What is the "Right" Squat Depth?

What is the "Right" Squat Depth?

Conversations around squat depth in the world of Sports Performance can be a bit controversial. This is due primarily to the fact that many coaches have specific biases towards how they feel the squat should be executed. These biases typically come from the fact that coaches have strength training backgrounds stemming from either Powerlifting or Weightlifting roots. In this article we will define the various squat depths, their role in athletic development and address when it may be appropriate to implement these various depths.

Defining Squat Depths

Before we get into the weeds, I think it’s important to assess and define what constitutes a ¼ Squat, ½ Squat or Full Squat. These definitions are coming from the research we will be referencing throughout this article.

¼ Squat: A squat performed to a 40-60 degree knee angle.

½ Squat: A squat performed to a 70-100 degree knee angle.

Full Squat: A squat performed to a 100 degree knee angle or greater.

             1/4 Squat                          1/2 Squat                          Full Squat

Looking Into The Research

When diving into the literature there is some very compelling evidence supporting the benefits of using ¼ Squats over Full Squats when the goal is to improve an Athlete’s speed and jumping ability. Dr. Matt Rhea is currently the Head of Sport Science of the University of Alabama Football Program and before that he worked at Indiana University, IMG Academy and various NFL Teams. In 2016 he published a research article assessing the role of joint-angle specific strength adaptations and their influence on speed and power. Below is a breakdown of his study:

Methods: 28 college athletes (JC, D3, D2 & D1) were randomly assigned to one of three training groups. The only difference between the three groups was that one group did ¼ Squats, one did ½ Squats and one did Full Squats in the 16-week training program. They measured the Athlete’s improvement in Strength, Vertical Jump and 40-Yard Sprint Pre-Post.

Results: Between the 3 groups the ¼ Squat group had the best transfer/improvement in their Vertical Jump and 40-Yard Sprint compared to the ½ Squat and Full Squat groups.

Table for squat depth
Man running

But What About Deep/Full Squats?

So you now might be thinking to yourself “why would I do Full Squats or what is the benefits of Full Squats?” Full Squats still have a place in an athletic development program and should still be included. Specifically, the use of Full Squats have been found to be a better hypertrophic or muscle building method than partial range of motion squats. They can also support improvements in mobility.

A systematic review conducted in 2020 looked at whether partial or full range of motion exercises were better at building muscle. They found that compared to partial range of motion, full range of motion lower body exercises had a bigger impact on muscle growth. Another benefit to Full Squats is helping increase work capacity (or fitness). Because you’re doing more overall mechanical work going through a full range of motion you’re eliciting a more potent work capacity effect than partial range of motion with the same exercise and weight. Finally, another research study published in 2021 found that strength training is as effective as stretching in improving mobility. So incorporating Full Squats into your program can have a very positive effect on improving your overall lower body flexibility/mobility.

For these three reasons Full Squats can still play a beneficial role and should be included in an athletic development program.

Black man doing drills

When To Program In These Various Squat Depths?

If programmed and implemented appropriately, Strength and Conditioning Coaches can effectively cycle through the use of various squat depths to ultimately maximize the overall athletic development of their athletes. Below is a table to give an example of how you could cycle through the use of all squatting depths in an athlete’s program.

Athletic calendar table

It’s important to remember, at the end of the day we aren’t trying to make the best Powerlifters or Weightlifters but we’re using the squat to improve performance on the field/court. Also, like many things the answer depends on what the athlete needs and their specific goals.

If you’re an athlete looking to elevate your speed, power, strength or mobility. Look no further than EForce Performance!!

Erik Jernstrom

Director of Sports Performance @ EForce




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