How Deep Should You Squat?

Everyone has a slightly different bony anatomy. Whether it’s a longer femur, bent shin (tibial torsion), or a rotated hip socket (acetabular retroversion), your anatomy, in addition to your functional goals, should ultimately drive squat depth. So how deep or low should you squat? From an injury prevention and biomechanical perspective, there is only one thing that should matter – posterior pelvic tilt.

posteriot pelvis tilt squat depth

Posterior pelvic tilt shown on the left 
Via Pinterest

Normal hip flexion range of motion is approximately 120 degrees. This is when the femur abuts against the hip bone, or pelvis. When we squat deeply past 120°, as shown below, where do we magically get more range of motion? The pelvis! The pelvis posteriorly tilts to allow more room for the femur to flex. Also known as the tuck under or butt wink, posterior pelvic tilt is a naturally occurring phenomenon. However, posterior pelvic tilt can potential become a problem when we add an external load, or weight, during a squat movement.

Posterior pelvic tilt on the right Via Pinterest

Posterior pelvic tilt on the right
accompanied by lumbar spine flexion
Via Pinterest

Because our legs (femurs), hips (pelvis), and spine (vertebral column) are all connected, movement of one bone will undoubtedly affect the others. When we posterior pelvic tilt, our lumbar spine flexes. The most important fundamental of good squat mechanics is to maintain neutral spine position. The moment our hips posteriorly pelvic tilt, we automatically loose neutral spine position. Loss of neutral spine position is detrimental for your back for two reasons.

1) Biomechanically speaking, it increases the lever arm of the back extensors. Thus, our back extensors must work much harder to keep our torso upright. Increased muscle activation of the back extensors increases the shear and compression loads on each vertebrae, and over time, can lead to problems down the road.

2) The intradiscal pressure inside of each of your intervertebral discs increases tremendously in a flexed spine position. Additionally, the thinnest portion (posterior aspect) of the annulus fibrosis, or wall of the intervertebral disc, is tensioned in a flexed spine position. Our intervertebral discs are meant to withstand compression, not tension!

Remember, posterior pelvic tilt occurs naturally at end range hip flexion – so a little posterior pelvic tilt is expected during a squat movement (more than likely you will observe a return to neutral pelvis position). However, it is when posterior pelvic tilt occurs excessively during a squat movement, that you should begin to worry about the additional compression you are placing on your back.

Furthermore, from a functional perspective, will you ever have to perform a deep squat in everyday tasks? Training specificity is important. Unless your occupation or sport requires you to perform a deep squat, there’s no point in training your body to squat all the way to the ground and risk back injury.

Nachemson, Alf, and James Morris. “Lumbar Discometry Lumbar Intradiscal Pressure Measurements In Vivo.” The Lancet 281.7291 (1963): 1140-142.

3 thoughts on “How Deep Should You Squat?

  • for a patient with lordosis would you not want some posterior pelvic tilt because in order for them to have a neutral spine wouldn’t that be necessary. Thankful for what you guys do and the information you provide

  • I did alot of squats yesterday and today i felt like all the muscles around L1/L2 cramped up and caused great pain(been coming and going all day in certain movements). I guess its because of a nerve and that my squatting need to change. But how do i fix the pain so my nerve wont get pinched and relax the muscles. /best regards from sweden. You guys are awsome

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