Shari Duncan

The PERFECT Squat: How low should you go?

by on May.10, 2010, under Fitness, Natural Bodybuilding

Squatting below parallel is not bad for your knees….should I say again?

Okay…. squatting below parallel is not bad for your knees. This is a myth you probably have heard a lot. Some will advise you to do Partial Squats, staying above parallel, to avoid knee injury. This is wrong information. Wrong. If your knees hurt when you squat, it is more likely due to poor form… read on.

Among various sports (Power lifting, bodybuilding etc) and among online forums and across gyms, there are vast differences of opinion over this question.  Those with the loudest voices are often those at opposite ends of the spectrum: from the” ass-to-grass activist” to the squatting-below-parallel-is-bad-for-your-knees believer. In reality, most people will be able to reach a squat depth somewhere between the two extremes.

The simplest lesson to bear in mind is that you should squat as low as you can with good form. This means your back is flat or slightly arched, heels are on the floor, knees are above toes and not collapsing inwards, chest is up and not tipping too far forwards.

Again… Squatting below parallel is NOT bad for your knees. Squatting with improper form is.

A proper squat is to go as low as you can... while maintaining GOOD form throughout the movement

Aim to go as low as you can... while maintaining GOOD form throughout the movement

Your knee joint is strongest in a fully flexed or full extended position, not the positions in-between. Partial Squats (above parallel) only strengthen your knees & quads, not your glutes & hamstrings. This causes muscle imbalances & consequently injuries. The deeper movement balances and engages muscles on either side of the knee and as a result, the forward/backward forces acting on the knee.

Deep squatting is not only difficult and demanding; it is also humbling because much less weight can be moved than in partial squats. A great deal of force (and mental focus and  physical stamina) is required to push up from “the hole” (the bottom of the squat).

So even if you are not there yet, the goal should be to squat below parallel. Keep practicing form, form, form.  Over time, balance, flexibility and technique will improve.  If you find that you have balance issues with a tendency to fall forward, there are many other exercises and training tools that you should consider incorporating into your leg training sessions. One of the best is a variation of the squat known as the GOBLET SQUAT.


This exercise trains your body to remain more upright as you squat down, allowing you to avoid tipping forwards.  goblet squats were invented by Dan John a couple of years ago to teach his student athletes how to squat well and to teach them to squat between the legs, rather than with the upper body stiff at the hip.

Use a moderately heavy dumbbell or kettlebell and hold it in front of you like a goblet. This will force you to keep your chest raised as you squat down.  Lower your body between your legs, with a relatively wide stance. In order to increase your range of motion you will need a weight that is heavy but not too heavy – say, a weight that you can squat 6-10 times without technical failure. If the weight is too light it won’t push your body that little bit further into the stretch. Keep the goblet object close to your chest.  Your elbows should be between your knees at the bottom, not on top or to the side of your knees.

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2 Comments for this entry

  • rr

    Love the Goblet Squat . . . it’s what I kick off every workout with! I was never sure, though, if the idea was to just use the weight as a stabilizer, or if you should really strive to progressively add weight, as you would with most other moves. I’ve been using a 25 pounder for months, and my glutes still get sore!

    Thanks for the post!

  • Shari

    It is a great opening exercise as well as a terrific training tool to help master form. I recommend a moderate to heavy weight to aide in stretching and opening up the hip flexors and with enough resistance to engage the legs while keeping posture in check. For the demonstration clip above, i used g a 45lb dumbbell….and yes, I still get sore too. Thanks for your feedback.

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