Squats are one of the human bodies most fundamental movements and yet when we are kids we seem to do the movement just right and as we progress to adulthood, all those hours spent sat around in chairs, sofas and cars has made forget how to lift with our legs, replacing it with lower back pain and hip ailments.
It is not too late to learn and could provide years of benefit to you.
Getting Down Low
Relearning the squat is something that is done by doing several thousand bodyweight squats, people with limited mobility and newcomers might not be able to get very low without their form suffering.
It doesn’t matter if your knees are proud of your toes a little, you just want to be sure that your heels are flat when doing squats, with your bodyweight evenly distributed throughout your feet and toes.
It is ok to give yourself some leeway with spinal positioning on bodyweight squats as there isn’t a huge load bearing down on you, you can bend forward when at the bottom of a squat when working on mobility rather than strength.
Long term the plan is to squat with your chest tall and back straight so that your hamstrings come into contact with your calves when at the bottom position, this is commonly referred to as ass to grass squatting.
The tall chest and straight back can take a little while so just keep as upright as you can until then, if you are struggling to keep your heels down then use a door frame or other solid object for stability. Hold tight and keep your shoulders relaxed as you put the weight onto your heels and try to go as low as you can.
With your heels planted, start thinking about flexing your ankles so that your knees go inline with your toes. Gradually you will begin to rely upon the bottom of a deep squat without the need for any support.
Stop Right There
If you are struggling to perform a full unsupported squat where your calves touch your hamstrings then start a daily stretching routine to help restore mobility and a full range of motion, as long as you do it anytime is good, morning, evening or pre-workout.
Start with a slow warm-up of 10-20 deliberate body weight squats, when completed go into your deepest squat position and hold there, grab something sturdy if necessary. You should feel a good stretch going on in your calves, hips, groin and possibly your ankles as well. Now take a deep breath and relax into it, hold for a minute at first and gradually work up to holding for several minutes and longer.
After a few weeks practice you should start to feel much more comfortable in this position, this will soon become a resting position that you can stay in for extended periods of time. This is where the real benefits of doing squats will become apparent such as increased hip and ankle mobility as well as improved spinal and knee health.
Better technique will also come with strength building squat variations allowing the building of more powerful legs.
Hip, Hip, Hooray!
When holding a deep squat position there are other things you can do to help the opening of your legs and spine.
A good technique is to put your hands in a prayer position to the front of your chest and press your elbows to the inside of your knees in order to get more leverage for a deeper hip stretch. Try not to tense up, instead just relax and breathe deep into the stretch.
Another great technique is to practice spinal rotation when in a deep squat position, reach one arm into the air and look up at your hand, now lift and open your chest up to the sky.
You can place your opposite arm or hand on the floor or against your leg to help leverage a deeper twist. As more mobility occurs you can work toward binding your hand around your knee to do a shoulder stretch as well, make sure to practice the spinal rotation evenly on both sides.
If doing these stretches every day is too much then try it every other day and work toward a daily thing, in time you may indeed drop into a deep squat instead of a chair when resting.