By now, we all know how horrible sitting is for our overall health. Because of the increased amount of sitting and our reliance on poor modern footwear, getting into a deep squat has become a challenge. Not to mention, people are scared because society has implied that any squat past 90 degrees is bad for your knees. If you don’t already know, this is a huge myth. Obviously, some people with very poor mobility won’t be able to hold that position right away, but with proper movement, time and consistency, they too can get into a deep squat position.
Research shows that sitting several hours a day reduces insulin resistance which leads to type II diabetes and increases LDL (bad cholesterol). Inactivity leads to lower energy levels, increased weight gain, decreased flexibility, and even lower life expectancy and greater risk of colon and breast cancer. We’ve seen an increase in low back pain and tight hips over the years. The average person sits with their legs at 90 degrees relative to the spine most of the day along with some walking with legs at 180 degrees relative to the spine at rest. Most people rarely move more than these two ranges of motion, so a huge portion of our potential hip and lower back mobility is never used. Since our joints and muscles operate on a “move it or lose it” basis, these muscles will slowly tighten and restrict full range-of-motion over time.
As a personal trainer, I see so many clients with tightened quadriceps muscles, low backs, and hamstrings. The hamstrings have the ability to “shut off” completely, making simple hinging movements (picking up something from the floor with a flat back, kettlebell swings, or glute bridges on the floor) a challenge. Most people have a hard time getting into a full squat with heels glued to the floor and hips below 90 degrees. This is because these days we rarely get into that deep of a position, rather sitting at 90 degrees or higher. Stop reading for a second, and time yourself in a low squat for two minutes. Heels glued to the ground, and if that is not possible, prop your heels up with a book or mat. Fold your hands and push your knees away from each other. Did you make it through an entire two minutes? How did it feel? Keep reading…
Why should you care if you lose mobility in some of your joints? Maybe before this post you didn’t realize how much mobility you’ve lost after trying to hold the deep squat for 2 minutes. Our bodies feel and live better and longer when they are able to move without issues. Tight joints and muscles don’t just happen overnight. It is a slow but continual process. Like anything in life, we don’t realize the problem until its too late. Even if your lack of mobility doesn’t bother you with nagging injuries or tightness now, it definitely will after years of neglect and inactivity.
I met an 89 year old woman and her husband at the local grocery store. She did not look her age and I asked her what her secret is. Her and her husband walk 5 miles a day and don’t have any major mobility issues. They also didn’t have the usual hunched over and frail look of their peers. Her advice: move it or lose it. It is important to start taking care of yourself now.
Start getting back to the mobility you had as a kid. Have you ever watched how children move? You will see them sitting in a deep squat position while they engage in play. They will sit on their heels or even sit on the floor with their knees bent and legs at their sides.
Most adults couldn’t sit in these positions as long as their child. By becoming more active, you’ll be surprised how much better your body will move and feel.
To further the need to move, when you look at other cultures around the world, mobility is not as much of an issue as it is here in the US. The amount of low back pain problems in the US far outweigh that of other countries. This isn’t because we work harder as many of these countries have much more physically demanding jobs then us. The main reason is because they rarely sit, and if they need to rest, eat, or go to the bathroom they do so in the deep squat position. People in India sit in a deep squat or with their legs crossed on the floor. Japanese meals are eaten while sitting cross-legged on just a small pillow. Third world countries go to the bathroom in holes in the ground, making them sit in a deep squat position to do so. Sitting this way, our lumbar spine extends and stretches the muscles in our low back. This way of sitting prevents major compression on the spine, unlike sitting in a chair, and the body is stabilized between the muscles of the legs, hips, and core.
Another cause of the reduced lack of flexibility and mobility is caused by modern footwear with a raised heel. Habitual shoe wearing causes a shortening of the achilles and calve muscles, and a gradual loss of ankle mobility.
Getting your Mobility Back
How can you get your mobility back? Most people will not be able to physically get into a deep squat position. The ankles, hips, and low back need to have a good amount of flexibility in order to hold the position for awhile. Otherwise you will feel deep tension in your hips, shins, and ankles.
- Start by supporting your heels. Whether it is a book or a padded up mat or blankets, do what helps you comfortably get into the position.
- If it is still really hard and you feel like you are going to fall backwards, use a wall for support for your back as well as supported heels.
- Work on your flexibility in other areas. By working through flexibility of the toes, ankles, hips, and low back, you will better your overall squatting position.
- Keep moving. Whether you exercise or not, now is the time to add something to your routine, even if it is just walking more. Take the stairs when possible, get out of your desk throughout the day, park far away from your destination, etc.
- Squat daily and join BCF’s January 2019 squat challenge! The last time I did this challenge, the first week I aimed for a max of 10 minutes a day. I don’t mean sitting in a squat for 10 minutes straight. I mean getting up from your seat and squatting for smaller increments throughout the day. This may mean 30 second increments to start, and as you become more flexible it may be 5-6 minutes at a time. Keep track of minutes on your phone, and aim to get up to 30 minutes a day. Even after I finished the challenge, I continued to make it a part of my daily life.
Post challenge, I noticed improvements in many areas of my body.
- Ankle Mobility
- Lower Back Mobility
- Butt closer to the floor
- Stronger Hips
- Stronger Glutes
- Posture Correction/Better Alignment
- Ability to move around in the squat better
What I mean by “ability to move around in the squat position”, is that when I started the challenge, I could only hold for about 4 minutes before my shins started to hurt a little, the backs of my legs near my knees started to hurt, and my hips felt numb. Once I started to get my mobility back, I was able to hold it longer- as much as ten minutes at once, and was able to rock in the position and really push my knees apart with any issues and without feeling like I was going to fall backwards.