Whether a deep squat is a help or hazard to bodybuilders has been the subject of long-standing debate. While the traditional barbell squat is an excellent
exercise to build strength and power in the legs, the squat is possibly the most technically demanding and dangerous exercise of all weight-training
exercises. During the squatting movement, errors in technique, using too much weight and losing control of the loaded barbell will leave you vulnerable to
injuring the knees, spine or hips.
So what about the issue of knee safety? Well, during the squat the force across the knee joints is two to three times your bodyweight even without a barbell across your traps. What's more, the shear force across the knees increases dramatically when the knees bend more than 90 degrees, below parallel, into a deep squat. In other words the deeper you squat, the larger the stress on the knees and the greater the risk of injury. Now I'm not just talking about an acute, ouch-that-really-painful injury. The damage can also take the form of a slow, progressive wear inside your knee joint that over many years results in arthritis.
Sure, legions of bodybuilders and fitness experts swear deep squats are the key to quad development. But have you ever stopped to answer why many of the elite professional bodybuilders do not perform barbell squats and yet they all have massive quads? The answer: fear of injury. Those bodybuilders who desire longevity in the sport choose safer alternatives to beef out their thighs such as leg extensions, leg presses and machine squats. These athletes overcome the urge to impress onlookers with 12 plates loaded on the Olympic bar for fear of a career-ending injury sustained while doing the free-weight barbell back squat.
Now don't get me wrong. I'm not condemning the barbell squat. On the contrary I like squatting. But as I've become older (and maybe wiser), the doctor in me always considers safety first, and I do not want to suffer with chronic knee pain in the years to come. So I pre-exhaust my quads with leg extensions; I keep the reps above ten; and I never squat below parallel.