If I Hear One More Personal Trainer Say That Squatting Below Parallel Is Dangerous, I May Just Blog About It.

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I took today off from work. All told, I was going to run a few errands, go get a quick training session in, catch up on some reading, write some programs, and then, if the mood struck me, write a short blog to finish off the afternoon. Heck, I was even thinking about hitting up Home Depot, cause you know, that’s what dudes do on their day off. For all intents and purposes, I had a nice little day planned. That is, of course, till I received the email (below) from one of my female clients:

NOTE: she has the mouth of a sailor. Just a fair warning:

A girl at work got a trainer a few weeks ago. She loooves to talk to me about it, every day. EVERY. DAY. Driving me f****** nuts because she keeps asking my opinion on things and then correcting me with some bull**** her trainer told her. For instance, this morning she told me it is dangerous to squat “too low” and get parallel to the ground because it’s bad for your knees.

When I try to kindly insert my opinion on stuff (by emailing her your blog. Hint hint), she just shoots me down with the almighty opinion of this deuchebag who, by the by, clearly doesn’t know his ass from his asshole. It’s not her fault that she’s paying someone to give her crappy advice, and it’s nothing you don’t already know exists, but it’s really annoying nonetheless.

No need to respond, just wanted to commiserate. 🙂

Now I’m pissed. Not at my client, of course. Rather, I’m pissed at this nonsense that seemingly, will NEVER go away. Really? Squatting below parallel is bad for the knees? Why is it, then, that we don’t cringe every time a toddler goes to pick something up off the ground?

Likewise, how come the form police never rear their ugly heads whenever an Olympic lifter does what Olympic lifters do?

Extreme examples, for sure – but I feel gets the point across. Listen, I’m not saying that everyone needs (or has) to squat ass-to-grass (otherwise known as ATG squats on the interwebz). Although on an aside, I find it strikingly odd that, no matter what fitness forum you peruse, everyone and their mother claim to squat ATG. Yet, whenever I go to a commercial gym to train, I rarely (if ever) see anyone squatting remotely close to depth. But I digress.

The fact of the matter is, not everyone can (or should) squat below parallel. I’m not that naive. Without taking into consideration one’s training history, injury history, postural deficiencies, and/or mobility deficits, I’d be remiss to state otherwise. That said, it’s blanket statements like the one above, that give the industry such a bad name; not to mention make many (not all) personal trainers look like asshats.

This reminds me of when I first moved to the Boston area and started working at a rather high-end commercial gym located in the city. As a new hire, I was required to spend the first week going through “employee initiation,” which entailed, of all things, going through the entire facility and naming all the equipment and it’s purpose (they weren’t happy when I wrote Smith Machine = coat rack), as well as attending several “mentorships” on topics such as testing, assessment, and program design, to name a few.

I remember, vividly, the day when we went through the assessment portion. The woman – a “master trainer” no less – who was in charge of taking us through that particular portion, asked me to demonstrate an overhead squat for another incoming trainer. Long story short, you would have thought I dropped kicked a puppy when she saw me, GASP, squat below parallel.

Master Trainer: Um, excuse me, what are you doing?

Me: doing an overhead squat.

Master Trainer: are you going to tell your clients to squat that low?

Me: (perplexed look) Well, yeah. If they’re able to, why not?

It wasn’t till a few weeks later that I heard through the grapevine that she went to the fitness director afterwards and told him to keep his eye on me, and that I might “be trouble.” No, I’m not kidding.

More often than not, though – and I’m only using anecdotal evidence here – whenever someone comes to me and says, “squats hurt my knees,” you can almost guarantee that when I ask them to demonstrate what it is they feel represents a squat, what I usually end up seeing is anything but. Not even close.

Instead, once I pick my jaw up from the floor, what I usually end up witnessing is something more like a quick, herky-jerky knee bend. Something tantamount to this:

I’ll stop here and give you a few moments to go stab yourself in the eyes with a stapler. Repeatedly.

Incidentally, what I find ironic is that most people (personal trainers included) think the above video is actually a SAFER way to squat. Sad, I know. As such, the best explanation I’ve ever come across explaining why this is absolutely absurd, comes from an article Marc McDougal wrote a few years ago debunking many common exercise myths. In this case, why 1/4-1/2 squats are worse for your knees:

The knee has four main protective ligaments that keep the femur from displacing on the tibia (ACL, PCL, MCL, LCL). These four ligaments are most effective at their protection during full extension and full flexion.

Full extension would be when you are standing; full flexion would be when there is no daylight between your hamstring and your calf. When the knee is at 90 degrees of flexion (the halfway point), these four ligaments are almost completely lax and cannot exert much if any of a protective force at the knee (Zatsiorsky V. Kinematics of human motion. 1998 – published by Human Kinetics – p.301).

Unfortunately, the position where the protective ligaments of the knee are not doing any protecting is the common recommended stopping point of a squat. Therefore, as it as it turns out, this is the exact worst place you could reverse the motion under load.

Furthermore – and this should should put the nail in the coffin – in a study titled Patellofemoral joint kinetics during squat in collegiate women athletes (Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon), June 1, 2001; 16(5): 424-30), by Salem and Powers, it was shown that there was no discernible difference between three different squat depths (70, 90, and 110 degrees of knee flexion) with regards to patellofemoral joint reaction force and patellofemoral joint stress.

In other words, and I’m just paraphrasing here, you’re a walking bag of douche if you go around telling people that squatting below parallel is bad for their knees. Game. Set. Match. God, I love pwning people.

UPDATE: Again, to re-iterate, you have to take into consideration one’s training history, movement quality, mobility deficits, postural restrictions, blah blah blah, before deciding whether not (s)he is ready to squat, let alone squat below parallel. I’m definitely not opposed to using other modalities, and using what ROM they do have in order to groove technique. All told, I’ve had plenty of clients who may go months before they’re squatting to an appreciable depth. All I’m trying to say is that:

1. I think it’s asinine that a vast majority of personal trainers still think squatting below parallel is dangerous.

AND

2. Most (not all) are about as intelligent as a ham sandwich.

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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  • Erika

    I am one of the few personal trainers who believe in squatting below parallel but it’s crossfit that I have to thank for that not my personal trainer’s course sadly

  • swedishguy

    Great words man gotta say it!!. I do street workout I do one Leg squat explosive jumps among 2 leg squat explosive jumps ” ALL the way down”.. No injuries just pure strenght gains.. what is the purpose to stop half in a motion!!! its silly!.. definitely a myth..

    if you have trained the right way and flexibility its all fine!!

    as long form and controll is there no danger, I belivle more its about ”people put on too much weight with deep squats” injuring themselves… lowest postion afterall is a bad postion to have to much weight on.. If your doing it wrong!!

    great stuff man!! enjoyed reading it..

    and a trainer that dont understand the concept of Different people adaption and personality is no good trainer…Dont put a old lady going all the way:) that be stupid :P.!!

    like you said.. If they can do it and so on… teach them the right way… Good stuff..

    ill keep doing my 1 leg all way squats and other:)

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  • luis puerta

    Wow. You could delete the entire article until you get to the actual information about how the ligaments of the knee work. It’s a shame you’re one of the people who promote this nonsense. I have a bachelors in kinesiology. In every single one of the exercise therapy classes or topics of contraindicated exercises, full squats and deep knee bends are said to be avoided. Full squats cause excessive stretching of the ligaments of the knee and may pinch the joint cartilage. Once the ligaments of the knee have been stretched, they cause instability to the knee joint. While your citations are correct, they actually support the notion that going beyond parallel forces the knee joint to lose the help of the ligaments that keep it stable. Sure the joint reaction force and joint stress might be the same but that’s not the issue. The issue is stability. Please don’t promote this anymore, you’re going to get people hurt..

    • TonyGentilcore

      Having people squat to full depth is going to get people hurt?

      I understand that not everyone has the ability to squat to depth (which is why assessment is so important), but are you seriously implying that squatting past 90 degrees is dangerous?

      How do people expect to walk up stairs, go to the bathroom, or play sports, then?

      I do get your point, and in my defense I wrote that article four years ago. If I were to write it again I’d change my wording around a little, but certainly would still advocate that squatting to depth (assuming no contraindications) is perfectly healthy.

      • luis puerta

        Lol wow I didn’t even notice the date there, my apologies on that. I was trying to find information on why exactly cross fit goes so far down in their squats and lock out the knees/shoulders on their thrusters. The biggest thing that makes it dangerous is the lack of stability. Now if you can completely control your entire movement, it is perfectly fine to go to depth. Like you said, there is no difference in force or stress by dipping below parallel. But I have rarely, rarely seen anyone who can completely control their movement on the way down, let alone do an actual squat correctly (like you showed in that hilarious video).The danger lies in any change of posture or balance that the ligaments of the knee can no longer control (once beyond parallel). While it is not a guarantee that everyone will suddenly shift their posture or balance, it is still relatively dangerous to anyone who is not advanced or using an extremely low weight. I do appreciate those links though because I had never seen those studies before! Also you could have disregarded this comment because its four years old but you replied and I appreciate it.

        • TonyGentilcore

          Okay, sounds like we’re on the same page here. When I wrote that post the main reason for doing so was just to clarify to personal trainers out there that squatting deep is NOT dangerous, given someone has been cleared to do so and they’ve been properly assessed.

          • meee

            Swuat for that dick u live so much see how low u can go before ur knees hurt

      • meee

        Wrong go die

    • meee

      You are 100% right and look at the skinny the fuck with no education telling you you are wrong lmao

  • Ryan

    I started squatting ATG recently, I’m 6″6 and manage it well, but I have various trainers saying that there’s no need to go so low and parallel is fine, my trainer however says its fine. Apparently that low puts too much strain on my back they say, which is odd as everyone says it’s the knees.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Listen to YOUR trainer. Granted, at your height, it’s going to be a bit harder to “control” the spine, but assuming you’re maintaining proper alignment, not tucking under, and otherwise making your trainer cringe, I say go for it.

  • John

    great article… I loved the biological explanation for the knee being made to handle higher loads at a lower squat point. I also am very glad to hear the beginner or even intermediate squatter should practice systematically with lower loads to achieve this higher range of motion. The benefits in the long run are all the affirmation needed to settle this issue.

  • meee

    Yep and catchers don’t all have bad knees from squatting low lmfao u stupid fucks your knee has 140 degrees of mobility so why not push it to the limit cause going to the limit never causes injury right? I’m bigger than you leaner and never fucking squat low I’m sick of roid heads and skinny fuckers talking shit they don’t kniw