A common squat variation you’ll see performed in the gym and discussed online is the 1.5 squat or “one and a half squat.” But of all the squat variations and accessory movements out there, it can be difficult to tell if the 1.5 squat is worthwhile and whether or not you should do it.
So what is the 1.5 squat? The 1.5 squat is a variation that has the lifter lower the weight all the way down to the bottom of the squat as you normally would, then come back up halfway to a little above parallel, sink back down to the bottom of the squat, and finally stand all the way back up to finish the rep.
The 1.5 squat has many benefits which I’ll discuss in this article. But while there are a number of reasons why you may want to add it to your program, there are also a few reasons you might want to avoid it, depending on your circumstances.
The biggest piece to understand with any variation is what muscles are worked, or how they are worked differently than the variation of the lift you are familiar with. This will help you determine if it’s a variation you could benefit from based on your goals and weaknesses.
The answer for the 1.5 squat is, fortunately for us, a simple one: the exact same muscles that are used in a standard squat are used in the 1.5 squat. This includes the quads, glutes, erectors (lower back), adductors (inner thigh), abs, and calves.
The difference we get in the 1.5 squat is not in changing which muscles are being worked, but rather how much we emphasize those muscles. In the case of the 1.5 squat, we are putting much more emphasis on the muscles used at the bottom of the squat by increasing the time under tension.
By repeating the bottom portion of the squat (rising halfway back up and dropping back down before standing all the way up), we double the emphasis on the quads, glutes, and erectors (lower back), which are the most dominantly utilized muscles in the bottom of the squat.
If you’re having trouble engaging your quads during the squat, try these 8 tips for feeling your quads more when you squat.
How To Do A 1.5 Squat
The 1.5 squat can be performed in just a few steps:
Step One: Brace and Lower the Bar
Just as you would do with a standard squat, take a breath and brace your core so all your muscles are tight and engaged.
Lower the bar by bending your knees and sitting your hips down until the crease of your hip dips below the top of your knee. This is what is referred to as “breaking parallel,” where the imaginary line between the crease in your hip and the top of your knee is no longer parallel to the floor.
Learn more about bracing and breathing properly for squats in Proper Breathing Technique for Squats: Step-By-Step Guide.
Step Two: Rise Half Way Up
Once you lower the bar to the bottom of the squat, bring it back up halfway to the top without standing all the way up. At this stage, your hips and knees will still be slightly bent.
Step Three: Lower the Bar to the Bottom Again
Now lower the bar back down to the bottom of your squat position, the same as you did when you began the rep.
Step Four: Stand the Bar All the Way Up
From the bottom of the squat, finish the rep by standing the bar all the way back to your starting position.
Step Five: Repeat for Reps
Follow your program to repeat for as many reps as it calls for.
Want to improve your squat technique?
5 Benefits of the 1.5 Squat
There are 5 main benefits that come to mind as I think about 1.5 squats:
- Strengthen the bottom of the lift
- Improve your depth
- Improve staying tight
- Strengthen your stabilizing muscles
- Strengthen your quads
1. Strengthen the Bottom of the Lift
As you can imagine, repeating the bottom portion of the lift a second time in a single rep is a great recipe for improving strength and technique in the bottom portion of the squat.
For most lifters, this is the troublesome part of the squat. We can lower the weight down in a steady, controlled fashion, and once we get it about halfway up, most of us can finish the squat successfully.
But that very bottom portion is often where we need to dedicate the most time and attention to strengthen the muscles used in the bottom of the squat (quads, glutes, and erectors) and improve our technique.
Anyone who is struggling with standing weight up out of the bottom of the lift would likely benefit from consistently training 1.5 squats with good technique. By following sound programming principles focused on moderate loads, intensity, and frequency, and progressing it steadily, a lifter at any stage can improve their squats.
2. Improve Your Depth
A common lie lifters tell themselves is that they’ll hit depth on the squat when it matters.
For some, maybe that’s in an upcoming powerlifting competition. For others, maybe it’s a less significant event such as a max-out day in the gym. But anyone who trains squats consistently knows where they should be hitting in terms of depth, and many of them aren’t doing deep enough.
I can’t think of many better ways to improve one’s ability to consistently squat to proper depth than with 1.5 squats. Whether your challenge with depth is the strength to sink below parallel and stand back up or the awareness of how deep that actually is, you have to hit depth twice in a single rep when performing 1.5 squats.
As such, you’ll get all the reps you need to improve your strength and awareness of squat depth.
Looking for more exercises to help you squat deeper? Check out 22 Exercises To Improve Squat Depth (That Actually Work).
3. Improve Staying Tight
A very common reason for failing a lift (any compound lift) is failing to brace and to stay tight and engaged throughout the entire lift. The squat is no exception.
Many lifters, including beginners and intermediate athletes, can lose tension in the squat as they transition from the downward motion into the bottom of the squat, then into the upward motion standing it back up.
Commonly, you’ll see lifters “bounce” the squat, which by itself isn’t bad. A lifter can stay tight and braced and still show some visible bounce to their squat. However, many lifters showing a bounce in their squat are briefly relaxing some of their muscles in that moment before re-engaging them for the upward motion.
With maximal loads on the bar, this lifter is unlikely to complete the lift successfully.
For anyone struggling with this particular challenge, the “double-dip” of the 1.5 squat can help you train yourself to keep your muscles tight and engaged at the bottom of the squat.
So long as you are requiring adherence to proper technique as you perform these reps, you’ll see improvement in your ability to stay tight in the bottom of the squat.
4. Strengthen Your Stabilizing Muscles
Not only do we need to train to keep our quads and glutes tight in the bottom of the squat, but also we need to keep our lower back and core muscles engaged. The 1.5 squat is an excellent way to improve these stabilizing or bracing muscles at the bottom of the squat.
Granted, at a later stage in the lift, as we bring our body upright at the end of the squat, the lower back erector muscles will be more dominant.
But at the bottom of the squat, the core muscles play an important role as they prevent our upper body from falling forward or backward under the weight of the bar on our back. At this stage in the lift, they work with our abs to stabilize us so our lower body can do its thing.
By emphasizing the bottom of the squat with the 1.5 squat, you can easily strengthen these stabilizing muscles for better performance in your standard squat.
5. Strengthen Your Quads
The 1.5 squat is a knee-dominant exercise, meaning the quads are the dominant muscle, especially at the bottom of the squat. As such, it is a perfect variation to strengthen your quads or make them grow, depending on how you program them.
For me personally, I’ve been programming a client with 1.5 squats as a hypertrophy variation with 8-10 rep sets, helping her build more quad muscle to eventually improve her overall squat. The load is not heavy, but her quads reach near failure with each set.
For others, you might find that 1.5 squats are better applied in a strength application, programming them for sets of 3-6 reps with heavier loads. In this instance, we aren’t concerned about exhausting the quad muscle as we are with pushing greater intensity for less time/reps.
Doing 1.5 squats for strength can also help with issues such as the good morning squat, in which your hips rise faster than your knees because the quads aren’t strong enough to handle the load.
In either scenario, the 1.5 squat is a great way to grow your quads for strength or size, whatever your focus might be.
The 1.5 squat also has carryover to the deadlift, especially if your hips shoot up in the deadlift due to weak quads.
2 Drawbacks of the 1.5 Squat
All that I’ve shared about how great the 1.5 squat is does come with a few downsides you should consider. I can think of just two major drawbacks:
- Requires good mobility
- Doesn’t emphasize lockout
1. Requires Good Mobility
It’s true, this lift does require that you have some decent mobility in your knees, hips, and ankles. This is generally true with the standard squat, but becomes more of an emphasis in the 1.5 squat, as it doubles the emphasis on the bottom portion of the lift.
For somebody struggling with their squat mobility in general, the 1.5 squat is a good goal to work toward, but you’d likely be better off focusing on exercises to improve that mobility first before attempting several reps of 1.5 squats.
That said, I think there are some lifters who only need some slight improvements to their mobility, and the 1.5 squat might be a great solution to adding some reps with relatively light weight to improve that mobility.
The bottom line is that you should stop to consider how good your squat mobility is before throwing in a bunch of 1.5 squat work.
2. Doesn’t Emphasize Lockout
This may seem obvious, but it’s an important note. If you are not struggling with the bottom of your squat, but rather with your squat lockout, the 1.5 squat will not be a particularly helpful variation.
Sure, each rep still requires that you stand all the way up, but if you want to really isolate the lockout, there are better variations to focus on, such as pin squats.
This is all a way of saying that the 1.5 squat is not a magic bullet for all your squat problems. Be sure to define where your weakness is and select a squat variation that specifically addresses it.
Mistakes to Avoid
When performing 1.5 squats, there are a few common mistakes to avoid. Some of them we’ve touched on but bear repeating here.
- Losing tension
- Ignoring upper body position
- Not progressing it
Just because we aren’t performing a squat for a PR or in competition doesn’t mean we can ignore the important steps that make those big lifts successful. Staying tight throughout the lift is important, especially when we are repeating reps and creating habits.
As you perform 1.5 squat reps, be mindful of keeping tension throughout the lift – in the first time you drop to the bottom and the second. As you get tired and reach the end of your set or your final set, keep focused on your muscle tension and be aware of how it feels when you’re fatigued.
These fatigued reps are the best time to simulate how your body will respond to maximal loads, so they’re important opportunities to do everything right.
Ignoring Upper Body Position
Just because the 1.5 squat emphasizes the bottom of the rep and the muscles that are dominant in that stage doesn’t mean we can ignore our upper body position when we do them.
As you add this variation to your program and perform the reps, be conscious of your upper body position and keep it crisp, too. Squatting with a rounded upper back is a common mistake, but it can lead to injuries such as herniated discs if you don’t correct it.
At the end of the day, we want our variations to come together to make our standard squat stronger, so keep every piece of your squat in good form when doing 1.5 squats.
Not Progressing It
If you want to really see improvement in your squat, then you’ll need to progress 1.5 squats the same as you do with other exercises.
A common mistake is adding 1.5 squats in for just a week or only doing them sporadically over several months. If you really want to see the impact these lifts can have, make a plan to progressively overload your 1.5 squats and follow the program.
For example, you might plan to incorporate them into your program for 4 weeks. You’d set a starting weight and rep range, say 185 for 4 sets of 8. In week two, you leave the weight the same but do 4 sets of 10 reps. In week three, you bump the weight to 200 and perform 4 sets of 6 reps. Then in week 4, you leave the weight at 200 and perform 4 sets of 8 reps.
Your changes shouldn’t be huge week over week, but you’re making a big mistake if you just keep doing the exact same number of reps at the same weight.
Real results in strength training come from consistency, and this squat variation is no exception.
Who Should Do A 1.5 Squat?
I can think of 4 really good candidates that should be doing 1.5 squats consistently:
- Beginning squatters
- Shallow squatters
- Quad growers
- Squatters who fail at the bottom
I love this variation for beginners because of the double rep you get in a single rep! Anyone who is just learning to squat would do well to do, well, more squats. Not only does the higher rep count build muscle and stamina, but it also builds confidence and familiarity with how a squat should feel.
By performing the dip below parallel twice in each rep, new lifters will develop a strong awareness of where parallel is, where below parallel is, and develop the foundation to squat that way consistently in the future.
I’ve called out this group earlier in this article – high squats are ugly and leave a lot of strength and muscle growth on the table. You are only cheating yourself when you cheat depth on your squats.
If you struggle with squatting below parallel, you should definitely consider doing more work to emphasize the bottom of the squat, and a 1.5 squat is a fantastic solution.
Again, you have to dip below parallel twice with each rep, which is an excellent recipe to learn where depth really is and train yourself to hit it consistently.
For those more interested in the appearance of their legs than the strength and performance of their legs, or strength athletes who know they need more muscle mass to work with – your answer just might be the 1.5 squat.
Because the 1.5 squat emphasizes the use of your quads, this is a fantastic variation for quad hypertrophy. Throw these into your program with 10-12 rep sets, eat in a caloric surplus, and your quads will certainly grow.
Care to make the 1.5 squat even more quad-focused? Try performing them as a narrow stance squat for some extra spice.
Squatters Who Fail At The Bottom
I’ve been harping on this all along, but the 1.5 squat is a great solution for lifters who consistently fail their squats “in the hole” or at the bottom.
There’s no shame in it, it’s just the challenge that needs to be addressed for you right now. And the best way to overcome that challenge is to do more of the exercises that address that particular stage of the lift.
The 1.5 squat will give you the reps you need and the focus you need on the bottom of the squat to help you improve so that you can get the squat out of the hole. Be sure to follow sound programming principles, use a sensible load, perform it consistently, and progress it over time by increasing the load, reps, sets, or intensity, and you’ll be on your way.
How To Program A 1.5 Squat?
The 1.5 squat should be programmed as a secondary squat variation or an accessory movement. That means we wouldn’t use it as our primary squat exercise of the day but would perform this lift after doing a primary squat lift (like the standard squat, a paused squat, or a squat with a specialty bar).
If you’re focused on strength, the 1.5 squat should follow shortly after your primary squat movement, but before moving on to isolated squat accessories (like quad extensions or calf raises). You would want to program 3-5 sets of 3-6 reps with 50-60% of your squat max.
That may seem low, but imagine your squat max is 525. This would mean performing sets of 1.5 squats with 315 (60% of max). I don’t know about you, but that would be plenty of weight for me at that rep range.
If you are more interested in using the 1.5 squat as a quad hypertrophy exercise, you could perform it a little later in your squat workout, since the load won’t be as heavy as it would be if you were using it for strength development. In your case, it might be the last compound lift you do on a squat day.
If you aren’t performing standard squats for maximal effort like a powerlifter, the 1.5 squat can easily be your primary lower body movement for the workout! Since you aren’t saving energy for heavy, max-effort squat sets, the 1.5 squat has a lot more flexibility in your program.
You’ll want to plan for 3-5 sets of 10-12 reps with a lighter load of 25-40% of max. These sets should leave your quads feeling very fatigued and pumped when you’re done.
Whether you’re focused on strength or size, any program should apply progressive overload, meaning we steadily increase the weight, reps per set, total sets, or intensity over time.
3 Alternatives To The 1.5 Squat
If the 1.5 squat isn’t an option for you for one reason or another, or you just don’t like them, there are some variations you can perform to get a similar outcome.
1. Pause Squats
Pause squats are a staple of the strength athlete, as they similarly require lifters to stay tight and tense throughout the squat, especially during the pause.
They’re typically performed with a 2-second pause at the bottom of the squat, but the pause can also be applied on the way back up or even on the way down. When you pause in the lower half of the lift, pause squats can emphasize the lower end of the squat in a similar manner as the 1.5 squat.
2. Pin Squats
Pin squats are a great way to develop your ability to drive the squat out of the hole. By resting the bar on the safeties such that you are at the bottom of the squat when the bar rests on the pins, you are required to stand the weight up from a dead stop, which is much more difficult than a normal squat.
This can be similarly effective to the 1.5 squat in helping lifters develop strength out of the hole.
3. Narrow Stance Squats
I mentioned these earlier, but narrow stance squats emphasize the quads more than shoulder-width or wide stance squats (wide stance squats emphasize your glutes more).
If your focus is on emphasizing your quads, the narrow stance variation is a great alternative to the 1.5 squat. It’s also an excellent option for quad hypertrophy.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is a 1.5 Squat?
A 1.5 squat is a variation of the squat exercise where the lifter squats to the bottom of their normal squat position, stands halfway back up, and squats back down to the bottom again before standing all the way back up to their starting/ending position.
Are 1.5 Squats Effective?
1.5 squats are an effective squat variation to put emphasis on the bottom portion of the squat’s range of motion. By repeating the “dip” into the bottom of the squat, lifters can improve squat technique, improve strength, and build more muscle. It can also be effective for increasing caloric burn to lose weight.
Other Squat Exercise Guides
- Lumberjack Squat: What Is It, How To, Benefits, Common Mistakes
- Frog Squat: What Is It, How-To, Benefits, Common Mistakes
- Steinborn Squat: Does This “Circus Like” Squat Have Benefits?
- Suitcase Squats: How-To, Benefits, and Should You Do It?
- Kneeling Squat: What Is It, How To, Benefits, Common Mistakes
- Anderson Squat: What Is It, How To Do It, Benefits, Drawbacks
- Tabata Squats: How-To, Common Mistakes, & Workout Sample
- Isometric Squat: How-To, Benefits, & Should You Do It?
- High Box Squat: 5 Reasons Why It Makes Sense
- 6 Cambered Squat Bar Benefits (And, How To Train With It)
- Hatfield Squat: What Is It? Technique, Benefits, Muscles Used
About The Author
Adam Gardner is a proud resident of Utah, where he lives with his wife and two kids. He has been competing in powerlifting since 2016 in both the USPA and the APF. For the past three years, he and his wife, Merrili, have coached beginning lifters to learn the fundamentals of powerlifting and compete in their first powerlifting competitions.