When I teach classes that have squats in them, and that’s pretty much most of the classes I teach, people will often come up to me afterwards (or before) and tell me they can’t squat. “I can’t do squats. It bothers my knees.” “I don’t like squats, so during the squat track I’m just going to work abs, ok?” “Why do we do so many squats?” In reality, squats, and their many variations, are probably the one exercise everyone should do every day. According to Dr. Christopher Stepien, sports therapist and chronic pain expert, performing 50 squats a day will help your health and well-being. “Daily squats will help you mentally and will even give you better yearly checkups with your primary physician.”
So, why are squats important? Because life demands that we squat. We stand up, we sit down, we get out of the car, we hide the chocolate in the bottom kitchen cabinet. And all these movements (and others like them) demand a good foundation. “If our patterns are off, we become limited in our range of motion or get weaker in the muscles we need to stand up and sit down safely,” says fitness expert David Jack. “We’ll begin to compensate and use other muscles we shouldn’t in order to do everyday movements.”
Squats are a compound movement that recruit most of our muscles and joints, engaging the ankle, knee, and hip at the same time, making them stronger. A simple body weight squat uses almost every muscle in the core and lower body. And yes, body weight squats count. After all, your body weighs something. Squats will not only strengthen your bones and muscles, but can also increase flexibility. Learn to squat deeply and safely and you’ll improve your range of motion as well as protect yourself from future injury.
We are designed to squat. As babies, we squat perfectly without even thinking about it. As we get older and sit in unnatural positions, our squat goes from perfect to terrible. And, if you want even more proof, look all the way back through evolution: we are genetically designed to be really good at squatting. Below, we’ve provided steps to help you set a strong foundation for learning to squat properly.
Set your feet. Feet should be hip distance or slightly wider with toes pointed slightly out or forward. This protects your hips and creates a solid base.
Squat. Keep eyes forward, chest up, and heels planted, then push hips back to lower into your squat. Think like you’re going to sit in a chair. Knees should press gently out towards your baby toes. When you’ve squatted as far as you can comfortably go, drive out of your heels to return to a standing position.
Check in with your body. Scan your body for any joint pain, knees caving inward or heels lifting off the floor. Did you experience any back pain? Did you brace through your core?
Tips for beginners. Since we squat for life, it’s important to practice daily. If starting from a standing position is painful, try starting your squat from a seated position. Sit down and plant your feet firmly on the floor. Keep your chest up and knees out, and push into your feet to stand up. Then, slide hips back to lower down and sit once again. You can also try a stability ball against the wall. Place the ball between your lower back and the wall, feet slightly away from body and again firmly planted on the floor. Lower down to a squat, pressing knees out and keeping body in contact with the ball. Then, stand up back to your starting position.
Remember, it’s more about the quality of your squat rather than how low you go or how much weight you use. If you can only lower a couple of inches, stick with that until you feel you can go a little deeper. If your knees bother you, try taking a wider stance and remember to press the knees outward. If you’d like to learn how to squat better, contact Merritt Clubs.