Do full squats to build stronger, leaner legs for enhanced coordination and athletic performance. You know full squats are a great bang for your buck exercise and new research shows that they are the safest form of squats for the knee and lower back musculature. By making full squats a training staple, you can achieve the following worthwhile benefits:
- Maximal muscle growth of the quadriceps and hamstring musculature via increases in muscle cross-sectional area.
- Enhancement of muscle coordination, strength, and power for optimal athletic performance benefits such as increased jump height and sprint speed.
- Greater knee joint stability due to Increased strength of the cartilage tissue and ligaments surrounding the knee.
- Application of lighter, more manageable training loads to the spine with less compressive force on the intervertebral discs.
This new analysis found that contrary to the common belief that partial squat training is safer for the knee and back, half- and quarter-squat training “will favor degenerative changes in the knee joints and spinal joint.” Incomplete loading through the full range-of-motion leads to weaker connective tissue and imbalanced musculature.
In addition, concerns about degenerative changes to the knee joint that are associated with a high risk of chondromalacia, osteoarthritis, and knee pain from deep squats are unfounded.
Take away points from the study include the following:
- The greatest compressive force on the knee joints are observed at 90 degrees of knee flexion—the range reached in a half squat. Due to what is known as the “wrapping effect” the load distribution during a squat is better managed at the knee joint as flexion descends beyond 90 degrees into a parallel and then deep squat.
- The fact that partial squats lead to higher loads being lifted than during full squats at the same relative RM leads to much higher compressive forces on the knee joint. Partial range-of-motion training could contribute to knee joint degeneration in the long-term.
- The restriction of forward knee displacement (knees over the toes), as is commonly recommended in partial squats, leads to greater forward leaning and ventral flexion of the thoracic and lumbar spine. This places greater shear force on the intervertebral disc, which should be strictly avoided.
- Knee injuries, such as knee sprains, usually occur during high acceleration during full squats, as in the deep squat catch phase of a clean and jerk. Researchers caution that deep squats should be trained under control. This should lead to the development of correct movement patterns and functional adaptations of the cartilage and meniscal tissue for injury prevention.
- Deep back squat workouts with a load of 1.6 times body weight caused no change in knee stability compared to a 19 percent decrease in knee stability following a 10K race in distance runners. Researchers suggest this is due to greater strength in the ligaments, such as the ACL, that surround the knee.
- There’s a gender difference in lumbar flexion during the deep squat. Females have less range of lumbar flexion and more anterior tilt of the sacrum compared with males. They also have a lower stiffness and greater range between motion segments of the lumbar spine. It’s suggested that females are capable of developing more muscular stabilization of the lumbar spine.
- Researchers stress the need to maintain the lordotic curve during deep squats for optimal technique and to avoid disc injuries.
Use this study to put your fears related to full squat training to rest. Focus on impeccable technique in the deep squat for greater mobility, coordination, athletic performance, and muscle development. With full-range squats you’ll be optimally training the lower body musculature and connective tissue for injury prevention.
Partial squats may have their place if you are an advanced trainee. Again, technique and proper progression are paramount because when compared to deep squats, partials place greater stress on the knee and spinal joint.