Parallel Vs. ATG
/How Deep Should You Squat For Optimal Leg Development/
Added On September 8, 2011
What's better parallel squat or ATG (Ass Too Grass = All The Way Down)?
In my opinion ATG squats are the true form of the exercise. However many people sacrifice ROM (Range Of Motion) just to lift more weight. This may be ok if you are powerlifter but bodybuilders will benefit more from full squats. Why? Well, longer range of motion will always be superior when it comes to building mass since more fibers are recruited and "damaged". Remember as a bodybuilder your main goal is to put stress on your muscles - not to lift the most weight. When you cut your squats to parallel you are doing half-reps and recruiting less muscle. If you go all the way down you accomplish two main things:
1) Your knees move through their full capacity and the quadriceps are hit harder;
2) Your hip muscles - hamstrings and glutes are also hit hard. If you stop at parallel or above it's all quads;
In other words if you go all the way down you hit more muscles and thus the exercise becomes more effective. However sometimes going that deep may be hard for some trainees due to the lack of flexibility. Many people will let their lower backs round in order to go deep. This is not good because the spine is in a very weak position when flexed at the bottom of the squat. There are a few things you can try.
1) Work on your ankle and hamstring flexibility;
2) Use weightlifting shoes.
Weightlifting shoes have a small heel that will allows your knees to move forward a little more and you will be able to get deeper without flexing your spine. Usually this will be my first recommendation. Another great benefit from using weightlifting shoes is the increases quadriceps involvement because your knees are allowed to flex more. Don't buy weightlifting shoes with too high heels because the higher heels place a little more stress on the knees. My advice is to try to squat with the least heel possible. Usually this is around 0.75 inches. Experiment and see what works for you.
3) Squat with a barbell. I know this sound stupid but most people try doing deep squats without any kind of additional weight and complain that their lower back rounds. The truth is that it's easier to keep good lumbar position and do a deep squat if there is some weight on top of you. For example instead of squatting with just the bar try 40kgs or so. It will be easier to hit depth.
4) Always perform fronts squat or high-bar squats if your goal is leg mass. If you do low-bar squats it will be much harder to go deep and this squat variation is not optimal for quadriceps development. The low-bar is a glute dominated movement which will allow you to lift more weight but it won't make you stronger because more weight on the bar does not always mean you are stronger. For example a 250 pounds ATG squat is far more impressive than 315 pounds parallel low-bar squat. Forget about low-bar squats if you are looking for massive quadriceps - front squats and high-bar are much better.
In conclusion you should always squat as deep as you can while maintaining a solid spine and keeping your heels on the ground. It may require some time but you will benefit more from full squats when it comes to leg hypertrophy. Keep in mind that even if you can't perform deep back squats while using good form you will probably be able to front squat pretty deep. So this is another good alternative to the back squat. The front squat is also the purest test of leg strength since it's impossible to cheat.
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