Hate to break it to you folks… but there is not a lot of mystery surrounding this question. Unless you have experienced some sort of debilitating injury, or have a prosthetic limb… you probably can’t squat below parallel because of one or more of the following reasons:
1. You are weak Ouch, that one sounds a little harsh at first. But before you get too defensive, hear me out. To squat even your own body weight with proper mechanics requires some baseline level of strength. If you are new to CrossFit you might not have that strength yet (we still love you). If you are starting your crossfit journey in part because you’re overweight–squatting below parallel with proper mechanics can be challenging or legitimately impossible (especially if you are also weak). If you can’t squat your own body weight, your air squat probably looks like some variation of the following:
Classic: above parallel, rounded back, and hunched shoulders
Flat backs, but above parallel with varying degrees of forward torso lean
He happens to be below parallel, but like the ladies above, too much forward torso lean
Above parallel with collapsed knees
Fear not! There are solutions. 1) Get stronger by continuing to come to the gym and 2) eat clean. In the mean time, how should you ‘scale’ your air squat if you aren’t strong enough to do one with proper mechanics? First of all, talk to a coach to make sure that this is really why you struggle to squat properly. Next, get set up with a pair of rings/a stationary object. The rings are meant to ASSIST you… i.e. they shouldn’t be supporting your entire body weight, only some of it. Watch this video to get a good idea of how it works. Remember that assistance for any movement should be temporary. If you have to start out doing assisted squats, that’s 100% OK. But your end goal should always be to do things without assistance.
2. You are lazy and/or deluded Ouch… but that one was meant to be harsh. If we are going to be honest with ourselves, we’d probably all agree that during some metcon or strength set, we missed depth on one or more reps. But our goal is for this to be EXTREMELY rare. Squatting is not easy, people. If it were easy, everyone would do it and be strong and have nice butts. I’m guessing you didn’t join a CrossFit gym because you thought it was going to be easy though.
If you have the strength and flexibility to squat below parallel, you damn well better do it 99.9% of the time. We all know you can squat more weight above parallel, NOT IMPRESSIVE. Take the time to develop strength as far below parallel as you can go with good mechanics and the benefits will be obvious. Developing this strength is going to make you better at just about everything (running, jumping, kipping pull-ups, KB swings, push press, thrusters, wall ball…).
If you are deluded and think you squat below parallel but you actually don’t, hopefully a coach has keyed you in to that by now. As a beginner, you have to gain an understanding of where your butt is in space. We understand that this takes a little time. You can always start out using a box/ball to squat to, to ensure proper depth… but eventually you shouldn’t need it on a regular basis. If you use a med ball as a catapult, we will kick it out from under you and you will fall on your butt (not really, but come on… it’s not a spring board). It’s also your responsibility to be a good gym-goer and inform your fellow exercisers if they are missing depth on their squats. If you care about your strength, you’d want someone to let you know, right?
And just remember, “every time you squat above parallel, Rip drowns a kitten in milk.”
3. You are inflexible Most of you at DHCF will develop the strength you need to squat and aren’t lazy/deluded. Inflexibility is usually the biggest culprit in our gym. It’s also the least fun to fix. You are going to have to work just as hard as you do at your met-cons to develop the mobility you need to squat below parallel. If you are inflexible, you aren’t going to roll out of bed one morning and go, ‘holy shit! I can squat so deep my hamstrings are touching my ankles!’ Everyone can improve their flexibility but how often you DO mobility work will determine how quickly you see improvements in your squat.
So what’s the prescription? To execute a mechanically sound squat below parallel you need to work on mobility in your hips (flexors, adductors, glute med/min), hamstrings, and ankles. There are a whole lot of ways to stretch these bits of your body. No one way is gospel. JUST START MOBILIZING. Do 10 minutes of mobility in the gym and try to stretch for just a minute or two a few times during your day. Do it while you are watching the news. Do it while you are waiting for your delicious steak to cook. Just get it done. A good hip opener? Goblet squat prying stretch–2 minutes!
One last piece that’s important to mention is your back. As noted above, you need your back to be in extension to effectively support a load in a back or front squat–especially your thoracic spine.
If you want to get beastly strong, you need to train through full range of motion. If you want to train through full range of motion and you aren’t as flexible as you were when you were a 1 year old… you need to do your mobility. It takes some time, but do it often and the improvements will come!
4. You don’t actually know how to squat If for some reason you made your way in to our classes without taking foundations… you might not actually know how to squat. This one is an easy fix… ASK US! Whether your question seems basic or complex, don’t hesitate to bring it up to us. Our job is to help you, so let us.
Keep up the good work,
Keith & Beth
Now for some squatting awesomeness:
Unfortunately it’s impossible to squat like that without a sweet mustache