How Deep Should You Squat? Science Compares Partial and Full Squats

Partial range of motion or full range of motion? Which is better for the squat? Maybe it depends on your goals. Science looks at the two variations and what works best about both versions.

I love squatting deep. There’s something about squatting the barbell through a large range of motion that just makes you feel like something is finally right in the world. But I haven’t always done deep squats. In fact, I suspect most athletes start their training with partial range of motion (PROM) squats, as I did. After all, PROM squats are physically easier, and they require less coaching. So turn the average guy loose in a weight room, tell him to squat, and you’ll see PROM squats.

A recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research examined the characteristics of PROM squats compared to full range of motion (FROM) squats. FROM was defined as the hips dropping to the level of the knees. The study found that force and power were greater in the PROM squat. No surprises there – trainees can always move more weight with smaller range of motion. The study found, however, that speed and total work performed were greater in the FROM squat. This also makes sense. Lighter loads with FROM squats mean moving the barbell faster at some points in the movement. The greater distance moved is responsible for the increase in total work, even at lighter loads.1

Practically, what does this mean? The study concludes that trainees should choose their preferred squat based on their goals. Athletes in sports that require a small range of motion and high power output may benefit from PROM squats. Athletes training for sports requiring full range of motion, or those seeking body composition and hypertrophy, should use FROM squats.2

But does training PROM squats really offer benefits over FROM squats in any scenario? I’m unconvinced. Even if your sport generally requires only partial knee and hip flexion, eventually the day will come when Murphy shows up and you’re required to execute a full range of motion. If you train PROM squats, then I guess you just hope that the game isn’t on the line when that happens. Furthermore, I don’t think anyone ever lost a game by having stronger hamstrings and glutes, not to mention the gains in mobility and flexibility that comes through training FROM squats.

Regardless of sport, in my experience, the general population benefits greatly from FROM squats. Every month another athlete tells me how his knee pain has gone away since training with us and performing full-depth squats. I suspect this comes from strengthening the posterior chain and equalizing forces on the knee. But regardless of why they work, full-depth squats work.

Photo provided by CrossFit LA.

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