Coaching under a roof where elite athletes train, I always receive the same questions during squat, when beginners start training; "was that low enough?" or "did I hit depth?". This question really bothers me, not that they are actually concerned about their depth but that whichever gym or scene they came from had them believe that getting low was the end all be all rule of the squat. Aside from powerlifting rules or if they want to compete one day, a technically beautiful squat regardless of depth always trumps a scary looking squat to depth any day.
Its a marathon, not a sprint
We hear this line everyday, with regards to any sort of activity possible, but people don't actually believe it. I know the next competition is right around the corner, or that you can't keep posting high squats on instagram, but the reality is, you will squat to depth when you are able to. Big squats always starts with perfect mechanics, descends to the lowest depth while retaining perfect mechanics, and rises to the lockout with perfect mechanics. This seems very obvious, but everyones lowest depth isn't the same, and a gross looking squat is always one that goes too low for that person and breaks the rule of "perfect mechanics". We must always train perfectly even if it is a high squat, and outside of training work on the restrictions that prevent us from going low. Over time, creeping a millimetre deeper each training session, you will have the perfect squat you had hoped for. Rushing this always leads to a less technical squat which over time will make your numbers plateau, or worse, an injury that takes you out of the game for good.
The most obvious restriction is mobility. Tight hips (hip flexors, glutes,TFL,hamstrings), as well as the ankles and groin/inner thigh. With the hips, a simple protocol each morning to open up your restricted tissues will allow for more hours in the day spent retaining proper hip position. When I say morning I mean when you wake up, actually focussing on the goal at hand first thing gets your mind thinking all day about how you are doing and if you have been sitting too long or not focussing on your position. The more time you spend in good positions throughout the day makes the 1 hour every few days you train the squat much easier.
The ankles as well as the groin/inner thigh should be attacked before training as the tightness will have a different day to day emphasis on where your pelvis descends too in the squat. Something as simple as your ankles or inner hamstrings being tight on a certain day will not allow your knees to drive out which in turn sends your butt back in the squat, your chest forward and your depth high. Your hips need room to sink down, and unless your ankles and hamstrings are free then your squat is going no where quick. Find your mobility restrictions and attack them.
The other side of restrictions is mental and how you go about squatting. Firstly, you cannot be scared to go lower and you should work with weights that allow you to not think about dying and to think about what your doing. Secondly, you must be aware of what your body is doing and the positions you must be in to get lower in the squat. The main thing I see is not emphasizing the weight of the body being placed on the outside of the foot. Placing your weight to the outside edge of the foot creates the proper arch and allows for the knees to track outwards much easier. One must find a stable position with toes in or toes out that allows for the weight to be placed outwards, allowing the knees to track outward and the hips to drop down and not back. Too often beginners think about too much and look beyond the most basic cues and their weight will rest on the ball or inside of the foot which is most comfortable, but no matter how hard you try your knees will not track properly and your butt will not go low!
You're the only one that should care about your squat, so do it right. There is no money on the line, no accolades for who goes the lowest, and in the end the lifters who lift the most, are usually the ones who will last the longest, so put the time in while you are young in your lifting career to doing things right, and over time, you will squat low, with perfect form and it will be big-weight-baby.