If you want to learn a thing or two about movement, just observe how a child plays. To get down low, whether grabbing a toy or petting a dog, he or she doesn’t lazily bend from the waist with straight legs and a rounded back. No, they squat down low, put their weight in the heels and open up their hips. This style of squat, also known as a deep squat or a rock bottom squat, is something we all used to do with ease. But after years of inactivity or incorrect movements, we’ve become stiff in the hips and lost mobility in the knees and ankles. There’s actually a whole set of skills that we are born with inherently but sadly lose over the years, like the ability to breathe correctly (using our stomach instead of our chest), the ability to move freely, and the ability to jump right back up once we fall. Oh, and the ability to play and have fun! Well guess what, it’s time to get these back.
Don’t believe the hype
The squat has become one of the most controversial of all the exercises. Somewhere along the line, we started hearing rules like squatting will hurt your back, don’t squat deeper than parallel; don’t let the knee pass the toe line. But these outdated rules are just misguided reactions to injuries from improper training. We shouldn’t stop squatting; we should just stop squatting wrong! So, even though some of what I write may contradict what you’ll read in your popular fitness trash mag, don’t let it scare you!
Between the lines
Let’s talk about that myth about only squatting parallel and never past the toe line. I hear this “rule” all the time. As a matter of fact, most of the exercises you see in gyms move only in straight lines (or planes). But this doesn’t reflect how we move in real life. Do you know anyone who moves only in perfect lines? Of course not. Yet, here we are, exercising in unnaturally straight lines. Most injuries happen in rotation (multiple planes), especially with the knee, shoulder, and back. Physical therapists address the problem not by avoiding the area, but by building strength in the exact movement that caused the injury in the first place. It’s a priority in rehab to strengthen the surrounding musculature at any injury – and that includes working in a full range of motion, not just moving in straight lines! So, hmmm, maybe if we are training between the lines, too, our bodies will be building strength and mobility in the places where we really need it. This is why we have to learn to squat……deep squat!
Building a foundation
In the most simplistic terms, all exercises are just movements that we may perform in everyday life, but with resistance added. For example, in the real world you squat to lower yourself to your chair. It’s an everyday movement that becomes “exercise” as you add repetitions and then weight. When starting out with a squat, you should be able to do at least fifty repetitions with your own body weight, and in perfect form, before you start adding weight. In fact, I would love to see someone progress from a box squat, to a rock bottom squat, and through the variations of pistol squats (explained in later article), before they even attempt to step under a weighted bar. We have to build a solid foundation for our squatting pattern before you begin to add external weight. You have to learn to walk before you run, and any other cliché’s you may think of.
Enough about why we should squat, let’s learn to squat!
*By the way, smith machine, hack squat and leg press machines do not count as squats. These are “fixed axis” machines, which translates to unnatural, and problem causing. After all, one size does not fit all!
The Box Squat
-Find a chair, ledge or bench that is about knee height or lower
-Place feet slightly wider than hip width
-Keep feet parallel to each other or slightly turned out (up to 18 degrees)
-Maintain a neutral spine (small arch in low back)
-Draw in or “brace” the stomach
-Initiate the movement by pushing the hips back, and bending your knees
-Lower your self slowly until you touch the object
-Pause, without resting all of your weight on the object
-Squeeze the gluts and exhale as you come back up
Assisted Rock Bottom Squat
-Find a support that is roughly waist high or a bit higher
-Grab support with both hands
-Place feet a little wider than foot position for box squat
-Allow toes to turn out wider than the box squat
-Draw in or ‘”brace” the stomach
-Initiate the movement by pushing the hips back and bending your knees
-Maintain a neutral spine (once your hips drop below the knees, your back may round slightly)
-Allow the knees to track the direction of the toes
-Attempt to bring the hips down as close to the heels as possible
-Pause, squeeze the gluts and exhale as you come back up
-Try not to pull with your arms as your coming back up
Rock Bottom squat
-Place feet wider than hip width
-Turn toes out
-Reach arms straight out at shoulder height or cross them over each other
-Draw in or “brace” the stomach
-Keep your weight in your heels
-Initiate the movement by pushing hips back and bending your knees
-As you lower yourself, allow knees to open and track in the direction of your toes
-Keep your chest and arms up through out the entire movement
-Maintain neutral spine until you drop below knee to hip level
-Drop as deep as your flexibility will allow (gluts on heels)
*The pictures above are of Matt Roy who is an extraordinary personal trainer and photographer. You can contact Matt at email@example.com or view more of his photos at mattroyphotography.com