How Low Should You Squat?

You probably can't comfortably squat low enough. Here's how to fix that.
You probably can't comfortably squat low enough. Here's how to fix that.Luis Alvarez / Getty Images

You probably can't squat better than a baby. It might sound funny, but when you look at technique, it's true. If you have a child, watch how easily they can get into and maintain a deep squat.

Man doing a barbell squat workout

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Babies aren't squatting more than their bodyweight, but the ease in which they're able to move shows what the body is naturally capable of doing before it adapts to poor posture and positions as we age. The deep squat is a basic movement that has become a challenge for the average person. In order to properly squat, you need joint mobility, motor control, strength, and stability.

Squatting may be no passion of yours, but there's reason to care whether you can do it. The ability to perform a squat ties to your ability to perform basic daily living activities (picking something up off the floor, even just sitting down), exercise, and avoid injury. Basically, if you can properly squat, every movement involving your lower body will feel easier.

A proper squat should look effortless. There are two phases, descent and ascent. These motions should mirror each other; when you descend, certain muscles shorten and lengthen, and the opposite should occur when you ascend. In other words, the way you go down should be the same way you come up.  

If you're not able to squat correctly, it's a sign of imbalances in your body. Here are some of the most common indicators:

You bend forward at the trunk instead of maintaining an erect posture.
If you are rounding at your mid back, this means your lower traps and lats aren't strong enough to hold you up. If you are rounding at your low back, your abs aren't firing.

You can't get low.
This could indicate a lack of mobility in a few areas of your body, or lack of muscle control. If you can get all the way down using your hand for stability, then you have a motor control issue. If you can't, it's a sign of a mobility issue. If this is the case, I recommend seeking out a physical therapist to do a selective functional movement assessment (SFMA) to get a better indication of what's wrong. 

Your knees collapse inward.
This is a sign you lack core stability and your glutes aren't working.  

You feel any pain.
Pain during a deep squat is another indication of lack of mobility. Again, I would recommend having an expert examine your squat during an SFMA to pinpoint what's keeping you from performing the full squat.

If any of these occur, don't worry. There are steps you can take to improve your deep squat and the way your body functions as a whole. With these five simple exercises, you'll be squatting like a baby again in no time.  

Hip Flexor Release

  • For this release, use two lacrosse balls taped together.
  • Lie on your stomach and place the double lacrosse ball just below your hip bone.
  • Lean a tolerable amount of weight onto the lacrosse balls.
  • Bend the knee on the side of the release back to a 90-degree angle. Swing that leg side to side in a tolerable range of motion.
  • Perform for one minute on each side. 

Hip Adductor Release

  • Find a stable surface to sit on.
  • Flex your hip and your knee (similar to if you were crossing one leg over the other).
  • Place your elbow (same arm as leg you are releasing) on your inner thigh, on a sore spot, and move your leg up and down.
  • Start in the upper groin and move down the leg toward the knee along multiple sore spots.

Tall Kneeling Squat

  • Kneel on the floor holding a pole behind your head, squeezing your shoulder blades down and back.
  • Engage your glutes and push your hips back toward your heels.
  • Using your glutes again, come back to the starting position.
  • Repeat for three sets of 15 reps. Throughout this exercise you should feel your abs, glutes, lower traps, and lats engaging. 

Inner Thigh Squats

  • Stand in front of a resistance band looped around a post. The height of the band should be in the middle of your torso.
  • Grab the band with both hands, keeping your elbows bent at 90 degrees, bring your elbows back and squeeze your shoulder blades back and down. There should be a light resistance in the band.
  • Place feet shoulder-width apart with your toes pointed out at a 20-degree angle, weight in your heels. Squat, and push hips back like you are sitting in a chair. While lowering, try to move your knees out and use the muscles activated by pulling on the resistance band (the lats in your back) to keep an upright posture.
  • Go as low as you can, then push back up through your heels, while maintaining an upright posture. Repeat for three sets of 15 reps.

Assisted Squats
Hold onto an anchor, like a doorframe or chair, and squat as low as possible. Stay in the bottom of the squat as long as you can, chest up, shoulders down, and abs engaged. Repeat for three reps.

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