The knee is almost always the first joint to go when people “start getting old.” How many people do you know have given up any kind of serious physical activity because of their “bad knees”? How many people avoid the gym because their knees are supposedly too stiff? How many people take the elevator to go up a floor, avoid hikes because they can’t handle the hills, or give up on their favorite sports—all because their knees hurt?
It’s too many. It’s a damn shame, and it doesn’t have to be like that.
The knee is actually a very powerful joint. Surrounded on two sides and supported by powerful muscles, tendons, and ligaments, buttressed by cartilage and fascia, and capable of great feats of recovery and regeneration, the knee is stronger and more resilient than most people realize. However, the knee has to be cultivated and strengthened. It has to engage in various movements to help it get stronger and make it stop hurting. If you want to reduce knee pain—or stave it off before it happens—these are the knee strengthening exercises for you.
Building an adult obstacle course a la Tough Mudder or Spartan Race or Ninja Warrior is a noble goal, but not everyone wants to spend their weekends constructing a complex network of lumber-heavy structures that fill up your backyard. There are prefabricated adult play structures you can buy or companies you can hire if you want to go that route. If you’re handy, you can do it yourself, but, again, it will take a lot of time. I’m more interested in constructing ad hoc adult obstacle courses using simple objects you might already have lying around or can easily obtain at Home Depot. It’s a bit more attainable that way for the average person.
We suffer from an epidemic of stiff ankles. And, because mobility comes before strength—and indeed is necessary for true strength—we have weak ankles. Don’t believe me? Stand up right now. Aim your feet straight ahead. Toes straight. Don’t flare them out. Put your feet close together. Not touching, but almost. Squat down, keeping your heels on the ground.
Can you do it? Can you hold a full squat at the bottom with heels down and a fairly straight back, or do you start toppling over? Do your feet inadvertently flare outward at 45 degree angles to accommodate your stiff ankles? Is your lower back beginning to cramp? Do you have to go onto your toes to hit bottom?
If you’re not close to getting a toes straight, feet together, heels down full squat without your back seizing up, you need to work on your ankle mobility.
As a former elite triathlete, I’ve spent more time in the saddle (the bike saddle, that is) than I care to remember. Hour upon hour up and down mountains, through countryside and towns, cranking away on the pedals. That might sound like a cool gig—and it was for a time—but those training sessions slowly wore down my body to the point where I eventually had to walk away from triathlon.
It was a long time before I could enjoy being on a bicycle again. That’s a shame because bicycling is fantastic for many reasons. Commute or run errands on your bike, and you start and end your workday with physical activity, reduce your carbon footprint, and never need to find parking. Mountain biking gets you out into nature, hitting trails you might never reach by foot. Road cyclist ride in packs and then relax at the coffee shop or pub after, so they are getting social interaction along with exercise (the benefits of which are somewhat mitigated by the beer…).
Everyone needs to squat.
The squat is a foundational human movement pattern and resting position. Watch a young child study the ant trail on the ground, and they don’t bend over to gawk at it. They squat down and sit in that squat position comfortably for as long as it takes. Watch Hadza tribesmen cook and share meat around the fire. They aren’t sitting on camp chairs. They aren’t standing awkwardly. They’re sitting in a squat, comfortable as can be. Go to many Asian countries and you’ll see regular people, even elderly people, sitting in a full squat as they wait for the bus or visit with friends.
To squat is to be human. It is to explore and inhabit the full range of our body’s motion. It is to remain mobile, agile, and effectively young. If you can achieve and sit in a full squat at age 70, you’ll be in the 99th percentile and, hopefully, avoid most of aging’s physical ravages and functionality degenerations.
Squatting is also an incredible exercise that targets every muscle in the body, particularly when you do so with added weight. Glutes, hamstrings, quads. Core, lumbar, traps. For that reason, squatting is incredibly anabolic, meaning it provides a total-body hypertrophic stimulus. Anecdotally, people report growing muscle everywhere after picking up a regular squatting habit, even those muscles that aren’t directly involved.
But whether you’re squatting just to maintain the ability to move into that position or squatting to train, you need to do it with proper form.
There’s no question that the full squat exercise is an essential, Primal movement, and yet many folks in modern, industrialized society are unable to properly perform one. Kids have good squat form (just watch them at play), but their parents are stiff at the hips with rounded backs and tight knee joints. Many more have been taught – by health experts and personal trainers – that the full squat is dangerous, that it will destroy your knees with wear and tear and render you incapable of normal activity. They say a half-squat is perfectly adequate, or, better yet, get rid of the squat altogether and use the leg extension machine! (Actually, don’t.) Disregard these “experts.” Squatting is a natural movement that humans are built to do. You don’t need to use a ton of weight (or any!), but you do need to be mobile and flexible enough to reach a full squat below parallel. What Do Squats Do? Squats serve a variety of practical purposes: they can help you arrive into a resting position, they’re a proper starting form for lifting, and they work the muscles of the lower body. A proper squat engages and works a host of muscles, like quadriceps, abdominals, glutes, calves, hamstrings, and hip flexors. When done correctly, squatting can build bone density, a key element in aging well. How to Do a Squat Stand with a comfortable stance. Most will prefer their feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart with toes turned out at a slight angle. Lower yourself by reaching back with your butt while maintaining a strong lower back. Keep your knees aligned with your toes and your toes on the ground. Chest up, upper back tight, eyes looking forward and slightly down, head in a neutral position. Maintain a nice cohesive line along your spine. Go just below parallel, so that your butt drops below your knees.Come back up by pushing through the heel. Proper Air Squat Form Air squats, also known as body weight squats, can take pressure off of knees and still provide a ton of benefits. Learn, modify, and perfect your air squat over time using three squat progressions. If you’re already familiar with the motion but finding your squats result in knees caving, lower back or hip joints pain, your form might need a further tune up. Follow along with the video or these three progressions to get your squat into shape. https://youtu.be/1A0msu0FDl8 Squat Progression 1: Use an Assist Find a supportive assist, such as a wall, bar, pole, or the back of a chair – anything that is sturdy and comes to about navel height. Come to a neutral position with feet shoulder width apart, bend your knees and explore your range of motion. Aim to achieve 20-30 of these assisted squats before moving on to Progression 2. Squat Progression 2: No Assist, with a Spot Use a box or a bench to act as a ‘spotter’ while working on your full squat form. When in the … Continue reading “How To Squat with Proper Technique (with Video)”
Hi folks, in this edition of Ask a Health Coach, Erin discusses why fasting might feel harder right now, why you need more than just a good workout plan, and what to eat when you’re sick of having eggs for breakfast every day. Keep your questions coming in the MDA Facebook Group or in the comments below.
Being home all day has been a real test to my willpower. Fasting is harder and I’m hungry all the time. Any tips for navigating this “new normal?” – Stephanie
I’m with you Stephanie. A lot of things feel out of our control right now and with so much uncertainty, just rolling with it might be your best bet for the next few weeks. Does that mean saying “screw it!” and scarfing down a few donuts every morning? Or grazing on chips and cookies throughout the day? No. But it does mean acknowledging your new routine, your new struggles, the fact that you’re under more stress than usual, and of course, the reality that you’re surrounded by food 24/7.
A lot of us get hung up on this idea of what an exercise session is supposed to look like. We think about driving over to the gym, squeezing into a crowded class, or working through a room full of complex contraptions, machines, and heavy plates. In our minds, it has to be a certain duration or intensity, or it doesn’t count. It has to have a warm-up and a cool-down, and we’re supposed to sweat so we’ll need to shower when it’s over. That mindset turns the simple act of moving your muscles into something you don’t have time for, something you’re too tired or sore to do today, something that seems too overwhelming for the moment you’re in right now. Don’t underestimate the power of short, at home workouts.
Intermittent fasting and time-restricted eating have become popular strategies to lose weight, boost insulin sensitivity, improve blood sugar and blood lipids, and encourage ketosis. But there is still a lot of confusion about how to fasti correctly, avoiding possible pitfalls while maximizing the benefits. One recurring point of confusion is working out while fasting—how much to exercise, whether to stop high-intensity training, and so on.
Before I get into the meat of this post, let’s make one thing clear: You SHOULD continue to work out while fasting. Stay active, don’t just sit around. Yes, even during longer fasts (with some caveats that I’ll discuss below).
For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering four questions from readers. First, what does an “increased risk of mortality” actually mean if everyone’s going to die in the end? Second, what makes fish heads so delicious and nutritious? Third, what is the relationship between metformin and exercise? And finally, how do you prevent frozen vegetables from getting all mushy when you cook them?