There are billions of strengthening, stretching, balancing, flibberwidging, toning and conditioning exercises out there; in the ether, on fitness trainers lips, in books, ones you’ve tried and more that rattle around my Physio head. A lot of them are good and relevant. Some of them are a bit meh and more than I would like are poor-to-dreadful.
Quite how to work out which ones are relevant to you, with your limited time and resources and motivation level which, like everyone’s, tends to wax and wane, can be a tricky task.
Whatever your age, gender, ability, fitness level, lifestyle, shoe size, there are a small handful of exercises that we can all benefit from and which provide huge bang for your buck. One of these is:
The squat requires – and crucially can help regain and maintain – a beautiful blend of back, hip, knee and ankle strength and mobility and trunk stability.
Squatting can help with a whole host of physical issues, including back, pelvis, hip, knee and ankle pain, stiffness, aches and problems. That’s just about any mid-to-lower body issue then! It boosts leg and hip strength which in turn reduces the workload placed on overworked backs. It stretches out tight muscles and joint structures that spend too much time sat in a chair or car or just not moving very much or very far. Being able to squat enables us to sit down and stand up more easily, to get down onto the floor or bend to reach into e.g. a low cupboard and get back up again without groans and knee twinges. Squat-ability can help with pelvic floor issues. The full-body nature of the move makes it a good calorie burner too. It will improve your balance and a squat done well is a pretty cool thing to see, imo.
Watch how any child under the age of about five lowers themselves to and raises themselves from the floor. It’s a movement that most of us attempt and ‘do’, in part, many, many times a day. But most of us are a bit lazy and rubbish at squatting. This isn’t really our fault, it’s more the result of our having lost the ability to squat effectively. From the age of five, in the ‘modern’ world, we sit children on chairs for several hours a day. Everything is at table level, very little requires us to get down onto the floor. We become generally less active and squat less as we age compared to previous generations and in less-westernised/lower income countries (ref & ref). Modern living simply doesn’t require us to be active or squat and this is most definitely our loss.
Here are some suggestions, tips and advice to help you have a go at squatting. I was going to say ‘should you wish’ but this Physio really does recommend you having a go. Being able to squat can make such a difference! Start small; you’re not aiming to get your bottom to the floor just yet; work on getting the movement right and comfortable and build on this. Try a few of the stretches alongside the squat. Most of us have, to a greater or lesser degree, mobility issues (i.e. stiffness) at our back, hips, knees and ankles so create some better movement alongside the wonderful squat 🙂
SIMPLE! Actually I think it’s easier said than done. Most of us are nursing a brain that will say “whaaat are you asking me to do?!” and a degree of stiffness around any number of joints and weakness in a variety of muscles. However none of these are in reasons not to pop in a few squats a day, in fact they are every reason to. Practice, tweak, think about and make efforts to get better at this fundamental movement.
Coming at a squat from the bottom up is another way to develop squat skills and ability. Start as shown above with feet hip width apart again and sternum up and scoot your bottom towards your heels. Get as close as you can, remember the only competition here is with yourself, keeping your back as straight again as possible. Play around wherever you get to: bounce forward and back, push one ankle further into a stretch then the other, same with knees and hips. If you can get far enough forward you can have a go at getting your bottom off the floor and rocking forward to get closer to the ultimate squat position. Practice pushing one knee out to the side then the other, stretching your hips.
The very action of good squatting will, over time, help reduce stiffness. And a bit of specific stretching can gradually work wonders too. There are three suggested stretches below and last months article ‘Our hips: Our foundations‘ details more really useful stretches specifically for your hips.