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How to Squat Properly

Posted By Mark Sisson On October 1, 2009 @ 11:20 am In Fitness,How To,Personal Improvement,Videos | 99 Comments

Judging from the reader response to last week’s post on that certain type of squatting [7], 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 [8], 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 [9]!) for a humorous comparison/contrast of the Asian/Western squats. It’s funny because it’s true (seriously – there’s great stuff in there)!



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