The squat is considered a key exercise for athletes as well as fitness buffs. There is no questioning the fact that the squat is a great exercise and it is considered to be the king of all exercises. However, in most gyms the primary goal when doing a squat is to see how much weight can be lifted.
As a result, most athletes do a wide stance squat that not only creates a shorter up and down pathway, but involves other muscles such as the hip joint adductor muscles. However, there is debate regarding the athlete’s posture during the squat and how deep he should go.
Rarely do we see discussions about how the squat should be executed in relation to the results produced on the field or in game performance. For example, is a deep squat going down to thigh level or below more effective in increasing running speed? Is a deep squat more effective in improving jump height?
It is rare to find information on whether doing a wide stance squat is more effective for runners and jumpers than a narrower or shoulder width stance. Nor is it common to see discussion about whether a quarter or half squat is more beneficial for running and jumping athletes or athletes who must make sharp cuts.
In order to understand or evaluate how the squat should be executed for specific athletes, it is necessary to understand how the basic skills that the athlete must execute should be performed. For example, baseball infielders and outfielders rarely go into a deep squat. When they bend over to field the ball, they do not squat to lower the upper body. They get low by bending forward in the waist and hips. Only on rare occasions do they squat to get low.
Even in football, where linemen get into a 3-point stance, you will notice that the legs are fairly straight in order to keep the hips high. Only on a goal line defense do you see the hips drop down to a low position with more knee bend for greater stability. This is also why you see more players assume a 2-point stance rather than a 3-point stance prior to the play being executed.
In volleyball, basketball, tennis and other sports, when assuming the ready position, there is only slight flexion in the knees and most of the forward bending is from the hips and waist. In other words, almost all athletes get low by bending from the hips and waist to get the hands close to the ground. The hips remain high in order for them to go into movement.
As a result, is it necessary for these athletes to do a deep squat? The answer is obvious but with some qualifications. The deep squat may be a good exercise in the early stages of training to develop a stronger knee joint and overall strength of the quadriceps. But it may not be an effective exercise in the specialized physical preparation period.
For best overall preparation, athletes doing a squat should go slightly beyond the normally assumed position in their sport. They should assume different widths and go to different depths in the initial stance in the general preparatory period.
Such execution is needed to develop greater muscle strength through a greater active range of motion for the different positions that may occur in the sport in rare but extremely important situations. Such development is needed to help prevent injury and to prepare for unexpected actions.
When discussing how a squat should be done, it is also necessary to differentiate whether the squat is being done for general conditioning or for developing leg strength specific to the actions involved in the sport. For example, in general conditioning, it is advisable to lower the body until there is a 90° angle in the knee joint but only if you can still maintain proper posture of the spine.
For specific sports training, especially in the specialized physical preparation period, a half or ¾ squat may be more appropriate if this is closer to the positions seen in your sport. In this way, you develop the muscles as they are needed for execution of the skills involved and you are not merely developing greater strength for the sake of greater strength.
It is important to look at the actions performed in each sport and the demands placed on the muscles. For example, in running the legs are directly under the body, not out to the sides as in a wide stance squat. Because of this runners should do the squat with the legs directly under the hips as they occur in the run.
If the athlete must be ready to move in an unknown direction, then a narrow stance is preferred. If he must be more resistant to movement then a wide stance is preferred. If he is involved in activities such as jumping, a narrow stance is preferred so that all the forces from the leg extension propel the athlete upward.
Although specificity of training has for the most part been ignored, it may be time to look more specifically at each sport and the position(s) and actions that must be performed during play. Then, it would be possible to do the squat or other exercises more specific to the positions or actions that you must carry out from that position.
For more information on this topic see Build a Better Athlete and Biomechanics and Kinesiology of Exercise.