full squat when relative loads were utilized 4 The reality is if you’re really concerned about glute hypertrophy you should be doing exercises that are able to focus primarily on hip extension such as the barbell hip thrust.5
If you weren’t sold on the size/strength gains in the full-depth squat, the full depth squat has transfer over to athletic endeavors such as jumping.6 This is an interesting finding given as it’s a contradiction to Zatsiorsky & Kraemer (authors of Science and Practice of Strength Training), who recommend athletes utilize a similar range of motion as they use in their sport ie. volleyball players practicing half squats to aid in jump performance.
Another benefit to consider from the full squat is the safety profile of the lift. Compared to to the deep squat, partial squats utilize a limited range of motion and require significantly greater loads. When the absolute load and range of motion are considered, partial squats cause greater compressive forces at the knee. Despite what your neighborhood gym bro may claim, there is in fact extensive evidence indicating that deep squats are safe on both the knees and back.7 Lastly, don’t be discouraged by the drop in bar weight in the full depth squat….after all, just look at the weightlifting community. As a whole, weightlifters are excellent squatters and in many cases out squat powerlifters despite utilizing a greater range of motion. If you’re not used to squatting with full-depth it will likely require an ego check but with patience the gains will come.
Here’s weightlifter Ivan Stoitsov (77kg), casually taking 295kg (650lbs) for a ride. For reference the powerlifting 75kg class world record squat is 277kg or 610lbs.
In many respects the full-depth squat is awesome, but it’s not without it’s pitfalls. The primary issue with the full-depth squat is that they aren’t safe for everyone. By definition the full-depth squat requires the lifter to go “ATG” and as a result this tends to expose an individual’s mobility limitations. When approaching full depth there are high demands at the hips and ankles8. When an individual with any combination of mobility limitations approaches parallel and below these mobility limitations often get manifest by the pelvis tucking underneath (posterior pelvic tilt) causing the low back to go into flexion…the dreaded “butt wink”.
In closing, the full-depth squat is an excellent exercise with numerous benefits. Clearly, it can be a double-edged sword with the potential for injury if it leads to a substantial amount of lumbar flexion — if you’re interested to learn what you can do to squat deeper and minimize butt wink be sure to check out part 2 of this article coming out in the next week.
References [ + ]
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|2.||↵||Bryanton M a., Kennedy MD, Carey JP, Chiu LZF. Effect of Squat Depth and Barbell|
Load on Relative Muscular Effort in Squatting. J Strength Cond Res. 2012;26(10):2820-2828.
|3.||↵||Caterisano A, Moss RF, Pellinger TK, et al. The effect of back squat depth on the EMG activity of 4 superficial hip and thigh muscles. J Strength Cond Res. 2002;16(3):428-432.|
|4.||↵||Contreras B, Vigotsky AD, Schoenfeld BJ, Beardsley C, Cronin J. A Comparison of Gluteus Maximus, Biceps Femoris, and Vastus Lateralis EMG Amplitude in the Parallel, Full, and Front Squat Variations in Resistance Trained Females. J Appl Biomech. 2015;31(6):452-458.|
|5.||↵||Contreras B, Vigotsky AD, Schoenfeld BJ, Beardsley C, Cronin J. A Comparison of Gluteus Maximus, Biceps Femoris, and Vastus Lateralis Electromyographic Activity in the Back Squat and Barbell Hip Thrust Exercises. J Appl Biomech. 2015;31(6):452-458.|
|6.||↵||Hartmann H, Wirth K, Klusemann M, Dalic J, Matuschek C, Schmidtbleicher D. Influence of squatting depth on jumping performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2012;26(12):1|
|7.||↵||Hartmann H, Wirth K, Klusemann M. Analysis of the load on the knee joint and vertebral column with changes in squatting depth and weight load. Sports Medicine. 2013;43(10):993-1008.|
|8.||↵||Kim S, Kwon O, Park K, Jeon I, Weon J. Lower extremity strength and the range of motion in relation to squat depth. Journal of Human Kinetics. 2015;45(1):59-69.|
|9.||↵||McGill SM. The biomechanics of low back injury: Implications on current practice in industry and the clinic. Journal of biomechanics. 1997;30(5):465-75.|