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How Deep To Squat To Protect Your Knees – ATG? Parallel?

How Deep To Squat To Protect Your Knees

by Yuan

This post will be about how deep to squat in order to protect your knees. No one wants messed up knees when they get older.

So is it bad for your knees to squat ATG, breaking parallel, or not breaking parallel?

Your knees are a lot safer when you squat ATG on the high bar squat or when you break parallel on the low bar squat.

Let’s take a look at the anatomy of your knees and go over how they work.

The Anatomy Of Your Knees

There are 4 ligaments that keeps your knees from moving in unsafe directions (acl, lcl, mcl, pcl). It looks like this:

These ligaments are most effective at full extension (when you are standing straight) and full flexion (when the calves touch your thighs as in the ATG position of a high bar squat). During a ‘half squat’, these ligaments are at their most lax point and most vunerable. (Zatsiorsky V. Kinematics of human motion. 1998 – published by Human Kinetics – p.301).

But Don’t Go Too Low, It’s Also Bad For You

High Bar Squat Depth

Just hitting full flexion or ATG is fine, go any lower (bouncing hard off your calves) and you create a ‘high wear’ situation for your knees. Here is what I’m talking about:

Some olympic weightlifters will reach this point to get the most out of their lift. Doing this will get you a superior stretch reflex from the patellar tendon:

How Deep To Squat patellar tendon









While Ivan Chakarov was an olympic weight lifting gold medalist, he was training for elite levels of competition and it will be very different from training recreationally (you won’t see many guys in their 50’s squatting decent weights like this).

Training for competition involves pushing your body to the limit to get the highest performance, while you want longevity in recreational training.

Most olympic weightlifting champions reach their peak in the early 20’s. As a recreational lifter, you’d want to keep lifting even when you get old. Squatting is one of the best exercises to maintain your knee/hip strength and bone density.

Low Bar Squat Depth

If you go too low on the low bar squat, it will cause excessive lower back rounding and this is not good for your spine. While you should still break parallel, it’s not beneficial to reach the ATG depth like in the high bar squat (where the knees reach full flexion). If you experience back pain from squats, check out my post on: 3 Tips To Get Rid of Lower Back Pain From Squats.

Ankles Can Limit Safe Squatting Depth

Tight ankles can make it unsafe to squat full range. When you try to reach full depth with tight ankles, 2 things can happen:

  1. Heels come off the ground
  2. Low back rounds

When the back rounds excessively, it’s bad for your spine.
When the heels comes of the ground, it will cause your knees to shoot forward excessively and that’s bad for the knees.

Fortunately, you can stretch it out and gain the ankle mobility. Use the mulligan stretch:

The band helps keep your heel on the ground. You can still do it without a band, but it’s not as effective.

Once you improve ankle mobility with the mulligan, I recommend the following stretch. This one will not only improve ankle mobility, but also improve your squat stability, squat position and strength at the bottom of the squat (starts at 4:46)

If you’re really tall, I recommend geting squat shoes to help you get into a better squat position to hit proper depth safely.

Learn Proper Squat Technique

To improve your squat, check out my article: 3 Tips To Take Your Squat To The Next Level

If you’re not 100% confident in your squat form, check out my post on How To Squat.

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