"I can't squat that low! It will kill my knees."
"I can't get down there, I have bad knees."
"If I squat that low I'll never get back up!"
Every trainer, including myself, has heard one or all of these statements at some time during their personal training career. Could this be true though? Is squatting "Low" bad for your knees?
Let's look at it.
We know that we should move with full range of motion on all movements. This means that when squatting, the crease in our hip should be below the top of our knee. I know some of you are already thinking "Impossible! He's crazy, this can't be good for me."
What ends up happing when people don't squat with full range of motion is that they perform their squats anyway, but with an extremely shallow movement and poor form.
We hear things like "If I squat halfway down it doesn't seem to hurt as bad." Maybe not at that exact moment, but the long term damage that shallow or improper squats create is something to take note of.
The ACL and the PCL are the two ligaments that stabilize your knee. As you lower yourself into the proper squat position, the stress on these ligaments gradually decreases as you go lower. At the same time, the stress on your knee cartilage begins to increase. Our bodies are designed to be able to take a great deal of stress on our cartilage, our ACL and PCL however are not. This is one reason why ACL injuries are so common in sports.
When squatting lower with full range of motion, we place far less stress on our ligaments and knees. Squatting to the proper depth also allows us to use the larger muscles of the hamstrings and glutes, which was probably your intention all along. Let's be honest, no one goes to the gym and says "I really want to put a ton of stress on my knees today...I think I'll do some squats!"
On the flip side, the position we end up in with shallow squats puts maximum stress and tension on the ligaments and the knee itself rather than the proper muscles in the lower body and legs.
To sum up, using full range of motion on squats is not only more beneficial for you, it is safer.
If your squat form is bad, don't get discouraged. Start off slow and squat a little lower each week until you can comfortably reach proper depth with full range of motion.
On a side note, mobility may be preventing you from squatting with full range of motion. Be sure to warm up and stretch the hips, calves and ankles as these are commonly tight areas in most people.
Now go squat!
Sean Archulet: firstname.lastname@example.org