Squat mastery is an important longevity tool. As we age we lose our flexibility and mobility creating a cascading effect of physical decline in our lives. This physical decline leads to poor posture as the body’s guide wire system becomes weaker and less able to hold the body upright. By squatting everyday using proper squat form a trainee can reverse the effects of this natural decline.
The negative effects of our sedentary lifestyle are now characterized as “sitting disease.” Sitting disease symptoms include poor posture, chronic fatigue, increased blood pressure, weight gain and a slower metabolism. These side effects of sitting for too long increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. See Dr. James Levine’s article.
He is an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic who studies societal obesity and recommends that people should get moving more often with multiple small goals during the day. Doing squats everyday can help to combat this inactivity. The 5 health benefits of doing squats everyday are:
- Improve hip and ankle mobility
- Strengthen the muscle slings of the core
- Improve upright posture
- Increase overall strength and power
- Improve cognitive awareness of the body
Proper squat form is essential for reaping the immense benefits from this one compound multi-joint movement. A baby intuitively understands how to squat perfectly. Over time the body loses this functionality through multiple factors such as:
- Compensatory movement after an injury: When we injure one part of the body other parts of the body are required to pick up the slack often causing us to contort ourselves in different positions to escape the pain or move around the injury. Even a week’s worth of contortion can cause the body to move differently.
Prolonged sitting: The more we sit, the more we naturally slump. This slump contributes to the head forward position as the musclesin the upper back and neck become stretched and less engaged. The chest muscles shorten and the head is now held forward. In addition the hip flexors and psoas in the front tighten and shorten while the low back becomes stretched and less engaged. I often refer to it as “turtle back posture.” For more information on Forward Head Posture see Dr. Erik Dalton’s site.
Use good squat technique to combat this degradation. What are the basics of good form? First it is important to reawaken the connection of the feet to the ground and find a comfortable stance width between the feet. Feet shoulder width apart or a little wider is a good place to start. There are three points on the feet that establish our balance – heel, big toe pad and pinky toe pad. Ranked in emphasis the heel is 1; the big toe pad is 2: and the pinky toe pad is 3. To gain better foot/ankle stability give the foot tripod exercise on Kelly Doyle’s site a try. She is a certified Fitness Professional with a Master of Science degree in Kinesiology.
Secondly when a comfortable stance width is achieved the hips should be able to slightly rotate through when squeezing the glutes (butt muscles). This will help the upper body to find better postural alignment combating the forward head position described above. My goal with clients is to help them find their best posture prior to learning how to squat. When performing this body awareness task everyday and then initiating a squat program the trainee can begin to replace old detrimental postural habits and improve overall strength.
Once a solid, rooted posture is established it is time to get to work. Note the squatting baby to the right. His knees are over his ankles with vertical shins. His torso is in a neutral position without an arched or rounded low back. The baby will rise up using leg power alone. How can the average person relearn this primordial skill? Start by learning to squat using a door frame or post using the stance established above.
Once facing the door frame with your comfortable stance reach your arms out in front of you about chest height and grab the molding or post on either side with your fingertips. Now let your knees drift wide and start to sit down not leaning forward using the frame or post to keep your torso upright. When the trainee learns how to stabilize their body in a more upright position they engage their lower abs. This is lost functionality when sitting for long periods of time in a slumped position.
Walk your hands down as you lower your body. As the body lowers the knees CANNOT come over the toes. Make sure to push the knees away from each other to create more mobile hips and take the pressure off the knees. This will allow you to sit deeper. Take time to develop better hip/ankle flexibility and don’t force sitting too deep too soon. Flexibility will come with daily practice. Engage the three balance points of the feet discussed earlier to push back up walking the hands back to the start position for stability. Stay connected with the feet through the whole range of motion.
Incorporating this movement into your daily routine takes about 15 minutes. I recommend starting off with 2 sets of 10-12 reps daily to ingrain a new neuromuscular pathway. As your strength and mobility improve vitality increases. My clients find that tasks that seemed overwhelming or unattainable all of a sudden become easier to perform. The body finds a new synergy that allows it to overcome and improve overall movement. To take your squats to the next level check out – 5 Phase Squat Mastery Blog.
Dawn Massey is one of my personal training clients. She is a 72 year old mother of 4 and grandmother of 6. We began working together 3 years ago. She now trains legs using a suspension trainer as well as kettlebell sumo deadlifts and goblet squats. Her flexbility and mobility have soared through consistent, focussed practice. She can pull a 72lb kettlebell for 8 reps and just this past week graduated to a 35lb kettlebell for 8 reps in her goblet squats. Below is a video of her squatting using a suspension trainer called CrossCore 180 using pristine form. Check out the CrossCore 180 at PerformBetter.com. This tool provides more versatility than the TRX because it’s handles run through a pulley.
The question is: Are you ready to get off the couch and combat your sitting disease? Fight back against the tide of aging and get moving with good squat technique. This exercise performed daily can ignite and prolong your life force. To take your squat to the next level see The Five Phase Squat Mastery post.