To Full Squat or Not to Full Squat?

Categories: Smart Swimming
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Published on: June 13, 2015

veritek - Photo by Eric Kilby

Mobility + the squat = endless and passionate debates.

To Full Squat or Not to Full Squat?  That IS the questions!  Thus ensues  a wonderful and much discussed topic with many strong feelings on every side.

Many have asked me what I think of the whole thing.....

My stance is based on one very simple principle:

In a court of law, at this point in time, it is highly unlikely that any medical doctor will support the decision to train a client to do a "full" or "ass-to-grass" squat.

I don't agree or disagree with the medical community for this - it simply isn't my place.  The way I see it, the physical and genetic makeup is unique to every person.  Thus, the depth and shape of each acetabulum, the tonicity of muscle and connective tissue, along with general bone resilience is different for each individual.  Not my job to figure any of that out.  With this in mind, I try to consider the "needs vs. wants" in each situation.

As a trainer, I might want all of my client to have a full squat that drops way below parallel...and I might also want a  fairy to grant my wish of a million dollars...more then likely, this is not going to happen.  A client that sits all day for many years, realistically, only needs to squat to parallel or just below.  This will allow him/her to sit down and stand up safely throughout the day while getting their larger  muscles working and stronger.  Do I really need to get them to squat lower and possibly highlight injury?  Nope.  The risk of injury and time away from exercise, in my opinion, is greater than the reward or perceived benefit.   One exception here is a sports specific "need" for a full squat.   As long as there are no medical restrictions, we will train for the sport, to the required squat depth, and the client will understand the possible risks associated with this style of training and that training must stop at the first sign of pain.  This is, of course, unless the client has an injury history that would suggest that going down this road is just not a great idea - i.e. a history of multiple complete shoulder dislocations does not a trapeze artist make.

In short:  A client may "need" to sit down throughout the day - in a parallel (or just below parallel) squat.  This is a good place to be for most people. If the client "wants" to squat ass-to-grass due to personal or sports related goals, then go for it, but only if it is safe and makes sense for that person's physicality!  (and you have medical clearance and are trained to teach the skill!)

Idealistically, we would all look at the world like my 1-year-old nephew - hips low in a nice deep squat and chest tall, looking around at the whole new world around you.  Realistically, we are all unique in our genetic makeup and life experience.  Our hip and knee joins are the sum of ever minute we spend of this earth.  A 23-year-old gymnast may feel great sitting in an ass-to-grass squat while the 43-year-old desk jockey can even dream of getting into such a position.  Both clients have plenty of opportunity for improved fitness and health through movement, as long as we respect the body we are working with.

Keep on Swimming,

Coach Meg


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