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Why you need to do the deep squat

Performing squats are a great way to boost your hip strength and mobility. But if you want to strengthen your entire lower body, do the deep squat

Improve your strength and mobility with the deep squat.
Improve your strength and mobility with the deep squat. (Istockphoto)

So many squat variations in the fitness world, which one to do? Ideally one must try all of them because even the smallest differences can unlock the potential of the exercises. But it isn’t just about variations in grips and angles of which side you are dropping into a squat. It is also about squat depth and the amount of time you can hold the position. This month’s skill to learn is the deep squat hold. Not only will it let you get ‘low, low, low’ on the dance floor, but it will also add to your strength and stability all the way from your trunk down to your feet.

The first thing to know before attempting a deep squat, whether as a rep or as a hold, is that squat depth differs from person to person. Regular squats are a must-have in your exercise armoury, and the ability to squat lower or deeper will come with time and extended range of motion. An article in Hinge Health, titled Deep Squats: 6 Reasons Physical Therapists Want You to Do Them, uses an interesting analogy to compare conventional squats with deep squats: “[It] is a bit like comparing a sprinter and a marathoner: Both are runners, but they condition their bodies to be great at different skills. The key is to know and work with your own body’s capabilities and limitations, find the right starting point, and build from there.”

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The most basic difference between the two is that one stops as soon as the thighs are parallel to the ground and the other continues until the hips travel well below the knees. This will activate different areas of the body like the ankles and soles of the feet, along with the bigger muscle groups that support a squat, like the quads and glutes. But that might not make enough of a difference for most people, and it is very valid to ask why go lower in a squat if it hardly makes for a change. The clincher though, is how a deep squat affects your trunk stability, lower back, pelvis, and one of the most ignored parts of the legs: the tibia or the front of the calves.

“From a functional standpoint, the ability to move well and move often starts with your foot, ankle, and shinbone. Mobility in this region can and will directly influence movement along the entire kinetic chain; which describes the interrelated groups of body segments, connecting bones, muscles, and joints working together to perform movements,” says a Prehab Guys video on YouTube, which also teaches you to assess your movements before entering the world of deep squats.

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Learning a skill is more fun when it has a foundational exercise which makes the process easier. Fitness experts agree that ankle dorsiflexion is something one must work on to make all squats easier. This can be done in various ways, which are all shown in a video by Doc Jen Fit, with detailed explanations of how and why you should do this move not just for a better squat, but for all kinds of movements. Runners and sports enthusiasts will benefit hugely by this. The video ends with an attempt at a chair-supported deep squat.

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The move also has roots in yoga, which makes it interesting for those who are unable to perform, or are not interested in, more conventional gym workouts. Fitness channel Strength Side offers three variations to try before attempting an unsupported deep squat. The first one is with support, using the edge of something strong enough to hold onto. Stage two would be to place your heels on something an inch or so above the ground to elevate them. The video below shows all three variations.

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Finally, it is always important to make sure an exercise is safe for you. There have been arguments about how deep squats can adversely affect knee health. There is enough research on both sides of the argument, even though more recent research is in favour of doing the exercise.

“Current evidence shows that deep squats result in greater activation of lower body musculature compared to shallow squats, resulting in faster sprint performance and higher vertical jumps. Even more, deep squats do not result in greater shear forces on your ACL and PCL (anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments). Instead, they show greater stabilisation of the knee joint,” states a research-based article in Relentless Athletics titled The Science Behind Deep Squats. That said, if you have knee issues, get a general assessment done by a physiotherapist before you attempt it.

Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer.

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