How to improve your squat depth to achieve a full squat range of motion squat
This article will cover the main variables that affect an individual’s ability to achieve a full-depth squat. The main factors to consider are flexibility and mobility, squat technique and individual anthropometrics. Each of these will be explained in detail along with practical applications for improving your squat depth.

How to improve your squat depth to achieve a full squat range of motion

This article will cover the main variables that affect an individual’s ability to achieve a full-depth squat. The main factors to consider are flexibility and mobility, squat technique and individual anthropometrics. Each of these will be explained in detail along with practical applications for improving your squat depth.

As a personal trainer specialising in powerlifting, I bring expertise in addressing these areas both online and in-person. This is an example of the evidence based coaching and training that I provide either face to face in our gym in Taren Point or online.

Learn how to improve your squat depth to achieve a full squat range of motion squat

 

Flexibility and mobility

Full-depth squats require a sufficient range of motion (ROM) at the ankle and hip joints to be performed at full depth. As you descend into the squat, joint rotation occurs at the ankle, knee and hip joints. Limitations at one or more of these joints can be a limiting factor in someone obtaining a full-depth squat.

 
Kim et al. investigated the association between joint ROM and squat depth. Using a combination of male and female subjects, 101 participants had their hip flexion, internal rotation, external rotation, and ankle dorsiflexion ROM measured to see the association between these variables and squat depth. Results found that for males, ankle dorsiflexion accounted for 38.8% of squat depth variance and adding hip flexion ROM increased this to 43.5% (Hip ROM alone accounted for 4.7% of squat depth). For females, ankle dorsiflexion accounted for 23.7% of squat depth variance and adding in dorsiflexor strength increased this to 32.4% [1].

 
Outside of dorsiflexion ROM, it was not stated why male hip flexion ROM contributed to squat depth in males, but ankle dorsiflexion strength contributed to squat depth in females. During squatting, ankle dorsiflexion strength plays a role in maintaining a vertical shin to avoid the knees collapsing inward. It has been reported that decreased strength of the ankles may lead to excessive inward knee collapse (valgus) [2]. The subjects in the study were instructed to body weight squat as deeply as they could with their hands behind the head without internal or external hip rotation. It’s possible that females had relatively weaker ankles than males, and as such, females with weaker ankles could not reach a full-depth squat with the knees collapsing inward. Thus, they stopped to a depth that avoided knee valgus.

If you’re experiencing issues in reaching a full-depth squat, stretching the ankles before squatting may help increase depth. An easy way to assess if the ankles are a limiting factor in your squat is to try squatting with elevated heels by placing something underneath your heels like weights plates or using weight lifting shoes with an elevated heel. If you’re struggling to hit depth without heel elevation but can achieve depth after heel elevation, increasing your ankle ROM will likely improve squat depth. In saying this, there is nothing wrong with using a heel elevation when squatting to hit depth.

Stretching can be done before squatting with a minimal decrease in performance so long as the volume and intensity are not too high [3]. Research suggests that performance impairments from static stretching occur when stretching is held for > the 60s [4] Chaabene et al. suggests that stretch durations between 30-45 seconds do not affect strength [4]. However, potential decreases in performance prior to stretching can be countered by performing dynamic stretching following static stretching [4].

If you’re worried about performance decrements from static stretching, accumulating 5 minutes of static stretching over multiple days per week (1min x 5 times a week) has been shown to chronically improve joint ROM [5]. However, this change in joint ROM may take time. Generally, joint ROM is restored to pre-stretch values within approx. 30 min of stretching [6]. As such, if you’re looking for an instant increase in joint ROM to help with squat depth, stretching is likely best done before squatting. Stretching can be done on other days of the week to help further promote chronic changes in joint ROM.

Lastly, it should be pointed out that strength training in itself results in improvements in joint ROM that are comparable to stretching. A meta-anylsis by Afonso et al. analysed 11 studies and found when comparing only strength training to only static stretching on joint ROM, both methods resulted in improving joint ROM with no differences between groups [7].

How to apply stretching to improve your squat

Practising squatting in itself may result in joint ROM improvements, eventually allowing you to reach squat depth. However, if you have been squatting for quite some time and are not seeing further improvements in flexibility to allow for improved squat depth, adding stretching before squatting may increase squat depth. Individual ROM limitations differ between people, but poor ankle ROM is the most limiting joint ROM factor for achieving squat depth, followed by hip joint ROM.

Flexibility Warm-up Protocol Recommendations

Pre-squatting

  • 1-3 sets of 30-second hold using 60-85% discomfort level – Prioritise ankle joint ROM. Add in hip joint ROM if you feel you need it
  • 2-3 dynamic stretching exercises of choice – Accumulation of 5 minutes of dynamic stretching following static stretching appears to remove the performance decrements from static stretching
  • Start doing squat warm-ups
  • For greater ROM increases, perform 1 min of static stretching on each desired joint x 5 days per week (can be done outside of training)
 

Once the desired squat depth has been achieved, you may not need to continue static stretching. Doing a full ROM squat may be enough to maintain joint ROM. 

For an instant ROM increase in those with ankle joint limitations, raising the heels will likely help improve squat depth

Technique errors
I have been coaching since 2014 and have helped >100 people improve their squats. For those who I coached and struggled with squat depth, approx. 90% of these people achieved a full-depth squat, sometimes instantly or over a couple of weeks, just by modifying their technique. Below are common technique errors I see which limit squat depth
Anterior tilted pelvis

An anteriorly tilted pelvis appears to limit squat depth for people with limited squat depth. It is likely due to the hip joint (upper leg connecting inserting into the pelvis) running out of room to move freely and depth becomes limited [8]. Just by simply maintaining a neutral pelvis and avoiding a hyperextended spine/banana back typically unlocks greater squat depth in those who do squat with an excessive anterior pelvic tilted pelvis.

Squatting into knees
Another common error I see in those who can’t achieve a full ROM squat is shifting into their toes, squatting too much into their knees, and not sitting their hips back enough (but don’t overcompensate and sit too far into your hips). Your centre of mass should move in a vertical path directly in line with the middle of your feet. (Insert photo)

Stance width and foot angle
Each person’s femur and pelvis are created differently. These differences generally determine a lifter’s stance width and foot angle.

For some basic anatomy to provide a visual so you can follow along;

Hip acetabular labral tear

Hip joint anatomy

 

The four considerations for a person’s leg and hip anatomical variations are:

 • Femoral version (the angle of the neck of the femur compared to the knee)

• Acetabular version and inclination (where the hip socket is pointing)

• Combined version of the femoral neck and hip socket (summing the orientation of the hip socket and the femur)

• Acetabular depth (depth of the hip socket) [9]

Variations in femur

Why Your Hip Mobility Isn’t Improving close up

Left femur is retroverted (turned outward) – These individuals will likely be more comfortable having a turned-out foot stance

Right femur is anteverted (turned inward) – These individuals will likely be more comfortable having the feet pointing forward

Variations in pelvis

Why Your Hip Mobility Isn’t Improving

Left pelvis has higher sockets pointing more forward – These individuals will likely be more comfortable having a closer foot stance

Right pelvis has low sockets pointing more outward – These individuals will likely be more comfortable having a wider foot stance

The anatomy of the femur and pelvis plays a significant role in achieving squat depth. For example, if someone with a turned-out femur and wide hips attempted to squat with a narrow stance with the feet pointing forward, they would likely be limited in the squat depth due to running out of room between the femur and pelvis.  

 

Foot stance variations (insert photo)
1. Narrow foot width with minimal foot abduction angle
2. Wide foot width with minimal foot abduction angle
3. Narrow foot width with increased foot abduction angle
4. Wide foot stance with increased foot abduction angle

Foot distance comparison when doing a squat

How do you determine which foot width and toe angle you should use to maximise your squat depth?
Try a bodyweight squat with an empty barbell in the 4 positions above to see which is more comfortable and allows you to reach a greater squat depth. If your depth is similar in multiple stances, go with the most comfortable stance.

Differences in muscle activation in wide or narrow stances or toes out and toe-in are minimal. There appears to be no difference in muscle activation of the rectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, adductor longus, semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris between stance width and feet orientation. Increased foot width only shows increased adductor longus and gluteal muscle activity [10].

However, suppose your goal is to target these muscles. In that case, you will get a better training stimulus from using exercises targeting these muscle groups rather than modifying your squat stance. Thus, pick a stance that feels the most comfortable and allows you to reach the greatest squat depth rather than selecting a stance based on targeting specific muscle groups.

 

Conclusions
If you struggle to achieve a full-depth squat, your first go-to should be assessing your squat technique and foot stance. Generally, most people can increase their squat depth by fixing these two variables. Next, if you have ankle ROM limitations, adding a heel raise will increase forward knee excursion, likely increasing your squat depth. Lastly, improving the ankles’ flexibility through stretching may provide some benefit. If you feel your hips are a limiting factor, doing some stretching to increase the flexibility of this area may help.

If you’re unsure if your squat technique is correct, need help fixing it or need assistance with improving your squat depth, SPC Performance Lab offers face-to-face or online coaching if you live far away. We are very confident we can help most people achieve full squat depth for those with issues. Reach out by giving us a call, sending an e-mail or filling out the contact form.

References

  1. Kim, S.H., et al., Lower extremity strength and the range of motion in relation to squat depth. J Hum Kinet, 2015. 45: p. 59-69.
  2. BJ, S., Squatting kinematics and kinetics and their application to exercise performance. J Strength Cond Res, 2010. 24: p. 3497-3506.
  3. Kay, A.D. and A.J. Blazevich, Effect of acute static stretch on maximal muscle performance: a systematic review. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2012. 44(1): p. 154-64.
  4. Chaabene, H., et al., Acute Effects of Static Stretching on Muscle Strength and Power: An Attempt to Clarify Previous Caveats. Front Physiol, 2019. 10: p. 1468.
  5. Ewan Thomas, A.B., Antonio Paoli, Antonio Palma, The Relation Between Stretching Typology and Stretching Duration: The Effects on Range of Motion. Int J Sports Med, 2018. 4: p. 243-254.
  6. Behm, D.G., et al., Acute effects of muscle stretching on physical performance, range of motion, and injury incidence in healthy active individuals: a systematic review. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab, 2016. 41(1): p. 1-11.
  7. Afonso, J., et al., Strength Training versus Stretching for Improving Range of Motion: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Healthcare (Basel), 2021. 9(4).
  8. Mata, A.J., et al., Hip Flexion Angles During Supine Range of Motion and Bodyweight Squats. Int J Exerc Sci, 2021. 14(1): p. 912-918.
  9. John State Rusin, R.D., Anthropometrical Considerations for Customizing the Squat Pattern. Personal Training Quarterly, 2019. 4(5).
  10. Paul Comfort, J.M., Timothy Suchomel, Optimizing Squat Technique—Revisited. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 2018. 40(6): p. 68-74.

 

Paul Attard
Paul Attard

Paul is the founder and head coach of SPC Performance Lab. Paul has been coaching since 2014 and has worked with all different types of people. From first timers learning the basics, all the way up to the experienced power-lifting competitors.

He tailors his approach depending on the needs, goals and experience of the individual. Paul has extensive theoretical and practical coaching experience.

- Masters of Sports & Exercise Science (Strength & Conditioning)
- Bachelor’s degree in Exercise & Sports Science with First Class Honours
- Competed and won multiple natural body-building shows & power-lifting competitions.
- Held an Australian power-lifting record.

Free advice

SPC Performance Lab is a gym in Taren Point in the Sutherland Shire, Sydney NSW. It is a private gym that offers strength training, powerlifting and body building training. The gym is open 24 hours, 7 days a week with membership options that include casual or regular visits.

Paul also provides a choice of personal training one on one or the option of online coaching.

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