I have always had the firm belief that everything has its place, regardless of how despised it might be. Take bicep curls: many a strongman has laughed off bicep curls as a vanity exercise, but oddly they find them less amusing when they tear their bicep on a stone or tire. The same is true of the humble half squat; it amazes me that one movement can evoke so much pure, unfiltered hatred.
Those who refuse to buy into the dogma though reap the rewards, some of the biggest squats in the world have been built, at least in part on the back of partial squats. Louis Simmons is known to encourage above parallel box squats, Ray Williams has squatted high right up to his meets before, and Paul Anderson loved the half squat.
Here are three reasons why you should embrace the half squat.
This article is about the benefits of intentionally squatting above parallel, not doing so due to a lack of strength, mobility or experience with squatting. If you fall into any of those categories your time would be much better spent drilling the squat through a full range of movement.
Squatting heavy takes nerves of steel. You can hype yourself into a berserker level of rage, but if even the slightest doubt creeps into your head, the lift is over. When the bar is on your back, confidence is key.
One of the best ways to build that confidence under pressure is to get yourself accustomed to handling supramaximal loads (more than you can normally handle) regularly. Most commonly this done through heavy walkouts, loading a bar with up to 120% of your 1rm and getting used to the weight for a few seconds before walking it back in. Strongmen have been, in many cases accidentally using this method for decades when training yoke. If you can run with 150% of your max squat on your back, all of a sudden squats don’t feel so heavy anymore.
Not everyone has the access or the desire to implement yoke runs, but you can reap the same rewards through very heavy partials reps. These will not only help you get accustomed to otherwise unfathomable weights but will also develop those final few inches of the squat.
Walk the bar out, pause for a few seconds and break at the hips slowly dropping a few inches and standing up all in a controlled manner. As with any new movement it’s important to start light and build up slowly, with the aim after a few sessions being to be doing work sets at around 120% of your one rep max. These are best done as an accessory after full range of motion squats.
I’ve also seen people use very heavy walkouts just before going for a new 1RM squat in an attempt to trick the nervous system. In my experience this can go one of two ways depending on the person: a magical new PB or a huge fail. Give it a try and see which camp you fall in.
Sticking points are the great leveler of strength athletes , and we all have them. They may show up at different points, but they plague us all. Overcoming them often requires a more tailored approach, but if you find yourself grinding to a halt a few inches above parallel then half squats are going to be a great help.
This is remedied best with a two a pronged attack, very deep pause squats with a light weight (50%) and heavier partial squats just above parallel. If you have a full power rack these partial; squats are best done in the manner described in the deadstop squat post, set up two inches below your sticking point. Alternatively these can be done just as well onto a high box set at the same height. With the box squat it is really important to not let yourself drop onto it and instead control yourself all the way down, for this reason I’m a big fan of using a hard box.
A typical session might look like this
- Ass to grass pause squats – 5×5 @ 50% (3 second pause)
- Partial squats – 8 sets of 3 @ Heavy (Roughly 90%)
- Double Kettlebell Front Squats – 5 sets of 20
- Pull ups – 3 sets of 10
Holding yourself to the competition standard is an incredibly important aspect of training, and delusional beliefs about just how deep you’re squatting is nothing but a hindrance to your performance on the platform. Bad training partners or training solo isn’t even a valid excuse considering everyone’s phone has a camera built into it. Sometimes though it’s smart to let those high standards slip a little bit and live to lift another day.
Bad sessions creep up on us all: weights feel heavy, movements feel foreign and everything is hard. If you have a competition coming up or limited opportunity to train, though, you’re going to have to push through it. This might mean a few more warm up sets and another cup of coffee but it doesn’t mean risking injury. If you know that you don’t struggle with depth on meet day then instead of dropping the weights, you would benefit from keeping them as they are and squatting a little high. The difference between a getting through a tough session and being out of action for six weeks really can be just a few inches.
Don’t fear the half squat. Just as rack pulls and block presses can add kilos to your total so can partial squats. Ignore the naysayers and reap the benefits of the most hated movement on the internet.
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.