Last updated on October 30th, 2022 at 04:58 pm
Have you ever wondered, “How to Tell if You’re Squatting Low Enough?”
As fantastic an exercise as barbell squats are, they are often one of the most butchered exercises in the gym.
Basically, we all know that we should be squatting, but this doesn’t mean that we’re capable of doing so with great form.
That being said, one of the main worries with squatting is whether you’re actually going low enough.
Plus, this can be pretty much impossible to tell simply through “feel”.
So, what exactly should you be doing to ensure that you are squatting deep enough?
Allow me to reveal all.
How to Tell if You’re Squatting Low Enough?
In truth, there is no ideal squat depth, but rather what your own body mechanics allow for. So, while some people can squat ass-to-grass, others can barely hit parallel. However, if you wish to check your squat depth in the gym you can ask someone else to watch you, better still have them video you, or as a last resort use mirrors to check. That being said, using the box squat is a fantastic way to improve squat depth, while working your posterior chain, and bettering your overall squat mechanics.
There is No “Ideal” Squat Depth
Firstly, I think it’s extremely important to state that there is no ideal squat depth.
No doubt you’ve heard various form cues over the years when it comes to squatting.
And unfortunately, many people will categorically state that if you aren’t hitting these cues then your squat form is poor.
Realistically, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to how low you should be squatting.
In fact, there is generally only one perfect way of squatting for you and your body.
Therefore, squat depth is definitely an individual thing.
So, while squatting ass-to-grass is potentially seen as the “ideal squat depth”, if your individual body mechanics doesn’t allow for this, then don’t force it.
In other words, some people could be more than capable of brushing their calves with their glutes when they squat, whereas someone else can just about hit parallel.
Both squats are perfectly fine, as long as you know that is what your body is capable of achieving.
Now obviously, we are able to improve our squat mobility, which of course should help you to squat lower.
However, this should be a natural progression, and perhaps not something that you’ll achieve immediately.
In effect, this would mean that you need to work on factors such as opening up your hips, stretching your hamstrings and hip flexors, as well as working on your overall lower body flexibility.
But, for now, if you’re only able to hit parallel, that’s fine, so don’t allow anyone to tell you otherwise.
Options to Check Squat Depth
Okay, so hopefully we’ve established there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to how low you should squat.
That being said, you’ll typically always want to aim for at least parallel.
Then again, following the basic powerlifting rules, you may wish to ensure that the crease of your hip is below knee level.
However, as I’ve said, this all comes down to your individual body mechanics.
So, the easiest ways to tell if you’re squatting low enough (for you) are:
Ask Other People
Never be afraid to ask other people in the gym for a hand, or even to do something as simple as watch you squat (or perform any exercise for that matter).
There’s often a fear factor in the gym about disturbing others, what they’ll think of you, or simply the fact that you might get rejected.
Personally, I say get over it, as in my experience pretty much everyone in the gym is willing to help.
Okay, you’ll get the occasional idiot, but this is true in any walk of life.
Plus, there’s something about asking someone to watch you squat, gauge your depth and technique, that makes them feel important, i.e. “This guy needs me”.
It’s almost as though you’re thrusting expertise status onto that person.
However, if you do end up speaking to someone who you don’t know, simply ask them to tell you exactly how deep you are squatting.
If you ask them whether you’re squatting deep enough, then we get back into the realms of, “you must squat ass-to-grass”, or something similar.
So, a simple, “Am I hitting parallel or below/” should suffice.
Of course, the easiest way to check your squat depth is to record yourself.
Then again, you could even ask the person watching you if they wouldn’t mind recording you.
This is always going to be your best option, as not only will you get to see your squat depth with your own eyes, you may also pick up on other potential form issues too.
And it’s not like recording yourself is hard to do nowadays, as well are pretty much glued to our smartphones permanently.
I would also suggest that you record yourself from at least two different angles.
Plus, depending on your gym set up, you may even have the opportunity to view yourself through various mirrors.
Okay, I’ve left “using mirrors” till last, as I’m not a fan, even though some people may say that this is the best way to view your squat depth.
The reason I don’t like this option is because you’ll never be able to see yourself in a mirror from the right angle.
Basically, you only have a choice of directly in front of you or to the side.
Firstly, there will need to be a mirror already in front of the squat rack, so if there isn’t there’s not a lot you can do.
Secondly, from a front on view it’s pretty much impossible to see your exact squat depth.
You may feel you’ve gone low enough, then again, you may think that you’re hardly hitting parallel, but in reality you just can’t tell.
The only other option is to view yourself from the side, but this is something I hate seeing people do.
In effect, your spine will become slightly misaligned because your head and neck are turned to the side.
This is definitely something that you don’t want to be doing with a heavy load on your back.
I see no problem with catching a quick glance, but I still think it’s fraught with danger.
Personally, I would rather have everything completely tight and on-point, in terms of form, when I’m doing the barbell back squat.
Try the Box Squat
I personally believe that everyone should box squat every once in a while.
Admittedly, the box squat is harder for most of us than the regular squat, although those who claim it’s easier are probably cheating.
This is generally because those who find it easier are literally bouncing off the box, therefore using momentum to return to the starting position.
Now, when you perform the regular barbell back squat you’ll typically use what’s known as your stretch reflex to return to a standing position.
In effect, it’s much like pulling back on a catapult and then letting go.
However, the whole point of the box squat is to remove the stretch reflex, plus you should always come to a dead-stop on the box, as opposed to bouncing back up.
This immediately activates many of the posterior chain muscles, often those muscles that you should be using during squats, but that you probably don’t.
Furthermore, by using the box squat you can literally train your body to get used to lowering yourself to a certain level.
Then as you’re having to use a wide variety of lower body muscles, especially to bring yourself back into a standing position, you’ll find that the box squat dramatically improves your ability to regular squat.
In effect, you’ve trained yourself to lower yourself to a certain level when you squat.
I also think that when you come to a stop on the box this is the ideal opportunity to check your positioning and overall body mechanics.
You can quickly check that your chest is kept high, your feet and knees are pointing slightly outwards, you have a good shin angle, your spine is aligned correctly, etc.
Basically, box squats will not only help you with squat depth, but they’ll also improve your overall squat mechanics.
So, if you feel your squat depth could do with some work, I would advise you to give box squats a go for a while.
Increase Your Raw Squat With Box Squats
So, I hope you understand that there is no real ideal one-size-fits-all squat depth for everyone.
Therefore, whether you’re squatting low enough is definitely an individual thing.
This mainly comes down to your body mechanics and your overall mobility.
So, while squatting ass-to-grass is easy for one person, someone else may struggle to get to parallel.
There are of course a number of ways in which you can check your squat depth.
Simply asking someone else in the gym, recording yourself, or using mirrors are the way to achieve this.
However, I would also recommend that you practice the box squat, which allows you to always squat to the same depth, while using more of the posterior chain muscles, and improving your overall squat mechanics.
This is the perfect opportunity for you to discover which muscles are worked during squats and where you potentially may feel sore afterwards.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.