The deep or ATG (ass-to-grass) squat is a familiar training tool to weightlifters, CrossFitters and martial artists alike. By learning how to do this exercise properly, you can increase your power and explosiveness.
There is some concern among recreational fitness enthusiasts and even personal trainers that this variation of the squat is dangerous and can be detrimental.
Although there is some evidence to support either side of the debate, in my opinion, this is a case of it being dangerous if the proper precautions are not taken – namely education and practice.
What Is A Deep Squat?
A deep squat is considered as one where the angle of hip flexion is greater than 90 degrees. When the crease of your hips tracks lower than the height of your knees, you are in deep squat territory.
Although a foreign notion to most Westernized populations, the deep is a thoroughly human movement protocol. Take these points into account:
- Our ancestors for millions of years used to squat on a daily basis.
- Primates squatted millions of years before us and continue to do so.
- The majority of people in Asia and Africa squat deeply on a daily basis – by choice.
- Children often rest in this natural, deep squat position with no issues.
Most of us in the West have an aversion to the deep squat because we have been effectively “untrained” from that most natural and functional movement. Think of how often you squat low in your daily life.
How long do you spend at a desk? How much time do you spend in the car or on the bus? How much time do you spend on the couch watching TV? All of these positions are inherently unnatural and limit the ROM (range of motion) of our hips.
Since most of us don’t use the deep squat on a daily basis, we lose the ability to do so.
Benefits Of The Deep Squat
There are numerous benefits of deep squatting:
- Mobilize tight and stiff ankles, knees and hips.
- Help prevent lower back pain.
- Improve your squat mechanics.
- Activate or increase synovial fluid (which protects joints).
- Help sustain dynamic maximal strength levels.
- Deep joint angles provide neural and morphological stimuli for the hip and knee extensors to positively influence the acceleration process.
- Helps to maintain joint and muscular health in the lower body.
- Improved functional capacity.
- Better athletic performance.
- Increases core/abdominal/back engagement.
- Burn more calories.
- Build stronger glutes.
- May increase knee stability.
- Increased propensity for explosiveness in activities like sprints and jumps.
Common Fears And Risks
Bad for the knees? This myth can be attributed to a paper published back in 1961 by Dr. Karl Klein. He researched the risk for knee pain in athletes who utilize the deep squat and concluded that nobody should squat below 90 degrees. His results were picked up by Sports Illustrated spread like wildfire. Since 1961, however, many advancements have been made in exercise science and biomechanics research.
The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) publish a paper in 1991 stating the following:
- Squats, when performed correctly and with appropriate supervision, are not only safe, but may be a significant deterrent to knee injuries.
- Excessive training, overuse injuries, and fatigue-related problems do occur with squats. The likelihood of such injuries and problems is substantially diminished by adherence to established principles of exercise program design.
- The squat exercise is not detrimental to knee joint stability when performed correctly.
- Weight training, including the squat exercise, strengthens connective tissue, including muscles, bones, ligaments, and tendons.
- Injuries attributed to the squat may result not from the exercise itself, but from improper technique, pre-existing structural abnormalities, other physical activities, fatigue, or excessive training.
An ATG squat is slightly more complicated than a regular squat in that there are more muscles being activated and developed in the former.
A Proper Deep Squat
Note that if you are performing the deep squat for the first time, you should do it without weight. If you’ve have a chronic injury like knee pain, you should consult with a fitness professional.
A correctly performed deep squat has the following attributes:
- Chest upright, back straight.
- Engaged core. Tight stomach, slight curve in back.
- Full contact with the floor; both heels and toes.
- Hips below knees.
If you’re having trouble getting into a deep squat position and meeting the above criteria, you must mobilize. You should be doing it anyways to keep limber, but mobilization will help you to refine details in your technique and fine extra ROM (range of motion).
Any of these would be helpful to loosen up tight areas.
Engage Your Muscles
Make sure you do a full body warm-up before any weights.
In order to accomplish a deep squat or any other squat effectively, you must engage your abs, shoulders and upper back. Flex your thighs and glutes.
Regress To Progress
Adding too much weight can increase the risk of injury with any exercise and specifically with the deep squat. The pressure on your knees is amplified when you squat.
There’s nothing wrong with scaling things back. Sometimes it’s important to take 1 step back to be able to take 2 forward. Try doing deep squats with low to no weight at a slow tempo (like 50X0). This will allow you focus on technique. When we work with heavier weights slightly past our comfort zone, we sometimes rush through things miss the little cues that tell us what we’re doing wrong.
In short, there’s nothing to fear when a squat is done properly and with a focus on form. Of course, everyone is different. Just listen to your body, don’t rush things and you’ll be fine.
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