Deep Squats: 6 Reasons Physical Therapists Want You to Do Them

Deep squats are a safe, effective, and functional exercise that humans have been doing forever. Here’s how to do deep squats and add them to your daily routine.

Woman-doing-deep-squat-on-grey-background-and-workout-clothes

Deep Squats: 6 Reasons Physical Therapists Want You to Do Them

Deep squats are a safe, effective, and functional exercise that humans have been doing forever. Here’s how to do deep squats and add them to your daily routine.

Woman-doing-deep-squat-on-grey-background-and-workout-clothes

Deep Squats: 6 Reasons Physical Therapists Want You to Do Them

Deep squats are a safe, effective, and functional exercise that humans have been doing forever. Here’s how to do deep squats and add them to your daily routine.

Woman-doing-deep-squat-on-grey-background-and-workout-clothes

Deep Squats: 6 Reasons Physical Therapists Want You to Do Them

Deep squats are a safe, effective, and functional exercise that humans have been doing forever. Here’s how to do deep squats and add them to your daily routine.

Woman-doing-deep-squat-on-grey-background-and-workout-clothes
Table of Contents

We get it. Squats often get a bad rap, especially when it comes to knees. You may have heard (incorrectly) that squats harm your knees. Or perhaps you’ve struggled to follow common tips on squat form like, “keep your chest up and toes behind your knees.” But the truth is, your body was born to squat. “We do variations of squats all day long. You squat pretty much every time you clean the house, pick up children, put on shoes, and get on and off the toilet,” says Vanessa Matos, DPT, PT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. 

Squats are also one of the most effective ways to strengthen the quadriceps muscles in the thighs and the glute muscles in the hips. Deep squats take these benefits a step further. “Deep squatting means you're working with more range of motion in the joints, which means more muscle activation and more strengthening,” says Dr. Matos. Comparing regular squats and deep squats is a bit like comparing a sprinter and a marathoner: Both are runners, but they condition their bodies to be great at different skills. 

Deep squatting has been an important functional activity throughout human history. “There are many cultures around the world where deep squatting is just a part of childcare, cooking, and cleaning.” We’ve only stopped deep squatting because modern conveniences have allowed us to avoid it. Now, deep squats are coming back into the fitness space because they offer benefits that regular squats don’t. “We’re realizing there are advantages to working the full available range of motion in knees and other joints,” says Dr. Matos.

It’s only natural to wonder how low you personally can go in a deep squat, especially if you struggle to perform regular squats. First, you can rest assured that “there is no activity that is inherently ‘bad for the knees,’” says Dr. Matos. The key is to know and work with your own body’s capabilities and limitations, find the right starting point, and build from there. You can use these tips from our physical therapists to gradually progress to a deep squat.

Our Hinge Health Experts

Vanessa Matos, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Matos is a Hinge Health physical therapist with a special interest in treating orthopedic injuries in athletes and patient education.
Keesha Vaughn, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Vaughn is a Hinge Health physical therapist and a board-certified orthopedic specialist.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

What’s the Difference Between a Deep Squat and a Regular Squat?

The general concept behind a deep squat and regular squat is the same: crouch down while moving your hips back, as if you are about to sit. In a normal squat, your thighs stop when they are parallel to the ground. In a deep squat, you keep moving until your hips are below your knees, as if you are trying to sit between your feet. (In fact, many cultures do use the deep squat as a typical resting position, says Dr. Matos.) 

Deep squats require more mobility in the knees, hips, and ankles than regular squats, so you might feel it in areas you are not used to, like your ankles, shins, calves, soles of the feet, and back, as well as your quads and glutes, says Dr. Matos. 

Benefits of Deep Squats

Because normal squats and deep squats are both such functional moves, it’s good to work both into your strengthening routine, says Dr. Matos. The major benefit of doing deep squats: You’ll improve your ability to move through so many daily activities. That's because the movement we use to do a deep squat is embedded into so many everyday tasks, like crouching down to lift a box or getting eye to eye with your dog, says Keesha Vaughn, DPT, PT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. “If you can tolerate a deep squat, that’s a good sign that you’re able to get up from the floor, get out of a low car, climb the stairs, or kneel to play with kids. A deep squat is functional, not dangerous,” she adds. 

Here are some of the specific ways your body benefits when you add deep squats to your exercise routine. 

  • Stronger thigh and hip muscles: Deep squats are particularly effective for strengthening the glutes and quadricep muscles. The strengthening comes from doing repetitions, says Dr. Matos. However, if you’re new to deep squatting but already do normal squats, you might start by doing one deep squat at the end of that routine and see how that feels, she adds. Then, you can increase repetitions from there. 

  • Back pain relief: The hips and back share many of the same muscles, so tight hips can lead to lower back pain. Deep squats require mobility in the hips and loosen the hip muscles, reducing the risk of back pain, says Dr. Matos. Deep squats can also help you lift things using your leg muscles rather than bending and lifting with the back muscles. It’s important to know that “lifting with your back” is not bad or wrong (contrary to popular belief). But squatting to lift something may be more efficient and comfortable for people with a history of back pain. 

  • Increased ankle mobility: Your ankles have to bend and shift during a deep squat to keep you balanced and make sure you don’t topple backward. That’s why you want to challenge your range of motion as much as possible. “You want to own every inch of your range of motion, and do repetitions slowly and methodically,” says Dr. Matos.

  • Increased flexibility: The deep squat asks your knees, as well as your hips and ankles, to move further than in a normal squat. This requires the soft tissues like muscles and ligaments to stretch, says Dr. Matos, improving your flexibility. 

  • Increased bone density: Any weight-bearing exercise, like deep squats, can help build bone, says Dr. Matos. If you can comfortably deep squat, you can boost this benefit by adding resistance. Try holding weights, or a heavy jug of milk or water while you squat. You could also wear a weighted vest or a backpack with some books in it.

  • Use of your joints’ full range of motion: When you strength train using your body’s full range of motion, your joints gain strength at every angle while maintaining your flexibility. This makes joints more resilient to injury.

How to Do a Deep Squat: Tips from Physical Therapists

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

Deep Squats

Deep Squats

Deep Squats

Deep Squats

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To perform a deep squat:

  1. Start out in a “normal squat” stance, but make your feet a bit wider and your toes a bit more turned out.

  2. Lower your body while sending your hips backward, as if aiming for a very low seat or stool, until your hips are as low as they can go. You may feel like you are sitting between your feet.

  3. Pause for a second at the bottom, and then slowly return to your starting stance. If you want to work on increasing the mobility of your joints, hold your squat at the bottom for 10 seconds before standing, says Dr. Matos.

Start with one repetition, just to see how that feels. Once that is comfortable, build to five and then 10 repetitions.

What are some good tips for deep squatting?

Here are some tips Dr. Matos suggests to help you adapt the deep squat to your body’s current needs and abilities:  

  • Keep your whole foot (including your heel) planted on the ground. “Your feet are the foundation for your squat, so you want to try to really feel your foot on the ground while you do the move,” says Dr. Matos.

  • Turn your toes out. Turning the toes out creates space in the hip joints that makes it easier to get low, says Dr. Matos. In fact, most people will have to turn their toes out a bit to get low enough to deep squat. 

  • Avoid bending your spine. Try not to round your back or let your chest drop toward your knees. If it’s hard to keep your chest up, hold a counterbalance to help you stay upright. “You could try holding a book or light weight with your arms outstretched at chest level,” suggests Dr. Matos.

  • Squeeze your glutes. You want to engage the outside of your hips and your glutes while standing back up from a deep squat. This strengthens your muscles and provides stability.

  • Your knees may go over your toes (and that’s okay!). You’ve probably heard that you should keep your knees behind your toes while squatting. This does decrease pressure on the knees, but that does not mean that it is harmful to let your knees go over your toes. In fact, because of the nature of a deep squat, many people will feel most comfortable if their knees go over their toes, says Dr. Matos. “This position has been vilified, but it is something that we do as part of normal life all the time (like going up the stairs).”

I’m still having trouble getting low enough for a deep squat. Is there an easier way to start?

You can always start by doing sit-to-stands, gradually moving to lower surfaces as you get stronger. This allows you to move through the motion of a deep squat in a supported way. For example, start by sitting in a chair, planting your feet hip width apart and coming to a standing position — this mimics a normal squat. Next, sit on a slightly lower couch or coffee table then stand. Then, do a sit-to-stand from a footstool or the lowest step on the staircase. 

If losing your balance is preventing you from getting low, squat with your legs on either side of something sturdy like a door frame and use your hands to help you maintain your balance. Try to use the support to help you balance only, rather than help you stand, too. 

What if I have knee pain? Can I still do deep squats?

Knee pain does not rule out normal or deep squats — they can still be part of a healthy exercise routine depending on your situation. It may be worth asking your medical care provider if deep squats are advisable for your current condition and pain level at this point in time. For example, deep squats are not always advised after surgery, while healing from certain injuries, or you might have to work your way back to deep squats if you have a history of patellofemoral syndrome (runner’s knee) since studies have shown that deep squats place more pressure on the patellofemoral joint.

For many people, though — even if you do have knee pain — deep squats are a good exercise. But you’ll want to start slow and gradually build from there. Deep squats put more load on your knee at the deepest point in the move, so if lowering all the way is uncomfortable, then simply go down to the lowest position you can tolerate. As you continue to practice, you should notice an increase in your range of motion and how deeply you can sink into a squat. Alternatively, you can try sit-to-stands from gradually lower surfaces (see above). Increase the number of reps you do slowly to see what your body can tolerate.

You need good ankle, knee, and hip mobility to achieve deep squats, so stretching can help. The two stretches below mimic the motion of a deep squat, stretching key muscles and joints, says Dr. Vaughn. 

Stretching Exercises for Deep Squats

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People are surprised to learn that the ankle is so involved in the deep squat, says Dr. Vaughn. “If you have trouble balancing, your ankle may be the problem. You need it to be both strong and flexible.” This stretch asks the ankle to bear weight while stretching, which is what the ankle needs to do during a deep squat.

One cool fact about squats: We tend to squat symmetrically on both sides, even though we may have different levels of ankle and hip mobility on each side. Research shows that the side with the most limited mobility tends to determine the depth of the squat. That means improving mobility of your most limited joint — through stretches like these — can improve your ability to squat as a whole.

PT Tip: Squat Like a Baby

Babies and toddlers are the very best deep squatters, says Dr. Matos. They automatically assume good form: feet wide, knees pushed out, chest super upright. If you need guidance on what a deep squat should look like, watch what they do and emulate that! 

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

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This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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References

  1. Comana, F. (n.d.). Diving Deeper into the Squat: Common Misconceptions. Retrieved from https://blog.nasm.org/newletter/diving-deeper-squat-common-misconceptions

  2. Cotter, J. A., Chaudhari, A. M., Jamison, S. T., & Devor, S. T. (2013). Knee Joint Kinetics in Relation to Commonly Prescribed Squat Loads and Depths. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 27(7), 1765–1774. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182773319

  3. Endo, Y., Miura, M., & Sakamoto, M. (2020). The relationship between the deep squat movement and the hip, knee and ankle range of motion and muscle strength. Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 32(6), 391–394. doi:10.1589/jpts.32.391

  4. Sutton, B. (n.d.). The Muscles Used in Squats—Squat Biomechanics Explained | NASM. The Muscles Used in Squats - Squat Biomechanics Explained | NASM. Retrieved from https://blog.nasm.org/biomechanics-of-the-squat

Table of Contents
What’s the Difference Between a Deep Squat and a Regular Squat?Benefits of Deep SquatsHow to Do a Deep Squat: Tips from Physical TherapistsWhat are some good tips for deep squatting?I’m still having trouble getting low enough for a deep squat. Is there an easier way to start?What if I have knee pain? Can I still do deep squats?PT Tip: Squat Like a BabyHow Hinge Health Can Help YouReferences