A woman using a kettlebell to do weighted squats

Squatting with a good depth requires a good balance and hip/ankle flexibility and mobility.

So Why Are Proper Squat Forms Difficult For So Many People?

The simple answer is that many men and women have muscle imbalances, movement inefficiencies, or flexibility issues that inhibit proper squat depth to maximise strength and minimise injury. Those with poor hip flexibility tend to struggle with getting the depth in their squats which means that the muscle groups don’t work efficiently and you won’t get the best results. This poor range of movement often comes from tightness of the muscles within the hip flex, tightness in the calves, and all over body strength, which can be easily fixed with stretches, and specific exercises to maximise your mobility.

The Most Common Issues that Inhibit Squat Depth

Below are 5 of the most common issues that inhibit squat depth, an exercise test to determine if you need work on a given area, and possible solutions to rectify these issues. In time, hopefully you will learn how to increase squat depth, and get those muscles firing correctly.

Core muscles aren’t activated correctly

Test yourself: Hold a plank for as long as you can with good form. Note where you first feel pressure. If it’s in your lower back as opposed to your abs, then more than likely, your deep core muscles aren’t firing correctly.

Tight calves

Test yourself: Put an empty bar on your back and see how far you can squat. Then place one plate under your each foot. If you can go down further this second time around then your calves are limiting your depth.

Tight hip flexors

Test yourself: Stand in front of a squat rack or pole. Grab the pole at about waist height and perform a squat, going as low as you can go. This should help stabilise your core. If you can’t or if you can’t move out of the bottom position then your issue is probably tight or inactive hip flexors. Alignments which possibly show tight hip flexors are round of the back and the torso with begin to lean forward during the squat.

Upper back tightness

Test yourself: Perform a squat with no weight and your hands in front of your chest. See how low you go and when or if your back rounds at the bottom. Now perform the same movement, except this time bring your hands overhead, interlock your thumbs and mark how low you can go and when or if your back rounds. If your back rounds at a higher position or you can’t go as low without feeling like you’re going to lose your balance, then your thoracic spine extensibility is most likely the cause.

Glute medius and minius not activated

Test yourself: Perform 10 bodyweight squats. Look at where your knees are going. Are they slightly caving in when you squat down or are they following the midline of your toes? If they’re caving in (no matter what the rep number) then stop the test and work on the solution.

How Can I Avoid Knee Pain During Squats?

To avoid knee pain during squats, make sure to do the following:

  • Maintain proper form
  • Consider your foot placement – ensure your feet are shoulder-width apart and pointed slightly outward to help distribute the load evenly.
  • Always warm up
  • Control your descent – lower into position slowly and avoid sudden, jerky movements
  • Wear proper footwear
  • Work on strengthening the muscles around your knees
  • Avoid using excessive weights – always use the correct weights

If the pain persists, make sure to consult a professional, such as a physio.