3-4 years ago my answer would have been yes! I used to say that everyone needs to squat arse to grass; it’s a fundamental movement pattern. This may be because I started my career working as a Strength and Conditioning coach for rugby teams. Getting the players to be proficient at the barbell front and back squat was important part of their training to improve performance and prevent injury. However, after having spent more time in the last few years training people for general health, fitness and fat loss, and less for performance, I would now disagree. I’ve come to recognise that being able to squat heavy to depth may make better athletes but not necessarily healthier human beings.
I recently attended a workshop run by Nick Tumminello (http://nicktumminello.com). I would highly recommend going to one his workshops if you work in the fitness industry. His material is sought after because his work is simple, applicable, non-BS and based on the fundamental training principles.
These are the same training principles that every S&C coach and PT learn in their first lecture in their sports science degree, one week of their PT qualification and in the first chapter of Bompa’s and Tudors Book on Periodisation for Sports – the first book of training that every strength coach ever reads. But these basic principles have been forgotten by large number of trainers and coaches.
The Training Principles are:
- Progressive Overload
Focusing on squatting ‘arse to grass’, I want to focus on the first and second principles Specificity and Individuality.
This is the client/athlete’s training goal(s) and what exercises and training methods can be used to achieve this goal. If a client wants to get stronger on their front squat or to improve their Olympic lifting then, yes, they will need to squat below parallel with good technique.
However, if a client’s focus is fat loss or general health and fitness, while the squat is a very useful tool, squatting to depth is not essential. Consider including box squats, squats to parallel, goblet squats (picture below) and single leg variations in their routine. You will still get a similar training response with regards to fat loss and general health.
This is determined by the level of physical ability of the client, i.e. which exercises they are able to do, and what equipment and space they have available to them. Squats may be a good choice of exercise for a client, however, deep squats below parallel may be a bad choice. A client with mobility or stability issues will make squatting past parallel hard work. Unless the issues are addressed in training and in their spare time squatting may cause pain and potentially an injury.
Take as an example, one of my client’s who has ruptured all his ligaments in one of his ankles from an old rugby injury. Understandably he has very limited ankle dorsi flexion and very bad ankle stability. This makes squatting very uncomfortable and painful; he struggles to even box squat. I only see him for 1 x 30 min session a week, as that’s all the spare time he has. His goals are to stay lean and strong while keeping his ankle pain free. Therefore after working on his ankle mobility and stability for 5mins, we do slow and controlled TRX Squats. Over time, we will improve his squat but realistically he’s never going to be able to, and doesn’t need, to squat arse to grass. He is able to perform variations on Deadlifts and Lunges with no pain, so his programme consists of mainly those exercises, along with some upper body and core work.
Don’t get me wrong, being able to squat deep has many benefits. It is great for strength, performance and muscle mass gains and so I do coach most of my client to squat deep with sound technique. But don’t forget that, it doesn’t always have to be a heavy Barbell Squat. Goblet, TRX squats and even body weight squats are great tools.
Too many trainers, including myself have been guilty at of making our clients get under a barbell and start squatting ‘arse to grass’, then getting frustrated when the client can’t squat below parallel even after weeks of training and coaching. Ultimately, it should be down to the specificity (the client’s goals) and the individual ability of the client that determines whether the deep squat should be part of their programme. So think first of your client before prescribing that exercise you know and love.