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How the SQUAT will improve your life.

How the SQUAT will improve your life. 960 640 Geoff

Council clean-up days are a boon for scrap metal merchants – every six months our road sides are littered with countless (and useless) abdominal trainers and home gyms, and to be honest, it is probably a good thing as the majority of those devices are not used, used incorrectly or waste the time of the trainer who could be doing far more effective exercise.

To build the necessary, functional strength for living a quality life – you do not need to spend more than a few dollars and it can be done in a fraction of the time that it takes to burn the same calories walking or even jogging. All you need to do is an exercise that will get you strong, build quality lean tissue (when supported by the right nutrition), give you those abdominal muscles promised by the fake-tanned TV shopping fitness guru’s, have a significant impact on the health of your nervous, digestion, elimination and cardiovascular system and give you a sense of empowerment that can be lost as we age.

That exercise is the humble squat.

Done properly, the squat as an exercise in a fitness and health program, has enormous carry over to real-life. Every time you get off the couch, out of a chair, out of the car, off the toilet, out of bed, off the floor, pick something up, put something down – you are doing a squat. If you do not have the technique or the strength to squat properly you are at significant risk or injury. You see, the brilliance of the human body is that it always finds a way to get the job done. You will get off the couch or pick up that bag of potting mix but it comes at a cost – and more often than not that cost will be low back injury.

squat1A body weight squat is always part of my assessments. The variations I see in in ability, technique strength, flexibility, confidence and outcomes is staggering. Many clients have completely lost the ability to squat – even teenagers. Given that the squat is a primal movement pattern that we learned unconsciously as toddlers and given that we need to squat for the rest of our natural lives, the question must be asked – how does this happen?

In today’s world, we live in flexion – we sit and lean forward. Our powerful hip extensors – butt muscles and hamstrings – become de-conditioned. The muscles and systems designed to stabilise us as we move around are switched off. Our body is designed to be in extension, not flexion. We are not designed to sit so extended periods of doing so creates havoc in our bodies. This is becoming a very real issue in our society with long-term health problems yet to be fully understood.

If you sit in a chair at all, you should be doing squats as part of your exercise program. If you go to the gym and do leg presses or sit in machines to work muscles then you are not getting effective exercise. If squatting hurts you somewhere, that is not a trigger to avoid doing it – that is a trigger that your body is dis-functional and needs to be restored  and that you need to learn how to squat properly.

We get lazy and push ourselves out of chairs with our hands. We buy beds that are higher so we can just roll out. Many of us drive vehicles with high seats so we just step out. Getting out of a regular sedan requires a single leg squat with a lateral shift and a twist! Since the beginning of time, the ability to squat was necessary to our quality of life, even survival. I believe that it is just as important today. We are getting weaker and lazier, our muscles are atrophying at a more rapid pace and our bodily systems are being put under unnatural stress all day every day. Couple this with a diet of refined and processed foods and we are rapidly turning into a weak and sick society that become more and more reliant on pharmaceuticals to keep us “alive”.

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Fortunately we can re-learn to squat quite easily and by doing so we get stronger, more mobile, we reduce pain and our health improves. A fitness professional should never give a client any squat or lunge as part of an exercise program until they have worked with them to optimise technique – recognising that every individual has different limitations on what proper squat technique might be and the purpose that their squat will be being used for.

A very good squat for one person might be a poor squat for another person such as an athlete.  A fitness professional should be able to regress a poor squatting pattern so that the client can re-learn the motor patterns and start building the necessary strength.

One of my favourite training moments is when I ask a client to demonstrate a body weight squat after a period of squat rehabilitation. To see the progress, the client delight and to know that the client’s quality of life will be improved through being able to safely and effectively conduct this most natural of movements is very rewarding.

The next time you get off the couch – don’t use your hands and don’t use momentum by rocking backwards first. The next time you need to get off the floor, try and do it without using your hands. How did you go?

squat2The benefits of squatting:

  • Builds strength and lean body tissue
  • Builds core strength (crunches and sit ups do not build core strength)
  • Nourishes your spine through fluid transfer which is increased by movement
  • Massages internal organs increasing blood flow and stimulates mobility of the gut
  • Improves flexibility and motor skills
  • Improved circulation of body fluids aiding in removal of waste and delivery of nutrition to all tissues including organs and glands
  • Improved and more regular elimination of waste products from the body (it is worth researching more about colon health when you get a minute)
  • Improved digestion (pressure in the muscular system and diaphragm created by the squat pattern mobilises the stomach and intestines)
  • Body weight squatting prepares your body for more advanced resistance training

Squat tip – If you place a line down the centre of your kneecap, at no time during the movement should your knee drop down inside your second toe. If it does you most likely have weakness in the core resulting in lack of pelvic stabilisation – if your pelvis tips forward your legs will internally rotate (pronation), a lack of strength in your hip rotators/extensors or excessive muscular tightness in one or more muscle groups. A fitness professional should recognise this and work with you to overcome these restrictions.

Toddler Squatting image provided by Beth Scupham