Full squats vs half squats is like right vs left; it’s a never-ending controversy. So I want to break down the pros and cons of both, as well as share my own perspective on what works best for me.
Before we get into full squats vs half squats, let’s talk more about what each means.
Half squats can have different meanings depending on who you talk to. In theory, half squats are going parallel. This means dropping down until your legs are at a 90 degree angle.
I’ve heard some say that half squats, also known as half reps, means not even going parallel. But I would refer to those as partial reps, not necessarily half squats.
One of the benefits of doing half squats is you can typically lift more weight as you’re not dropping all the way down. Using more weight in case may be beneficial to strength gains.
The downside of half squats are that you’re not getting the full benefit of the exercise. Using full range of motion on any exercises is going to recruit more muscles. This is especially true with squats.
Full squats is using a full range of motion, dropping all the way down below parallel. A couple of terms you’ll also hear is ‘ass to grass‘ and ‘hams touching calves.’
Doing full squats is common in both powerlifting and bodybuilding. In fact, full squats are mandatory for most powerlifting competitions.
There are many benefits of doing full squats vs half squats. Full range of motion will simply build bigger muscles in your legs. As stated above, using a full range of motion recruits more muscle fibers. Full squats will also make you stronger overall, as squats in general are considered a full-body exercise. Full squats will also burn more calories, if that’s an interest. Going all the way down is far more taxing than just going parallel.
If there’s any downside to doing full squats it’s that you may not be able to lift as much weight as you would if you were just going parallel, aka half squats.
Full Squats vs Half Squats: What I Prefer
In my early days of weightlifting, I used half squats. If I’m honest, I don’t think I ever started doing full squats until my late-30s. And my problem with half squats is I thought I had been going parallel but I was wrong. I had someone watch me one day and they kindly informed me that I was no where near parallel.
That was a boost to my ego, being that I was regularly squatting with 400-500 lbs – yet I wasn’t doing proper squats (something I see all too often).
That said, doing half squats can be deceiving, especially if you have a heavy load on your back. You may think you’re dropping down far enough but chances are, you’re not.
Another fact, at least in my experience, is half squats puts more pressure on my lower back. When you stop the descent of the rep mid-way down, that pressure can transfer to your lower back if you’re not careful.
I personally prefer doing full squats. Sure, I may not be able to lift as much weight, but I know that I’m doing my squats correctly with good form and full range of motion. I’ve also noticed that my legs have gotten bigger since I’ve been doing full squats vs half squats.
Despite my preference in squats, I think both full and half squats may have their place. An example is if you’re wanting to increase your full squat, doing a set or two of half squats with heavier weights may help you get used to the load. Or if you have some sort of injury that prevents you from dropping all the way down, doing squats to parallel is better than no squats at all.
I’ll end by saying what many great weightlifters and bodybuilders over several generations have said: squats are king of all exercises. You can throw deadlifts in there as well. To me, weight is almost irrelevant when it comes to squats. The movement alone is taxing on your body and will help you pack on muscle.
Train with Passion,