Science of the Squat – Depth & Load – and How They Impact Your Squatting Muscles

The squat is often called the King of Exercises.

And for good reason – because nothing develops lower body muscle mass, strength & power faster & better than barbell squats.

And if you want to be known as the King of the King of Exercises, you’re going to need to take a look at this new research published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research


The purpose of this study is to determine the relative muscular effort (RME) while performing the squat exercise. Specifically, the researchers were looking at the effects of barbell load and squat depth on hip extensor, knee extensor and ankle plantar-flexor RME.

Study Design

Ten strength-trained women performed squats (50-90% of 1 RM) in a motion analysis laboratory to determine hip extensor, knee extensor and ankle plantar-flexor net joint moment (NJM). Maximum isometric strength in relation to joint angle for these muscle groups was also determined. RME was determined as the ratio of NJM to maximum voluntary torque matched for joint angle.


Both barbell load and squat depth had significant interaction effects on hip extensor, knee extensor and ankle plantar-flexor RME (relative muscular effort).

  • Knee extensor RME increased with greater squat depth but not barbell load
  • Ankle plantar-flexor RME increased with barbell load but not greater squat depth
  • Hip extensor RME increased with both greater squat depth and barbell load


This data suggest:

  1. Training for the knee extensors can be performed with low relative intensities but require a deep squat depth.
  2. Heavier barbell loads are required to train the hip extensors and ankle plantar-flexors.

What does this mean to you???

It depends on your training goals?

  • Are you a bodybuilder trying to develop your quad sweep ala Tom Platz?

Then you need to squat deep – Ass to the Grass as they say

  • Or maybe you’re a sprinter, or a football player, or a powerlifter, or a strongman looking to develop a uber-power posterior chain to dominate your sport?

Then you need to focus more on load than depth of squat

  • Or maybe you’re an all-around / hybrid kind of athlete like myself?

Either way, with this info, you’ll be able to design better/smarter/more effective squat programs…all thanks to science 🙂


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