If you are somebody wondering how to get lower in squats, boy oh boy, have you come to the right place.
It can be super frustrating, and uncomfortable, trying to get lower in your squats yet just feeling like you can’t!
We are going to dive into just “how low” do you really need to go, ways to improve your squat depth, and even some specific exercises you can do.
You’re going to get a lot of value from this guide, but please know it follows a typical reading fashion.
Meaning one thing is meant to come after the other so it would be most beneficial if you read this guide from start to finish in succession.
Rather than skimming, skipping ahead, or only going for ONE specific thing.
I figured so. I know you’re smart.
How To Get Lower In Squats
How Low Do You Really Need To Go?
The first thing we need to discuss before talking about exact ways of how to get lower in squats is how low do you really need to go.
( Is it just me or am I envisioning someone limboing everytime I say that.. )
You’ve probably seen people go ATG ( Ass To Grass) where they go ALLLL the way down there.
You then may have seen someone go to about 90 degree parallel to the ground.
Then, you may have seen Lebron James on his instagram posting a video of him doing squats only about ½ the way down.
So, what is the “right” answer here?
It somewhat depends. For the majority of people in majority of scenarios, you are going to want to get to at least 90 degree parallel in your squat.
This is essentially when your hips are in line with your knees, as depicted by that white line here below.
Now, can you go LOWER than this?
Sure, if you wanted to, AND you do not compromise by rounding your pelvis or compromising your lower back.
A lot of people try to “get lower” because they see someone else do it on instagram, yet they don’t have the proper active range of motion to achieve that depth without compromising form.
( if you don’t know what “active range of motion means”, don’t worry we will cover it a bit later in this guide ).
A picture of what I am talking about is here below.
This is one of my 1:1 online coaching clients Ralph here. He shot me over his technique video so that we could take a peek at his form. We were able to notice the back rounding and correct it!
If this is happening, then no, you do not want to push to go lower in your squats with very heavy weight on your back.
You are actively rounding your pelvis and lower back muscles, causing them a ton of unnecessary stress.
Thus, leading to injuries over time. Yet if you can do it without sacrificing form, then sure, go for it.
Going lower than parallel in your squat typically speaking works a bit more of your quads because you are able to get more of two things called
- Ankle dorsiflexion
- Knee flexion
These are just fancy terms for saying that your knees can go farther over your toes, again, without compromising your form.
This allows for your quads to get a bigger stretch on them, which is why having a squat that is ATG is generally more beneficial if your main goal is to grow some massive quads.
But Wait Eric, Knees Can Go Over Toes?!
One of the worst myths when it comes to how to get lower in squats is that your knees can’t go over your toes.
Funny enough, this myth is actually the cause of a lot of knee and lower back pain.
Your knees can, and most likely should, go over your toes when you are hitting a full depth squat.
No, it is not “bad” for your knees. Think about when you are walking up the stairs.. Your knees go over your toes everytime right..
So, let’s just stop walking up stairs? I think not.
The reason people say your knees going over your toes is bad is because it CAN be bad if your heels lift off the ground.
If your heels lift off the ground then you are going to put an inordinate amount of pressure on your knees, and yes, this sh*t hurts.
Yet as long as you keep your feet flat your knees are not only fine going over your toes, but as mentioned earlier, most likely necessary!
A lot of people try so hard to NOT let their knees go over their toes they throw their butt back entirely way too far in a squat.
This turns the exercise into some weird combo of a deadlift, squat, and good morning that basically leads to a ton of lower back or knee pain due.
Don’t fall for this myth. Your knees are totally fine to go over your toes.
If you are someone who does have knee pain, I would finish reading this article because I think the things I will lay out can help.
As well as I wrote an entirely separate article on the best workout for bad knees, I can link that HERE.
How To Get Lower In Squats : What If You Don’t Get To 90 Degree Parallel?
Okay so we know it’s okay to go lower in squats as long as you don’t round your back.
The next question then in how to get lower in squats is well what if you’re not getting to that 90 degree parallel mark?
Is that bad? Is that ok?
Here is what I will say.
For the majority of people, you should be getting to 90 degree parallel. You saw a picture of Lebron James doing it because he is a professional athlete whose main goal in life is to be the best basketball player he can.
When you think about basketball players, are they squatting all the way down and jumping up to get a rebound?
No, they are half squatting down and then needing to explode up to get a rebound.
In that picture you saw, Lebron is training the squat in a “sport specific” way for this individual sport.
Now, again, he’s the top .01% of basketball players so he’s doing that to get .01% better.
The average gym goer looking to get stronger, build muscle, and have proper form does not need to be training sport specific half squats to jump to rebound a ball.
We need to be training our muscles in full ranges of motion (aka hitting 90 degrees parallel in a squat ) for a few reasons.
- Muscle building – one of the most important things you can do to build muscle is train the muscle in the stretch position. In a squat, this is the bottom of a squat. That’s when your muscles get stretched the most, therefore, it is important to get to that full range of motion!
- Strengthening joints, tendons, ligaments, connective tissue – We are not just training muscles here but we are also training other parts of the body. If you want to be a well rounded, strong, and functional human being to not only be strong but also prevent risk of injury, it’s important to train these other parts of the body. Through full range of motion training, you can achieve this.
Therefore I would say if you are NOT currently hitting 90 degree parallel in your squats, then I would recommend doing some of the things we will talk about right now below.
How To Get Lower In Squats : Specific Ways!
Now that we know we should be hitting at least 90 degrees in our squat, let’s talk about specific ways on how to get lower in squats.
Use Lighter Weight
Gah, I know. It’s lame.
But hear me out here. I know no one wants to lift less weight, we go into the gym to lift MORE weight and feel like a bad a**!
Taking weight off the bar doesn’t make us feel so bad a** now does it?!
No… but this is why it’s important to check your ego at the door.
You want to feel bad a** so you’re loading up the bar. You’re not chasing actual results, you’re chasing fueling your ego.
Drop the ego, back off the weight a bit, and be able to get that full range of motion.
Think about this.
You would actually see better results squatting 150lbs with full range of motion, than you would, squatting 250lbs with a half range of motion.
Why? Because of the things we mentioned earlier. You are stretching your muscles more and putting your muscles under more tension.
This will lead to greater RESULTS over time.
Not to mention eventually you WILL get stronger and you will move from doing 150lbs full range of motion to then doing that 250lbs yet with a full range of motion.
THAT is going to make you feel REALLY bad a**.
Again I know it isn’t sexy by any means, but just be sure if you feel this is you, remember why you’re working out in the first place.
You want to see results. You want to change. Don’t let your ego hold you back from seeing results.
Work In “Pause Squats”
In conjunction with backing off the weight you are lifting for right now, you can start doing something called Pause Squats.
These are the same exact thing as regular squats, except at the bottom of the squat you pause for anywhere between 2-5 seconds.
What this allows you to do is…
- Learn & feel what “good depth” feels like so when you go heavier you can replicate
- Teach your central nervous system it’s OK to go lower in your squat
- Strengthen your muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments in that new deeper range of motion
All of these things allow for you to work on your squat depth that’s very “simple”.
I mean if you are doing squats right now, all you gotta do is keep doing squats, back off weight, and start doing 2 second pauses at the bottom.
Do that for a solid 4-10 weeks, then start back up doing regular squats again.
Now again, you WILL need to lighten the weight here because you are pausing at the bottom.
This makes the movement exponentially harder because where is the squat the hardest to begin with?
At the bottom.. If you spend more time at the bottom, where the exercise is the hardest.. You can imagine it isn’t sunshine and rainbows down there.
Yet if you add them in, tell me you don’t see, notice, and feel a massive difference in your depth!
Take A Wider Stance
Now, you may need to back off the weight to get lower in your squats…
Or, you might not. You just may need to make some other adjustments that we will touch on here.
Try taking a wider stance with your feet. Move your feet slightly outside your hip width.
This can help create more of something called external rotation in your hip.
You need external rotation to get down to the bottom of a squat. If you don’t have it, it will often feel like you just kind of “hit a wall” and can’t go any lower!
This is because your femur (your leg bone) is running into your hip socket. There is nowhere else for it to move, so, you stop!
Or, you do get lower but it is from what we talked about earlier compromising from your lower back. That’s the funny thing about your body.
If you want it to do something, it will find a way to do it. If you keep trying to get lower, even if your hips won’t allow it, the next joint up will compensate & make it happen.
That next joint is your lower back. The issue here is your lower back isn’t meant to be taking the load that your hips are supposed to be taking.
Now you have created a situation where your lower back is doing the work your hips are supposed to… Thus, leading to injury.
It’s like if a CEO gave his responsibilities to a person who was on their first day on the job.
Wouldn’t go very well, right?
Same concept here.
If you take a wider stance though with your feet, you will find you may automatically feel like you “have more room” to work with, allowing you to get lower in your squats.
Slightly Point Toes Out
Really quickly, right along with taking a wider stance, a great tip on how to get lower in squats is going to be slightly point your toes out.
Again, in combination with taking a wider feet stance, slightly pointing your toes out will allow you to create more external rotation in your hip.
These two things, I have seen, tend to dramatically improve your squat depth with a lot of the clients we have coached over the years .
“Keep Your Chest Up!”… No.
Another common, and painful, myth is that you should be “keeping your chest up” in your squat.
No, no, and no one more time for good measure.
Now, should you be letting your chest drop to the ground?
But “keeping your chest up” is one of the worst cues told by any high school football coach or trainer out there.
Now I’m not hating or bad mouthing, because I thought this at once too.
Yet when you try to “keep your chest up” you do something that is called arching your cervical spine.
Your spine is broken up into 3 parts.
Cervical spine – this is your neck area.
Thoracic spine – this is your middle back area.
Lumbar spine – this is your lower back area.
When you “keep your chest up” you arch your cervical spine, which in turn, ends up arching your lumbar spine.
This is why most people get pain in their back while doing squats. Their cervical and lumbar spine are arched like a booty pop IG girl – thus leading to some serious low back pain.
I think you want to avoid having low back pain, correct?
As well as you want to actually get lower in squats, right?!
Man, it’s like I’ve known you your whole life ;).
The way you do both of these things is by having a slight lean forward in your torso on the way down from your squat.
This is going to…
- Actually keep a neutral spine as opposed to arching it (less pain)
- Allow for more external rotation in your hips as well (more range of motion)
You don’t want or need it to be this super aggressive throwback. You’re not in the club on a Saturday night or anything.
You want to think about just slightly karate chopping your hips back to START the movement.
Once you start with that slight hip push back, your torso slightly leans forward, THEN, you can drop straight down into your squat from there.
You will actually still keep your chest up because your chest will still be more or less facing the wall in front of you.
If you have not ever tried this before, I am telling you right now, it will be a game changer for you for how to get lower in squats.
How To Get Lower In Squats : Hip & Ankle Mobility Work
To be very honest with you, the things I laid out above are my “top” tips on how to get lower in squats.
I have done those few things with thousands of clients over the years and it has completely changed the game for so many of them.
Now, on top of that, some people may in fact need to work on their hip and ankle mobility to allow them to get more active range of motion.
Remember I said we were gonna come back to that? Remember how I also said this guide was going to work in succession so you needed to follow it step by step all the way through?
Good, I am glad you remember 😉
A very easy way to think about active range of motion is how far can you go in your range of motion on an exercise while still actually having full control of your muscles and joints.
So in a squat, how low can you go while still being in control of your body and NOT compromising form.
Remember earlier we talked about the way people can get lower in a squat is by having more ankle dorsiflexion and knee flexion?
Well, if someone does not have the adequate ankle mobility to produce that ankle dorsiflexion, then they do not have the active range of motion to get lower in the squat.
Thus, they end up compromising at their hips or knees and getting injured.
They are going “low” in the range of motion but their joints and muscles can’t actually control that range of motion, leading to injury.
Therefore one thing you can do to get lower in squats is work on your ankle and hip mobility to improve your active range of motion.
How exactly do you do that?
Well, that could be an entirely separate article. As a matter of fact I actually made an entire mobility manual that you gain immediate access to if you join my Clubhouse as that’s how in depth mobility work is..
But for some quick, simple, and easy implementation work for mobility, I can link some here below.
Hip 90 90’s
Do about 5 reps each side
Do 5 reps each side
Hip flexor lift off
Do 5 reps each side
Run through those 3 exercises back to back for 2 rounds.
Perform this routine 3-7x per week.
Elevated ankle mobility
Do 5 reps each side
Banded Ankle Distraction
Do 5 reps each side
Squat With Ankle Dorsiflexion
Do 5 reps with 5 second holds each time
Run through those 3 exercises back to back for 2 rounds.
Perform this routine 3-7x per week.
These two routines will allow you to improve the mobility and range of motion but also strengthen the new range of motion to make it ‘active’ range of motion.
Rather than what most people do which is just stretching, which leads to a short term range of motion increase, but because they don’t spend any time strengthening the new range of motion…
They lose it and just go back to what they had before, never making any ever lasting change.
If you follow the routine laid out here, you will see everlasting change in your mobility and active range of motion!
Elevate Your Heels
Now, the one little bonus tip for you, which you may have seen some people do before, is elevating your heels.
When you elevate your heels during a squat, this automatically creates more of that ankle dorsiflexion that we talked about earlier.
It is a super easy way to allow you to get lower in your squats (On top of the things we already talked about)!
If you have squat wedges, like you see me using right here.
You can use those. I can put some here below!
If not, you can always just elevate your heels to 5 or 10lb plates in the gym as well.
This strategy of elevating your heels can be a long term solution, short term solution, or both.
Ideally, you WOULD like to be able to get low enough in a squat WITHOUT elevating your heels.
This is why I encourage people to in fact throw in some ankle mobility exercises like the ones we talked about above.
But I don’t want to say elevating your heels is inherently “bad” or “wrong” because it’s not!
Especially sometimes if I am really trying to bias my quad, I will elevate my heels just to get more work on my quads in a squat.
How To Get Lower In Squats : Recap!
Man, even me writing this right now I’m like “damn that’s a ton of info” LOL.
Let’s quickly recap.
- You want to be hitting at least 90 degree parallel in squats, if not, fix it
- Back off weight / add in pause squats for time being if need be
- Take a wider stance
- Slightly point toes out
- Do NOT “keep chest up”, slightly lean torso forward
- Work on ankle / hip mobility to gain more active range of motion
When it comes to how to get lower in squats, those 6 things are your bread and butter.
I hope you enjoyed this guid & got some value from it.
If you are interested in getting a bit more personalized help with your training, nutrition, weight loss, etc, you can apply for 1:1 coaching with my team right HERE.
Or, if you are interested in joining my group coaching program The Clubhouse, you can do so right HERE as well.
Look to chat soon,