YOU be the Judge Part 1: Squat Depth, by Dr. Lon Kilgore

We are proud to present this guest post by Dr. Lon Kilgore.

Interrogative: How deep should professional fitness trainers teach their trainees to squat?

Evidence: The NSCA Essentials of Strength Training & Conditioning, The NSCA Essentials of Personal Training, the NSCA Basics of Strength and Conditioning, the NSCA official Website, and the NSCA Position Paper: The Squat Exercise in Athletic Conditioning, all offer different instruction to trainers on how deep they should allow their clients to squat. To wit;

Instruction 1 – The body should be lowered until the thighs are parallel to the floor

Instruction 2 – The body should be lowered until the mid-thighs are parallel to floor

Instruction 3 – The body should be lowered until top of the thighs are parallel to the floor or lower

Instruction 4 – The body should be lowered until the knees are 90 degrees

Instruction 5 – The body should be lowered until the knees are 115 degrees

Camille Leblanc-Bazinet and Michele Letendre demonstrate full depth.

Camille Leblanc-Bazinet and Michele Letendre demonstrate the squat.

Analysis: For instructions 1 and 2 there are no anatomical landmarks provided for the professional fitness instructor to use in this determination. For instruction 3, the anterior surface of the thigh is a convex curve and the floor is flat, this renders the instruction non-viable unless two points along the convex curve are identified as representative landmarks for a parallel determination, which is not done. For instruction 4, this joint angle does not approximate the parallel condition stated as desirable in instructions 1, 2 and 3. Instruction 5 is included in an NSCA-branded video presentation where a 90 degree knee angle depth is also presented as acceptable.

Summary: NSCA publications referencing squat depth are sufficiently incomplete, contradicting, and confounding to a point suggesting that any depth of squat may be acceptable.

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Is figure 4-47 proper squat depth? The NSCA’s not clear on this.

Commentary: The self-proclaimed world authoritative materials promulgated by the NSCA are inconsistent in recommendation, incomplete in scientific support, lacking definition, inadequate in anatomical description, and impractical in application. The said publications and recommendations create an environment where education of professionals on squat depth is inconsistent.

The authorship, editorial, or graphical issues present may ultimately have negative effects on individual fitness results and the safety of the public, as correct technique cannot be reliably determined from the published position statements, texts, and videos.

Dr. William Kraemer

Dr. William Kraemer, editor in chief of the NSCA’s Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research

About the Author
Professor Lon Kilgore graduated from Lincoln University with a bachelor of science in biology and earned a Ph.D. in anatomy and physiology from Kansas State University. He has competed in weightlifting to the national level since 1972 and coached his first athletes to national-championship event medals in 1974. He has worked in the trenches, as a coach or scientific consultant, with athletes from rank novices to professionals and the Olympic elite, and as a collegiate strength coach. He has been a certifying instructor for USA Weightlifting for more than a decade and a frequent lecturer at events at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. His illustration, authorship, and co-authorship efforts include the best-selling books “Starting Strength” (first and second editions) and “Practical Programming for Strength Training” (first and second editions), recent releases “Anatomy Without a Scalpel” and “FIT,” magazine columns, textbook chapters, and numerous research journal publications. He is presently engaged in the most difficult task of his career: recreating the educational track to becoming a professional fitness
practitioner. The second stage of this effort is the creation of a one-year university qualification in fitness practice at the University of the West of Scotland.


  1. So what does CrossFit say? What’s CrossFit’s universal standard when any box teaches the squat? That’s right – you have no idea because CrossFit has no quality control in place over what boxes actually teach. May I recommend you stop worrying about what the NSCA is doing and focus on the many problems within CrossFit.

    • Russ Greene

      Are you under the impression that NSCA makes sure all NSCA trainers teach all movements exactly the same everywhere? They do not.

      The issue above is not regarding “quality control” but rather over unclear and contradictory guidelines from a central authority. Thank you for your contribution.

    • Jordan you should learn to do research and read. Page 63 of the of the level 1 training guide states: “The squat, in the bottom position, is nature’s intended sitting posture” So what does that look like, look at any third world country and how they sent with no chair, or look at how a toddler squats. This standard is taught at the level 1 course. Of course not everybody follows it, that how you know a good box from a bad one. In addition, the games have always stated that the squat depth must be below parallel. Your comment comes across as someone who knows very little of the cross fit model, and just repeats what it hears without knowledge of the subject.

      • Ian if you want to get really knit-picky we should ask why nature is being personified into having intentions, but that’s missing the point. The squat we teach relies on a full, anatomically normal range of motion about the hips, knees, and ankles. We see this same range of motion in healthy populations throughout the world. I’ve even seen studies that correlate the inability to get off the floor without using one’s hands (read:full squat) and risk of all-cause mortality. Absent any powerful evidence that this is in fact bad for you, we should assume it is a safe and natural way to train. It’s certainly effective.

      • Ian the scientific evidence are third world countries. Have you ever been? When you see people that don’t chairs, how do they sit? How about a toddler? Everybody sits that way before they are introduced to chairs. Even you. So the scientific evidence is everywhere, just open your eyes.

  2. Pingback: YOU be the Judge Part 2: Back Position in the Squat, by Dr. Lon Kilgore | THE RUSSELLS

  3. Pingback: Squat Depth » North East CrossFit

  4. Pingback: YOU be the Judge Part 3: Squat Stance, by Dr. Lon Kilgore | THE RUSSELLS

  5. Pingback: YOU be the Judge Part 4: Knee Position and Orientation, by Dr. Lon Kilgore | THE RUSSELLS

  6. Pingback: YOU be the Judge Part 5: Head and Neck Position, by Dr. Lon Kilgore | THE RUSSELLS

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