Photo: "Deep Squats" by Drew Stephens - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode
Whether you teach exercise classes or participate, every time the word squat comes up it is met with resounding moans and groans. Have you ever heard someone yell out “Yessssss, I love squats!”? Probably not.
Squats are a movement we do all day every day. In fact, it is considered the most functional movement in our daily lives. We do this exact movement every time we sit down, stand up, get in and out of bed, get on and off the toilet, pick something off the floor, get into and out of the car, and on and on and on. I calculated that on the average person squats approximately 50 times a day just doing the aforementioned activities, and an active person will squat well over 100 times a day. So why do we hate squats so much?
Most often squats are associated with discomfort around the knees. The pain that occurs during a squat motion is caused by a number of reasons including:
- Faulty alignment of the thigh bone gliding forward over the shin bone as the knees bend.
- Poor tracking of the patella (aka Patella-Femoral Syndrome) as the knee bends.
- A structural pattern that causes the knees to drop inward (genu valgum) or outward (genu varum) as the knees bend.
- Weight shifting into one leg more than the other during the downward motion of a squat.
In all cases, unstable or hypermobile knee joints, and overly-stable or immobile hip and ankle joints contribute to the problem and the resulting pain during squatting motions. The resulting discomfort is a sign of wear and tear of the knee that occurs with age, injury and poor patterning of the knee joint in movement. One of the conditions that we know well related to ongoing wear and tear is Osteoarthritis.
The hard truth is that we can’t get around squatting. We have to squat so why not find ways to make it better, and maybe even learn to love (or at least appreciate) the squat. Here are some tips to try for yourself or with your clients…
Let’s start with a Squat Test. Go ahead and Squat as you normally would 5 times.
How does it feel? Do you shift more onto one leg? Do your knees go over your toes? Does your upper body bow further than your knees bend, or does your spine round?
Now try these simple exercises to mobilize your hips and ankles for a better squat.
1) Hip Folds
Keeping your knee bent at a 90 degree angle, bring your thigh bone toward you until your knee cap is pointing towards the ceiling. Lower the leg down, then do the same on the other side. Keep the pelvis steady and evenly weighted on the mat as you move the legs. Repeat 8 times on each leg, alternating from side to side.
2) Single Leg Circling Sway
Starting with one leg bent and the other long. Tip your knee out to the side, and slide the side of your foot forward along the mat until that leg is long beside your other leg. Bend your knee and slide the heel back towards you to return to the start position. Repeat 8 times then switch directions. Then repeat in both directions on the other side.
3) Pelvic Tilting
Tip your pubic bone towards your belly button to drop your low back into the mat, then reverse the movement to drop your tailbone toward the mat while the low back arches slightly. Repeat 8 times in each direction.
4) Ankle Pumps
Fold and unfold your ankle while keeping the toes relaxed. Repeat 8 times in each direction.
5) Squats from 3 joints
Try your squat again, focusing on folding evenly at your hip, knee and ankle joints. Keep the spine long and avoid bowing (too much hip fold) or tucking your tail under (not enough hip fold). Repeat 12 times.
Don’t give up if this doesn’t feel good right away. It takes time for your body to figure out a new and better way to move. Start to apply these ideas while you are going about your daily life. Take the time to fold evenly at all three joints as you lower into a chair or into the car. It just takes a little effort to functionally change your movement for the better, and it will ease that extra pressure and wear and tear on your joints so that you can keep moving for life.
For those teaching movement classes, be sure to include various squatting motions into every class plan.
Holly Wallis, Certified Movement & Rehabilitation Specialist, PMA®-CPT
Director of US Operations, Body Harmonics Pilates & Movement Institute
Studio Director, ReActive Movement, 6200 LaSalle Ave, Oakland, CA 94611
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