Performing a Deep Squat is Valuable for Many Reasons

There are a few exercises that are beneficial from both a functional perspective as well as an assessment standpoint. The deep squat is one such exercise. To be able to perform it or not perform it correctly is indicative of someones overall quality of movement. When an individual has difficulty performing a bodyweight deep squat, avoid loading the body with heavy back squats would be prudent.

This exercise can also tell you if there is any asymmetry throughout the body, meaning muscle imbalance, or mobility issues between the right and left sides of the body.

Squats at any depth are beneficial because they activate many different muscles since it’s a compound movement. Someones form and technique will depends on mobility, flexibility, range of motion, strength and training goals. Let’s look at why this exercise is in fact so valuable?

Four Benefits of Performing a Deep Squat

  1. More than Just a Leg Workout – Starting with the ankle joint and moving up through the legs, hips, core, back and shoulders. The muscles and connective tissue for each of these areas gets stressed and overloaded during the movement.
  2. Better Knee Stability – Years ago some though going below parallel would harm the knee joint; the opposite is actually true, lower is better. The end position actually strengthens the ligaments and improves stability in the knee.
  3. Hips Lower than Knees is a Good Thing – Dropping into a deep squat overloads the gluteus maximus and hip extensors more than a traditional squat would.
  4. Decreased Forces in Knee – While in a deep squat the forces acting on the knee ligaments are less because the knee is more stable in that position.

The Overhead Deep Squat Can Double as a Functional Assessment Tool

Many of the well-known movement experts like Gray Cook, MSPT, recommend using a bodyweight overhead deep squat as an assessment tool. He and many others use it along with four other exercises as part of their functional movement screening assessment. This one exercise turned into an assessment tool can gauge “bilateral symmetrical mobility of the hips, knees, and ankles.” When it’s combined with the hands held overhead, the test will also assess “bilateral symmetrical mobility of the shoulders, as well as extension of the thoracic spine,” according to Cook.

Movement Execution

  • Position the feet shoulder-width apart, keeping both feet pointed straight (don’t angle your feet out at all).
  • Raise the shoulders overhead, flexing and abducting the shoulders keeping the elbows fully extended.
  • Slowly lower the body as deep as possible into a squat.
  • Make sure hand position and length does not change during the movement.
  • Deep Squat

Deep Squat as an Assessment Tool

One of the best exercises you can use to assess yourself is the deep squat. Perform the test with a wooden dowel or a piece of PVC tubing. Use the technique mentioned above.

The goals are to determine if there is any pain or limitations during the movement. Where was the pain coming from? Could the movement be executed fully? If possible, have a picture taken of you or the person you’re working with from straight on and from a side angle too. You can also use your smart phone to video yourself. Gray Cook notes, “the ability to perform the test requires closed-chain dorsiflexion of the ankles, flexion of the hips and knees, extension of the thoracic spine, and flexion and abduction of the shoulders.”

Like all great exercise assessment tools there are various progressions dedicated to the overhead deep squat that can also be found in Cook’s book Athletic Body in Balance if needed. Hopefully, this article has shed some light on the many benefits of the deep squat, both as an exercise and an assessment tool. Stay Strong with Jefit!

Cook, G., Athletic Body in Balance, Human Kinetics, 2003.

Boyle, M., Advances in Functional Training, On Target Publications, 2010.

Cook, G., Movement: Functional Movement Systems, On Target Publishing, 2010.

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Improve Your Balance and Functionality Doing More Single-leg Exercises

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They may take a bit longer, but the many benefits of doing single-leg exercises, or unilateral exercises, far outweigh that one issue. Moreover, performing these types of leg exercises regularly can improve balance, functional ability, correct muscle imbalances, and increase core strength. Knowing that, the better question might be why would you not do them? Unilateral exercises require only a single-leg or single-arm to perform.

Just about everything we do is based off a single-leg movement. Movements such as walking, running, skipping, forms of jumping and climbing a flight of stairs all utilize one-leg. In fact, Michael Sylvester, owner of TheFitnessDocs, states, “when we walk or run, 60 percent of the gait cycle is bearing our entire bodyweight on one-leg.”

Single-leg Exercises Mimic The Way We Move

Leg exercises, especially single-leg exercises, mimic the way the body moves naturally (i.e. gait pattern) in everyday life and during athletic events. We want to train the body the way we move in life and in sport. Using lower body unilateral exercises in a workout will check off those two boxes. Compound exercises, also known as bilateral exercises, like a squat or deadlift are of course important. If an athlete is trying to improve their vertical jump, for instance, then those types of exercises are applicable.

Think of the way you and your clients move throughout the day. Watch a video of any sporting event and observe how each athlete moves up and down the field, court, track or ice. Every movement requires unilateral or single-leg action; running down the field, cutting on a court, a lay-up, running the bases, or pushing off on the ice. The body therefore needs to train in a similar manner replicating those types of movements in the gym in order to improve performance.

Single-leg Exercises Helps Correct Muscle Imbalances

Many people use their dominant side most of the time. If your dominant leg is your right leg, this is typically the one you’ll use to start running up a flight of stairs or kick a soccer ball. Likewise, the same thing applies to the upper body. Think about how strong the arm of a tennis player or baseball pitcher’s dominant side is. This is why it’s so important to train the opposite or non-dominant side and using unilateral exercises work best in most cases.

Performing barbell bilateral exercises can help someone become stronger but not correct imbalance issues; unilateral dumbbell exercises on the other hand will. Each one of us has as area or a side of the body that is typically weaker and less flexible. Further, if not corrected over time, dysfunctional movement will occur and lead to injuries. Speaking of injuries, this can be a major problem when coming back from a leg or foot or injury that as a result, leads to changes in gait pattern. If not corrected, in-efficient movement patterns can take hold or what I like refer to as, get “ingrained in the brain” and become the norm. Unilateral movements will help bring the body back to its original state after this has been corrected.

According to, Gray Cook, MSPT, you “must develop sound movement patterns long before worrying about performance enhancement. These movement patterns are not possible in the presence of poor flexibility or poor body control – that is, poor mobility and stability.”

Improves Balance

Working off one-leg makes the involved leg work that much harder and the smaller intrinsic muscles around the ankle ultimately become stronger. Consequently, the muscles around the knee and hip joints also get stronger resulting in better balance. Continuing to use single-leg exercises like split jumps, pistol squats, step-ups, and Bulgarian split squats in workouts force you to spend more time balancing on one leg while working different single-leg movement patterns. This in turn improves kinaesthetic awareness leading to better balance through postural awareness and new found strength.

Added Bonus on Core Strength

When you work one side of your body as a result of using unilateral exercises, like a single-leg Romanian Deadlift, you activate more core muscles in order to maintain balance. The by-product is the stabilizing muscles end up working much harder and become stronger. The primary core stabilizers include the deep trunk muscles like the multifidus, internal obliques, external obliques, tranverse abdominis and pelvic floor muscles. The purpose of these muscles is to support and protect your spine and improve your posture.

For best overall results, try adding more unilateral leg exercises to your workouts if you’re not already doing so. As an example, combining bilateral (Squats) and unilateral (DB Bulgarian Split Squat) exercises in the same workout will help take your strength gains (and more) to the next level. Stay Strong!

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