T Nation

Rock Bottom vs. Parallel

I’ve always squatted slightly below parallel, which on me is only 3-4 inches from rock bottom considering that I’m only 5’7. For me, my legs have always been a hard bodypart to develope and I was considering switching to rock bottom. Mainly, I wanted to see what everyone’s opinions are on rock bottom vs. parallel.

You can squat without going rock bottom?

Oh, wait… I guess that’s what most people do. Pity.

Well put it this way, you dont stop halfway, mid-air on the bench press do you? or curls?

So why would you do the same on Squats?

(wait, I forgot they’re harder…)

Rock bottom’s better for leg development. Especially if you’re tall. Try it and you’ll fell the difference immediately. 'Nuff said.

I was a parallel squatter for years with admittedly just ok results. I switched to low squats and slowly developed knee pain that eventually had me stop squats and leg presses for 2 years.I’ve slowly regained knee stability and can do full range leg presses but not squats yet

All the way down builds the best mass but be prepared for your glutes to grow !!

Squat as far down as you can while keeping good form. Rock bottom is not always the way to go. Many people will injure their lower backs if they go to deep. Flexibility issues dictate how far you go. Really, breaking parallel is enough. Most people think they’re rock bottom, but are only an inch or two below parallel.
I’ve judged powerlifting with a national referee’s badge for years, and even competitive lifters don’t hit squats as deep as they think. If you seriously want to take them deeper, get someone to evaluate yout form by observation or vidoetape yourself. If your form is great when you go deeper, great. If not fix your weaknesses.

I’ve been asking around about this quite a bit at the GYM lately. Most people say 90 degrees only unless you want to blow your knees out. I think there is a definate possibility of knee injury if you go ass to the ground. So, go lighter. That is what I think. When you go light the full extension of the squat is going to be easier but the negative posistion or ass to the ground is the hardest part of the lift. Besides, how the hell else are you going to recruit your glutes? The initiation of the squat from all the way down requires a lot more development of the glutes and stretches the quads a lot more. Just like every other lift this is the most dangerous and weakest point. Most people blow out their elbows when doing triceps pressess from the weakest point. People who take care do these same movements with less weight until their tendons and ligments are strong enough to bare larger weights. I think the pay off of ass to the ground is quite a bit more, just be careful. You might want to do your ass to the ground squats only on a smith machine at first. Most people talk shit about the smith machine but that seems like the ideal use for it. I used it for behind the neck presses as well when I first started doing them. It worked wonders for preveting injury while helping prepare for free weight ass to the ground and behinnd the neck press. Be prepared for your ass to hurt!!!

I guess what many people are concerned about are the myths about potential injury, - this might clarify things a bit:

"The knee has four main protective ligaments that keep the femur from displacing on the tibia (ACL, PCL, MCL, LCL). These four ligaments are most effective at their protection during full extension and full flexion. Full extension would be when you are standing; full flexion would be when there is no daylight between your hamstring and your calf. When the knee is at 90 degrees of flexion (the halfway point), these four ligaments are almost completely lax and cannot exert much if any of a protective force at the knee (Zatsiorsky V. Kinematics of human motion. 1998 - published by Human Kinetics - p.301). "

Irondoc’s right- a lot of it is determined by your form, and your flexibility.

Certainly if you’ve got both of those down to a tee, then IMO r-b is the way to go. Not because it’s tougher, but it just feels LESS stressful to me on the joints than the parallel lift.

However many DON’T have the form or flexibility, and when they try to emulate all those “knowledgeable proponents” here and at other forums, they get into trouble.

If you’ve been using the parallel squat for a while, you’ll probably have to rethink your lift a hell of a lot more than just “thinking deeper”.

What I generally see in those that suddenly try to go deeper after years of parallel, is that the body has become accustomed to the parallel method, and nervous conditioning starts to put the brakes on as the legs close to 90 degrees. To halt at this point actually needs a good degree of balance, great leg strength, and fine-tuning of the torso and limb position. The body prepares itself for the concdentric part of the movement. If the trainee once again tries to go deeper from here, the body is out of proper alignment, and injury can ensue.

There is no shame in parallel squatting- it’s at least as tough (if not tougher) than the r-b technique. Because of what I’ve just mentioned above, there is as much leg strength put into a parallel squat as a r-bottom, precisly for these braking/stability reasons. Try sitting in the rock-bottom position for a while, and then do the same in parallel postion (no weight). The r-b feels easier right? If it DOESN’T, then your flexibility may be poor, and you’d be a poor candidate at this stage for the r-b squat proper.
So, my advice would be to check your flexibility, and squat form without, then with a light, weight. Get someone else to check it, as it is almost impossible to judge by yourself.

If it feels awkward but reasonably comfortable, and your form stands up, stick with it a little. If it feels like a contortion act, you’re probably either just not built for the lift, or your technique sucks, or both.:-).

No one has yet mentioned the other factor- the distance between the feet (or simply put, the difference between a powerlifting squat and an olympic/BB squat). The former puts a lot less stress on the quads, and a lot more on the core stability/hip musculature. This ultimately allows powerlifters to use more weight with this technique.

As a comparison to the above suggestion, try now placing your legs WIDE apart, like a powerlifter squatting, and try to sit in the r-b or parallel positions again. Odds are, you'll find it easier to sit in the parallel position with this stance- it's all about stability.

Summary- give it all a go- wide, narrow, parallel, deep- they've all got something to offer, and are all safe, PROVIDED your form and flexibility are sound.

Hope this helps/adds to the debate. :-) SRS

Just my two cents, I recently changed from to rock bottom squats. Had to drop my weights by almost two hundred pounds and really concentrate on keeping my hips under my shoulders. I really feel these better becuase I am concetrating on my form more than I ever did before.
I will continue to do them this way until I switch to Box squats next fall.


That is an excellent citing. Thanks for that.

For the most part, any sort of advice you get at the gym about squats is going to suck. You’ll always hear folks talk about how you’ll blow out your knees if you go rock bottom… but when you ask them why they can’t give you a good explanation. These are the same people who do quarter squats, which are actually worse for your knees than any other kind. I’ve done both PL-style squats and OL-style squats… from personal experience, OL-style squats are easier on my knees.

For overall leg development you can’t beat full squats. But be sure to only squat down as far as you can while maintaining good form (flat back, head up, fairly upright torso). If this isn’t rock bottom for you, then just go down as far as you can, and work on flexibility in the meantime. Try not to relax or bounce at the bottom, either - maintain tension throughout the movement.

DD90: Excellent.

DD90- I am assuming you got that quote from my article. Just to clarify, that quote was not directly lifted from Zatsiorski’s book, it was my interperetation from the literature presented, which would make that citation misleading out of the context of the article. Thanks for quoting me though!

I’ve seen references to keeping a ‘fairly upright torso’. This is one of the biggest problems I have, in that I’m almost kissing my knees at the bottom of my squat. I’m very new to squatting, and would certainly appreciate some tips as to how to improve my technique.

I’ve downloaded a couple of short squat videos from a couple of internet locations, but both are very different. In the first one, it looks like the guy is ‘bouncing’ down, almost kissing his knees (like I do), and then back up. I can’t remember where I got this video from. The 2nd video I got was from Don Alessi’s site . In that video, he’s much more upright, but I don’t think he’s rock bottom, either. Has anyone else seen this vid, and what are your comments?

Also, does anyone know of any good instructional videos for the squat and other o-lifts? What about Ian King’s video that is for sale on this site?

Thanks for any tips,

i always go down as low as i can…i have a right knee injury from high school basketball and lifting progressively higher loads and squatting lower than i used to has made it stronger. no worries anymore.

i go down as low as my butt will let me. but i just prefer it that way. i’ve noticed a big difference after i changed from parallel back when i was beginning weights again 3yrs ago.

TimL, it could be a few different things that are causing you to lean forward. Weak core, poor ankle flexibility, low bar placement… it’s hard to say without seeing you squat. Assuming you’ve got the bar high on your traps and you’re doing an Olympic-style squat (not powerlifting style) the usual culprit is ankle flexibility. Try squatting in shoes with a heel, like Olympic lifting shoes, and stretch your calves regularly. That will help a lot. I haven’t seen Ian King’s video, but I’m sure there are some excellent examples in it.

Marc,- I forget when I got the quote, but I think it was from John Berardis site…my bad for not putting a source on it!!

Something I’ve noticed that people do improperly when doing squats and deadlifts is they look down. You want to keep your shoulders as square as possible under the bar and look up. Don’t strain yourself but doing this usually allows you to keep your back straight. If you are already doing this and still lean too far foward then it is in your ankles. You are going to have to go as low as possible until your ankles prevent you from going lower in proper form. You might want to do a donkey press or standing calf press to stretch them out before you squat.