The Secret of the Squat: Squat’s all the fuss about?
I love the squat. It’s an exercise which is not only practiced in Pilates classes around the world, but also across many fitness regimes from military fitness to Olympic gymnasts. And it is not a surprise!
The squat’s origin is primal. It was the way we sat and rested; we still see the squat in use as a relaxation position in South East Asia. But in the Western world, chairs have taken over. And if we are to squat, our heels are likely to be lifted which makes staying in a squat somewhat uncomfortable!
You may have seen a small child squat to play and been in awe of their staying power in this position, but don’t despair. Adults don’t have the same mechanics, levers or proportions to squat as an under 5 does! We are not going to be able to be able to attain that neutral head position, no spinal flexion and the ability to maintain the position! But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aim to squat in the best way we can.
But why should we bother even trying?
A well performed squat sees the hip, knee and ankle work in their full range of movement. An antidote to our modern seated life, the squat sees the glutes (bottom muscles) and hamstrings working dynamically, strengthening the legs and bum.
Our pelvic floor gets a work out and our lower back is given a stretch, particularly if the hips are tight. And it’s not just great for aesthetics and sporting benefit.
The squat is a FUNCTIONAL movement.
If you want to be able to continue to get up off the floor into old age, the squat will assist us to do so. In my Pilates classes in Kingston, and online, we often practice this movement; coming from the mat to a standing position with as much ease as we can. It also aids functional movement, for example, walking up the stairs!
Every week, I see improvements in my students as they hone the techniques necessary. It means as we age, we retain our independence for longer. What’s not to like?
Squatting is highly effective for better bowel habits - yes, a taboo subject but not something that should be ignored. It’s true... by squatting, the hips are flexed and the hips lifted, widening the anorectal angle which allows a clearer and straighter passage for a stool to pass.
Researcher, Dov Sikirov, studied 28 healthy volunteers who were asked to record how long their bowel movements took and how difficult their efforts were. The volunteers squatted over a plastic container or sat on toilets of 42cm and 32cm high. The average time for passing a bowel movement was 51 seconds compared to 114 seconds for the highest toilet seat, and 130 for the lower.
Participants found defecation easier when squatting too, so if you are struggling, make sure your feet are raised and your hips are fully flexed, thinking about your bottom being behind and DOWN.
And if you are pregnant, the squat is wonderful for labour and birth. In an upright position, gravity can help bring the baby down and out. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) studies have shown that compared to the back lying position, the dimensions of the pelvic outlet become wider in the squatting and kneeling or hands and knees positions (Gupta et al. 2017).
In order to get the benefits of the squat, we need to do it correctly. Watch the video or check out our guide to performing it well.
Start in your neutral standing position, feet hip width apart and in parallel.
Ensure that your pelvis is neutral, your spine is long and you are feet are grounded into the mat.
Inhale and allow your hips to hinge back, bringing your weight back into your heels to encourage your glutes to engage whilst allowing the knees to flex.
Exhale as you engage your centre to an appropriate level as you return to standing, bringing your spine and pelvis back to neutral with your arms back down by your side.
There are some common problems that are seen in class which you will want to be aware of when you are practicing at home. A mirror is great to give you feedback, and don’t be afraid to have the support of a wall or chair if you feel a little unsteady.
Ideally, we are flexing at the hips, keeping the knees parallel with the spine neutral with the angle of the knee bend and the hip hinge similar.
Knee alignment needs to be spot on. If you find that your knees collapse in, think about keeping your knees in line with your little toe. If your knees fall out, keep your knees in line with your big toe.
Keep your range of movement small at first - you can progress!
Change the breathing around if you are struggling - you could exhale to lower, inhale and stay there, and exhale to return if you find that easier to feel the connections required.
As you try for a deeper squat, have your legs wider apart
Aim for your knees to be over your ankles
Keep the heels down, ideally, as this gets the glutes switched on
Make sure your back is not arched - the movement is from the hips
You have the right amount of centering for you to perform the exercise
There are some wonderful variations to the squat as well so once you have perfected your squat, there are a wealth of options to keep you interested and to ensure you don’t get bored; adding weights, arm movements, ankle articulations, pulses..!
Enjoy your practice and the benefits you will feel in return!
Now you know "Squat" it's all about!