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3 1/2 weeks to go until my first full powerlifting meet, and my coach gently informed me that my squat depth was not quite legal… oops! That meant dial back the weight and rework my squat.

Finding your Own Squat Depth Strategy

As with anything physical, what works well for one person may not work for another — or may even be counter-productive. You have to find your individual sweet spot where the drill is not too easy or too hard for your nervous system and muscles, the point at which your own body can learn well to improve.

Test, Test, Re-test

As always when selecting individual exercises, choose one critical move to test before the exercise or drill to have a baseline, then re-test afterward to see if it improved.

I practised my squats unweighted to evaluate what worked best for depth improvement. Face-the-wall squats are a great way to pick a spot at eye level and gauge what works and what doesn’t. Even better? As my East Van Barbell Club coach Ben prompted me to do, find someone obliging to film you squatting from the side view.

What Worked for Me

  • The camera doesn’t lie. For me, it revealed that posture through my upper back affected my depth; a slightly hyperextended neck cost me a few inches.
  • I confirmed that two of my fall-back moves from my own professional training still worked well: the FMS half-kneeling hip flexor stretch, and the StrongFirst supine banded hip flexor activation drill.
  • Chandler Steven’s four-part dorsiflexion drill got me another inch easily — although the seated triple flexion drill was actually counter-productive in my case… did I mention test, test, and re-test?
  • Only a couple of days a week, to spare my knees, I spent a periods of a few minutes throughout the day in a very deep squat position, unsupported for as long as possible.

Onwards and, er… Downwards

The above depth improvement strategies got me to a legal squat depth at about 80% of my former but not-quite-legal 1RM — so there’s still a lot of work to do, but hey, at least I did manage to establish the baseline provincial record for my age and weight class.

As I work further to keep squatting deeply enough as I bring up the weight, I would love to find a way to replicate my Copacabana Leg Press… Smith machine? Nope, didn’t work for me, so I still can’t find much of a use for that piece of equipment, and a reclining leg press stops too short for the range of motion I’m seeking.

One thing that’s sure, it is time to finally investigate squat shoes. While I’m usually very minimalist about equipment, they will help me to get stronger and still hit the requisite depth without renouncing my firm commitment to neutral spine.

Contact me if you need more information on any of the above.