All too often we are taught to limit our squatting to just below parallel rather than perform full ‘arse to grass’ squats, because it is a ‘safer alternative’. The main argument being that a full squat places a lot more stress on our knees and ligaments.
While from a static anatomical standpoint, this argument is seemingly true, our body actually behaves different in a dynamic movement under load. For example, supporting structures like cartilage and ligaments work to dissipate the intensification of stress on joints. On sensing the increased load, stretch receptor cells in the joint alert the brain to increase the muscular and ligamentous stability in and around the joint capsule, thus preventing injury.
There are circumstances a full squat would not be initially advised, such as for individuals with disintegrated or damaged knee cartilage, post knee operation patients, or individuals with disc bulges or spinal issues. In the majority of clients with knee issues though, it is ironically their years of half squatting, poor technique and the lack of full squatting that forms the root of their problem.
So, if a full Range Of Motion (ROM) squat is not bad for us, what exactly are the advantages of performing such an exercise?
- Recent research has shown that full ROM squats help to strengthen the ligaments around the knees, and maintain the capsule integrity.
- Squatting through a full range of motion helps to minimise imbalances of the quadriceps muscles by forcing the muscles to work through the lower half of its movement capacity, as well as reduce imbalances between the quadriceps and hamstrings.
- It encourages optimal muscle recruitment and activation over a larger range of motion, leading to better quadriceps development.
- Deep squatting helps to activate the lower fibers of the Vastus Medialis Oblique (VMO), which serve a critical purpose of stabilizing the knee during movements like running and jumping.
- Full squatting is an instinctive movement pattern of the body, like walking or breathing. For example, perfect squatting techniques are best observed in children, who perform the exercise with ease and without instruction.
- It can help to eliminate knee pain caused by patella-femoral tracking syndrome which ironically can be caused by muscular imbalances and tight iliotibial band as a result of partial squatting.