Forget everything else and train to achieve your specific goals.
By Raphael Konforti MS, CPT
Visually it’s impressive to squat ass to grass with the plates loaded. Whenever you see someone load up the weight for squats, you can’t help but watch and wonder: “How low will they go?” No one wants to be that guy who puts on tons of weight, barely dips down and then have that moment go viral on the Internet. Whether squats should go below parallel or not is a debate older than low or high intensity cardio. It actually depends a lot on your goals and body. Here’s the truth on whether you should be squatting below parallel.
Squatting Below Parallel
Before thinking about squatting below parallel you need to honestly evaluate if you can squat that low with stability and comfort without using weight. If not, that means you are compressing your joints and connective tissue into positions they can’t naturally move into. On the other hand, if you can squat that way but it takes you 20 minutes of foam rolling and stretching to get there, it isn’t any better. Extended periods of stretching can lengthen the sarcomeres, or muscle fibers, and that's been shown to reduce the amount of force those muscles can produce. So you may squat lower, but you won’t be as strong. The truth is that squatting below parallel exposes you to a much higher risk of injury without a worthwhile increase in benefits.
Squatting To Parallel
Squatting to parallel has long been the standard and for good reason – it’s relatively safe and you can load up a lot of weight. The biggest naysayers to squatting to parallel claim that the smaller range of motion means less muscle activation and thus micro-trauma, which creates the opportunity for recovery and growth. While that does hold clout for most exercises, when it comes to squats, going to parallel is already a substantial range of motion. Going further can lengthen the muscles so much that it takes them out of an optimal length to produce force. Plus, you can load up the bar with significantly more weight to build more strength and muscle.
The Bottom Line
Virtually everyone benefits long term from squatting to parallel – and not below – for working sets. If your focus is to build muscle, look better or get stronger, then parallel squats are for you. The only exceptions are if you’re competing in Olympic weightlifting, CrossFit or a sport that requires you to be strong in a deep squat position.
What you need to remember is that you have your goals. Don’t be swayed by what you see or hear others doing. Your goals, not someone else's, are what matters. You have to remain mentally strong with your exercise choices so that you can reach your physical goals. Squatting to parallel gives you the stimulus you need for your goals without unnecessary risk.