If somebody asked me what the most useful movement skill is, my answer would be ‘the squat’. Therefore, I have decided to dedicate one of my posts on our blog to this immensely important movement skill, not just for the athletes and strength training but also because every human being can benefit from developing it.
The squat is one of the most basic movements we learn once we first stand up on our feet. Prior to that moment, we master rolling and crawling in order to stabilize the spine and strengthen the inner core muscles. The more active a baby is in previously mentioned movements, the greater the chance of them standing up sooner. If you take a look on the left side of the photo you can see my one year old niece performing a squat while playing on the street. Therefore, there is no one human being on the earth who can walk and as a baby was not able to squat perfectly; it is just a fact of human evolution. Unfortunately, what happens to this incredibly important skill while growing up is a health disaster. In western society, ones lifestyle has a tramendeous effect on different physical capabilities such as mobility (muscle flexibility and joint range of motion), strength and stability. Lack of daily physical activity and too much sitting in the office or in school leads to the state where a major part of population has poor ankle mobility, rusty hips and a stiff thoracic spine. By the time we develop this bad habits we tend to lose the ability to squat deep. On the contrary, in eastern societies, one lifestyle habit has a tremendeous benefit for physical health and maintenance of deep squatting. Believe it or not, that habit relates to defecation. The toiletes are at the ground level where you have to position yourself in a deep squat in order to ‘do what you got to do’. That means that spending only 5-10 minutes everyday in the deep squat position can help you to stay balanced. If you maintain optimal ankle and hip mobility with a supple upper back, less stress is applied to the lower back everyday. Therefore, you seriously decrease the chance of developing lower back pain.
LESS STRESS ON THE LOWER BACK = LESS INJURY RISK
In sports, we should pay even more attention to the development and maintainance of the deep squat. Sporting activity depends heavily on physcial performance and the squat is one of the basic movements that needs to be mastered.
Here are the 3 main reasons why athletes should perfect their squat:
1. MOBILITY BALANCE
When somebody squats deep with toes pointed forward, hips below the knee line, upper body parallel with lower legs (or more vertical) and arms extended above the head and aligned with upper body, we talk about perfect mobility balance. If we analyze body parts, we can state that the ankles, hips, thoracic spine and shoulders have optimal range of motion. Therefore, the deep squat can be a quick testing tool for movement screening.
2. FORCE PRODUCTION
Basic laws of physics show that increased range of motion can lead to greater force production. Here is an example. Place your palm on the table. Fixate the palm and lift your middle finger only 1 centimeter off the table. Snap the table as hard as possible. After that, try to lift your finger as high as possible and snap the table once again. The second try was far more powerful, right? Now you see what mobility does to force production with the same amount of strength you apply. Sport depends on powerful movements, so we need to unlock those rusty body parts we have to generate more power. When we are sure there is enough range of motion in each joint, we can start talking about efficient and effective performance trainings.
3. INJURY REDUCTION
As I mentioned in the mobility balance section, the joints of our body work as a chain of interrelated links. If the ranges of motion are well balanced they serve as the best prerequsite for stability development. Stability is needed in the following body parts; feet, knees, core region, shoulder blades and neck. As you can see now, all of the ‘mobile’ parts lie inbetween stable parts. If the joints lack mobility they will affect the adjacent part below or above. Here is an example; if your leg lacks extension it will probably ‘ask’ your low back to hyperextend in order to produce more power in the movement. The problem starts when the body gets used to overloading the lower back and over time there is a greater chance of developing overuse type injury, i.e. low back pain. Stability depends on several factors such as muscle strength, muscles firing patterns and movement skills. If you set the proper mobility base, asound strength program which stresses perfect technique should be a major factor for injury reduction.
On the right side of the picture, you can see a young basketball player. His height is 2,10m at the moment and it seems like you can not differentiate the squat quality between him and my niece. You want to know the secret? It’s simple, he devotes a couple of minutes several times a week to work on his deep squat.