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September 09, 2021 9 min read

Squats: we all love them. However, like  the popular bench press, the form can be difficult, vague, and intimidating.

Still, squats, among bench presses and deadlifts, are considered one of the topmost effective compound movements, making them a must in every leg day routine. The typical squatter knows they should aim for parallel depth, but perhaps an ass-to-grass approach is more beneficial. 

Squatting 101

Before we can discuss ass-to-grass squats, or ATG squats for short, we must first establish some knowledge about squats in general. What makes them so important? What muscles do squats target? What is the right way to perform a squat?

The weightlifter is getting ready to stand with a heavy barbell

Squats are a strength training movement that targets the lower body as well as the core. Traditionally, you’ll see people utilizing a barbell for squats. However, you can use a Smith machine, a kettlebell, dumbbells, or even just bodyweight, making them a very accessible type of movement.

Squats are a compound movement, meaning they work multiple muscle groups rather than isolating one muscle group.

In total, squats work your:

  • Glutes 
  • Quadriceps 
  • Hamstrings
  • Hip flexors
  • Abs
  • Calves

Benefits of Squats

While nearly any form of physical movement is packed with benefits, there are a number of reasons you should integrate squats specifically into your fitness routine if you haven’t already.

  • Squats Are Efficient: As previously mentioned, squats are a compound movement. This means that with only one movement, you can get a burn in several different areas of your body. While isolation exercises are also effective, they are not as time-saving as compound lifts such as squats.
  • Squats Are Functional: In addition to being a compound movement, squats are also a functional movement. This means that they are a movement that easily translates into everyday life. Think of all the times you pick things up from the floor, stand up from a chair or couch, or crouch to reach something. Doing squats can make these simple tasks feel much easier.
  • Gives You Abs: When done correctly and consistently, you may notice more abdominal definition. This is because during the lift, your core is the main provider of stability and support. Having a strong core will also help you complete your everyday tasks more easily and will also help your other lifts.
  • Great for CrossFit: If you’re super into CrossFit or other functional training methods, you can especially benefit from squats. Squats will boost your ability to jump, especially those vertical box jumps that are popular in CrossFit gyms.
  • Helps Hip Mobility: The mobility and range of motion of your body are really important to maintaining healthy physical functions. Without mobility and a good range of motion, you run the risk of pain or injury. More importantly, lacking the ability to move properly can lead to low quality of life.
  • Protects the Body: Nearly any strength training that builds strong musculature and works the joints is good for protecting your body from injury. This is especially true if you’re a runner or workout often as exercise-related injuries often result from inadequate strength. Furthermore, being strong protects your body while doing everyday tasks.
  • Posture Help: You might be wondering how a lower body movement can help your posture. However, squats are also effective at building a strong core, which contributes directly to your posture. Even having strong abs will help support your back during daily activities such as walking or lifting. Having good posture will protect your body from injuries and has been shown to result in a higher quality of life.

How to Do a Squat

Knowing  how to do a conventional back squat is imperative before we can even begin discussing varied depths like the ATG squat. To do a squat:

  1. Prepare a barbell on a squat rack. The barbell should be about chest height. If you don’t have access to a barbell and squat rack, you can hold dumbbells, a kettlebell, use a Smith machine, or just use bodyweight. If it is your first time doing squats, body weight may be best.
  1. Hold the barbell at just beyond shoulder width or whatever feels most natural for you. None of the weight should be supported by your hands, wrists, or arms, they are more for assurance that the barbell won’t slide off your back.
  1. Next, move your head to the other side of the bar so that it is now resting on your shoulders. For this tutorial, we’ll do a high bar squat, which simply means the barbell will rest higher on the back. Squeeze your shoulder blades together to create a “shelf” for the bar to rest on.
  1. Now, lift the bar off the squat rack rests and step away from any part of the rack that may inhibit a full range of motion.
  1. Before you can begin the squat, position the feet hip-width apart with your toes turned slightly out. Also, be sure that your back is well-aligned and that your posture is upright. Keeping your chest outward will help with this. Do not allow the weight of the bar to influence the quality of your posture.
  1. Next, engage the core and make sure your feet a firmly grounded in place. Now you can begin hingeing at the hips and bending at the knees in order to lower your body down.
  1. For a conventional squat, you should reach a depth in which your upper legs are parallel with the ground as if you are sitting down on a chair.
  1. Once you’ve reached adequate depth, drive the weight back up. Be sure to feel the drive in your feet, this will help you engage the proper muscles in the movement. Your core muscles should remain engaged and your posture should be upright.

So, What About ATG?

The real question of the hour: should you be doing ass-to-grass squats? First, let’s discuss exactly what ATG squats are. ATG squats are a type of very deep squat in which you lower your hips as far down as possible, surpassing parallel. Other than the depth, the form is pretty much the same as your conventional squat.

Everyone’s ATG depth is different as you should aim for a depth that is your personal maximum possible depth. You may be interested to know that it was Olympic weightlifting that made this type of squat more mainstream. Olympic weightlifters use ATG squats in order to complete certain movements, like the snatch and the clean and jerk. 

It was powerlifters who created the idea of reaching parallel as it became the standard in powerlifting competitions. Squatting to parallel is a good way to compare competitors, eliminating any squats that don’t reach parallel. Furthermore, less movement allows for more weight movement, so you’re likely to have a lower ATG squat than you would the more mainstream parallel-depth squat.

In short, the depth you choose is up to your personal preference and what works for your body. While there is no proper squat depth definition, although this is a very hot debate, avoid squats that are too shallow. Anything above parallel, known as a partial squat, is typically a waste of your time, unless you are moving particularly heavy weight and don’t care much about building a good range of motion.

Perks of ATG Squatting

If you wish to see a great bit of development all around, ATG squats are the way to go. Furthermore, even if you want your quads to develop well, ATG squats can be an effective way to achieve this. You’re just far more likely to see development in the other movers, as well. Quads will be especially highlighted with ATG squats, which may be an attractive aspect to bodybuilders.

ATG squats are also great for improving your balance and stability. Your core will be working overtime to keep your body stable, especially once you’ve reached a deep depth. Additionally, you will increase your lower body flexibility. If you’re training for Olympic lifting, ATG squats would be a great addition to your training program.

It will help you prepare for numerous competition movements, like your snatch and clean and jerk. You build your power from the deep depths of your squat in these positions, so it is helpful to be strong in this aspect. Training for a full range of motion is important in improving overall bodily functions. So, if you wish to achieve a wide range of mobility, choose ATG.

Of course, your choice to do ATG squats may come down to your personal anatomy. If ATG squats are painful (in a bad way) for you to perform, you may not have the proper structure to get the most from this squat variation. If you love your conventional squats but feel stuck in your progress, implementing ATG squats can help work parts of your lower body that may be weak and thus halting your progress.

ATG squats can also help you learn certain parts of the conventional squat form, especially for knee movement. ATG squats are great for working on muscular activation. You can even perform them at bodyweight for your squat warm up, working on really feeling each muscle contract throughout the movement.

The extent of the depth not only allows you more time to think about the muscles you want to activate but will also allow these muscles to activate more intensely. One often overlooked ATG perk relates to climbers. Climbing is an extremely  agility and mobility-demanding sport.

Furthermore, the number of times a climber needs power in deep knee flexion can be often, depending on the climber’s level. Additionally, well-developed quads are highly beneficial for climbers. If you’re a climber and need to boost your climbing game, ATG squats may be your answer! 

When You Should NOT Do ATG Squats

ATG squats are particularly hard on the knees as they require intense and deep knee flexion. If you have knee problems or feel knee pain when doing ATG squats, it is best to discontinue this variation. You can always increase the muscles around the knee joints by doing parallel squats and then move on to ATG squats in the future. This is also true of your ankles, as you also require good ankle mobility.

a man touching knee at pain point

If you are a squatting beginner, ATG squats will feel extremely difficult and may be impossible, especially with free weights. You should have a good bit of stability, balance, and strength already established before performing ATG squats.

Otherwise, lifters may open themselves to unnecessary risk of injury. Even if you can perform ATG squats, your form may be off. Watch especially for any rounding of the low back, or lumbar area. Like a conventional squat, your back should remain aligned and straight.

Think about what makes the most sense for you, as well. If you’re an Olympic weightlifter, then ATG squats will help you boost performance. However, if your activity does not mimic the movement in an ATG squat, an exaggerated squat depth may be a waste of your time. 

If you are focused on lifting heavy loads, ATG is not typically the way to get there. While you can utilize these squats as a tool to boost your parallel-depth squats, you will likely not be able to move large amounts of weight.

Additional Tips for Getting the Most From ATG Squats

ATG squats can be amazing when utilized correctly. To get the most from your ATG squats, there are a few things to focus on:

  1. Nutrition: ATG squats truly require a lot of power and control over the body. In order to have the proper tools to complete an ATG squat, especially a weighted ATG squat, proper nutrition is key. Fueling your body for your workout sessions will result in better and more effective workout sessions. You should pay special attention to your carb intake, which is your body’s main source of energy, and your protein intake, which aids in the recovery and repair of your muscles. Try  Steel Supplements Whey ISO Shredded Stack for your protein needs!
  1. Form: In order to see the best results from ATG squats, you should aim for as close to perfect as possible. Yes, this also means proper muscular engagement! One common mistake happens with posture in the ATG squat, as a deep squat depth often results in rounding of the back or knee tilt. It usually helps to position the feet a bit wider for an ATG squat. You can practice the ATG squat without additional resistance, your body weight suffices until you are comfortable with the movement.
  1. Stretch: The importance of stretching before exercise has long been debated. However, ATG squats can benefit from some stretching prior to the squat. This is because an ATG squat requires a large range of motion, which will be very hard if you have tight muscles.
  1. Lower the Weight: As previously mentioned, an ATG squat is much harder. A larger range of movement, in nearly any exercise, directly correlates with the amount of weight that can be moved. If you find your form is suffering a lot with ATG squats, don’t give up if you haven’t tried lowering the weight! Don’t expect that you’ll be able to do the exact same amount of weight as you do with your parallel-depth squats.

ATG Squats: Wrapping It Up

The depth of your squat depends on your specific goals and desires. Of course, taking a functional approach, or looking at your everyday activities and where you should be strongest, is a great way to decide whether ATG squats are for you.

ATG squats are most useful for Olympic lifters, but if you find yourself in need of lower body mobility or stronger quads, ATG squatting is essential. However, steer clear of ATG squatting if you fear  they are bad for your knees!