Squats originated in India and Asia, long before the age of furniture. Squatting made life easier as it gave people the freedom to “sit” wherever they choose; have dinner without a table and chairs, play dice in the street, read a book or take a coffee break. Aside from convenience, there are tremendous health benefits to squatting which I'll review. I've also included a special squat video filmed and produced by my kids, followed by some other great squat resources to get you motivated. My book also has detailed illustrated instructions to teach people of all ages to squat, in addition to some of my favorite exercise Apps for further motivation.
Why Everyone Should Squat More Often
When I ask patients in my clinic what type of workouts they are doing, the word “squat” is rarely mentioned. I hear about walking (outdoors and on treadmills), ellipticals, using nautilus-type equipment in fitness centers, but I don’t hear much squatting going on. It’s too bad, because it’s arguably the most important exercise each of us should be performing on a regular basis and it can be done anywhere, any time for absolutely free!
I’m so passionate about getting us all to start squatting, that I even put a video together at the end, produced by my kiddos to inspire you. Before we get into the mechanics, I need to persuade you first because most people avoid squats like the plague. Squats mean exertion and burning thighs which doesn’t appeal to the sedentary folks I treat, but the payoff is huge. Below are some of my top reasons:
- Squats Burn Body Fat: We need muscle to effectively burn carbohydrates and prevent them from being turned into triglycerides. The more strength/muscle you add to your body, the better your body is at burning fat. It’s that simple. If you need more science, read up on my super popular carb trafficking post. Our goal is to push carbohydrate traffic to muscle and squatting on a regular basis is a great way to accomplish that since you are adding greater carbohydrate parking space by engaging larger muscles. More muscle parking space means less goes towards body fat production and triglyceride production.
- Squats Can Prevent/Reverse Diabetes: This too is related to carb trafficking. Resistance training has been shown to be at least as effective at reducing insulin resistance as cardio workouts. Muscle cells have a special receptor on their cell surface called Glut-4 which suck glucose molecules from your bloodstream into your muscle cells like a mini vacuum cleaner, lowering your blood glucose levels. Working larger muscles like your legs will remove more glucose than if you were to focus on smaller muscles. In other words, squats aren’t just good for your glutes…they’re also great for your glucose-reducing Glut-4s! So trade in some of those dumbbell curls for some deep squats.
- Squats Promote Anti-Aging: Have you noticed how your parents or elder family members start walking as they age. They slow down, they walk with a wider stance for stability, they start using a cane, a walker, and it’s all downhill from there. As we age, we naturally start losing some muscle and if you do a lot of sitting, that accelerates even more muscle loss. I’m already seeing young individuals showing signs of early degenerative arthritis and knee pain due to prolonged sitting. These are 30-year-olds who might be using a cane by age 50. In fact leg strength is one of the most powerful predictors of disability later in life. Squatting also prevents osteoporosis by improving bone density. I don’t know about you, but my post-retirement plans don’t involve using canes or walkers. Read more about anti-aging here and why we are aging faster.
- Squats Can Eliminate Knee Pain: Unless you tore cartilage in your knee from an injury or have some other mechanical disorder in your knee, doing squats and strengthening your legs will eliminate most causes of knee pain. Most knee pain I see in the clinic results from a lack of strength in the surrounding muscles supporting the knee. Unfortunately, people respond by doing less leg training and the problem just gets worse. In the early stages knee pain may get slightly worse, but then once you make some strength gains, your knee pain is gone forever. Again, check with your doctor or orthopedist to make sure you're clear to squat.
- Squats Help You Run Faster, Further and Jump Higher: Virtually any athletic pursuit you do is improved by squatting. I’ve never enjoyed running much, but I have to say that improving leg strength has done more to improve my running endurance and speed than anything I’ve done. If you’re a runner, rather than piling on more miles to your training week, try adding a few days of squatting and you will see your performance in running or any sport improve by leaps and bounds…literally! You'll also reduce the risk of common runner's injuries and strains since you are reducing repetitive stress from overtraining and strengthening muscles to support your stride.
- Squatting Is Wired Into Your DNA: I love watching toddlers squat…not only is it adorable, but it affirms the fact that each of us were born to squat, until those darn chairs came along. In the few areas of the world where chairs and modern toilets haven’t taken over, it’s still the preferred way that people sit, socialize, and go to the bathroom.
The good news is that you can still do it in today’s modern world. Get into an Asian Squat (watch my video at the end) while watching your favorite TV show, while checking your phone messages, or get a low table and type away on your laptop in this position like the guy below. Now that’s an impressive Asian squat…butt almost on the floor and heels flat on the ground!
How to perform a regular squat:
- Assume a comfortable stance with feet shoulder-width, or slightly wider, apart and toes forward or pointed slightly out- ward. Extend arms straight out or crossed over your chest, forming an X. Keep your gaze forward throughout the move- ment so as not to strain your neck.
- Lower yourself by extending your butt out and bringing your thighs to paral- lel (or just below parallel). Picture an upside down bucket behind you as you lower your butt onto the bucket.
- Your knees should line up on the same plane as your feet throughout the motion. Do not shift your knees forward past the tips of your toes. Don’t allow your knees to buckle or bow inward. Keep your weight on your heels, not your toes.
With each repetition, think the following:
Butt in bucket, knees stay behind toes, weight stays on heels.
Great Squat Progression instructional by my good friend, publisher and primal superstar, Mark Sisson.
And finally, for your comedic entertainment, I included 2 very funny videos on the Asian squat. Excuse the poor video quality on the first one, but still do watch it since it's a classic! The second is more contemporary but the 2 hosts are quite amusing!