Oh, here we go again. The New York Times coming out with another incomplete article on human movement. This time, the squat. That’s OK. It’s an opportunity to educate, as was the case with the “pull-up article,” that NYT published back in October 2012. Now, let’s forever dispel this notion that we shouldn’t squat below parallel!
For many Americans, the common refrain is that they can’t squat “because it makes their knees hurt.” Well isn’t that interesting? The reason why your knees hurt is because your can’t squat! You silly! We typically sit a majority of the day. We sit in the car, bus, train to and from work. We sit down to dinner. We sit to relax and watch “The Biggest Loser,” all the while our hip flexors get tighter and tighter, forcing a forward posture and tightening of the hamstrings. That’s why it’s hard for Americans to squat. My eldest son, almost 12 years old, squats on the dining room chair while eating dinner at night (much to my wife’s chagrin). Most people would gag at such manners, but I let him do it, because he sits in a chair most of the day.
My path to a deeper squat has taken considerable time and practice. As a 20 year old, I back-squatted 310 lbs. I then went on a 23 year hiatus from squatting and plunked my butt down on a chair for most of my work. Oh yes, there was plenty of leg extension, leg press and leg curls that were performed in this period of time, but now I know better. Machines have no place in the world of leg strength. I then started my squat journey by holding onto a pole in front of me and pulling myself down into the squatting position. You can initiate the movement by pushing your butt back and keeping your chest up. Equally important is developing better ankle joint mobility. My instructor, Cecilia Tom, showed me how to do Z-Health “toe-pulls” to facilitate greater range of movement. I think this was a key moment for me! After that, it was practice, practice, and more practice. It really needs to be worked on a couple times a day, even if only for a few minutes.
For many folks, I highly recommend the goblet squat.
There are many folks (ages 18-70) in my kettlebell classes that have made significant gains in their range of movement due to this one exercise alone. We always spend some time in the bottom of the goblet squat , driving our elbows into the sides of our knees. Prying our hips open. Experiment with elevating and descending at different points in the squat. Always remember to squeeze (make a grunt) your intra-abdominal cavity before launching upward. This will protect your back. As always, exhale sharply at the top of the movement.