I’m sure many of you have heard the old phrase “Sleeping like a baby.”, but I’m also confident that many of you have never heard the term “squat like a baby”. What exactly does that even mean?
Serious question though, how many of you have ever seen a baby or a young child squatting down to play with a toy? What does it look like? Is it at all similar to the squats that many of us do in the gym? Probably not.
What’s so different about how a baby squats? They squat deeply.
There has been much publicized about the deep squat and it’s potential benefits, but is that the only way to perform a squat?
There are several different ways to perform a squat, and in my opinion if done correctly they are an amazingly effective exercise. The most common form that many of us see is the parallel squat. We stop our motion once our femurs are parallel with the ground. That for many people is as deep of a squat as they will ever perform, and that’s okay. If done correctly it can be excellent for the legs, glutes, and back. I prefer to use the parallel squat if I am lifting weights. I feel more stable, and find that I am able to lift more confidently. What does it matter if you can lift 90lbs in a squat if you feel like you are about to blow a knee because your form is shoddy? The deep squat however, is a whole different animal. If you have done crossfit, or are a fan of yoga you may already be familiar with the deep squat.
The deep squat is characterized as when your hip crease ends up lower than your knees. This is also when your butt ends up hovering above the ground, which is why many people call the deep squat the “A** to Grass” squat. How are babies able to perform this squat? They haven’t started to develop muscle strength like we have, and most of their joints haven’t finished forming yet. This can lead to excessive flexibility that most adults just don’t have naturally. Can we work toward achieving similar levels of flexibility? Sure. Will it be hard work? Definitely.
Now before you rush off and start trying to squat like a baby, a word of caution. If done incorrectly, they can be very risky. There are numerous moving parts that all need to be coordinated and moving correctly in order to make the motion a success. There is no point in forcing yourself into a motion if you are just going to injure yourself. It is important to ease yourself into something new, particularly something as intense as the deep squat. Parallel squats also have many moving parts, but they also have a knee angle that hovers around 90 degrees, which studies suggest is more stable than the knee angle needed for the deep squat.
One important aspect that will affect your ability to perform both the parallel and deep squat is how much mobility you have in your ankle joint. The decrease in mobility of the ankle joint will affect the biomechanics of the knee. A study performed in 2012 showed that lack of ankle mobility led to an increase in “caving in” of the knee, also known as knee valgus.
To squat deep or to squat parallel?
I know you aren’t really looking for my opinion, but let’s be real here…this is my blog so you should be expecting my opinion at least partially.
Like I mentioned earlier, I tend to favour the parallel squat when I am lifting weights. That’s because I feel more stable that way. Does that mean that the parallel squat is the only way to go? Nope. Some people will want to lift weights while doing the deep squat. In all likelihood, they have trained for that. I have not, so I stick to the parallel squat when lifting weights. If you have ever watched Olympic weight lifting, you will have noticed that they perform deep squats. They have also done a ton of training to be able to lift in that manner.
I think the deep squat is great, if done correctly. It has major injury potential if your form is not 105% on point. That is why I don’t do a deep squat with weights. I don’t feel confident enough to do it. Without weights though? I’m a fan. Many yoga practices incorporate the pose Malasana, also known as the yoga squat. Malasana is basically a deep squat, but in static form. This is the version that I try. Am I able to perform the motion unassisted? Heck no. My ankles and Achilles are so bad that my heels won’t touch the floor. If that’s the case, you can modify the movement. My preferred method of modifying is to sit on a yoga block. It allows me to sit in the motion, with my heels down, and a little bit more stability. Even though I modify the movement, it still kicks my butt. I enjoy the static version of the deep squat. My advice to you, find the squat that works for you, and make sure your form is on point.
Some of you hate squats. I have this conversation with patients a lot. You don’t hate them because they kick your butt; you hate them because you just can’t do them. Unfortunately, we aren’t all made the same. We all have the same bones, and the same joints, but their construction may be slightly different. It can be differences in femoral head angle, or differences in pelvic structure. Not everyone is constructed the same, and as such not everyone will be able to perform a squat the same. There is no one size fits all approach to performing a squat. So to the people who hate squats because they can’t do them, you may just need to work with someone in order to figure out the proper way for YOU to squat. Once you do, I am sure they will be significantly more enjoyable. (I have been told that my definition of enjoyable may be different than everyone elses’.)
I used to hate squats. I never did them because I didn’t really know how to do them properly, and they hurt because I never did them. It can become a bit of a vicious cycle. Once I was taught how to perform a squat appropriately for how my hips are constructed, I began to gain an appreciation for them. You can get a great lower body workout, using just your own body weight. You can add extra weight if you want, and that will only increase your strength potential. The leg muscles are one of the largest muscle groups in the body, so when you are using them you are burning more energy, and raising your heart rate. Squats are one of my top 10 exercises that I will recommend for just about anyone. It doesn’t matter how old you are, you can squat, and it can be super beneficial for you as long as you maintain proper form. So next time you are considering whether or not you should try one of those trendy squat challenges, do it. Don’t skip leg day, because squats make the world go round.
*I love information, and I hope you do too. Remember, this blog is for informational purposes only. Undertake these exercises at your own risk.