Half Squat vs Full Squat – Which Should You Be Doing?

In this article we compare and contrast the half squat vs the full squat, discussing why on earth anyone would squat above parallel in the first place, some guidelines to stick to when performing either (or both), and the importance of squatting in the first place.

The Half Squat

In a recent article we discussed the half squat and the expected outcomes from training your squat to parallel. Contrary to what some may believe (or deeply hold true), the half squat can (and often should) be a consistent supplemental squatting option for many strength and power athletes who may have issues with attaining leg mass, bursting through sticking points, and/or looking to overload the central nervous system during certain parts of the year. 

The Full Squat

Many of you reading this already know all too well the benefits of performing squats to the fullest depth you can achieve. Strength, power, and fitness athletes look to get depth in squats for competitive advances, increased muscular mass and strength, and heightened performance. With that said, there are times when full depth squats may or may not be your best option if you are looking to address certain aspects in your training. Below is a video demonstration of how to perform the barbell full squat, also known as… the back squat.

Half vs Full Squat

In the below section we will discuss five aspects of your training and performance that can be impacted (positively or negatively) by the depth at which you squat. Note, that in all cases (excluding injury limitations) a sound foundation of full squatting should be achieved and maintained regardless of whether or not half squats are included into a program.

Quadriceps Emphasis

By limiting the range of motion at the knees (knee flexion), the half squat has the ability to keep constant tension and emphasis on the quadriceps, often at a joint angle that allows a lifter to lift heavier loads than in the full squat. By doing so, a lifter can solely focus on quadriceps involvement in the lift, increasing muscle damage within a session and muscular hypertrophy/tensile strength over time. While full squats do offer the same benefit, some lifters may have weaker quadriceps that limit their ability to finish a lift and therefore this partial repetition approach could be a good supplemental (supplemental to the full squat) exercise to add into a program.

Addressing Sticking Points

Full squats are key to developing a strong base of movement and strength, however do have limited application at times when a lifter has exhausted a specific range of joint flexion where they are not able to overcome the load (also know as a sticking point). Half squats can be used to increase a lifter’s angular specific strength capacities to best overcome that sticking point and continue to break through training ruts and plateaus. Additionally, the lifter is able to overload the neurological and mental systems while still patterning a squatting movement, which could be helpful in overcoming previous one-rep maxes or loads that you are unsure about.

Sprint and Jump Mechanics

Squatting as a whole will help increase athletic performance, specifically leg strength and power. Half squats can have a greater significance when looking at jumping and sprinting performance a the angles found at the knee and hip are closer matched the the half squat than the full, boosting angular specific strength and force production capacities. This can be done in most training programs, however inclusion of full squats should still be occurring to maintain proper movement, muscular balance, and joint integrity in the lower body.

Application to Sport

Full squatting is a necessary movement and strength exercise for Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, functional fitness, and most strongman sports. Olympic weightlifters and functional fitness athletes need strength at the bottom most point in their squat to allow for lower receiving positions, whereas powerlifters must break parallel in competition. Half squats can however be a valuable training tool to increase angular strength and address sticking points, enhance quadriceps development, and overload the CNS similar to squat walkouts and overloading training (all of which are good training stimulus for more advanced lifters).

Functional Fitness and Movement Integrity

While both squat variations do offer some amazing benefits for most athletes, it is essential to the longevity of a strength, power, and fitness athletes (and non-athlete) to have the ability to perform squats though the full range of motion. By doing so, you train the ankles, knees, hips, and body to develop smoother movement patterns, gain strength at the end range of motion, and increase total body fitness. Overuse of restricted movements will often lead to restricted mobility and function, which is exactly why full squats should be a key movement in any athlete’s routine.

Build a Better Squat, NOW!

Whether you squat A$% to grass or just graze parallel, these two articles are must reads to help you not only squat more weight to full depth, but also keep you safe and protected when you start to train heavy (…heavier).

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