We had a conversation today in the clinic that comes up frequently. The question was “should I be doing squats as an exercise.” My response was “absolutely” with a couple of things to remember. Patients are often given advice that they shouldn’t squat past a a certain angle or that they should limit their squatting all together. There was a point in the 1960’s when the American Medical Association recommended avoiding deep squatting because of potential stress to ligaments. Since that time the research has been refuted and avoiding squatting is generally considered an antiquated point of view. In fact, current research shows little risk to ligaments of a healthy knee and that the squat is a great way to improve muscular recruitment.
There are several reasons why I feel squatting is important. If you look at it from a mechanical perspective there are several advantages to squatting. The first is that it is a great way to globally challenge your flexibility. In order to squat well, you must have a good deal of flexibility at your hips and ankles. Also squatting challenges your ability to stabilize certain joints. You may not realize it but in order to squat well you must stabilize your spine, keep your knees from collapsing and control the position of your feet.
From a functional perspective, there are several reasons why we should be squatting. The first is that life requires us to get up and down from low surfaces. If you have to get in and out of a car or on and off of a toilet you must be able to squat safely. A study was published recently (link) which correlated mortality to peoples’ ability to rise from the floor. Not being able to squat will not kill you but not being able to squat is a great correlate to overall community mobility and being able to thrive in your community.
OK so we’ve established the benefit of squatting. There are a few things to remember while squatting.
1: Start with feet shoulder width apart. Too narrow or too wide of a stance will put unneeded stress on your knees.
2: Shift your weight to your heels and outsides of your feet. One of the most common faults that I see is that people are unable to shift their weight away from their toes.
3: Maintain an upright posture . You should be able to descend and ascend from a squat without deviating from an erect low back posture.
4: Pay attention to your knee position. Your knees should not track inwardly or excessively be in front of your toes.
5: Squat to a pain-free depth. Pain is your body’s way of giving you feed-back. I feel that the goal should be to squat to a depth where your hips are parallel with your knees. However, this is a goal and you may not be at a point where that is attainable right now.
It turns out that squatting is a relatively complex movement and there are several places it can go wrong. If your inability to rise from low surfaces is limiting you or you are having difficulty with other functional movement such as squatting contact us at Siskiyou PT.
Jon Hill, DPT, Licensed Physical Therapist with Siskiyou Physical Therapy
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