Half Squat vs Full Squat: Understanding Depth in Squatting for Optimal Results

Athletes often ask us how much range they should get on their squat – is quarter range enough, or should they go lower? 

The answer is it depends; both variations have their place in strength and conditioning programmes, but they serve different purposes and offer distinct benefits. 

This article explores the differences between half squats and full squats, shedding light on their advantages and how to choose the right one for you and your training goals. 

Understanding Half Squat and Full Squat

Half Squat:

The half squat is a squatting variation where you limit the depth of how far you go into a squat, which can be halfway between full squat depth and standing. 

The half squat is often used to load the bar with heavier weights through this partial range, which stimulates the central nervous system to build strength in the “athletic power position” whilst minimising muscular fatigue. This is useful during athletes’ seasons when playing back-to-back games or competing in back-to-back races. There are many other uses for the half squat, which we’ll go into more depth (pardon the pun) later in this article. 

Full Squat:

The full squat is the standard squat, in which you lower to full depth, with the hips just below the knees and the thighs parallel to the floor. 

We coach full squats when athletes are mastering the fundamental movement patterns so that they can perform the whole movement well, which sets a good foundation in their athletic development.

Athletes we coach typically continue to squat to full depth if the outcome is to build strength in their lower limbs, as long as fatigue is not a concern. This is because deep squats have been shown to build more muscle in the legs (quads, adductors and glutes) overall than shallow or half squats.

There are other benefits of the full squat, but it’s also important to say that there are times when full squats are not appropriate for an athlete, both of which we’ll touch upon below. 

Squat Depth Definitions

  • Deep Squat: 120° knee bend or more 
  • Half Squat: 90° knee bend
  • Quarter Squat: 60° knee bend  

Half Squat Vs Full Squat: The Comparison 

The main difference between the half squat and full squat lies in the squat depth. Half squats involve a shorter range of motion, targeting specific muscle groups more intensely, while full squats offer a wider range of motion, engaging more muscles. 

Below, we will discuss a number of factors to consider when deciding which squat variation to include within your training programme: 

Squat Depth for Movement Integrity 

Both squat variations have value; however, for athletes’ long-term athletic development, it’s important that they can perform squats through the full range of motion. 

An athlete’s movement competency can be likened to a ship (credit goes to Gary Hutt at GB Boxing for this analogy), where we need the base to be solid so that it has no holes. An athlete’s ability to squat to full depth is similar to building the base of the ship, and avoiding or restricting the range at this point will create a gap in movement competency, creating holes in the ship.

Full squats are key in an athlete’s movement training to establish a good foundation. This allows for the development of physical qualities later down the line, which will increase the size of the sails and, therefore, the ship’s potential. 

Performing half squats without mastering the full-depth squat is like hoisting larger sails but having holes in your ship – prioritise building a sturdy foundation first. 

Image of a ship, used to demonstrate an analogy of an athletes movement competency.

Squat Depth for Muscle Growth  

Deep squats (120-140°) have been found to significantly build more muscles (size) in the glutes, quads and adductors when compared to half squats (60-90°) following 10-weeks of training in men. Therefore if hypertrophy is your goal, squatting to full-range is optimal for maximizing growth in the glutes, quads and adductors.  

Quadriceps, gluteus maximum and adductor muscle growth after 10 weeks of deep squats vs half squats

Effects of squat training with different depths on lower limb muscle volumes – cross-sectional area % change (Kubo et al., 2019)

Squat Depth for Strength

Strength improvements from squatting are closely tied to the specific ranges of motion practised. In other words…

  • If you consistently squat deeply, you’ll enhance your strength evenly throughout that entire range.
  • If you primarily focus on shorter ranges like half or quarter squats, your strength improvements may be more concentrated in those specific ranges, leaving the ranges outside of what you’ve worked less developed. 
Strength gains after 10 weeks of deep squats vs half squats

Effects of squat training with different depts on lower limb muscle volumes – relative increase in 1RM, measured as a percentage increase in 1 repetition max (Kubo et al., 2019)

The study by Kumbo et al (2019) revealed that those who trained in full-range deep squats experienced the greatest improvement in their ability to perform deep squats, with a notable increase of 32%. In contrast, those who practised half squats demonstrated a lower improvement of 12% when tested on their capabilities to perform deep squats. 

Conversely, the group that trained with half squats experienced a more significant increase in their strength performing half squats, showing a 32% improvement, whereas the group that trained with full deep squats showed a slightly lower increase of 24% in their ability to perform half squats. 

This indicates that training with full deep squats not only enhances deep squat performance but also has a positive impact on strength across a broader range of squat depths, including shallow squats, compared to training primarily with half squats. 

Squat Depth for Power (Rate of Force Development)

Improving how quickly you can produce force (rate of force development, or RFD) is important for athletes in sports like sprinting and jumping. Quarter squats are generally better for improving RFD for athletes. 

Quarter squats allow you to focus on the specific joint angles and movements needed in sports. While full squats are great for overall strength, quarter squats are better suited for boosting explosiveness and rapid force production. 

Even better for improving RFD are pin squats in this quarter range. In these, you start from a quarter squat position with the bar resting on the pins and then drive upwards fast. This means you focus on generating force quickly from a static position. Here is how to approach it:

  • Set the pins to a quarter squat position
  • Load the bar with a moderate to heavy weight
  • Perform 3-5 reps per set
  • Complete each rep with max intent, focusing on exploding upward from the pins
  • Perform 3-6 sets with rest of 2-4 minutes between sets

Squat Depths Applications to Sport 

Both full-depth and half-depth squats play a role in enhancing athletic performance, but there is a time and place for each: 

  • Full squats are essential for developing general athletic ability and overall leg strength.   
  • Half squats target strength at sport-specific joint angles and are particularly beneficial for activities that require rapid and explosive movements. 

Integrating full and half squats into a training programme should be tailored to an athlete’s training history, goals and specific needs. Here is an example of an annual plan for athletes who have a solid foundation in squatting and are looking to optimise their training:

Off-season: Strength Building Phase  

  • Focus: During the off-season, the focus should be on building a strong foundation and enhancing health
  • Exercise: Full Squats, as they help to develop comprehensive leg strength.
  • Programme: 4 sets of 5-8 reps, performed 2-3 times per week

Pre-Season: Power and Explosiveness Phase

  • Focus: As the season approaches, the emphasis should shift to increasing explosive power and sport-specific strength. 
  • Exercise: Half Squats, as they allow athletes to lift moderate weights and focus on rapid force production. 
  • Programme: 4 sets of 3-5 reps explosive, performed 1-2 times per week

In-Season: Maintenance Phase

  • Focus: During the season, the goal is to maintain overall strength and explosiveness without overloading the athlete. 
  • Exercise: Pin squats, particularly in the quarter-squat range are optimal here, as they focus on the concentric (lifting) position only, which is less fatiguing but still allows for heavy loading whilst moving fast to drive neural adaptions for strength and RFD.
  • Programme: 4 sets of 3-5 reps explosive with adequate rest between sets (2-4 minutes) to maintain performance and reduce fatigue, performed 1-2 times per week

Other Factors to Consider


Full squats require a greater range of motion, requiring increased mobility in the hips, knees and ankles in comparison to half squats. This is because the full squat requires the lifter to descend lower, engaging these joints through a bigger movement pattern. 

JointHalf SquatFull Squat
Hip JointLimited ROMFull ROM
Knee JointModerate ROMFull ROM
Ankle JointModerate ROMFull ROM

Sticking Point 

Sometimes, an athlete needs to focus on their strength at a specific angle or break through a training plateau, which can be addressed by using half squats within those specific ranges. 


When comparing half squats to full-depth squats in terms of fatigue, full-depth squats generally induce greater fatigue due to the increased muscle activation and demand required to perform the movement through a larger range of motion. 

For athletes, this means that doing full-depth squats can be more demanding on their bodies and could induce greater fatigue. Athletes must carefully consider their goals and their tolerance for fatigue when deciding between half squats and full squats during their training programme. 

During this decision-making process, athletes should consider their training history and position in the training year. If they are in the off-season or far from a significant competition, they may be able to tolerate the increased fatigue from full-depth squats. However, if they are in-season or approaching a key event, they should assess their squatting consistency. If they haven’t been squatting regularly, opting for half squats or pin squats may help minimise fatigue and ensure they enter their event feeling fresh and ready to perform at their best. 


Ultimately, the safety of either type of squat depends on proper technique, appropriate loading and individual factors such as mobility, strength and injury history. It’s essential to focus on proper technique to minimise the risk of injury for both types of squats. 


Both half squats and full squats have their place in a well-rounded training program. Choosing between them depends on your training outcome, sport-specific requirements and training history. Incorporating both variations at different times can provide the benefits of targeted muscle engagement with less fatigue from half squats, along with the comprehensive muscle development offered by full squats. 

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Emily, co-founder of Sport Science Insider, graduated from the University of Leeds in 2020 and went on to become an accredited S&C coach with the UKSCA in 2022. A former athlete herself, Emily has since gone on to deliver S&C coaching for the Southern Academy of Sport, GB Rowing, GB Taekwondo and works currently as a full-time S&C coach at the University of Leeds.