how to squat deep: part 1

Being able to squat deep is a very useful skill to develop for an athlete looking to increase their vertical jump. A nice deep squat has a better carry over to your jumping ability, helps improve your knee health, and increase your mobility.

So how do you develop the ability to squat deep? Read on to find out.

The 2 Reasons You Can't Squat Deep

In my experience there are 2 main reasons why someone can't squat deep.

  1. Using too much weight
  2. Lack of mobility/flexibility

Using too much weight

Fixing the first on is easy, just take some weight off the bar. The weakest point of the lift is at the bottom, when you start squatting deep you will have to start with a lighter weight then you have been used to lifting. Don't let your ego get the better of you - which if you have been used to lifting heavy loads for partial squats, can be easier said than done.

Anybody who has trained for a while knows that as the weights get heavy, the squat depth goes up. You need to stop worrying about the weight as much as you are about hitting  good depth.

how to squat deepGoing heavy AND deep: It might take a while to work up to this.

Lack of Mobility or Flexibility

The second issue is a bit more complicated but definitely not insurmountable. The obvious solution to a lack of mobility or flexibility is of course to start doing some more stretching and mobility work both before you lift, and as an ongoing activity to improve your range of movement.

The main areas of tightness that you should focus on with your stretching are the glutes, calves, hips, hamstrings, chest, and shoulders.

Now as much as it has become blasphemous these days to do static stretching before your workout, if it helps free up your movements it is something you should consider. 

The warm up process I recommend is:

  • 5 minutes general warm up. Warming up should be done before all workouts. It is a no brainer. It will help prevent injury, improve performance, and range motion. No need to over think this. Any general cardio usually works. Skipping rope work, light jogging, exercise bike, or a rowing machine are all fine. 
  • 5 minutes mobility work. Deep bodyweight squats, bodyweight lunges, and some foam rolling of the quads, IT bands and thoracic spine.

  • 5 minutes of static stretching. Just go through the circuit of stretches shown in our stretching article. Perform 3 circuits holding each stretch for 10-15 seconds each.

Doing this before your workout will often free up your range of motion significantly and allow you comfortably reach greater depth on your squats.

"If Something is Important, Do it Everyday" - Dan John

If you really want to squat deep it is a good idea to get into the habit of performing simple stretches and bodyweight squats throughout your day. If you performed 25-50 bodyweight squats and lunges every day your ability to hit depth when in the gym will rapidly improve. You don't have to do them all at once, but every hour or so simply bust out a set of 5. Within a few days to a week of doing this you will see some dramatic improvements in not just your squat depth, but if you are really tight and immobile, you will also see your running and jumping getting better too. 

Another simple trick you can do anywhere that will help is to just practice sitting and holding yourself in the deep squat position. If you struggle to hit the deep squat with a barbell on your back it makes perfect sense to start off without one. Periodically throughout the day, just go and get into a deep squat, hold it for 30 seconds, and then get back on with your day.

If you can't hit the deep squat even with just your bodyweight it might be easier to do it by holding onto something to help with your balance. Repeatedly exposing your body to the deep squat position will quickly get your joints and muscles used to it.

Some Quick Thoughts On Mobility Work

Before I go I just wanted to briefly discuss the role of mobility and flexibility work and how it impacts athletic performance. When you train hard, and with great intensity as is required when following a good jump program such as those created as part of our coaching program, you will often find your body responds with tight muscles and stiff joints. This is a natural part of the training process to be sure, and no matter how advanced you are as an athlete, you will experience this from time to time. When your muscles are tight and your joints stiff the effect is impairment of movement.

How much your movements are impaired will depend on the level of soreness but it is important to note that even small changes in movement quality can lead to reduced performance, over compensation by other muscle groups, increased chance of injury, and higher levels of joint wear and tear. As an athlete your goal is to ensure that your movements are as uninhibited as possible in order to reduce the likelihood of those things happening. And that is where mobility and flexibility work comes in.

Unfortunately this is an area that most athletes overlook as part of their training and as a result their training is often hindered by various injuries, some small, some big. It is my belief that regular stretching and mobility work can go a long way towards prevention of many injuries such as Jumpers Knee, lower back pain, shoulder impingemens and so on.

Being able to squat deep is in fact a form of mobility work in itself which is something I have found to be particularly helpful in treating my own issues with Jumpers Knee. It is because you can do this as part of your workout as opposed to another time (most likely being never - not many people actually have the discipline to stretch outside of the gym) that I rate deep squatting so highly as a good habit for jumping athletes to get into.

conclusion

Learning how to squat deep isn't really that complicated but if it is a mobility issue that is holding you back then it might take a little bit of time and effort to develop a good enough range of motion to do so. However it is something that you as an athlete should definitely look at doing as the benefits in performance and long term joint health will outweigh the initial reductions in the amount of weight you can handle.

Also you might have noticed that this article is titled 'How to Squat Deep Part 1'. While the weight reduction and mobility advice is the most prudent way to approach the issue of increasing squat depth there are another couple of things you can try that I am going to cover in my part 2.

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