‘Squatting’ is the position in which you squat down on the spot so that your legs are completely bent while your back is still straight. Often we will squat with our elbows on our knees and while resting our buttocks on our heels (with feet on tip toes). You probably knew that already but what you possibly didn’t know, is that squatting like this just so happens to be really good for us – and may be the solution to many of our current health problems. It may even be the better way to go to the toilet…
The human body is not designed to sit in the position we regularly do. Chairs did not exist when we were evolving in the wild and so our bodies have not adapted to deal with them. What we are designed to do though, is to squat. In the wild, were you to pick something up, to relax around a fire, or to defecate – you would likely have done so by squatting rather than sitting in any way. In fact, in some parts of China, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe, squatting is still preferred in some contexts. If you watch children, you will notice that they instinctively squat – with their feet flat on the ground – when they want to play or examine something close to the ground. Usually this is done with their feet wide apart.
Heels Up Versus Heels Down
Squatting with the heels up creates a natural ‘seat’ for our buttocks and is more comfortable for many people. Unfortunately, squatting like this is also more unstable and is so less suitable for long periods (unless you have particularly good balance).
Nevertheless, many adults will prefer the heels up squatting position due to the simple fact that they can’t maintain a heels down position. This is due to shortened Achilles’ tendons, which are the result of constant sitting and wearing heeled shoes.
A partial squat is a squat in which you lower yourself halfway to the ground and remain in that position so that the legs are bent roughly at right angles. This position requires effort in the quadriceps and hamstrings in order to maintain and so most people will not want to use it for extended periods.
This is the type of squat that many people will use in weight training in order to avoid placing an excessive load on the knees – though some argue that a full squat (‘ass to grass’) can be used safely even with additional load from a barbell.
The partial squat on its own can be held as a form of exercise and regularly is in a range of training systems from yoga to Tai Chi to other martial arts.
Squatting Versus Sitting
Sitting isn’t just bad for our bodies… it’s really bad. When we sit, our metabolic activity and calorific consumption drop almost instantly which contributes to weight loss and a weaker heart. This can also contribute to insulin resistance, which ultimately lowers life expectancy and increases your chances of developing type 2 diabetes. If that wasn’t enough, it’s also terrible for your spine and posture. Not only does sitting ruin the natural curvature of our spine, it also shortens our hip extensors and weakens our hip extensors. The result is tense muscles, stiffness, soreness and ultimately a lack of mobility/pain in the lower spine.
Ultimately, all this will contribute to ‘holding patterns’ as our body tries to compensate for our loss of mobility by changing our gait. In turn, this can lead to injuries as well as exacerbating existing imbalances.
Squatting on the other hand, can help you to regain some of that lost mobility as well as to burn more calories (70% more) than if you were sitting during that time. If you replaced all your sitting with squatting you could extend your lifespan, improve your energy levels and generally feel much healthier.
How to Start Squatting
If you try and squat right now though, you might find that you physically can’t get into that position. That’s what we call a ‘set back’.
Fortunately, there are ways you can build up to being able to sit in this position. The first thing you need to do, is to start stretching regularly. If you stretch your hamstrings, quads and Achilles’ tendons, you will gradually find that it becomes easier to reach and maintain the squat position. From there it’s a matter of practicing the squat in order for you to gradually start finding it more comfortable over long periods.
Another tip is to start off by squatting on something – either by resting your heels against something, or by resting your buttocks on something. This could be a foam mat rolled into a ball for instance, or a mattress flat on the ground. Either way, it will make the squatting position slightly easier and more comfortable.
You can also try shifting between slightly different squatting positions – resting on your heels for periods or placing one knee on the ground while squatting with the other leg.
Squatting on the Loo?
Finally, if you like the sounds of squatting and you want to take the idea to its natural conclusion, then it’s worth considering the value of squatting while going to the toilet. Squatting while on the toilet makes it quicker and easier to achieve complete elimination, it protects the nerves and it relaxes the puborectalis muscle – choking the rectum to help maintain continence. It’s great for those struggling with hemorrhoids and it prevents the need for so much straining.
Of course most of us won’t find it all that easy to squat on the toilet seeing as modern loos just aren’t designed for that position. You’d have to be pretty dedicated then to start building this particular habit into your routine, but it’s certainly an interesting point to consider!