Most of us here in the West spend very little time squatting. Instead, we tend to slump into soft couches after spending most of our working day slumped in an office chair. Even if we’re active, many of us have lost the ability to comfortably remain in the squat position (back straight, heels on ground, feet pointing forward with no arch collapse) for any length of time.
So why is this a problem if we’re sitting in chairs and don’t “need” to squat?
Well, the proper squat position is an expression of a healthy range of motion in the hips, spine, knees and ankles. It is also a helpful diagnostic tool and potential predictor for things such as achilles tendinopathy, plantar fasciitis, knee pain and hip/lumbar spine issues. It also works as a rehab tool for these areas if they’re tight/short. Unfortunately, many people have been misguided by the outdated nonsensical advice to “never squat with your knees past your toes or not to squat past 90 degrees”. We’re not made of glass and the body has an innate ability to adapt to these loads and reshape, rehydrate, and heal connective soft tissue and cartilage. Unless there have been specific contraindications given to you by your health care practitioner or you have good reasons to avoid this type of mobility work, it should be very helpful. Use common sense and listen to your body.
To work on the mobility required to get into a deep squat position, I like to start people off by having the feet just a bit wider than shoulder width in stance while holding onto a door frame. I then have them drop down as deep as flexibility allows while actively driving the knees wide, keeping the back straight, and heels in contact with the floor with feet pointed more or less forward. The arches of the feet should stay active (no collapsing and going into a duck-footed position) and the toes grip the floor. The arms actively pull the torso forward without allowing the spine to collapse. Hold this position for 2 minutes to start. Work your way up to 5 minutes, with the eventual goal of getting 10 minutes or more in daily. It will feel uncomfortable and challenging. Stay with it.
BREATHE fully, aiming to expand the lower part of the ribcage with full, slow breaths. This is very important; no holding or blocking full breaths in the depth of the squat.
Alternatively, a kettle bell or dumbbell held tight to the chest in the squat position will allow gravity to pull you deeper into position. You can gently sway side to side and forward/back in this loaded position to adequately stress the tissues. Explore the “corners” of any tight areas and bias your weight into them gently.
It’s key to note that gross changes in the length/pliability of these tissues can take weeks and months to noticeably change with regular, daily doses of squatting. While these changes take some time, fortunately it’s often the case that chronic, painful symptoms can begin to respond much sooner even though the actual range of motion may appear the same.
Give this a shot for a week minimum and see if you don’t start to see some old aches and pains in these areas noticeable subside. It’s done wonders for me!