QUESTION: Hey John, great video about pistols! just wondering, I’m 6 foot 3 inches tall, and can’t for the life of me do a bodyweight deep squat, and keep my HEELS on the ground – they always rise. You show good form here and just wondering how tall are you? And any tips to get that deep squat? keep it up! ta, Jon
ANSWER: I’m 5’9″ tall.
Before you watch the video, let’s go over some definitions, so we are clear on what a deep squat really is. There are three levels of squat depth in my mind.
First, the squat for sissies, which is the most common (AKA the “1/4 squat”). This is the squat that you usually see at health clubs by the same guy who’s doing biceps curls in the squat rack. The lifter usually loads up the bar way too much for their current strength level, steps into the squat rack and shoulders the weight. Stepping back with the weight, they proceed to grunt and scream as they move the bar about 2-6 inches in space – down and up, down and up.
The sissy squat is virtually useless. It won’t count in a powerlifting meet. It won’t count in an olympic weightlifting meet. In fact, the only thing that the sissy squat is useful for, is blowing out a disk in your lumbar spine. Don’t do the sissy squat.
The next level of squat depth is the powerlifting squat. This squat ranges from legs fully locked to knees bent slightly past the 90 degree mark. This is a great squat depth for building strength in the legs, and it is used in powerlifting meets to test one rep maxes.
The third level of squat depth is the rock bottom squat (AKA the “deck squat,” or “@$$ to grass squat”). This is the deepest squat that comprises a full range of motion.
In the bottom position of this squat: the tailbone is tucked underneath the pelvis (lower back rounded forward) and the hamstrings are resting on the calf muscles. This is a very difficult position to achieve, especially for taller people.
You mentioned about having trouble squatting and keeping your heels on the ground. Here’s a quick tutorial to help you achieve a deeper squat:
How to Achieve a Deeper Squat by John Sifferman
The first issue we have here is leverage. The taller person usually has much longer femur’s (thigh bone) than the shorter person. When squatting down, this puts much more strain on the femur and the adjacent joints than it does on someone who is shorter. Essentially, when someone who is taller and has longer femurs squats, their torso is further back and at a leverage disadvantage compared to a shorter person. The longer that femur is, the further back the torso will be, and the more difficult to achieve a rock bottom squat.
While the first issue for tall lifters is leverage, the second issue is having to lift weights a further distance. Shorter people have another advantage in weightlifting because they don’t have to move a weight as far as someone who is taller. The actual distance from the rock bottom position to standing is longer for taller people, equalling more total force that must be produced to move the weight.
It’s true. It’s more work to lift weights when you’re taller.
Now, if you’re tall, these things might discourage you – but don’t let them. You see, there are many different options you have for increasing your squat depth, and for training your legs in general. This is what I would do to increase your squat depth naturally.
1) Try Front Squats
If you’ve been doing back squats regularly, try switching to front squats. Sure, you’ll have to use less weight (and that’s probably better for you anyways), but it will help you to squat “taller,” with your chest up due to the improved leverage.
2) Practice Rock Bottom Squats With Assistance
Try squatting while holding onto a railing, or squat rack with your hands. Get as deep as you possibly can until your heels feel compelled to rise. Push the limit, and every day move another millimeter deeper into the rock bottom squat.
3) Increase the Mobility of Your Hips and Lumbar Spine
This will help allow a full arch when squatting, which could be a limiting factor for you. Seriously, if you don’t have full range of motion control over your hips and spine, you better get to work on it no matter how tall you are. Living with tight hips or an immobile spine is like walking around as a ticking time bomb, an injury waiting to happen somewhere.
4) Strengthen The Legs With Different Exercises
The good news is that squats are not the only great exercise for your legs. Squats are definitely one of the best overall exercises, on average. But when you’re tall, it’s probably not the best for YOU. There are tons of other great exercises that will give you a tremendous training effect in a natural range of motion. Some of these exercises are…
lunges (forward, reverse, walking, lateral, diagonal, reverse diagonal, plie, and loaded variations of all)
bench step-ups (forward, lateral, rotational, etc.)
single leg squat variations
bulgarian split squat (rear leg elevated on bench)
There really is no reason to dread not being able to squat. If you work on your rock bottom squat, and just can’t seem to do it without raising your heels, don’t sweat it. It doesn’t mean you’re any less athletic or unhealthy, it’s just not one of the literally infinite exercises that works for you. You’ll just have to choose a different exercise from the millions available.
Your Question of the Day is: What is your favorite exercise for training your legs?
To your health and success,
Fitness Professional and Wellness Warrior
P.S. Please post about your favorite legs exercise below.