The ability to squat is a fundamental human movement that you have been capable of doing since you were toddler. It is much more than just an exercise, it is a skill that is necessary to perform certain activities. Losing the skill to squat will make life harder as you age.
So what is a squat?
Essentially, a squat is a movement where you sit down and stand back up. The knees bend and move forward while the hips are pushed back, moving the knees and hips at the same time and you will lower down in a squat. The squat movement will stress the muscles in the legs, mainly the quads and the hips, while also stressing the core to keep a neutral spine. Good quality squats will require good ankle and hip mobility while also needing stability in the core/low back. Squatting for exercise has many variations and the most common is the barbell back squat. This is the last squat variation you want to do if you are new. It is the hardest and most demanding on the joints. Here is a simple progression for learning how to squat:
- Bodyweight squats
- Goblet squats
- Single arm rack squat
- Double arm rack squat
- Barbell front squat
- Squat safety bar
- Barbell back squat
Many variations of the squat, and there are many more than what I have listed here. This is just a simple way to progress.
Squatting is an essential movement in our lives. Anytime you sit down on a chair, or the toilet you are squatting. Anytime you pick something off the floor you are squatting in some capacity. Unfortunately, many people have lost the skill to squat well, and the blame can be in our education system. During school we are forced to sit at a desk for many hours in the day and it is repeated week after week for years. The saying, use it or lose it is very true in the case of squatting. In today’s modern time, squatting is known as an exercise and not so much as something we do in our off time. If you ever watch a toddler play, you can watch them get into the bottom position of a squat and hold it while they play. Without any coaching, they have great form and are able to just hold it with no issue. Are you able to get in the bottom position of a squat and hold it? Can you do it with good form without fatigue? I can tell you after 5 minutes my shins and upper back are on fire. My point is that we are not squatting as much as we should. Our children are losing the ability to squat well as they go to school and it gets worse as they get older. Make an effort to sit in a squat position everyday, make note of the areas you have trouble with. Once you find your areas of improvement, work in it and get better. I will give you my example, when I sit in a squat my shins burn and my upper back wants to collapse forward. This means I need to work on ankle mobility and tibialis anterior strength and work on upper back strength endurance/posture more. I put those items in all of my prep work and off day mobility work.
Benefits of Squatting
There are many benefits of squatting and it is not all about moving better. That is a big one though and can become more important as you age. So here is list for you on some benefits of squats:
- Improve mobility
- Build stronger joints
- Build muscle
- Strengthen muscles
- Strengthen movement
- Reduce risks of injuries
- Improves performance
- Improves posture
- Naturally boosts hormonal production (mainly Testosterone and growth hormone)
Other benefits include being independent as you age. Having the ability to squat and being able to do it well with weight will help you stay off the walker and needing assistance to the bathroom when older. I don’t know about you, but when I’m 80, I want to be able to live independently with walking aids and human assistance. I want the ability to move well and be strong with my movement. That is a great benefit improving your squat and strengthening it.
Squats are great at building muscle and strength and a side effect of building muscle is a greater metabolism. If you have the goal to lose some fat, highly recommend building up your squats to build some muscle. I talk about metabolism and what it actually is in my blog, What is Metabolism?, so take a read if you haven’t already.
How to Squat Better?
Squatting is a multi-joint movement that uses many muscles and coordination to complete. The joints that cause the most issues with your squat are the ankle and hip joint. These joints are supposed to be mobile, when these joints become tight you will be limited on how low you can squat, not being able to go full range of motion. Not being able to go full range of motion will limit you on your progress. More work will have to go into growing the muscle, the joints will be more exposed to injury since you are not able to strengthen them as well as you can. So your first step is to improve your ankle and hip mobility, and there are many exercises you can do and add to your warm up.
Working on core stability will also be a big area to improve, its job is to help stabilize the low back and pelvis from unwanted movement. During a squat, especially under load, you do not want the low back and pelvis moving and unstable. This puts you at a greater risk for injury, and it can limit you on your mobility. Pick exercises that challenge the core by not letting the spine, specifically the low back, move. These are considered anti-core movements and there are three of them:
- Anti-Extension (not letting the low back arch)
- Anti-Rotation (not letting the low back rotate)
- Anti-Lateral Flexion (not letting the low back bend to the side)
These three forms of core work will greatly increase the stability of your midsection.
You also have to practice the squat movement and strengthen it. Practice it like it’s a skill, because it is. This doesn’t mean fatigue though. Movement under fatigue can become sloppy, and the goal is to be better. So everyday you can sit in a squat for practice for a minute and slowly build from there. You can also practice it with load, a very light load for a few reps. Nothing to fatigue, the mindset is form so pay attention to what you feel and how you move. Once a week you should also strengthen the squat. Load it up and push yourself while keeping good form. This is how you can get better with your squats, practice, strengthen, and repeat. Stay consistent and watch how much better you feel with the movement and how your body changes. Always go full range of motion with good form. This might mean you start high, but as you progress, pay attention to your range of motion.
If you want to have a healthy body that is capable of doing day to day activities, then you need to relearn to squat. Don’t just think about the present you, think about the future you. Will your future thank you for starting today to move better? It is easy to think in the present, but challenge yourself and think about your current lifestyle. Will the future you benefit from your current lifestyle or be cursing you out?