I always strugged to get deeper in my squats until I implemented a few simple things. Some were ‘quick wins’ that immediately made a difference, while others were things I needed apply over several weeks. The result? I was able to feel much more comfortable in the bottom-end of my squat.
What are the 9 tips to squat deeper?
- Drop the weight by 5%
- Increase ankle mobility
- Squat with raised heels
- Increase hip mobility
- Increase squat frequency
- Practice consistency
- Perform pause squats
- Perform quad-focused exercises
- Pick the right stance
Let’s investigate each of these points in greater detail so you have a clear roadmap to getting deeper squats.
Also, if you read until the end you’ll hear some practical lessons from world-class powerlifters.
1. Drop The Weight by 5%
You’ll have a lack of strength in deeper ranges of the squat that were untrained previously.
Therefore, you won’t be as strong when you’re first starting. This is normal. Drop your ego, and drop some weight from the bar.
The general rule of thumb is to drop 5%.
So if you previously squatted 5 sets of 5 reps with 75% of your 1 rep max, you would start at 70% for the deeper squats and build up your capacity for handling heavier loads over 1-2 blocks of training.
2. Increase Ankle Mobility
To squat deeper, the knee will need to come forward as you go deeper. This means you’ll need to have greater range of motion at the ankle to achieve this position.
I wrote an entire guide on increasing ankle mobility for squats, but here’s a quick test to determine if you have tight ankles:
- Stand with your toes about 4-inches from a wall
- Bend your ankle and knee to try and touch your knee to the wall
- Keep your feet flat on the floor and make sure your knee is traveling straight forward (not caving in)
If you can’t touch your knees to the wall, then you probably have less than optimal ankle mobility. This would be something you’d want to optimize so you can squat deeper.
Here’s my favorite ankle mobilization routine. You can do this routine before you squat. (
Banded Ankle Dislocation (2 sets of 20 reps)
Single Leg Downward Dog (2 sets of 20 reps)
Soft Tissue Calf Release (60-sec)
3. Squat With Raised Heels
If you have poor ankle mobility as described above, you might be able to squat deeper by lifting with a raised heel.
Of course, you’ll still want to work toward getting your ankles mobilized, but in the meantime, lifting with a raised heel won’t prevent you from trying to squat deeper.
You can achieve lifting with a raised heel in two ways:
- Squat with your heels on 10lbs plates (not ideal if you plan to lift any significant amount of load)
- Invest in a pair of squat shoes. These shoes will have a higher heel, which is optimal for squatting .
For women, I recommend the Reebok Legacy Lifter. Click link to check price on Amazon.
4. Increase Hip Mobility
If you have tight hips, then when you squat deeper your pelvis will fail to maintain a neutral position.
With tight hips, as you increase the range of motion, your pelvis will ‘dump under you’ and your low back will start to round (a common squat mistake). This is known as a ‘posterior pelvic tilt’ or ‘butt wink’. The result is that the sheer force of the squat shift to your lumbar spine (low back). So not only will your hips feel restricted by going deeper, it can actually lead to injury over time.
Here’s a quick test to determine if you have tight hips:
- Lie with your back on the floor
- Bring your knees to your chest by ending your hips and knees
- Keep your tailbone, upper back, and head on the floor
- Try and not to grab your knees. Just use the strength of your hips to bend them upward
- See if you can bend your hips past 90-degrees by keeping the points of contact on the floor.
If you can, great, working on hip mobility won’t likely help you squat any deeper.
If you can’t, you may be lacking hip mobility and should implement some exercises to correct this movement deficiency. For my full list of exercises, check out my article on 13 Drills To Improve Hip Mobility For Squats.
However, here are my top 3 favorite hip mobilization routines:
Frog Stretch (1 set of 1-2 min)
Rear Foot Elevated Hip Stretch (1 set of 1-2 min)
Banded Hip Distractions (1 set of 1-2 min)
Want more mobility drills for squatting deeper? Check out my article that discusses 22 Exercises For Improving Squat Depth.
5. Increase Squat Frequency
Increasing your squat frequency will allow you to practice the skill of squatting.
When you change a movement pattern, like squatting deeper, you’re learning a new skill. If you’re only squatting once/week, you’re probably not practicing the skill enough to get better.
Think of it like this:
If you were a basketball player and wanted to get better at free throw shots but only practiced that skill once/week, would you get better?
Probably not, and the same goes for squatting deeper. You need adequate time in the deeper range of motion to improve motor control and learning.
I’d recommend increasing your squat frequency by one time/week. So if you squat once/week, bump it up to twice/week. On this additional squat workout, keep the bar lighter and purely focus on technique.
Read more about how many times per week you should squat.
6 Practice Consistency
If you’re planning to squat more frequently, you need to ensure the skill you’re practicing is consistent. This means that every rep should be executed with the same depth.
You simply won’t get better if one rep is high and the other rep is low. If you want to squat below parallel, then you need to be precise in your movement pattern every time you squat — from your warm-ups to your working weights.
Read more about the optimal bar path for squats.
7. Perform Pause Squats
Pause squatting is where you implement a 1-2 second pause while in the deepest end range.
This variation will do two things:
- It will improve proprioception and coordination.
When you squat deeper, it will change the trajectory of the bar. At the bottom of the squat, the barbell should draw a straight line down to the mid-part of your foot. At this point, the load is distributed over your base of support and you’ll feel the most stable.
If you squat deeper and the bar goes infront or behind the mid-part of the foot, it may cause you to feel off balance. Performing pause squats will teach you what the correct position feels like, and will reinforce the proper bar path.
Tip: record yourself from the side doing this exercise, and make adjustments with the visual feedback you receive.
- It will increase your knee extensor strength
As you squat deeper your knee extensors are challenged more. The quads are the primary muscle group responsible for knee extension in the squat.
By implementing pause squats you’re creating more time under tension for your knee extensors. Previously, if you weren’t squatting as deep, your knee extensors would be under developed. Now, as you squat deeper, you’ll now want to target them more specifically to overcome the additional force created at the knee joint.
If you get knee pain while squatting, check out my reviews of the best squat shoes for knee pain.
8. Perform Quad-Focused Exercises
As I mentioned, there is greater muscular activation in the quads the deeper you squat. As such, you’ll need to make sure that your training program includes some additional supplementary quad exercises.
I recommended the pause squat, front squat, or ass-to-grass squat because they’re close variations of the regular squat — so you’ll get to practice the movement pattern while also getting the benefit of strengthening the quads. However, I would also implement other quad-focused movements.
My favorite movements are:
Front Foot Elevated Split Squat
Single Leg Knee Extension
9. Pick The Right Stance
Picking the right stance will allow you to sink your hips more comfortable.
I wrote a full article on whether wide squats are better for powerlifting. I argue that a slightly wider than shoulder-width stance (approximately 1.5X the distance of your shoulders) will be optimal for deep powerlifting squats.
To find the right stance, start with a bodyweight squat and see if a wider or narrower stance allows you to get deeper. You can also play around with the angle of your toes — pointing them forward or flaring them out.
Picking the stance that ‘feels the most comfortable’ should not be ignored, and it should be the first selection method for picking your optimal squat stance
I just wrote a review on the best weightlifting shoes for tall lifters. Check out my top picks!
Squatting Deeper: Advice From The Pros
Let’s now take a look at advice from some world-class powerlifters. I interviewed 4 powerlifters who shared their #1 tip for how to squat deeper.
Kelly Branton, 4-Time World Powerlifting Medalist, 933lb Squat
Advice: TARGET THE ROOT CAUSE
You have to troubleshoot the problem. Why is it you can hit depth? Is it ankle mobility? Is it hip mobility? Bad overall form ? So many people, including myself, did the wrong thing for too long and are scared to hit reset. Try and implement some of the fixes (described in this article) in your warm up and slowly creep them into your top sets.
Taylor Atwood, World Powerlifting Gold Medalist, 606lbs Squat @ 163lbs
Advice: BUILD YOUR QUAD STRENGTH
Front foot elevated split squats. This allows you to reach depth and develop a motor pattern one leg at a time. Make sure to keep a neutral spine by keeping torso and chest perpendicular to the ground and rear foot should not be too far back. The back leg should be 90 degrees with shin parallel to the ground during the eccentric. Elevation shouldn’t be too drastic. 3-6 inches should be a good starting point. Start out with no weight and gradually add difficulty by using a dumbbell or kettlebell.
Maria Htee, World Powerlifting Bronze Medalist, 405lb Squat @ 138lbs
Advice: BE CONSISTENT
You should always go deep in training. Train your body and mind to be consistent. Most people cut depth short when the weight gets heavier because they’re afraid if they go deeper they can’t come back up. Trust yourself, train consistent, and you should be able to do the same with heavier weights. Also, it’s a great idea to get a spotter that you can trust.
Dave Ricks, World Champion, 715lb Squat @ 205lbs
Advice: ADJUST YOUR STANCE
A key factor is the movement of the knees. The lifter will need to adjust their stance that keeps the knees mostly in a vertical plane which will allow for more hip movement.
With these tips in mind, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to reliably squat deeper. Some of the methods mentioned above are quick fixes, while others will take a few weeks (or months) to correct. Be consistent and reap the reward of a deeper squat.
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