If exercises had a Mt. Rushmore, there’s no question the squat would be on it. Loads of research show that it’s not only good for building muscle in the legs and glutes, but it also strengthens the core and, through increased muscle mass in large groups, helps fire up your metabolism and burn fat.
But there’s still a debate when it comes to squats: How low should you go? Powerlifter, bodybuilder and regular gym rats go back and forth on this on a regular basis in internet forums and at the rack. Some say a box squat is enough; others argue in favor of the “ATG” — (*** to grass) — squat, where the upper thigh breaks the 90-degree angle at the knee.
Our take: It can depend on an individual’s physiology, but in most cases, 90 degrees is going to be the happy zone for depth of a squat. This provides the best range of motion through the hips without overexerting the knees, and without leaving the lower back prone to rounding.
Does that mean you shouldn’t go ATG? Or that you should always come down to 90 degrees? When we question a lift’s form, we take into account range of motion, efficacy and, perhaps most of all, safety. But none of those factors stand alone or exist in a vacuum; it’s all in relation to the other. That’s to say — what is the best range of motion I can get, while safely performing this lift, to get the most benefit from it?
Consider weight: Yep, training with a heavier weight will make you stronger. But there is a point of declining utility — when the weight gets so heavy that you can’t properly execute a lift, it no longer is beneficial. That’s the same concept with going past 90 degrees at the knees on squats — you may be increasing range of motion, but at what cost? The tension is off the thighs and hamstrings once you break that floor-parallel plane anyway, and once you do, the pelvis tilts and forces the lower back to round, which you NEVER want to happen in a squat.
So, our stance on squats is to take the safest, most effective path, and go as deep as 90 degrees, tops of the thighs parallel to the floor.