Posted February 13, 2017

3 Simple Squat Depth Solutions

Squat depth seems to be the Holy Grail for many lifters. Apparently, everyone has to squat until their tailbones are scraping along the floor or life will not give them white lights and their friends will point and laugh, and likely their significant other will leave them. I mean, it is Valentine’s Day after all, but if you can’t get white lights, that’s a big deal breaker to many.


It’s not surprising. Squat depth discrepancy is listed as the number 3 reason for marriages to end, right behind finances and both being highly paid ultra-assassins without the other knowing about it.

Because of this grave challenge to relationships during this the gratuitous gift happiest day of a couple’s year, I wanted to do my best to ensure everyone’s happy and not getting all broken up after your next leg day by giving you a couple of quick and easy ways to get some extra drop on those squats, and this way when you dip it low and pick it up slow, she’s gonna say “Oh!”

#1: Wear Lifting Shoes

I know, it’s incredibly simple, and that’s the point. Olympic lifting shoes provide a number of benefits to hitting depth, the most common one being a pass-by for ankle mobility. If you are at all limited in ankle dorsiflexion, a deep squat can be troubling, so using a slight heel lift provided by the shoes can help reduce the required dorsiflexion needed to hit depth. Is it an ideal situation? No, but neither is listing “I squat high” on your divorce application.

Other benefits of the shoes are they are incredibly solid and stable on the floor, which helps prevent pronation and rolling of the feet during the movement, and gives more stability for balance during the movement. Check out This Article by Eric Cressey for more info on how shoes help squats.

Most lifting shoes will cost between $100-250 US, and they tend to last a long time since they’re pretty solidly built, but also because you’re likely not going to use them for a 5 k run and therefore the mileage you put on them is pretty low.

If you don’t want to purchase specific shoes for lifting, you could always put a small 2.5 or 5 lb plate under each heel to accomplish a similar heel to toe drop. This isn’t recommended for a long term thing as it’s bypassing a potential issue with ankle mobility that should be addressed, especially if you’re looking to crush mad weights, but it’s a quick and simple cheat to get the depth you’re after. If someone had specific ankle limitations, I’d address that first, and then crush some barefoot goblet squats as their training element versus rushing to put a bar on their back, but you have your own reasons for doing the stuff you want to do.

#2: Create Tension at the Bottom of the Movement

A common issue with any kind of squat depth is losing tension at the bottom of the movement and becoming hesitant to push further into the position or losing balance. It’s not uncommon for someone to have the ability to squat very deep while supported with some sort of control measure, but then not even get within sight of that point on their own without that same support.

This supported manner of squatting is great for learning the position you’re able to achieve, and also to reinforce and wake up the potential to get into that end range. Once you can get there supported, you have to be able to exist there in an unsupported state without falling on your butt.

In order to go from supported to unsupported, you have to use some sort of tension and shift your weight to find a point of balance so that you can maintain that depth without falling over, and once you can manage that, using some higher threshold tension strategies can help you become more comfortable in that position, which is especially important if you’re going to look to take a barbell for a ride with a significant amount of weight.

One way to get this kind of tension is to actively pull down into the bottom of the squat using your abs, hip flexors and hamstrings, and then work on creating some external rotation from the hips to make your glutes hate your face during the process. If you want to use your elbows to push your knees out during this movement to essentially pry those clamshell hips you can totally give that a go.


#3: Pause Squats to Own The Position

I use pause squats a lot in my own training as a means of warming up, finding range of motion, and getting comfortable at the bottom of my squat, which helps a lot for a self audit, plus also makes me look pretty bad ass on Instagram.


Using a pause squat with a light weight (the bar for instance), and progressing up through some increasing weights towards your working sets can help you become more comfortable with your full depth before tossing around more plates than a dishwasher at Dennys. If you can hit full depth at say 135 but don’t repeat that depth at 225, you’re not ready to lift 225 yet. Work with a weight you can manage for the depth you’re able to hit and control before adding more. If you need 2 or 3 wheels to be able to hit depth due to the weight pushing you down, either you’re lifting in a 3-ply squat suit, or you really need to work on developing your mobility more before loading weight on top of that issue.

A big consideration with a pause squat is being able to maintain spinal position and not round under into a butt wink (rounded lumbar) position. The goal is to max out the hips range of motion and get comfortable there, not to see how far you can hinge your L3-4 into flexion before it taps out. Also, think about your weight balance on your feet and make sure you feel like you have equal weight on each foot, and also dispersed front to back. In other words, try to get solid and stable. Hold a paused position for anywhere from 5 seconds up to what ever the hell Greg Nuckols is doing here:

So there’s 3 simple fixes to help you hit some squat depth: fix your feet and shoes, build some tension at the bottom position, and crush out some pause squats to build into the working sets. Simple and quick, and hopefully they add a few inches to your depth and help you keep your significant other from memeing you into oblivion.