Which One Is Better? Half Squats or Full Squats?

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A couple weeks ago I was in the gym, when a woman came to the squat rack. The bar was loaded with 80kg. so I decided to offer her help to load off the bar. I supposed that no matter how strong she was, she still needed to warm up. She just threw me a glance and said “ No, move away, you might injure yourself!” :)   I was shocked ! I just walked back but I still waited to see what was gonna happen. The woman added more weight to the bar…up to 120kg. She went under the bar and I was sure what  followed after that. As I expected she started just half squatting…it even looked more like sticking her butt back a little…and she never really squatted!

In that gym there is another woman that claims she can squat with 110kg but she is still doing the same thing as the woman mentioned above. I’ve said it before that weight should always be your second thought and you shouldn’t compromise with your technique  but today I intend on digging a little deeper and explain you why just sticking your butt back, half sticking it or half squatting SHOULDN”T be part of your workout!

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First of all, let’s get straight what a full squat looks like( the one you are supposed to do every time). Full squat is when you push your hips back and down to a level, where the front side of your hips will be just below the line of the upper part of your patella( in other words knee cap). That will place you in a position where you will be below parallel and your hips will be parallel to the ground. A lot of people get fooled that below parallel is equal to your thighs being parallel to the ground, which is wrong! Now when we know what a full squat is, let’s say what a half squat looks like…it is really simple- everything that does not correspond with the rules of a full squat is a half squat!  

In order to understand how half squats are harming you, you should know which muscles get activated depending on the way you complete the movement and what are the consequences!

The first phase of the squat is characterized by the anterior chain dominance. In other words these are the muscles on the front of your thigh, between the hips and the knee(the quadriceps). In this case the anterior chain does all the work. If you follow with your hand the distance between the front side of your hips , down to the knee, this will be your quadriceps tendon. A little further down this “route” is the tendon of your patella(knee kap). When you get to the “sticking” bone on the side of your knee, you will be to the point where that tendon attaches to your shin(also called tibia).

When you do half squats the anterior chain is under tension. The tendon of your patella, pulls the tibia, which is followed by a slide forward, which results in a grind against your thigh’s bone(femur). The consequence is the uneven load on the bones of your knee. The result could be a bad injury!

I guess that because most people are doing half squats instead of full squats, the squat received the bad fame of being a dangerous movement!

What happens if we make the effort to learn the right technique of the full squat and start squatting deeper? In this case, you will activate not only your anterior chain but also the posterior chain( the muscles on the back of your upper leg). Now you are loading the front group muscles, together with the back group of muscles and the load is even!

The hamstrings have the opposite effect of the quadriceps and oppose to the shear force of the anterior chain. Thus, occurs a balance between the force produced by the anterior and the posterior chain.

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Besides that, as I mentioned at the beginning in my story about the lady and her 120kg squat, when you do half squats you can use a lot bigger weights. This leads to a bigger stress on your spine, because this is a weight that you couldn’t use to do full squats. And if you need to remember just one thing, it would be that if you can’t do full squats with it, you have no business carrying it on your back!

So let’s repeat:

1.When you do half squats, the work is predominantly done by the anterior chain and this leads to uneven loading on your knees.

2.When you do full squats, you activate both the anterior and the posterior chain and you get a balance between both groups of muscles!

3. If you can’t do full squats with it, you have no business carrying it on your back!

So how do you squat?

It’s a way of life…

  • Strength Max for athletes

    Great advice with anatomical proof to back it up. I find that deep front squats provide the greatest comfort and strength to the knee joint. I have had 2 quadricep tendon tears and frequent deep front squats with light weights and my knees feel much stronger and more stable. I would use more weight, but I developed chondromalacia patella in my youth before I knew the proper methods of squatting. Most of the improperly trained and educated will do partials and it drives me crazy. Always, perfect form before added poundage.

    • Ines Subashka

      Yes! You are right! On a daily basis, people approach me and “advice” me that suqatting that deep will ruin my knees…and in reality half squats are harming them much more!