What Is A Squat Below Parallel
A squat below parallel is when your hip crease is below your knee, also known as ass to grass or ATG’s for short.
There is a lot of different opinions on how effective squats are that aren’t below parallel.
some people will tell you that you need to go below parallel, others will say that you never have to squat below parallel.
This article is going to explain the benefits of squatting below parallel and also show you how to correctly perform this move.
What Is Considered A Parallel Squat
A parallel squat is simply a below parallel squat that ends before the hips touch the calves.
A true parallel squat is where you lower your hips until the top of your thighs are parallel with the floor.
How To Correctly Perform A Below Parallel Squat.
Using the correct form during a squat is imperative due to the amount of weight you’ll be using.
If your form is wrong you can cause serious issues to your knees, and back, you want to avoid partial squats where you reverse motion halfway down, this causes stress on your knee joints.
You want to squat down until your hips are lower than your knees, while your knees are pushed out aligned with your feet. Making sure to keep your back straight and never rounded.
Here are step by step instructions to perform a below parallel squat with a barbell.
- Your starting position will be with the barbell supported on top of your shoulders. Your chest should be up and your head facing straight ahead. Your stance should be hip-width with your feet turned out comfortably.
- Lower yourself by dropping your knees instead of moving your hips back. When your knees move forward keep make sure they stay aligned with your feet. Your main goal is to keep your torso as straight and upright as possible.
- Keep moving down in a controlled manner until your upper legs touch your lower legs, make sure to keep the weight on the front of the heel. Once your all the way down, reverse the motion and push yourself back up to the starting position.
Is It Bad To Squat Below Parallel
Just as long as you are healthy enough to perform the move and are using proper technique there aren’t any negative reasons to not squat below parallel.
Squatting deeper requires the posterior chain (calves, glutes, and hamstrings) muscles to work harder giving you a well rounded more intense workout.
Squatting to full depth also stretches your muscles out more and targets them more effectively than just doing a parallel squat.
Is Squatting Below Parallel Bad For Your Knees
Squats are only bad for your knees if you’re using the wrong technique, or if you’re reversing the motion too soon, this is what I mean by that.
Your knees are protected by 4 separate ligaments, these are the (MCI, ACL, LCL, and the PCL) These ligaments are able to best do their job when they are at full flexion, and full extension.
When you’re standing still would be considered a full-extension, when you’re crouched down and your hips are below your knees would be considered full flexion.
knee problems can happen when you’re reversing the motion of the squat halfway due to this being the worse position for your knee ligaments to do their job.
If you do a parallel squat and start to push the weight back up when your at a 90-degree position you’re actually right in the middle of full flexion, and extension. this is the weakest part of the knees protection and you can do serious damage this way.
The other problem is that when people squat at parallel or above they’re able to use more weight since they’re not going as low, but this is asking your knee joints to do even more.
As it turns out, you can see why this is the worse possible spot to reverse the squatting motion.
Should You Break Parallel When Squatting
Squatting to parallel or quarter squats over time will lead to muscle imbalances in the hips and knees, increasing the risk for chronic pain and injury.
This is ironic since pain and injury are the main reasons people will tell you not to squat below parallel, but this isn’t true, there are many benefits that come from doing ass to grass squats.
Next time you’re around an infant watch them pick something up, and you’ll witness the perfect form of a low squat. That’s because it is a natural human movement that has become mired in ignorance, and laziness.
Benefits Of Squatting Below Parallel
You’ll get used to going low
The lowest part of a squat is called the “hole” and the only way to get comfortable squatting as low as you can with a heavy amount of weight on your shoulders is to actually do it. This also allows you to increase your power production from driving out of the hole.
You’ll generate more power
When you go below parallel your muscles are stretched causing tension which will build up endurance and strength. Especially the muscles in the posterior chain like your calves, hamstrings, and glutes. This will also help you if you’re active in other sports. Strengthening the muscles you target during a below parallel squat will help your vertical jump, sprint time, and jumping.
Increase leg strength
The squat is the most effective compound move you can have in your fitness routine. During the move your knees, hips, and ankles are utilized, as a result, your calves, hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps, hip adductors, erector spinae, and abdominals are targeted. Even your traps get into the move by helping you stabilize the bar when more muscles are activated your body produces more HGH (human growth hormone), and testosterone, the two most fundamental hormones for your body to build muscle.
Also the more stress a muscle is put under and the amount of time the stress lasts will determine the amount of muscle fiber used and will increase the amount of hypertrophy and strength you’ll achieve.
Helps strengthen the back
During a squat, you’re working multiple muscle groups including those of the paraspinal muscles like the erector spinae, and the rectus femoris. When you strengthen these muscles along with your glutes it aids in increased balance, posture, and will help eliminate hamstring injuries.
One of the main reasons I hear my clients say they don’t do below parallel squats is that they have a hard time getting low enough to properly execute the move. This is because they don’t have the flexibility in their hips, ankles, and hamstrings to get below parallel.
This leads to them doing parallel, or above parallel squats and never focusing on the actual problem and becoming more flexible.
If you lack the flexibility, lighten the weight on the bar, or just use the bar at first to help you get comfortable with the technique, and start to break parallel to start stretching your muscles so that you’ll have an easier time in the future.
Less stress on your bones and back
Another reason deep squats aren’t as bad for you is that you need to lighten the amount of weight on the bar to properly perform them.
When you’re doing half or quarter squats your range of motion is much smaller making it possible to lift much heavier weights, but this isn’t always healthy fOr your bones and back.
Below parallel squats are doubling or tripling the range of motion making it impossible to still use such heavyweights allowing you to give your body a break from such stresses.
Better for your knees and ankles
You may laugh at this, but it’s actually true. When there is contact between the thigh back and the calf which leads to higher stability in your knees.
Going from full extension (standing up) to full flexion (kneeling down) you are going through the full range of motion for your knee which will build and strengthen the muscles and ligaments surrounding your knees making them stronger, more flexible and durable.
Discipline is like anything else in life, the more you do it the easier it gets.
The easiest way to increase your discipline is to force yourself to do hard things even when you don’t want too. Squats are hard, and when you force yourself to do things that you don’t want to do you’ll also start to train your brain.
This will make it easier to push yourself on days when you don’t feel as motivated.
Improves your balance
Everyone knows that squatting trains your leg muscles, but it also trains your core stabilizing muscles which help your body maintain a healthy balance.
Compound exercises also help your brain and muscles communicate better due to how multiple muscle groups are being used to lift heavy loads making the need for your body needs to try even harder to prevent you from falling.
Strengthens your joints
The great thing about squats is that they mimic a motion that everyone does on a daily basis.
Anytime you pick something up, or bend over you’re technically squatting.
Below parallel squats will allow for additional strength and muscle to be built which will help strengthen and support your joints.
This is especially helpful for people that are older or if you’re experiencing symptoms from arthritis.
They increase your explosiveness
By strengthening your upper and lower body below parallel squats increase your explosive power. This is especially helpful for people that play sports and would benefit from the ability to take-off faster, move quicker, and jump higher.
Anyone that plays tennis, football, basketball, track and field, and so on would love to become better at any of these attributes.
Strengthens your bones
Anytime you perform an exercise that makes your muscles challenge gravity it puts pressure on your bones, this tells your body that it needs to adapt to these stresses.
Your body does this by producing extra tissues that will produce stronger higher density bones.
Even walking up steps will help strengthen your bones so just imagine what compound moves like squats will do for you.
Increases your endurance
This is always important if you want to work out at a high intensity for an extended period of time.
Muscular endurance will give you the option to physically push yourself for extended periods of time.
If you have a physical job or play athletic sports where increased levels of exhaustion are a normal occurrence then it would benefit you to increase your endurance to make it easier to perform your job or sport.
Compound moves require multiple muscle groups to perform each move when each one of these muscle groups becomes fatigued the body’s response is to make the heart pump faster in order to supply your muscles with oxygenated blood.
The increased heart rate will use up higher amounts of energy making your body burn more calories to make up for it.
Why You Can’t Squat Below Parallel
If you’re just starting to try to squat and are wondering why you’re having a hard time squatting below parallel there are a few main reasons why.
- Hip flexibility
- Ankle flexibility
- Lack of strength
Hip Weakness Or Inflexibility
If you feel tightness in your hip flexors while doing squats then this is the area you need to try and fix to be able to squat lower.
Watch these videos to learn the varying ways to loosen your hips, and relieve any pain that may be preventing you from performing a squat.
Ankle Tightness Or Pre-existing injury
If you have a hard time keeping your feet flat while performing a squat then your ankle flexibility needs to be worked on.
Making your ankles more flexible is hard and long process, but with patience you’ll be able to squat below parallel before you know it.
If you have any pre-existing injuries to your ankle or Achilles it can be even harder to improve your flexibility, plus you may want to check with your Dr to make sure that you can’t do any further damage depending on the extent of your injuries.
If your ankle flexibility is lacking and you don’t have any pre-existing injuries watch the video below.
If you have had or are now experiencing an ankle injury watch the video below on how to strengthen and loosen your ankle.
Lack Of Strength
If you don’t have any flexibility issues, yet find yourself having a difficult time performing a squat below parallel it could be as simple as you’re not strong enough yet to finish the move.
This leaves you with a couple of options…
Do the move using an empty bar or even a PVC pipe. This will allow you to get used to the mechanics, but alleviate the stress of bearing so much weight right away.
The other option is to just use your body weight and perform the squat over a box so that you know you’ve gone low enough, this will get you used to going deep and help your muscle memory.
Watch the video below for a tutorial.
Squats are one of the most effective, and beneficial exercises you can do, but you need to make sure you’re doing them correctly for safety reasons and to make sure you’re going to reach the goals you strive for.
Performing below parallel squats will add a dimension to your fitness routine that will benefit you in many ways.