Interestingly, the squat is probably the most misunderstood movement of them all, since many people are told by their doctors, physical therapists and even trainers that squatting is dangerous and should be avoided!
Yet there are some real physiological consequences that your clients must face when following such shortsighted advice.
First and foremost, when it comes to squatting, if you can’t, you must! Just look at what it takes to get into your car. You must open the door and perform the equivalent of a single-legged squat with a lateral shift and a twist, particularly if you own a sports car! This is an activity that most of us do several times a day.
Just sitting down is a squatting movement, albeit an off-balance one for some, since the chair is there to catch them if their leg strength is inadequate to lower them under control.
Having spent more than 20 years of my life in the fields of orthopedic rehabilitation and sports conditioning, I can assure you that anyone who was injured while performing a squat movement in a gym, workplace or sporting environment, and did not learn to squat correctly and develop adequate strength and optimal motor skills in this pattern, is simply a re-injury waiting to happen!
Failure to return to squatting under correct supervision, only results in a weak repair of the injury and a greater likelihood that you will injure yourself again, when you have to squat and least expect it!
How to Squat
In many modern gyms, you can find Smith Machines, leg press equipment of all sorts, hack squat machines and a variety of other devices attempting to deliver the benefits of the real thing. However, there simply is no replacement for the free squat performed with body weight or weighted bar!
Neither a Smith Machine nor a leg press require that you balance your center of gravity over your base of support either, as you have to in a free squat.
Use these pointers to perform a proper body weight squat:
- Stand in a comfortable stance with your legs about a hip-width apart and toes turned out up to 30 degrees.
- Deeply inhale and draw your belly button in toward your spine. This activates the muscles of the deep abdominal wall that help to stabilize the spine.
- Keep your eyes level with the horizon, your chest lifted up and your lower back in a normal curve (lordosis) throughout the exercise. Take care not to lean forward or round your back (Figure 1 for bad form).
- Initiate the squat from the knees (not the hips, as this accentuates any forward lean), then immediately bend the knees, hips and ankles simultaneously to lower into the squat.
- Knees should track in-line with the second toe on each foot. Do not let the knees drop inwards.
- Keep your heels on the floor and go as low as comfortable with good technique.
- Ascend smoothly, pushing the earth away from you and releasing your breath through slightly pursed lips.
- Repeat for the required number of repetitions. Eight to 12 is a good starting point.
If you have difficulty keeping your trunk upright, try lifting your toes in your shoes while squatting.
Descending the Primal Squat
If you find it challenging to perform a free squat as described, there are several ways to make the exercise easier (see the chart below). For example, squat while holding a support, such as a door frame or walking stick, either in one or both hands. This should provide enough additional stability to improve your form.
To reduce the fear of falling, squat over a bench so that if you lose your balance, you will simply sit down on the bench. (Figure 2).
The next level of descent is to perform the squat with the support of a Swiss Ball, carefully placed between your back and the wall (Figure 3). Only if you cannot perform a squat in this way should you even consider using a fixed axis machine, such as a Smith machine.
Ascending the Primal Squat
You can make the squat more challenging by using a weighted bar or ball (Figure 4). If you use a bar on your shoulders during the exercise, step under the bar and lift it by standing straight up with the bar on your shoulders (front or back, your choice), rather than bending forward and picking it up.
Similarly, rack the bar by stepping forward until it hits the rack, then lower the weight by bending your knees, not your back! Alternatively, hold a weighted medicine ball high on your chest. Squatting in this way, with the weight in front of you, has more functional carryover to everyday activities, as we generally carry kids, parcels and countless other things in this way.
In the last part of our short series, I’ll explain some of the benefits that performing a squat properly provides, namely better digestion and elimination.
Love and chi,
(Note: Want to learn when and how to use the squat for maximal benefit? Take our Scientific Back Training correspondence course now and save up to 40%.)