I’m sure the title of this post will stir up plenty of controversy, and although that is not necessarily my intention, I do think the topic needs to be discussed, and differences of opinions need to be aired out. I am actually writing this in response to question I got from a friend that routinely squats past parallel and was recently told by a physical therapist assistant to NEVER do so as it will cause damage to the knees. At this point, it is important to define what a squat actually is. Are we talking about back squatting, front squatting, getting up and down from a chair or toilet, a transition in getting up from the ground, giving your toddler a bath, pooping (I’m not too professional to say pooping) into a hole on the ground (had to do it in Croatia), etc. Regardless, the idea is that there is a variety of ways to squat and it is important to understand that at the fundamental level squatting is a position and not an exercise. With this being said, if one cannot get to the bottom of a squat POSITION, it is probably not a good idea to be loading the movement through a partial range with any resistance. In my clinical experience, it is not the act of squatting below parallel that is harmful to the knees but the inability to obtain the bottom position of a full depth squat well that ultimately leads to dysfunction and disability from knee injuries. The ability to obtain the bottom of a squat without compensation such as forward weight shifting, foot/ankle turnout, knees translating inward, spine excessively rounding, and/or the neck overextending, is a wonderful display of mobility and stability that carries over to so many activities of daily living. Once this position is able to be controlled and maintained, why can’t one load the pattern gradually like any other movement in the strength and conditioning world? The problem that I most commonly see is that resistance is added to a squat pattern before one has learned to control the entire movement from top to bottom without resistance.
With all this being said, I am not trying to bash any one individual’s opinion, as I had the same thought process at one time in my career. I did; however, want to use this topic to bring up a bigger point and that is that general rules stating that one should NEVER do something in regards to a movement tend to be easily refuted. Training someone to move better is highly specific to that individual. As a physical therapist and being the husband of a physical therapist assistant, I have had plenty of experience listening to individuals with high levels of education prescribe general limitations to individuals’ movement practices without actually watching them move. Let’s get into the habit of assessing movement before giving advice about movement.