Why you should not squat ATG (ass to grass)

December 9, 2021 by VAHVA Fitness

Why you should squat ATG (ass to grass) and why you should NOT. Not squatting ATG is one of the biggest heresies in the world of fitness!

One person squats all the way down ass-to-grass (ATG). He bounces of the bottom, comes up legs buckling and snaps his knees at the top.

Another person squats to just above parallel, controls his descent, pauses and comes up with control and keeps his joints aligned all the way to the end.

Probably 90 percent of people who think they're knowledgeable about training would at first glance consider the first example as the better squat. All based on a one single factor - the depth of the squat.

For many, using maximal range of motion during any exercise is what separates the noob from the experienced practitioner. Using partial range is often associated with poor form and ignorant training.

But let's consider this: For the vast majority of people during a squat, the hip joint allows a much greater hip flexion (bringing knee towards chest) when the knees and toes are pointed outward and kept wide allowing us to sink deeper into the squat.

Whereas with the hip-width stance, knees and toes pointing forward the hip flexion is generally decreased to a great extent so that going lower than parallel is nearly impossible without rounding the spine. 

In this case, the more shallow depth is the MAXIMAL depth and full range of motion within the parameters of hip-width stance, knees forward and back straight. Our anatomy is the limit here, not the ignorance of full range.

However, many would avoid this variation because they've been taught that only the deepest absolute range is useful despite other variations having different maximum ranges based on the anatomy.

So does this make it a bad squat because I can't do it ATG? Of course not – it's just a different variation with different benefits.

The engagement of our quadriceps, glutes, adductors and hamstrings will change based on the leg width and alignment we choose to perform the squat with. Doing only ATG squats in one particular way tends to engage these muscles only in one particular way. 

This is why adhering to rules like this is a sure way to cause numerous imbalances in the body.

This is exactly what happened to me. I let the range of motion and the amount of weight be in the main charge of my exercise form leaving a host of muscles and articulations weak and untrained.

One of the reasons many face plateaus in their training and don't find the solutions they're looking for is that they follow rules and laws of training that are entirely external. 

These myths and arbitrary rules of thumb circle around the fitness culture and infect anyone who touches them.

When something has to look in a certain way, be of a certain range, certain weight and certain amount of repetitions, it narrows not only our options but our focus.

Using full range just for the sake of it is no different from always lifting heavy just for the sake of it.

We start to focus on the numbers and external cues at the expense of the internal quality standards, the intangibles. These "intangibles" cannot be measured (at least yet) but they can be very tangible feelings inside the body. 

These signals tell us about our muscular engagement, stability, control and body mechanics with the highest precision. This allows us to guide our form and make correct adjustments for the best possible results.

This internal feedback loop and the ability to sense what is going on in our body is the immunity against bad training advice. We call it "body intelligence", the mainstream science calls it kinesthetic intelligence and "kinesthesia" - kinesthetic awareness.

Here's a big one: The body gets developed more through these intangibles and unseen intentions than through the visible external form.

Going back to our initial example of doing the ATG squat with poor joint control and bad body mechanics. Which one has a bigger impact on the development of your body?

The fact that you squat deep or the fact that your joints travel out of alignment and your muscles are not activated optimally at any point in the range that you're using?

If another person squats above parallel but uses exceptional body control and knows precisely what he wants to target and concentrates well on the muscles and form, is this not going to have a bigger impact on the results than the depth of his squat?

The externalities matter and make a difference but they are not a guarantee of better or worse results. If you want to maximize your results from any range you're using, you need to know what you're doing.

In our approach and methods, it's crucial to be able to connect the intangibles with the external form. The most effective exercise variation and form can only be derived based on the intangibles.

The intangibles are not only immunity against fitness fallacies but against injuries, wear and tear and other undesired effects of training.

Athlete 20XX Method focuses directly on the most fundamental internal qualities. This is what we've been researching for years. We connect the best exercises with the best methods for the ultimate results and physical autonomy.

Internally endless, externally limitless.

Stay strong!

Eero Westerberg

Head Coach of VAHVA Fitness


samuli jyrkinen

About the author 

Samuli Jyrkinen

Samuli is the ninja behind the scenes (photography, videography, websites, program platforms and more). He has been training religiously for over a decade and has a firm grasp of physical and mental fitness. You will find our story here.

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  • What a wonderful way of looking at this! Makes me rethink a lot! This is applicable to all exercises:-) Thank you for sharing your insights and views on this!

  • I was thinking the SAME THING last week. I have been reflecting. I take all the fitness knowledge I learned for granted, and when I see someone doing something ridiculous at the gym, I understand that I could use that exercise to develop some attribute. I forget that not everyone has the knowledge you taught me and that the person probably simply had no idea what he was doing.

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