Lately I’ve been obsessed with squatting. I know that might seem kind of strange....some people are really into a sport or a hobby, but what’s the big deal about something as mundane as a squat?
Well, lots actually. First, when done properly, moving in and out of a squat strengthens the gluteal muscles, which is hugely important for the health of the pelvic floor. The gluteus maximus muscles provide opposition to the pelvic floor muscles, which is a good thing! This opposition helps keep the PF muscles at their optimal length so they can carry out their myriad jobs properly. When this opposition from the glutes is lacking, the PF has a tendency to become short and weak and doesn't work very well. This can lead to a wide array of problems, from incontinence to pelvic organ prolapse and prostate issues.
Also, squatting is a fantastic way to keep many of our joints mobile. A really good, well-aligned squat requires mobility in the ankles, knees, hips, and spine. That’s a lot of body parts being used! Contrast this to the passive slump that many people assume while sitting in a desk chair or lounging on the sofa. Is it any wonder that so many people suffer from chronic pain for much of their lives?
Not all squats are created equal
This brings me to my next point. Back before the days of furniture, our ancestors squatted frequently. Bathrooming, foraging for low-lying plants, and resting were just a few activities in which they might have utilized a squat. However, due to our modern habits of sitting, inactivity, shoe wearing, etc, most of us have lost a lot of mobility and strength and couldn’t do a well-aligned squat if our lives depended on it.
But don’t despair! You can still get the benefits of squatting by practicing some modified squats. (These will also help you work toward a more well-aligned full squat.)
Keep in mind, much of the benefit comes from moving into or out of the squat. When coming out of any of these variations it's important to keep the pelvis untucked. If your lower back is rounding forward you're tucking, so try to maintain a nice, neutral lumbar curve. Also, think of moving the knees backward so that they're stacked over the ankles rather than jutting out in front of the feet. Both of these will help activate and strengthen the glutes.
Prepare to squat!
One great squat prep is to have the heels elevated slightly on a rolled towel, yoga mat, half foam roller, or any other low object you have handy. This will help you “cheat” your way into a squat if tight calves are a limiting factor. You can either come all the way down into a squat, or only come down as far as possible while keeping your pelvis untucked and shins vertical.
Another option is to place a rolled towel or yoga mat behind the knees, which helps decompress the knee joints and is great if you have a lot of tension in this area. For this one it's okay if your heels come up off the ground and your knees move in front of your ankles - just don’t forget to move them back as you stand up, and your pelvis should stay as untucked as possible throughout.
Squatting throughout your day
Finally, while squats are awesome, I don’t recommend cranking out 3 sets of 10 everyday. The beauty of any natural movement is that it shouldn't feel like an exercise routine. Rather, the goal is to get it to become a normal part of your daily movement “diet”. One of my favorite ways to get some squatting in is while doing housework. For instance, you can set the basket of clean laundry on the floor and fold away. Try it - it’s fun!