Learning to squat might be the most important thing you can do for your fitness and wellness. It’s a life changer.
heels off the floor or slump forward. If you couldn’t drop your butt to just a few inches above the ground, you just discovered your problem.
“Sitting in a squat position is the most natural movement for the body,” says Roop Sihota, a Bay Area physical therapist. That’s because the joints and muscles you need for squatting – hips, knees, ankles, core, quads, glutes, and more – are your powerhouses for everything from walking and running to swinging a golf club and gardening. If you can’t squat properly, your joints are probably too stiff and your muscles too tight. That causes you to lose your ability to move properly, which in turn affects delicate areas such as your knees and back. The result? Potential pain and injury, and decreased range of motion over the long haul. That’s why learning to squat might be the most important thing you can do for your fitness and wellness. phenomenon quite effectively.
In a chair sitting position, your hip and ankle muscles shorten and your stabilising core muscles turn off because the chair supports your body. Over time, your hips and ankles tighten while the core areas weaken, explains Doug Kechijian, a physical therapist with Resilient PT in New York City. Tight, weak muscles are a recipe for pain, injury and compromised performance. But when we spend a greater amount of time squatting, our hips and ankles don’t become tight or weak.
When a muscle becomes overly tight, your brain may sense the area as threatened and send pain there as a way to entice you to move, Kechijian says. For example, sciatica – a chronic pain in the ass, literally – occurs when your hip muscles become too tight. The reason therapies such as foam rolling and stretching temporarily relieve pain is that they reduce some tension. Learning to squat correctly means you’ll loosen these muscles for good and banish your pain.
Performing nearly any physical activity on tight and weak muscles is a bad idea. If you run on immobile ankles and tight hips, you risk hamstring or knee injuries because power and impact shifts to the wrong areas, says Marco Sanchez, co-founder of Movement as Medicine, a massage and movement therapy clinic outside Boston.
When a guy with tight hips and ankles picks up anything from a barbell to a bag of mulch, he can’t reach the ground while keeping his back straight. So his spine bends, sending the load there. That can cause a disc bulge – and a world of hurt. Nearly every sport requires motion from the hips because your hips give your body rotational power. Take golf: if your hips are too tight, driving a ball can lead to back pain because you’re moving from your spine instead of your hips.
“An inability to squat can lead to pain or injury in every joint in the body,” Sihota says. In fact, research shows that people in rural areas of some developing countries where the “sit squat” is a common resting position have the lowest incidence of posture-related problems, like lower-back pain.
In your workouts, a full range of motion in moves such as the barbell squat and the deadlift is impossible if lack of flexibility in your hips and ankles make it difficult for you to drop into a full or deep squat. (And if you do it anyway, you could be vulnerable to pain or injury, especially if you’ve loaded up the weight.) That makes the exercise less effective because you engage fewer muscles and keep them under tension for less time. The result: you see less returns for the same amount of effort.
Learning to squat properly is more than a game changer—it’s a life changer. You’ll notice fewer aches and pains. You’ll reduce your risk of injury. You’ll build more muscle across your body. Best of all, you’re likely to see your performance improve – running faster, smashing a ball farther, punching harder – in just about every activity you do.