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Massage Today
February, 2011, Vol. 11, Issue 02

Squatting: Integrating Fitness In Your Practice

By Ben Benjamin, PhD and Chris White

Editor’s Note: Dr. Benjamin continues his series on integrating fitness in your practice with this article, co-authored by Chris White.

The squat is one of seven fundamental movement patterns that were essential to human survival in primitive times.

The other six are: lunging, bending, rotating, pushing, pulling, and walking/running. The quality with which an individual executed each movement dictated their physical capacity and ability to survive. Even today, all of the movements we do are a combination of these seven fundamental movements.

The origins of squatting date back to the beginning of time. It was one of the movements most essential to everyday life. Basically, anything that took place on the ground was usually done from a squat position. Based on the idea that form follows function, it’s easy to see why many people have lost the ability to squat effectively. The changes brought about by chairs, cars, and computers, to name a few, have turned a squatting society into a sitting society.

Squatting serves many important functions for humans. It was commonly used 10,000 years ago because many daily activities took place on the ground. There weren’t any chairs (man-made at least), so squatting allowed a person to sit comfortably and still have use of their hands for tool making, food preparation, and cooking.

woman doing squat - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark The squat position also kept a person rooted on their feet, ready to stand up, move, jump or run at a moment’s notice. The mechanical properties of the squat also served a role in the toileting habits of primitive man; when a person is squatting, the right thigh compressing the ascending colon, which literally pushes waste material up and through the transverse colon. From here it can more easily move out of the body.

Many undeveloped and developing countries around the world still use the squat for everyday activities. No matter what country you’re in, you might notice that infants and young children are quite good at squatting. It’s only when we stop squatting that we lose our ability to do so.

Learning to Squat

When done correctly, squatting is a very comfortable position to be in. At the bottom of the squat, the trunk is allowed to rest comfortably on the legs. This decompresses the lumbar spine and decreases the load on the extensor muscles of the back. At the same time, the posterior thigh is allowed to rest against the back of the lower leg, minimizing tension throughout the quadriceps.

Many Americans need to get back into the habit of squatting in order to strengthen their thighs and buttock muscles. Squatting may also prevent some digestive problems that lead to straining during bowel movements, hemorrhoids and other issues. Women may find the squatting position to be a comfortable stretch during pregnancy, and they may find it useful during delivery as well.

There are many wrong ways to do squats, so you have to teach your clients the right way to do them. Otherwise, they may strain their neck or back, or, particularly, their knees. When most people begin learning how to squat, their knees roll inward, placing enormous stress on the medial knee.

Start by making sure you can do a squat properly, and then use this knowledge to teach your clients to do the same.

  1. Keep your feet a little wider than hip-width, with your feet turned out approximately 10 degrees. This position allows the hips to drop below the knees. Your weight should be evenly distributed across your feet, with perhaps slightly more weight in the heels. You should be able to wiggle your toes throughout the movement.
  2. Your torso should be upright at all times, your back flat and your head up. Wherever the eyes go, the body tends to follow, so if your head is level with the horizon, your chest stands a better chance of remaining upright. Common mistakes include letting the heels lift off the floor, letting the knees turn in, or letting the trunk fall into a flexed position.
  3. No weight should be added to the squat (such as holding dumbbells or kettlebells) until you execute a bodyweight squat proficiently.

See a video on the proper squat:

Click here for more information about Ben Benjamin, PhD.

Chris White is co-founder of Go Primal Fitness and the Functional Training Institute. With more than 13 years experience in massage therapy, strength training and nutritional coaching, his clients include those with severe spinal injuries and Olympic level athletes.


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