Watching a toddler squat down to scrutinize ants the other day reminded me how much we’ve lost to years of sedentary living.
We were designed to squat comfortably and lift reasonably heavy objects without folding like a taco. In fact, Olympic weightlifters spend hours in the gym simply trying to re-establish this innate, primal pattern.
You’re mistaken if you think that lowering a loaded diaper to the ground while maintaining a straight back is unique to being an infant. In theory, any adult should be able to perform the same manoeuvre — with or without diaper.
Take a minute to observe this simple, natural movement as the next toddler waddles by. The ‘drop down’ is fluid and seamless. The squatted position is held without effort. Standing up is performed sans grunt or bended waist.
Sure, walking is a wonderful universal activity. But squatting arguably may be the more useful exercise if you are looking to enhance basic function. Getting in and out of cars, picking up a dropped spoon or performing critical bathroom functions all require some form of squat.
North American living has tightened up our posterior chain consisting of glutes, hamstrings, lower back and calves, restricting us from lowering our butts. Essentially, we are too inflexible to move up and down, so we bend at the waist and fall forward.
Regaining the flexibility and strength to squat in a more efficient manner is as simple as repetition. Sitting for hours on end got you to where you are. Squatting with consistency can help reset the clock.
The simplest way to start is by performing a simple body weight squat while holding a door handle.
Stand an arm’s length away from a door handle. While holding the handle, slowly fall backward into a suspended seated position. Pause and stand up using your arms to assist. Repeat.
There are a few important tips to keep in mind while squatting.
First, keep your eyes focused straight ahead or looking slightly up. A forward gaze encourages you to maintain your head in a neutral position as opposed to facing down, which hunches you forward.
Second, to limit stress on your back and enhance posterior flexibility it is important to break the habit of tucking your pelvis under you when you squat down (or when you are seated for that matter). By flipping your pelvis back (like an ape) you keep your hamstrings more engaged. Years of tucking your pelvis in a seated, bent-knee position leads to shortened hamstrings.
If you master the Door Squat you may want to consider a Goblet Squat.
Hold a weight tight to your chest and slowly fall back into a squat. I say “fall” because your first movement should be slightly backward, not down, essentially hinging at the hips. In addition to adding resistance, the weight will offer some counter balance and strengthen your core. Don’t forget proper spine and pelvic position mentioned above. For safety, and to help with progression, you may want to squat in front of a chair. Keep your movement slow and decelerate as you approach the chair. In other words, avoid plopping down.
Back Squats (squats with a bar sitting on your shoulders) are a very popular gym exercise. However, a tight posterior chain could make balance problematic. Loading weight on your spine may also be an issue for some.
Personally, I’m not a fan of Wall Sits (a suspended sit with your back against the wall — like an invisible chair) unless you are performing them to strengthen the quads. The wall takes up the slack for the hamstrings, giving them a bit of a free ride.
Wall Squats on the other hand are squats performed facing the wall. With an upright back and arms above or to the side, the goal is to get your toes close to the wall. This is a good test of overall flexibility but can be quite tough if your muscles are tight.
Perhaps the least invasive method of improving your squat is to simply start squatting down instead of bending over when you need to pick something up or sit down … or when scrutinizing ants.