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Squat Lately? Try It Every Day For A Week And See What Happens.

Editor Note: This week marks the beginning of our summer exercise series, Fitness Focus, where we will highlight one particular exercise, activity, stretch, or pose that leads to increased strength and flexibility.  Our first is the ubiquitous, simple, and under-appreciated squat.

Did you know the squat sit, or the crouch—feet planted shoulder width, as flat on the ground as you can get them, backs of thighs on calves—is one of the most useful and healthy poses you can assume at the gym, at home, or anywhere?

Hanging out in the squat sit is common in many parts of the world.
Credit: Asian People Like

If you’ve traveled in Asia, you’ve seen squat toilet facilities, people chatting with neighbors while squatting, and even squatting while waiting for trains or buses. Children everywhere squat, too, playing in the sand or around a collection of toys. The squat position is a natural pose, something we have grown out of as we grow up and sit at desks and on chairs. Yet, the squat is a powerful and effective position you can use for flexibility as well as strength training.

You can simply squat sit, or you can raise and lower yourself with or without weights.  Learn how to do a body weight squat by clicking here.

Jamie Lauren Keiles’ recent “Learning To Squat” in The New Yorker extols the virtues of this simple exercise. She writes,

“Squatting involves the whole body. The legs and the hips control the lowering motion, while the abdominals and the lower-back muscles work to stabilize the torso. Add a weighted barbell along the span of the shoulders, and the deltoids and the arms become implicated, too. Weight-bearing squats help to improve balance and flexibility and build muscular strength. In a squat’s concentric phase, as the legs extend to stand, the gluteus contracts to pull the hips forward.”

Malasana or garland pose is a squat sit that might be a good place to start.
Credit: REI

You don’t have to flex up and down to get the benefits of the squat position.  In yoga, you can assume malasana or garland pose, where you assume a wide stance—almost a plie position, squat down, lowering your hamstrings to your calves, putting your elbows inside your knees and your hands in front of your chest. Hold that for 30 seconds, gradually building up to a minute or so, and you will be stretching lower back, glutes, hamstrings, inner thighs, and working your core.

From the NYTimes Magazine, What’s the Best Exercise?:

“I nominate the squat,” said Stuart Phillips, Ph.D., a professor of kinesiology at McMaster University and an expert on the effects of resistance training on the human body. The squat “activates the body’s biggest muscles, those in the buttocks, back and legs.” It’s simple. “Just fold your arms across your chest,” he said, “bend your knees and lower your trunk until your thighs are about parallel with the floor. Do that 25 times. It’s a very potent exercise.” Use a barbell once the body-weight squats grow easy.

Click on the picture to learn how to do a body squat.
Credit: New York Times

So you have options: squat with or without weights, flexing up and down, or assume the malasana or garland pose.

To state the obvious, if you have any issues with knees, hips, or lower back, you may want to consult a trainer, physical therapist, or your physician before you try any squatting variation.

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