Rock Bottom vs. Parallel

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Ricky asks about squat depth:

Logan, I read you saying somewhere you remember when you were younger every time you added weight to the bar on the squat you’d always start noticing yourself go a little less low to the floor! I laughed when I read this, because it sounds all too familiar! But you didn’t say actually how you outgrew it. How did you eventually overcome this obstacle, and what were you doing wrong? Were you just adding weight to the bar way too soon, or was it something else, etc….?

Ah yes, back in my “conventional gym” days.

Back when I was very weak and had no clue what I was doing, following workouts from bodybuilding magazines.

As the weight went up, my depth decreased. With a lack of body awareness, I wasn’t even noticing the difference, until it was pointed out to me.

Oh, how far we’ve come.

In my decade plus of experience since then, I’ve learned a few things. There are several ways this tendency can be overcome.

The final tip is also something many people don’t consider, but it kind of makes this a non-issue, if you do it.

  • Do squats where you start from the bottom of the rack.

    • Many very strong people are big fans of these. You can set the pins to start at the parallel start.
    • By eliminating the descent you don’t benefit in strength from the muscular elastic recoil. In short, they’re harder.
    • As far as strength is concerned, it’s hard to beat.
  • Touch the pins in the rack.

    • Even if you start at the top you can lower down until the bar just touches the rack.
    • You don’t want to bounce or rest, but this will let you know that you’re getting deep enough.
  • You can have someone else, or video tape yourself, to verify you’re getting to the proper depth.

    • In powerlifting competitions the judge will signal you once you’re at the right depth. A friend or trainer could do the same.
    • If you don’t have one, video can be reviewed. It won’t let you know then and there, unless you have a live setup, but at least you can get post-set feedback.
  • Do rock bottom squats each time.

    • The term “ass to grass” is thrown around, but the fact is depending on build some people’s ass will never reach the grass in a squat. To me, rock bottom squat depth is the hamstrings resting on the calves.
    • When you’re doing squats, you’ll feel it when you’re there.
    • Besides, these actually activate the glutes when you go to this depth, far better than parallel squats do.

The reason parallel squats are often used is that it is harder to maintain a flat back while squatting past parallel. But if you have weight on your shoulders, this is something you want to have. Still it can be done, you just need to be flexible to do so.

Flexibility is not a trait many powerlifters have, hence why they squat to parallel, and hence why this idea is spread to the general public.

And now many people think it’s unsafe to go deeper. 🙁

Even if you are doing parallel squats working with weights, it is highly advisable to work some rock bottom squatting in as well.

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