What’s the correct depth for squatting? Is it full depth performed ass to grass (ATG) or is it parallel?
As with most things fitness related what you do depends completely upon your goals. You need to have a general idea for what direction you want to go in fitness wise before you figure out what kind of squat is best for you.
Let me get one thing out there straight off the bat though.. partial reps will not suffice. What I mean by partial rep is what you commonly hear as half or quarter squats. Sure, at first you may lack the mobility necessary to have a better range of motion for squatting and that is 100% okay when starting out. The big picture to take away is that you don’t make partial rep squatting a mainstay in your lifting arsenal.
Now, some of you that are a little more versed in fitness and weightlifting have heard a lot of talk about ATG (Ass to Grass) squats and parallel I’m sure. First, I want to come clean and say that I, unfortunately, have been someone that played a bit of an elitist role early in my lifting days of saying that if squats are not performed at full depth (ATG) then they don’t count. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I’m getting a little ahead of myself here. Today we’re just going to set up the examples of the differences between the two depths, ATG and parallel, so that you may have a visual representation moving forward.
Notice the full depth hit at the bottom of the squat. This person couldn’t get any deeper without magically contorting their glutes completely under their pelvis. Typically an ATG depth squat is performed with an Olympic style high bar placement on the upper traps, more upright torso, narrower stance and closer grip.
Take note of the hip crease in relation to where the quad lies and knee is. Most often a powerlifting style parallel squat is performed with a low bar placement on the rear deltoids, angled torso, moderate to wide stance and a wider grip than that of the Olympic squat. Also, in relation to an ATG squat notice that the glutes are not in contact with the back of the legs.
How can you tell when you’ve hit parallel? Well, it can be very tricky at first. You’ll often think you have when you haven’t because there’s a mental barrier right around that parallel mark. The best advice I can give you is to squat to your optimal depth based on your range of motion and slowly progress in adding weight to adhere to that full range of motion for depth.
Another great tool is using an anal retentive spotter. Finding that parallel mark in squatting can be where a very fickle and experienced spotter can really come in handy. The key is to watch for the hip crease not for the hamstrings. Many people make the mistake of thinking a parallel squat is when the hamstrings are at a 90º angle to the rest of the leg, but that’s not the case. Here’s an example:
True parallel is a line connecting the top of the knee and the crease of the hip, parallel to the floor.
Also, just for your reference here is an example of a squat that is at the above parallel position.
Obviously we have some major differences in depth and style for squatting, but which squat depth is right? Is it parallel or full depth? Both of them are are right. It just completely depends on your goals.
You’ll definitely still be working your muscles even if the depth is above parallel, but just not to the extent that you will once you’ve hit and gone beyond the parallel plane. I’ll speak more on that in the second part to this series. The biggest reason to make sure to hit parallel, aside from getting a good amount of muscle activation, is going to be for purposes of competition of sport such as powerlifting.
Now hopefully you understand the differences between the depths of squat. Stay tuned for Part Two of this series where I will dive into detail of the scientific benefits to each depth of squat alongside the reasons both will be effective or ineffective based on your goals.