Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
1 Oct

How to Squat Properly

Judging from the reader response to last week’s post on that certain type of squatting, I’d bet that a number of you guys gave it a shot and left footprints on the toilet bowl. C’mon, don’t be shy. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, I gave what amounted to a sterling endorsement of the position in question, with the expectation that a fair amount of readers would actually take me up on it. So – did you? And if so, how did it go (into the bowl, I hope)? Any amazing stories, experiences, or pratfalls to relay? Share your experiences in the comment board.

But this post isn’t just about squatting to poop. It’s a primer on squatting in general. Whether it’s heavy barbell squats, the Indigenous People’s Stretch, the bodyweight squat, the resting Grok squat, or the evacuation squat, squatting is a fundamental movement that everyone (barring injury) needs to get right. We all have the intrinsic physical tools to squat the right way, and if it weren’t for those pesky creature comforts of civilization (chairs, toilets, heeled shoes, Smith machines) softening us up and messing with our joint mobility, Grandma might be darning you a sweater from the Grok squat pose instead of the rocking chair. Most of the MDA readership hails from the West, so I think it’s safe to assume that a quick primer on squatting is long overdue – especially for those of you who accepted last week’s squatting “challenge.”

You may have found it a bit harder than expected (in which case, eat more greens), even if you’re an accomplished squatter in the weight room. That may even be the problem – treating it like a workout. See, squatting to poop and squatting under a bar are totally different experiences. The intent of the latter is to push ever more weight up; the former seeks to relinquish it. I was almost tempted to make the easy pun – “push weight out” – until I realized the poop squat is about letting go and allowing gravity to handle the rest. Minimal effort. When you squat with a barbell, your entire body is necessarily tense and tight, especially the torso (which acts like a rigid lever to support the weight and transfer force safely and securely), but when you squat to evacuate your bowels, you’re supposed to relax. You’re not so much forcing it out as you are opening the floodgates. It wants to leave; it’s waste. The squat position is simply an enabler. Straining while squatting defeats the entire purpose of squatting in the first place.

As for the squatting movement itself, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.

First, ease into it. With tight hips, quads and Achilles, and little experience in the proper squatting position achieving this stance right out of the gate may prove challenging. My suggestion? Take your time. There is no rush here, so there is no need to force anything. Of utmost priority is avoiding injury, and this means taking baby steps over days or even weeks before you reach your goal (keep this in mind for all fitness goals).

Hint: Perform the squat in front of a sturdy rail or pole. Hold onto the rail for support as you descend and sit back. Once you’re comfortable with the rail, try squatting without it.

Hint: Attempt your first squats on a slanted surface. For example, go out to a declined driveway and face down the slope. The ground raised beneath your heels will help you from falling backward – a common issue for beginners.

Keep your heels grounded. This holds true for heavy squats, bodyweight squats, casual Grok squats, poop squats, and Indigenous People’s Stretches: resting all that weight on your toes, as opposed to your heels, places far too much stress on your knees, and the resultant shearing forces will tear your knee apart, given sufficient time. Of course, if you’re playing a sport like volleyball, staying on your toes allows better reactions and quicker movements, but that’s a totally different situation. In all other cases, keep your heels firmly on the ground.

Hint: If you find yourself unable to keep the weight off your toes, curl them upward; you’ll force yourself to maintain heel-floor contact.

Keep your back straight. I don’t mean vertical; I mean you should avoid rounding your back, whether you’re bent at the hips or upright. With heavy weights a rounded back can be disastrous, and with no weights a rounded back just reinforces bad habits. Both are to be avoided.

Hint: Keeping your chest up and your shoulders back will lead to a straight back.

Your knees should follow your feet. Your feet should be about shoulder width apart (maybe a bit wider for stability; basically, whatever allows you to comfortably reach a deep position), at about a 30 degree angle (as opposed to pointing straight forward). Make sure your knees are aligned with your feet and toes. It’s usually not an issue without a barbell and weights involved, but it’s good to get in the habit.

It’s not a workout. You shouldn’t be holding yourself up with your quads. You should be resting. This is supposed to be a sustainable pose, so you’ll be doing a full, deep squat. How deep? Clasp your hands together in front of you. As you squat, let them hang between your legs. When they reach the ground, you should be in your deep squat position. Sit down and back, let your hamstrings touch your calves, and stay there.

Sit back. I’ll say it again because it’s so crucial. Squatting isn’t just sitting down; it’s sitting back, which spreads the load and creates a more manageable center of gravity. If you were to “squat” down and not back, your knees jutting way out, all your weight would be borne by your quads, and you’d probably topple over onto your face. At the same time, an inexperienced squatter attempting to sit back for the first time might topple over onto his or her ass. In a casual, weight-less squat, these issues become less likely to manifest, of course, but sitting back creates a more stable base and promotes good habits for when you do pile on the weight.

Hint: Imagine there’s a short chair just behind you and sit back in search of it. Or, better yet, use an actual tiny chair, stool, or anything that will allow you to reach the proper depth.

Squatting may seem completely natural (because it is!), thus rendering a “How to…” guide unnecessary, but you’d be surprised at how easily unnatural bad habits can disrupt our natural tendencies and instincts. Read through the tips and hints, make sure you can perform them correctly, and practice your weak points. Even if you’re confident and comfortable with a few hundred pounds on your back, give it a quick run-through. The squat movement figures into our lives on a daily basis, and it would be a damn shame to do it incorrectly.

In the future, you can expect a more thorough explanation and examination of the barbell squat, but in the meantime this brief primer should do the trick nicely. Oh, and check this video (thanks, Peter Andrews!) for a humorous comparison/contrast of the Asian/Western squats. It’s funny because it’s true (seriously – there’s great stuff in there)!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Over the years I have gotten several dozen people to perform the indigenous squat. Most couldn’t do it initially, but I’ve found that if we were diligent with practice and with some of the techniques you offered above, every single person eventually squats fully into a resting squat position. It has done wonders for their flexibility and functions. Most report that a full rested squat position “feels good.”

    I believe the trouble with so many people not being able to squat is the mentality that dictates: “If I can’t do this, then my body was not made for doing it.” Obviously, everyone I have worked with was made for it.

    Ogg the Caveman wrote on October 1st, 2009
    • I have been doing the “Grok” squat essential all my life, it just always seemed more comfortable than actually sitting on the ground. That said, however, usually after ~15 minutes or so of doing it my feet will get tingly like they are falling asleep, anyone else have this happen to them?

      Daniel wrote on November 7th, 2012
  2. Uh Oh, better change that pic of you squatting with your heels up!

    Mikeythehealthycaveman wrote on October 1st, 2009
    • Ha! Yes, I better. I know it doesn’t look like it’s really graded but that beach was somewhat steep where I was squatting. To level it out those heals had to come up. You know what? You’re not the first person to point that out, either!

      Mark Sisson wrote on October 1st, 2009
      • Ironically (or perhaps not) that picture of you on the beach was the one to pop up when I was reading the article.

        Might not be the best pic for the article…

        NicoB wrote on October 1st, 2009
  3. That video is hilarious…

    NicoB wrote on October 1st, 2009
    • Out of curiosity I did a search on “asian squat” and found some other sites that linked to the youtube video…

      Some of the comments are truly CW FUD…
      “Westerners aren’t genetically predisposed to squat.”

      I’m going to practice squatting as a rest position, and try to get to the point where and can lower my desk and not need a chair.

      But as I mentioned in the forums (same topic) I’m not going to try squatting on top of the porcelain throne unless I have a platform of sorts,

      I don’t need a snapped in half toilet, and me trying to explain to my aunt how it happened.

      I’ve got enough problems…

      NicoB wrote on October 1st, 2009
      • When your sitting on the toilet and you lift your feet from the floor does the toilet break? Thats should be exactly the same amount of weight. As long as you are careful about the weight distribution I don’t think it will be a problem. I would still say “try at your own risk” though 😉

        PaleoNoob wrote on February 2nd, 2011
        • The toilet doesn’t break. Trust me – I’ve tried it on very many.

          Unless you are very, very heavy indeed I don’t see any real chance of breaking the bowl. And if you’re that heavy, probably best to follow the PB for a few months and let some of the weight come off before attempting to squat on top of the bowl.

          However, what can happen is the bowl can rock a bit if it hasn’t been properly secured to the floor. So weight it up with one foot gently first! And if it moves – be more careful getting into position… :)

          RedYeti wrote on February 2nd, 2011
        • The seat could break if it’s just flimsy plastic, though. And they can sometimes come loose. Make sure it’s securely fastened and that it’s solid. This could especially be a problem if you rent.

          Dana wrote on December 6th, 2011
      • South East Asian people generally have proportionally shorter legs than Westerners and can often bend their knee joints beyond 180 degrees. I have never seen a Westerner capable of doing that regardless of how hard or long they try.

        The “Bullshit! I can do it if I try hard enough” attitude is brain damaged. No you can’t.

        Ryan wrote on March 16th, 2012
        • I would submit that yes – you can. It may not be a case of “try hard enough” but many things can be accomplished through gentle repetitive practice. My ten years in yoga class have taught me this. Many Westerners can change their flexibility and bodily abilities to a great degree through practice. I have seen it.

          Leslie Millsaps wrote on November 25th, 2012
        • This “fact” about body proportion is patently false. You’re wrong.

          jon wrote on February 10th, 2014
        • I have been squatting like that my whole life while working on a car, drinking beer around a fire, whatever. I find it much more comfortable than kneeling on my knees. I am 51 & still do it easily and often.

          Alfred wrote on November 22nd, 2014
  4. I’ve done it out of necessity in a “bathroom” in a small fishing village located outside of Hong Kong. They also provide a hose… Not worth it imo, plus how do I play Soduku???

    chris wrote on October 1st, 2009
  5. I LOVE squatting like this (ever since I saw it in that beach sprinting video way back when.) It took a little practice, but after a few tries I got it. I even sweep my floor with a hand broom, doing a squat-walk (as seen on HBO’s “ROME”.) Boy, you can really see the dirt from down there.

    Diana Renata wrote on October 1st, 2009
  6. The longer bowl would definitely make things easier 😉

    Video was too funny!

    I guess I’m an asian squatter. I never really knew there was a difference. I’ve just done what was comfortable to me.

    Grok wrote on October 1st, 2009
  7. I have been working on learning to do this type of squat (I had just called it the deep squat) for some time. I had some success but I’ve never been comfortable in the position. Recently I had made some improvements when using article 4 in this magazine: If you have an article on learning the asian squat, I would be interested in it.

    Ben wrote on October 1st, 2009
  8. As a child I tried to imitate a neighbor who could squat comfortably for long periods of time but whenever I tried it I would fall over backwards.

    I have been active and athletic all my life but here I am almost 70 and I still just fall over when I squat.

    I will give it another go but I’m thinking even Ogg the Caveman would find me challenging.

    Sharon wrote on October 1st, 2009
  9. Mark, I’m just playing… You still look pretty darn good in that pic!

    NicoB, unless you weigh more than me 195-200lbs, I wouldn’t worry about the toilet snapping. I haven’t broken one yet, although I wouldn’t stand on the seat. Rim squatting is easier than it sounds (less like an innuendo than it sounds too :)

    Mikeythehealthycaveman wrote on October 1st, 2009
    • I ain’t going to touch the innuendo…

      But I’d still worry personally. I clock in at 275lbs, and short of actually seeing the individual weight rating for my toilet bowl I’ll keep my squats for relaxing and camping.

      NicoB wrote on October 1st, 2009
  10. Hi Mark,
    What do you think of the Hindu squat? Some people such as Matt Furey swear by it as a great way to boost fitness and I’ve heard from people who do it that it got rid of knee pain they had had for years in a matter of weeks dues to it stabilising the knee joint. However, some people say that it’s bad mechanics for the knee. Please let me know your thoughts.

    Gordie Rogers wrote on October 1st, 2009
    • I wouldnt listen to anything Matt Furey swears about. Or should I say Fat Murey, :p

      And yes, Asian squats rule.

      Laszlo wrote on October 3rd, 2009
  11. Spent a year in Afghanistan and started doing the Asian squat because thats what the locals were doing. I got the hang of it and that is all I do now. It will help you in the barbell squat too!

    dennis wrote on October 1st, 2009
  12. I do this all the time or at least i used to when i was in India. i also used to sit on the floor in lotus posture for eating(typical indian style) but no more. More and more people(including younger) are unable to sit in that posture for even 5 mins.
    This may not relate to this post but while eating(rice mainly which i hardly eat anymore) being a south indian i use all five fingers and even palms at times to mix(similar to kneading a dough,we do that on the plate) the curry or curd(from milk) with rice thoroughly.
    I have never seen such mobility in fingers while eating, picking up the food and placing it in your mouth efficiently without wasting a single morsel in western style eating(spoon and forks).There is nothing more appetising.
    I hope Mark had tried this before, if not try it:
    Eating food from banana leaves instead of plates, it is very very eco friendly and good for health, but needs some advanced eating skills with fingers, you should be skilled enough to not let the liquid portions in the food to flow out of the banana leaf, also not tear up the leaf while kneading the food, but do make scratches on the leaves cuz they end up in your finger nails and naturally clean , the ultimate primal hygiene

    Madhu wrote on October 1st, 2009
    • Eco friendly, yes; hygenic, no.

      Annie wrote on March 30th, 2011
      • I’m sorry but I can’t agree with this – what’s not hygienic about eating from a fresh clean banana leaf?

        RedYeti wrote on March 30th, 2011
        • Do you break out an electron microscope before you eat off a banana leaf? Hygiene is a routine not an absolute measure.

          Living in Thailand, I eat my fair share of sticky rice from banana leaf but I still wouldn’t suggest it’s as “hygienic” as eating from a properly washed ceramic plate.

          Ryan wrote on March 16th, 2012
  13. I’ve spent some time in the back country on multi-day hikes– learning to squat is essential under those circumstances. Just wait until you decide to hike Mt. Whitney, you’ll get to know the joys of something called a “wag bag”.

    Also, I find the “your knees follow your feet” one interesting. It uses the same principals as doing a plie in ballet They stress alignments to make the movements safe from injury.

    Jennifer wrote on October 1st, 2009
  14. I just got back from Japan and Korea and saw plenty of evidence of the Asian Squat, including a lot of elderly ladies weeding flowerbeds in this potion. To my deskbound self, this is a pipedream – my hip flexors are so tight, my ankles so rigid and back so long and rounded that it’s going to take a lot of time and practise for me to get comfortable with it. But yes, my barbell squat form is horrible so I’m going to work at this.

    Indiscreet wrote on October 1st, 2009
  15. Thanks for providing those steps to squatting! It’s a dream of mine (no kidding) to be able to do it, so this is a great help!

    Catalina wrote on October 1st, 2009
  16. I find squatting much easier with bare feet (or Vibrams), but it did take a little while to adjust to it. For years I had the idea that one had to put a raise under the heels to properly squat. I know – ludicrous when you think about it.

    I have not yet tried squatting in the ‘little room’. Traffic usually flows pretty freely downtown, so I think I’ll wait until there’s a bit of congestion before testing it out 😉

    Methuselah - Pay Now Live Later wrote on October 1st, 2009
  17. Awright, Mark, you caught me – I’ve been squatting on the toilet ever since that video came out. It took me a while to develop the skills – finding the right position, staying in that position, reaching the toilet paper, etc. – but I think I’ve mastered it now. And now I can annoy all my female relatives by leaving up the toilet seat!

    That video was great. Am annoyed at the false advertising, though – seriously, is squatting going to help me pick up dudes? XD

    GeriMorgan wrote on October 2nd, 2009
  18. I once did an Asian squat in a bookstore to examine some merchandise on a low shelf. I actually got some shocked looks from other female shoppers, as if I were doing something inappropriate or lewd. Not that it stopped me but it’s definitely too bad that Westerners don’t realize it’s the better/healthier/safer way to do it. Maybe there’s a bit of a cultural barrier there too.

    christine wrote on October 2nd, 2009
  19. a couple things. Use your hip flexors to pull yourself down into the hole. Don’t drop but use that strength. To ascend, drive from the heels. 99% of folks squat unsafely. Practice it using just your bodyweight and make sure you are moving safely through the full range of motion before adding a load.

    Sandy Sommer, RKC wrote on October 2nd, 2009
  20. Hey! Check out Rohinton Mistry’s short story “The Squatter”, it’s eactly about “this type of squatting”:-) A young Indian’s identity problems in Toronto are mainly caused by his inability to “do that” sitting on a toilet. Fascinating read.

    Zsuzsa wrote on October 3rd, 2009
  21. Squatting can be tricky until people learn to use their posterior chain. Here is a post I wrote with some pointers and a video:



    Yavor wrote on October 3rd, 2009
  22. I started doing Hindu squats a couple of years ago. Only recently did I stop when I had a mild inflammation from something unrelated (instead I have done lunges more and low martial arts stances and wall squats to keep my legs active). I am now putting them back into my weekly routine.

    Before I started doing them, I had major crepitus in both knees and some stiffness when getting out of the car and standing from a low position. Any time I pulled my heel up behind me while standing (flexing) or squatting down I had popping and it was VERY loud.

    Hindu squats pretty much cleared the crepitus up after two weeks of doing about a hundred a day. I toned back to three times per week for a while and now alternate between 2-3 times pe r week (out of laziness). I found three times per week minimal good for me to keep the knees healthy (if that is all you are doing for your legs).

    I don’t know much about Matt Furey, but I started doing Hindu Squats after Thomas Kurtz ( recommended them in an article he wrote for a magazine years ago. He says he will do hundreds of them as a cool down after heavy weight lifting. He is a very reliable source on sports fitness and physiology. He actually will cite that leg extensions using the weight machines destabilize the knee.

    A friend of mine, who is excellent with anatomy/physiology (has ten years of schooling) and is also a nationally qualified body builder, after watching me, said they were okay. The key is keeping your knee straight over your toes.

    In terms of the “squat” in this article, I prefer the Asian squat. This heels down method is also modified as yoga posture.

    Mike H wrote on October 4th, 2009
  23. I don’t agree with your comment that “you should avoid rounding your back.” All animals (cows, dogs, apes, humans) round their backs when pooping. Just relax and enjoy!

    Jonathan wrote on October 7th, 2009
  24. I did Hindus for awhile. I agree that they can actually help the knees…. BUT they started killing my sacroiliac joint! No bouncing, straight back, didn’t matter. I believe they work the calves and quads quite hard, but don’t do much for the hamstrings like a flat-footed deep squat does. As a result, muscle imbalances occur. But hey, if they work for you without pain, they’ll turn your legs into pogo sticks. But I couldn’t avoid the next day’s SI joint pain.

    dave wrote on October 8th, 2009
  25. Dave, I have to agree that they definitely work the quads more than the glutes/hams in my experience too. I’ve never had any muscle imbalance or had issues with my SI joints.

    I would think it very difficult if not impossible to sustain muscle imbalance from these types of body weight exercises. It’s primarily muscle endurance you are building anyway.

    Mike H wrote on October 8th, 2009
  26. I tried the squat on the toilet after reading the original post. I have to admit I felt a little ‘third world’ at first but the result has been twice as much elimination as in the seated position. It’s made a believer out of me.

    The video was very informative especially the part where they showed the difference in weight distribution from the 2 squats. Now I understand why the western squat practically paralyzes me when I do it!

    Shari wrote on October 9th, 2009
  27. I have been using the squat position on the rim of the toilet (seat up) for about 6 weeks. Now instead of 15 to 20 minutes for my bowel movement, I’m out of there in about 1 minute or should I say it’s out of there in 1 minute or less. This is a no nonsense position that facilitates the job at hand. I have been able to eliminate completely the hemorrhoids and occasional bleeding that resulted from the prolonged sitting on the toilet seat. I dubbed the technique ” Don’t sit to Sh*t” or Feet on the Seat. I’m setting my alarm 15minutes later and feel a lot better with this more complete elimination facilitated by this obviously natural position.

    neil wrote on December 25th, 2009
  28. I realize I’m a little late to the party here, but I thought I’d throw a question out there. I’ve been attempting to learn how to Asian squat properly for quite a while, and can’t seem to get the hang of it. I can do it if I stand facing a downward slope no problem, but if I’m flat, I can’t even break parallel with my quads without falling over backwards or getting a sharp pain in the outside of my hip joints.

    Eric Cressy, a mobility trainer, has mentioned that tall men with long femurs and poor dorsal flexion in their ankles (me!) simply aren’t cut out for deep squatting; the length of their femurs makes balance impossible without extreme ankle flexibility, which can’t really be helped. Should I ditch trying to do barbell squats and focus on single-leg strength work (lunges, etc.)? Any tips for a guy like me? I’ve done months of mobility work to no avail.

    Eric wrote on April 30th, 2010
    • I’ve also got long legs and poor ankle mobility.

      I was starting to play with a wobble board a few weeks ago and discovered that with my heals on the ground, toes pointed up by the board, I couldn’t keep my knees above my feet. Meaning the only way I could stay upright was by leaning over, arms outstretched, in a “zombie” like pose.

      Then I started taking the vitamin D3.

      The calf muscles relaxed and elongated in about a fortnight. Meaning the ankles freed up considerably and allowing me to balance on the board properly.

      I’d noticed my calves getting tighter all winter (which I thought was odd, since they weren’t so bad after a long walk I’d done during the summer) but hadn’t started taking the D3 because of that – it was an unexpected benefit.

      I was also stretching every other day, using the wobble board, but I’d been doing that for a while pre-D3.

      So – I’m sure ankle mobility can be helped (Mark just posted on it in fact) but what made the largest difference for me was D3 supplementation – oddly.

      RedYeti wrote on May 19th, 2010
  29. great article, now how about one for the ‘groc hang’?

    art wrote on August 18th, 2010
  30. I am 34 years old and have always done this type of squat, since I was a small child. I actually squat daily in my office because I frequently have to access a large file cabinet drawer on the bottom row. It is very comfortable and seems natural and easy. My 4 year old niece squats a lot and recently my grandmother said, “She sits like that all the time. You always did that too.” It’s awesome to find out I’m not a weirdo! Well, at least not from squatting anyway.

    redngreen wrote on August 27th, 2010
  31. I have been squatting like this since I was 10 yr old kid and lived in Japan for 1 yr. I find it extremely comfortable.
    Most the japanese toilets are made to accommodate this kind of squatting. Only recently have “western” toilets been installed.
    Grok Squats RULE!

    Marina wrote on September 9th, 2010
  32. I love this squat as it takes the pressure off my lower back- but I’m usually the only person doing it. I’ve actually had people tell me that there was a chair available and that I didn’t have to squat. The thing is, I’ve a fused left ankle, so a proper squat is not to be fully had. Luckily, I’m used to it.

    Elisabeth wrote on October 11th, 2010
  33. That is one of the best demonstrations/explanations ever.

    Jeff wrote on November 15th, 2010

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