What’s the Point of Squats?
You’re probably familiar with the squat – watch a toddler at play and you’ll see that this is a position in which they’re clearly comfortable; bottom almost touching the floor, chest resting on thighs, feet flat on the floor, perfectly balanced whilst playing with something on the floor next to them. How many adults can do that?
As an adult our relationship with the squat changes. It’s no longer a position we choose for comfort, rest or play, but more likely as part of a fitness class or weights programme where we don’t quite manage it with the ease of a toddler.
So, what is the point in squatting?
Firstly, the deep squat position (as favoured by toddlers) is an indicator of the strength and flexibility of the hips, ankles and knees. Once you’ve achieved the deep squat, holding it requires the subtle contraction of muscles in the feet, the core and the back. In other cultures, not so dependent on the chair, this is a position of rest and work throughout life.
The squat to stand movement, which we’re more familiar with in a fitness context, uses some of the largest muscles in the body; the glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps, so it’s a great fat-burner and a fantastic all-rounder for strengthening the lower body. Because it’s a “functional” exercise, it prepares you for day-to-day activities; sitting down on a chair, standing up, getting into your car, going upstairs. Arguably, the squat is the most functional strength training movement.
Repeated squat to stand exercises, with or without additional weight, improves core strength, posture, circulation, balance & coordination as well as decreasing the chances of repetitive injury in sports involving running. Contrary to popular belief, squatting isn’t bad for the knees either, as the hips, surrounded by the body’s largest muscles, carry most of the load.
Finally, just in case you need more persuading, according to Dr Michael Mosley’s recent Radio 4 podcast, “Just One Thing”, squats not only have excellent physical benefits, but they can also give you a cognitive boost by stimulating blood flow through the hippocampus, which plays a big part in learning and memory. In fact, it’s been shown that just 3-5 minutes of squat stands, 3 times a week has a more positive impact on the brain than 30 minutes of steady state walking (or running).
Getting started is easy and no equipment is required. Stand with your feet approximately hip width apart and lower your hips towards the floor, ensuring your feet remain flat and planted. Don’t be tempted to go to low at first, regular squatting will quickly improve your strength, mobility and stamina. Dropping just a few inches into a “half-squat” is a good start. Try doing three sets of 8-10 at least two to three times a week and build up the number and depth of the squat as you progress. Once you’ve mastered the basic squat, there are infinite variations to try; Add weight, single leg, squat-jump…the list goes on.
So, give squats a go, listen to your body, but if you stick with it, you’ll quickly feel the difference.