Squatting High?

A recent question basically amounted to asking if it was okay to squat high.

This may surprise some, but I think the answer yes with the obligatory caveat that it depends.  It depends on some specific things, so here are my thoughts in considering depth in squatting.

First off, squatting high allows you to carry more weight.  This is obvious.
And this should never be the reason to squat high.  This is the high school kid that takes 4 wheels to half depth just to get up on the board.  It is terrible and unacceptable to squat high just to say you “squatted” more weight.

Below is a still shot, and this young lady may in fact be squatting to depth, but I’m sure we’ve all seen a lot of trashy high squats at this height to a room full of cheering high school football players.

#1 Never squat high for the sake of lifting more weight.

Over the last 23 weeks, I have done a squat program by Pavel and Marc Bartley where every week after an undulating 5 and 4 to the box, we would do 2 sets of 4 to a high box with another 70 pounds over the 4 weight.  Bartley told Tom (Thomas Phillips Sr RKC, my training partner) that you should be scared as shit when you stand up with the weight.  For my weight, it was no more than 2″ above parallel.

Straight Beast.

So what makes this okay when I just said it’s not okay to squat high just to carry more weight?

Well, the first reason is that we are box squatting, which is with a vertical or negative tibia angle.  Squatting with an angled tibia is what I would call squatting to a box and just using it as a depth gauge.  That is an excellent choice, but the box squat is a specific exercise with specific technique.

When you are box squatting, I think it is fairly well accepted that the movement is just a deadlift with the bar on your back.  In Westside, there is not a call for max deadlifting off the floor very often if at all because the box squat trains that pattern identically.  I’m sure it’s debatable, but I also believe the suggestion is that the box squat, high or not, is likely less CNS intensive than pulling off the floor.  Both are high CNS choices, but pulling big off the floor every week is not something you will find a lot of favor for.

The deadlift almost never is approached with a below parallel position when the bar leaves the floor, so squatting high can duplicate the hip and knee position that we see in the competitive deadlift.

Paul Anderson using a sissy pad?

So #2: Box Squatting high supports the deadlift for a powerlifter.

This is a very specific approach that would only applied to geared powerlifters.  Certainly the gear picks up the most in the deep positions of the lifts.  It’s assistance dwindles as you approach mid-range and lockout.  The squat is more authentic the farther you get out of the hole.

So much like the Metal Militia approach to bench pressing, squatting partial range can allow you stay in your full groove and handle weight that will allow you hyperload and train the range where the gear doesn’t help.

Again it sounds like squat high to carry a bigger bar.  But this specific approach is always attached to another day where you are always squatting to full depth.

Not to mention, you can break in the groove of the squat gear as well.


#3: Box Squatting high in the Metal Militia approach makes a lot of sense.

So whether the rationale is to support the deadlift or to specifically train for using gear, the fact still remains that squatting high must also be paired with squatting for depth for the competitive lifter.  An inch can equal 100 pounds in the hole.  There are specific approaches that I think can be defended with merit, but you still must get down.

From a corrective approach, the box squat is a pure hip hinge.  I would consider it a knee dominant-hip dominant technique versus an olympic style squat a knee dominant-quad dominant technique.  My tibia angle thoughts have been well documented, but that is not my focus here.  Deloading the knee really doesn’t have much to do with the depth of the movement.

I would be very disappointed if someone did not consider being able to touch your toes an important fundamental movement that we should all be able to demonstrate.  Multi-segmental flexion is a huge part of establishing the reflexive stability of the spine and hips, and it is often predicated on the hip hinge.

Should the hip hinge be indicated as a corrective exercise for someone that can not touch their toes, the box squat is as pure a hip hinge as you can get.  Depth of this pattern is simply how much you want to let your knees bend.  The posterior weight shift and anti-flexion/anti-shearing reaction are the proprioceptive tools that many folks need to be able to touch their toes.  There are more primitive patterns such as the quad squat or heel sit neutral spine that allow for this, but added resistance may be the proprioception that someone needs, and it allows the individual to get a little closer to fitness amidst a corrective-based program.

Awful toe touch.....Awful. He should box squat high.

#4: Box Squatting high can support the Toe Touch/Multi-Segmental Flexion

Last but not least, squatting high in any pattern is not “wrong.”  Wrong in my book is governed by Coach Boyle’s Joint by Joint Theory.  When you look at a squat of any depth, as long as the spine is tall, heels down, knees stacked, there isn’t a biomechanical inefficiency to pick on.

It’s clearly not as efficient a choice when compared to getting down, but it’s not wrong or unsafe as a movement.  As we said in the beginning, squatting high for bigger weight can lead to unsafe, but a snapshot of a high squat does not violate the Joint by Joint.

Fighting with the stiffness that challenges the Joint by Joint is something I find very desirable.  Between the core and hips, in this case, sitting back to the box is my preferred approach in groups where squatting is in phase.  I would probably prefer to deadlift over squatting in the first place, but if for whatever reason we are squatting, the kids that can’t get down go to a high box and fight with keeping their spine neutral.  That would always be my choice over squatting with heels.  Heels change the center of gravity and cover up poor postural control.  It is a compensation that I do not think should be loaded.  It is a wrong movement to have heels off in a squat pattern.  It is not wrong to squat high with all of these thoughts in mind.

#5: Squatting high does not violate the Joint by Joint Approach to training.

  • July 23, 2010

Leave a Reply 9 comments

Ahmed Johnson Reply

For those of us who are curious about your work but at more of a “lay person” level, I’d be very interested in a series of articles about toe touches and other fundamental moves that “regular people” might be doing wrong.

Charlie Reply

Ahmed Johnson, very cool name. I enjoyed your work with the Nation of Domination.

Toe touches are wrong for an exercise. They should never be done for repetitions or stretches.
But you should be able to do one if asked to demonstrate.
Is that what you would like an article to be about?

Jason Reply

Hey Charlie,

Obviously you support Gray’s work. In reference to your answer to Ahmed, would you ever use Grays toe touch progression to regain the toe touch? Or opt for multi-segmental flexion corrections as well as stretching the hamstrings/calves.


Charlie Reply

Jason – Yes, the toe touch progression is appropriate to restore multi-segmental flexion, particularly when the physical limitation is motor control.

I typically go soft tissue to the posterior chain and/or hip flexors followed by ASLR, 1-leg Bridge, Quad Squat for at least 2 rounds then go to the toe touch “trick.”

Ahmed Johnson Reply

I suppose I meant to suggest an article (or series) discussing toe touches, Jumping Jacks, push-ups, jumping rope…the “standard” things that Everyday Joes/Joans might be doing for exercise — but need to know the proper form.

I’ll say hi to Dr. Ronald Simmons for you.

Charlie Reply

“I’ll say hi to Dr. Ronald Simmons for you.”

Well played, Mauer. Well played.

I will try to devise such an article.

Jeff Fiss Reply

Damnit….I wanted that Ahmed Johnson comment.

Bill Shulman Reply


I apologize for asking questions on this post very late in the game, but on the off chance you see these, I’d appreciate any feedback (and hopefully I don;t sound like too much of a dolt!).

1) This question is with regards to the comments

“The posterior weight shift and anti-flexion/anti-shearing reaction are the proprioceptive tools that many folks need to be able to touch their toes. There are more primitive patterns such as the quad squat or heel sit neutral spine that allow for this, but added resistance may be the proprioception that someone needs, and it allows the individual to get a little closer to fitness amidst a corrective-based program.”

Was this what you were specifically referring to when you mentioned the toe touch progression being appropriate to restore multi-segmental flexion, especially when motor control is the main limitation? i.e. If the cannot adequately control spinal flexion, posteroanterior shearing, and/or have too much of an anterior weight shift than the body will simply not allow for the toe touch to happen?

2) When you said an inch can equal 100 pounds in the hole, was this simply in reference to a geared lifter being able to achieve his optimal depth to maximize the assist from his suit?

Thank you very much for your time and for always providing superior content.

Charlie Reply

Bill –

To 1), yes, loading up a box squat pattern that is cut off high can help restore MSF if the primary limitation is a motor control deficit. It can actually be quite a quick fix is say, young females. It would work the same way as the Toe Touch Patterning “trick” often seen in FMS presentations.
Your description is correct as I see it. Starting the toe touch without a posterior shift is dysfunctional. Teach a posterior weight shift, and it will clean up.

For 2), I am simply suggesting that squatting 1″ higher may allow you to stand up with 100 more pounds. It is more of a hyperbole than anything, but I am saying something to the effect that if squatting to parallel can go for 500, squatting to 1″ below parallel will go for 400.

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