When we were babies, squatting was no big deal, and was the preferred position for many activities. Yet as the years passed, our ability to get into the bottom of a squat disappeared, and for most of us, was not missed. So what changed from diapers to the desk?  First and foremost, we moved more as children than we do as working adults, as well as the fact that sitting in a chair is not a normal position for our bodies to be in. As a result, multiple joint systems in the body lose full range of motion from lack of use and you lose the ability to squat properly. 

How do I know this to be true? Look at other countries where squatting is normal and everyone does it. Because you are expected to squat to eat, to socialize, to relieve yourself, you constantly are squatting and do not lose the flexibility to squat as you age.

One of my life goals is to bring squatting back in style. It is such a normal and healthy movement for a human that it is a shame that we do not do it more often. When squatting in class one day, many students had some trouble getting all the way down with some mentioning old injuries as the reason.  So we sat in a squat, and slowly worked our way down to the lowest of low squats we could. My hips were pooped after class, but it sparked the conversation of how good it is for your body to be in a squat.

Did you know that squatting helps to stretch the tissues of the pelvic floor without putting too much stress on them? There are muscles that line the bottom of your core, that run from pubic bone to coccyx (tail bone) and everywhere in between. They keep all your organs from falling out, and help to provide stability in the pelvis (and everything above it).  Just as any tissue system in the body, if it isn’t contracted, stretched and manipulated regularly, the tissues become stagnant and not as resilient to weight and force. For both women and men, pelvic floor dysfunction can lead to pain, urinary or fecal incontinence, prolapse of organs, and a host of other issues downtown and uptown of the pelvic floor.  Hanging out in the bottom of a squat helps to create space between the coccyx and the pubic bone, lengthening out the pelvic floor, as well as toning the tissues on the journey in and out of a squat. The hips are strengthened to get you out of your squat and on your way, as long as everything is aligned.

So what does a proper squat entail?

1.    Keep the shins vertical for as long as possible. This will encourage glute and hamstring activation while minimizing the load on the knees. While our knees do bend, the patellar tendon and ligaments are not meant to carry your body weight as it moves forward without experiencing shear (imagine cheese grater to bone surfaces), which leads me to the next tip…

2.    Load the glutes and hamstrings first. The first joint to move is loaded with the most amount of force. So, if your knees shoot forward and then you bend your hips – your knees (and their tiny ligaments) will have to do more work than your hips, which were built for heavy lifting! Just compare the size of the patellar tendon versus the Gluteus Maximus and tell me who should be doing more work. Stick your hips back (without overarching through the lower back) before lowering into your squat.

3.    Keep the weight balanced equally over the feet. Put all of your weight into your heels and you will fall on your butt, but if you put all of your weight into your toes, you will not get as much activation in your hips and hamstrings.

At this point, you may be thinking, “But Alex, when would I ever need to get into a squat? Everything I need is at table height!”. What about that pencil you dropped on the floor? Or plugging in the vacuum cleaner before using it? There are things we have to bend down to do. Instead of hinging from your spine and bending over like Igor, set yourself up for a squat, maintaining support and integrity in your spine, and discover a world with less (back, knee, foot, hip, etc.) pain.

Interested in more health benefits of a squat? Check out my previous post: To squat, or not to squat?