It is pretty well accepted by most that proper squat depth should be to slightly below parallel (thighs below parallel to the ground). I personally don't think it's even worth assigning this depth to the squat. I say to simply pull yourself down until your body stops you, then come back up. And if you are a well functioning human, that will set you well below parallel.
The problem I see with aiming (for anywhere near parallel) is that the lifter will anticipate hitting only that depth so much, that they underestimate how deep they actually are. There should be no decision about wether or not you have to go deeper. Pull yourself down until you cannot go further, then you go back up. Leave no question about it.
Now, there are certainly trainees who won't be suited to achieve the depth I describe. Certain anatomies, body geometries, and knee/hip injuries may prevent some individuals from being able to squat this deep.
Even if you (knowingly or not) fall into one of these categories, it's not an invitation to assume that half and quarter squats are the best idea for you. In fact, your situation will introduce the need for specific adjustments. Adjustments that could render your squat to be performed more technically than the squat of a fully healthy individual.
I think it's fair to assume that many people who claim to have bad knees or hips are actually using it as an excuse to be lazy with their squat depths. If you have trouble getting into a rock bottom position, take these considerations before blaming the exercise for your troubles...
- Have you ever legitimately tried to squat as deep as you can possibly go?
- How often in your daily routines do you find your thighs arranged in the equivalent of below parallel?
- Are you sedentary most days of the week?
I'll take the liberty of answering these questions as the majority of the population would...
- No, many people have never tried to actually squat to full depth. Out of fear of injury, fear of not being able to get back up, or fear of hard work.
- Not often. The most range of motion most people make their legs go through on a normal day is to sit down to a chair, which most of the time puts them a little above parallel.
- Many people don't exercise most days of the week. That, by definition, makes them sedentary. If you only exercise 2-3 days per week, you are one of the aforementioned "many people." Being sedentary is sure to bind up your joints (specifically the hips, knees, and ankles). This makes it difficult to perform a full depth squat.
You may ask, how necessary is it to squat to full depth? Well, if you want to be taken seriously in a gym environment, that makes it absolutely necessary. Other reasons to squat deep include...
- more strength
- better mobility
- better movement
- better body control
- healthier joints
- carryover to performance in other exercises
- better overall health
Really, there are countless reasons to squat as deep as you can. I'll detail my 3 top reasons below...
#1: Your Body is Designed to Squat Deep
In the pictures below, you will see a baby in a deep squat position, and an elderly man in a deep squat position. This should be enough said. If you are reading this, I predict you to be somewhere within the age range of these two individuals.
If humans toward the beginning and end of their live's, respectively, have this ability, shouldn't you as well? If you continually train your body to be in a position, there is no reason you should ever not be able to get into that position. The body adapts to the demands it is given...
#2: Being Athletic
If you participate in any sport or competition, it should be obvious that you need to squat deep. During competition, you are sure to find your body in nearly every form of extreme position imaginable. How much better will your performance be if you train full range of motion, strength, and stability in something as important as your legs? The answer is a much higher level of performance.
Even if you don't participate in anything athletic or competitive, look at the training of a deep squat as an insurance policy. In your everyday life, Isn't it be better to have the ability to get in and out of an extreme position and not ever need to use that ability, than it is to find yourself in a position that you don't have the ability to get out of?
#3: Overall Health
A door hinge that opens and closes every day won't ever get rusty. The same is true of the joints that make up your body. If you use them correctly, they will stay healthy for a long time. You must put your limbs through full range of motion to maintain strength in the musculature and connective tissues that surround and attach them to the rest of your body.
It is fantastic for hip, knee, and ankle health to squat deeply. That is, if you are squatting correctly. The instruction to squat properly is not the emphasis of this post, so I will refrain from going over that right now.
If at this point you are still unsure if you are squatting deep enough, you probably aren't. You either know you're squatting to full range of motion, or you will question yourself.
If you are going to begin training with more range of motion, remember that this will be the first time you've ever asked your body to venture into the intimidating abyss of a full squat. Don't expect it to feel normal at first. But don't give up on it.
It actually means you should do the opposite - spend a lot of time getting comfortable in a deep squat position. You have exposed a weakness in your body. Something that you need to be capable of doing. Take working on this weakness seriously, and be patient with it.