How deep should you squat is a question that perplexes a lot of athletes and to be honest, I am not surprised. After all it when it comes to the best squat depth there are plenty of questions with more than one answer.
1) Quarter or half squat has a much closer range of motion to an actual jump so it makes sense to just quarter and half squat right? Yes and no.
2) Squatting is primarily a strength builder and so we should be less worried about matching the exact range of motion of a jump and more worried about building strength in the quads and glutes, and as such a parallel squat is going to work fine? Again, yes and no.
3) What about Olympic weightlifters who squat very deep and they have tremendously developed quads and glutes and many can jump really high too so shouldn't we all be squatting as deep as possible in order to get the full benefits from our efforts? You guessed it, yes and no.
In this article I am going to briefly discuss the pros and cons of each depth of squat and talk about when and who should use each.
For simplicity sake I will refer to quarter and half squats as partial squats as I don't want to get too caught up into what is a half and what is a quarter squat. The point is anything where the tops of your quads are clearly above parallel to the floor, is considered a partial squat, and most athletes when doing partials will use a similar angle to the one shown below.
A partial squat does more closely resemble the range of motion (ROM) used in an actual jump and as such it can be a good choice if you want to focus on just strengthening that specific range. With a shorter range of motion a partial squat allows for much heavier loads to be used compared to what can be lifted on a full squat.
Due to the lesser involvement of the hamstrings (and glutes) in partial squats there tends to be much greater shearing forces on the knees. When this is combined with the heavier weights it can be troublesome for a jumping athlete unless appropriate volumes and loads are used.
Parallel squatting is as the name suggests, squatting down until the tops of your quads are parallel or ever so slightly above parallel to the ground.
Compared to deep squats, flexibility and mobility issues are less of a concern for when using parallel squats. Most athletes can squat to parallel with good form without having to go through an extensive learning curve.
The parallel depth provides a good mix of muscular involvement and load capacity. The depth is sufficient to get plenty of muscles involved but also not so deep that it drastically reduces the amount of weight you can lift.
Less glute involvement than deep squats. Even though the ROM is better than a partial squat it still isn't as good as the deep squat and as such glute recruitment is still less than that of a deep squat.
Also known as Olympic squats or Ass to the Grass (ATG) squats, deep squats are a different beast yet again.
A recent study on squat depth and jumping performance concluded that deeper squats have a better carry over to vertical jump performance than other squat depths. This is mostly due to the higher levels of glute and (to a lesser extent) hamstring recruitment leading to better overall strength development.
However greater strength development isn't the only benefit. Deep squats when performed with appropriate loads and good form also reduce sheering forces on the knees and help develop better joint integrity. The reduced loading of the bar that deep squats require also tends to help reduce the likelihood of an athlete hurting their knees.
Lastly it has been found that deep squats also tend to lend themselves to better post-activity potentiation effects. This means if you are using squats as part of a complex (using a heavy compound lift followed by an unloaded plyometric/jumping exercise) the deep squats will produce greater levels of muscle activation which will aid with the proceeding jumping drill.
Many athletes simply do not possess sufficient mobility/flexibility to perform a full deep squat with safe technique. What usually happens is that the deeper they tend to excessively lean forward and lose the arch in their back which compromises the safety of the lift.
The extra range of motion will also reduce the amount of load you can use on the bar which initially slow strength gains and sap motivation.
For a long time I have advocated here at verticaljumping.com the idea that a parallel squat is sufficient depth for jumping athletes to aim for as it provides a nice mix of muscle recruitment and safety on the joints. However in the face of more recent scientific studies and my own coaching and training experiments I believe that in the long run it is full deep squats that will provide the best results for increasing athleticism and vertical jump.
The problem is that most athletes when they are starting out lack the required mobility and flexibility as well as muscular control to safely perform full squats. In light of this I still recommend that most athletes start with parallel squatting, but they should also be taking the necessary steps to gradually work their way down to a full, deep squat.
So what about partial squats? When should you use them in your jump training? While I am tempted to say never due to potential knee risk and the often lower results, that wouldn't technically be the best answer. Partials are used by strength coaches with jumping athletes all around the world. The main group who will benefit the most from these are advanced athletes who have enough training knowledge and experience to understand the specific nature of their use, as well as how to manage load and volume properly in the context of their own custom jumping program.
For many younger athletes who want to learn how to jump higher and who lack basic strength, working on their squat is one of the quickest ways they can improve their vertical jump. There have been many studies over the years that show a strong correlation to improvements in squat strength and vertical jump performance.
If you are unsure how to put together a decent strength program that is integrated with the principles of power development (jumping is a power movement, not a strength movement. Just getting your squat up will probably help your jump initially but you need to know how to effectively incorporate more explosive movements into your workouts too) then you would do well to have a look at our very affordable vertical jump program.
We provide custom vertical jump programs complete with exercises, sets, reps, rest, and something no other program includes - appropriate WEIGHTS for any strength exercises you might need to do. It also comes with full coaching assistance as part of the purchase price.
To find out more visit http://www.verticaljumping.com/vertical_jump_coaching.html
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