How to do a Full Squat

Many strength coaches like myself preach quality over quantity. It’s not how much you do, but how you do it! Squats are no exception.

When it comes to squats, a full range of motion with less weight will often trump a partial range of motion with more weight. Keep in mind that work equals force times distance – you can increase the amount of work performed by going a greater distance. Those that full squat on a regular basis will always be able to do half squats with a decent weight, but the opposite is not true, and as Tom Platz used to say: “Half squats equals half legs!”

What is a full squat?

To perform a full squat, bend the knees first (not the hips), make sure the knees track over the middle toes (and yes, it’s okay for the knees to pass the toes), keep the back flat and the trunk as upright/vertical as possible, and go down deep. How deep? Think: “ass to grass… butt to heels… hamstrings draping calves… and leave a stain on the floor.” That deep!

This is what it should look like:

Go Light to go Deep

Everyone should be able to do a full squat, right? Well, not everyone has the appropriate anatomical structure to do a full squat. At least, that’s what we’re told. If you’re one of those unfortunate souls, I have some good news for you.

Surprisingly when a light load is used, like a broomstick or dowel rod, a full range of motion can often be achieved. And if it’s still a challenge, try using a slightly wider stance (i.e., just outside of shoulder-width and toed out a bit) with the arms outstretched in front of you, then give it a shot.

Go ahead, try it… I’ll wait.

I bet you went pretty deep! At least, deeper than you thought you could.

So the issue is not flexibility but rather strength. It’s not that you can’t get down into a full squat position, you just can’t get up from it! Of course, addressing any tight muscles that are involved in the squat can certainly help (see page 65 of The Elite Trainer), but strengthening from the “bottom up” is the key and to do that, you have to go light.

The “Bottom” Line

If you can only do quarter or half squats with a loaded bar on your back, try using an empty bar or even a dowel rod and see what happens. You may be able to go all the way down. If that’s the case, start from there and work your way up, so to speak. For athletes, here’s a great squat progression from Alan Bishop that you can implement.

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