For time:
50-lb. single-arm dumbbell overhead lunge, 50 steps
100 GHD sit-ups
100 hip extensions
50-lb. single-arm dumbbell overhead lunge, 50 steps

In the world of squatting, there is below parallel and there is not below parallel. There’s no gray area. Below parallel is defined as the point when the crease of the hip is lower than the side of the knee.

The coaches enforce this and guide folks to select the right loads to allow this range of motion standard to develop and be executed with good form. From warm-ups to working sets to metcons it is clear that the expectation, the thing that will earn you the “good” rep, is if you are below parallel.

But simply crossing the parallel horizon may not be enough for you to achieve your goals or to maximize your fitness.  

A few weeks ago during the 5×7 back squats an athlete began their first set with stellar depth. They were a good 3-4 inches below parallel and moved with a controlled yet continuous effort. Fast forward to their fourth set and I walked over to see that their depth had shrunk to a mere half inch below parallel. Were all 7 reps below parallel? Yes. But the strength development from the set was compromised. To quote Bret Contreras, “Partial reps build strength specifically in the part of the movement you train with limited transfer to the rest of the movement.”

If you want to be as strong as possible – you have to train the entire range of motion that you are capable of with good form. Here are some real life examples of how sacrificing depth for load in CrossFit training trickles down to affect your workouts and capacities:

  1. Athlete does heaviest sets of front squats at bare minimum acceptable depth – has trouble receiving clean in a full depth catch. Also has a difficult time repping out light squat cleans with ease in metcon workouts.
  2. Athlete does air squats to just below parallel – and cannot stand up out of the very bottom of a pistol.
  3. Athlete does back squats in lifting sets to bare minimum acceptable depth – has trouble in metcon workouts with high rep back squats despite being strong (believes that breathing capacity is the culprit).
  4. Athlete does overhead squats to bare minimum acceptable depth – has trouble supporting the load overhead in the deepest catch of a snatch.

There are a few factors at play when determining whether one should go up in weight. First is form, obviously. Second is determining if one is adding weight at the expense of maintaining the same range of motion – and therefore sacrificing a broader strength development.  

The second factor is a little up to the athlete. It takes a little ego checking to make the decision to choose depth over adding a few pounds to the lift to report it on the whiteboard.

In the video above, Ali and I filmed ourselves during our first and last sets of the 5×7 back squats. You’ll see that we biased maintaining the same range of motion throughout, rather than sacrificing depth for load across the sets. Sure, maybe we could have put a few more pounds on the lift if we sacrificed three inches of depth, but that’s just not the kind of squat we want to develop. If anyone has ever seen Ali do pistols, you can start to see the carry over from her depth commitment her to her proficiency there.

The coaches will continue to adhere to our standard of granting “good” reps based on crossing the parallel line. It’s clear, objective, and precise.

That being said, we want everyone to consider their personal goals. Putting up a big number one day is great; but putting up that same number with a squat that represents your maximum range of motion is much cooler – and better for your longterm fitness and performance goal development.

Give it a thought!