Big 5 - Squat
I think the squat needs it's own introduction. There's something about the squat that fills my mind with a million different thoughts and ideas. Kind of like a kid on Christmas eve, I get a little bit excited when the topic of conversation is squatting. Those of you who know me will no doubt think i'm pretty weird when it comes to squatting (or a lot of things), and those who don't probably will soon.
The squat is a fundamental expression of human movement and it revels a lot about a person . It gives you an indication of the health of your spine, hips, knees, ankles, and feet. It shows how efficient and effective your nervous system is and illuminates movement patterns that have been ingrained over a lifetime. It probably also tells you a lot about the way you view life.
Squatting is to the hips what hanging is to the shoulders, and with that there's something pretty primal about doing _____ activity while sitting in a squat. It's just bad ass. If every adult could squat, and if it was the social norm then i think we would be living in a much different (better) world.
Firstly let's look at the things that are probably destroying your squat. The one common theme which drives all of the dysfunction and kills your capacity to perform any of these 'big 5' movements is the body's ability to adapt. Being able to adapt isn't a bad thing, obviously. But the environment or stimulus that decides how your body adapts is what will make or break it. Let's work from the bottom up.
Pretty much everyone wears heels. From the age of about 5 onwards our footwear starts elevating our heel from our toes. When we raise our heel of the ground our ankle goes into a plantar-flexed position. For our ankle to plantar-flex our calves have to shorten, and our anterior leg muscles lengthen. When our calves are put in this shortened position for long amounts of time the body decides that this is now normal, thus our calf length and our ankle range of motion is compromised.
I don't think there's much to say about sitting that most people haven't heard already, but the story is the same. When you only use a portion of the range of motion that your hip is capable of moving throughout, you lose the rest. This has big consequences on whats above, your spine.
Motor control, muscle innervation, movement patterns
As well as the physical health and range of motion of your tissues, there's another side to the story. Things like heels, sitting, and all sorts of other lifestyle factors affect our ability to actually use our body, derailing our nervous system's ability to communicate with our muscles effectively, and corrupting the language it uses.
I think everyone knows someone who's been told their glutes are weak or don't activate. This isn't surprising when we spend so much time with our pelvis in a position that inhibits them. Not only do they not fire when we need them, but our glutes or even hips in general probably weren't designed to be a weight bearing surface, at least not for such a great amount of time.
I guess you could use the analogy of a laminator. When we sit we heat and compress our tissues and before you know it your glutes and hamstrings are short and stuck together. Throw in dehydration and malnutrition and your tissues (muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia) have a hard life surviving, let alone thriving.
The last part of the conversation is about movement patterns. All this means is the path you take to get from one place to the next. For example, standing to sitting on a chair. The movement patterns required to squat are ones that are developed when you're a baby. I don't think there's a baby on the planet that squats incorrectly, however the above lifestyle factors change all this. Wearing shoes with heels, sitting, having short and restricted muscles all affect your bio-mechanics. They also affect your proprioception - your ability to know where you muscles, joints, and your body in general is within space, and how you're moving it.
- Being able to squat is bad ass
- Squatting will probably save your life
- Being able to rest in a squat for multiple minutes without discomfort is a basic human function. Being able to do so probably correlates strongly with good spine, hip, knee, and ankle health.
So, what to do about it
1) Just start squatting. The first time I tried squatting for a therapeutic purpose I think I lasted about 60 seconds, I couldn't keep my heels on the ground, and I needed something in front of me to hold onto. It'll take time, but you have to start somewhere. If you're not sure how to squat have a look at my movement post on squatting.
2) With the squat itself being not only the test but also the corrective exercise or 'stretch', you can also focus on the individual joints that are moving.
Grab a foam roller, softball, or any piece of equipment that will work as a self massage tool. Massage the muscles above and below the joint you want to affect with the aim of releasing some tension and putting some slack into the system so that the joint can move more effectively.
It doesn't matter how slow you go, as long as you don't stop - your inability to squat is something that your nervous system has taken away from you over 10,20,30,40+ years. It's going to take time to slowly undo those years of adaptation to an environment that hasn't required full hip,knee, and ankle flexion, but reclaiming it could be one of the best investments you can make to your health.