You Don’t Know Squat…or Do You?

Ever been told you shouldn’t squat or that it’s bad for your knees? Did you ask if you should also skip sitting in chairs or on the toilet?

Fact: We all CAN and DO squat in our daily lives.

Yes, it might be the least sexy move at the gym, but love it or hate it, we all need to maintain it so we don’t get stuck on a chair or worse, on the toilet. For the everyday person, the squat allows us to sit down, stand up, and safely pick things up from the ground. For athletes, it can increase jumping strength, and especially important for girls, help strengthen the knee joint against injury (most typically ACL) by improving knee stability and patterning a safe “landing” position.

How low can you go?

As babies we could likely sit in a bottomed out squat all day long, effortlessly moving in and out of a position many of us either can’t get to or have to hold our breath to reach as adults. Can/should everyone squat like a toddler/baby? Not necessarily. Simply stated, our bodies change from age 1-25 (and even more later). We not only change proportionally (our legs become longer and our head shrinks in proportion to the rest of the body), but the space between our joints diminishes as we age, changing our movement patterns and potential. Check out more about the potential risks and benefits of deep squat here and here.

So why do we lose the ability to squat and even more important, how do we regain it?

The simple answer to that question is “Use it or lose it.” The less often we use a movement pattern, the harder that pattern becomes. Sitting in a chair (or a car) requires less mobility, stability, and strength than sitting in an unsupported squat (or even sitting on the floor). When we spend the better part of our days in a supported seated position, we rely on our butt’s position on the chair to support our weight instead of our legs, putting our hamstrings and hip flexors in a chronically shortened position (a leading cause of low back issues) and turning our glutes off (hello old man/old lady butt…you know what I’m talking about). How do we change this? Quite simply, we activate the glutes. Guess what movement allows us to do this? You guessed it, the squat. We can regain the mobility, stability, and strength required to squat instead of sit by “greasing the groove” through practice.

muscle engagement in a squat

What muscles am I working in a squat? Source:

What now?

The easiest way to improve the squat pattern is just to use it, as in spend some time in that position. Set a timer for five minutes spend that amount of time in a squat each day. At first it won’t (and doesn’t have to) be five consecutive minutes. Can only manage 10 seconds at a time? Start there and repeat throughout the day. Can’t even get into a squat? Grab onto a door frame or strap for support. Sit back until your butt touches your calves, lengthen your spine, and just hang out. After a few days of practice, the position will become easier. Can sit easily in a squat? Do it unsupported and add a minute each week. 

Popping a solid squat…

  • Set up with the feet relatively straight. If you’re unsure of how wide or narrow to go, start with the feet shoulder width apart, or just take three jumps and see where they naturally land. They can angle out slightly, and position will vary based on hip anatomy,
  • Evenly distribute your weight between the balls of your feet (namely 1st and 5th metatarsal) and the heel short foot position
  • Take a big breath in and use the hip flexors to
  • Pull your butt back and down (like you’re sitting down on a curb)
  • Make sure the knees track the toes
  • Hang out here as long as you can still breathe ; )
  • Push your big toes into the floor and exhale as you come up
  • Repeat as needed until you get to 5 total minutes

Check out this video by Dr. Emily Splichal for a quick tutorial on foot set up. Foot position and depth vary by individual. Regardless of these, everyone should be able to maintain control on the descent and ascent with a tall spine, strong legs that can resist internal rotation of the knee and track the toes (hint — use of short foot helps a lot with this), and of course the ability to do all of this pain-free.   

Like any movement pattern, a squat should look solid “naked” before adding weight. Earn the right to load it up with the mobility, stability, and strength to get those thighs below parallel to the floor with a tall spine and solid knees.

Ready to learn more?  

Join us on Tuesdays and Thursdays in February as we explore technique, variations, and progressively add weight to the squat.

author: Steph Hoeper


Love me some squats!

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