One of the most controversial topics in the fitness industry is 'Squat Depth.' You will hear from many people that it's 'bad' to squat deep or 'dangerous.' Often many people will say you should only go to 90 degrees and no further. Yet if you're someone who attends the gym regularly you will see people who go all the way to the floor and others who barely bend their knees at all! So, what is right? Or is there even a correct depth?
So where should we start? Well, one of the biggest fears is that squatting 'deep' places large amounts of forces through your knees. In particular many people fear rupturing their ACL, but did you know that the deeper you squat, the less force there is going through your ACL? Forces in your ACL peak just before 90 degrees and then slowly drop off as you go deeper.
However, for your meniscus, patellofemoral joint and patella tendon, forces and load increases as your squat depth increases. However, there is no evidence currently suggesting that squatting deep will cause injury to these areas. If you are someone who has an existing injury in this area, than it may be a good idea to limit your range to avoid aggravating your currently injury and progress your depth as tolerable.
Next we should look at the hip. A common complaint is a sharp pinch in your hip whilst squatting. Generally the deeper you go with your squat the worse it can get! Commonly people may have abnormalities or an 'impingement' at their hip. If this is the case it may be worth getting a physio to check your hip and limit your squat depth until you have been assessed. However, an alternative to a regular 'Back Squat,' could be performing 'Front Squats' which will help to reduce the load going through the hip and thus reduce the pinching at the front of the hip.
Another common misconception is that performing squats can cause lower back pain and going deeper is bad for your back. Squatting deep can result in a posterior pelvic tilt and this is called 'buttwink' when this happens, the load through your lumbar spine increases as the back rounds. This can cause some discomfort through the lumbar spine. It is recommended that if you are 'rounding' your lumbar spine in your squats that you practice trying to maintain your pelvis position and slowly progress the depth of your squats as you become better at this.
So, is there an optimal depth?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. Are deep squats bad for you? Again, the answer is no, the specifics for your depth are all dependent on you! Anatomy is something that also plays a significant role and anatomically we are all very different. So, Unless you are a bodybuilder or recovering from an injury, the reality is your squat depth doesn't really matter and you should just do what is comfortable for you!
If you are having trouble with squats, don't hesitate to pop into the clinic and get it assessed by our physiotherapists!