In the Beginning…
…all humans could deep squat butt-in-the-bucket, ass-to-grass, with a neutral spine. Of course humans of certain cultures still can. If phylogenetics enables humans to squat to deep depths, American ontogenetics has surely killed it. Our culture, combined with the chair, are the reasons why most of us can’t squat like our ancestors.
The Death of Good Posture, The Birth of New Markets
The word chair comes from the Latin language word cathedra (Greek kathedra), which is derived from the contraction ofkata, for “down,” and hedra, for “to sit.” The related word, “throne,” arrives in the English language from the Indo-European base word dher, which means “to hold or support.” Indeed for much of its history - from classical times to the time of the pharaohs - the chair was reserved for royalty, while ordinary folk sat on backless chests, benches, or stools.
It seems that since humankind first stood up to see over the tall Savannah grasses, they have been looking for a place to sit back down. As early migratory peoples settled into domesticated lifestyles, a seat that elevated the bodyaway from the floor came to represent the civilized person. Elevating humans, humans of elevated status especially, have long been associated with the history of chairs.
In most ways, humans are brilliant for having created chairs, and stupid for continuing to use them. The centralization of urban trade centers and governments over time introduced chairs to the general population, eventually resulting in today’s highly sedentary American culture. Global studies show, on average, we sit 7.7 hours a day, and some results estimate people sit up to 15 hours a day.
By the simple act of constructing an artificial place to sit, humans began the long tradition of distinguishing themselves from the animal world. With elevated and distinguished status come the trials and tribulations of physiological and biomechanical impediments other uncivilized animals have the pleasure of foregoing.
Among these include cardiovascular disease and obesity, not to mention high blood pressure, upper crossed and lower crossed syndromes and back pain, thoracic outlet syndrome, shoulder and neck discomfort, and various forms of tendonitis.
Dead-butt syndrome also makes the list of chair-induced conundrums. The literal pain in the butt you feel when your gluteus medius is inflamed, dead-butt syndrome comes as a result of sitting for extended periods of time and jumping straight into physical activity without a proper warm-up.
Physical therapists, exercise specialists, motor learning researchers, and other biomechanists pride themselves on improving body movement and function. Those working in the field of ergonomics look to improve people’s work environment efficiency. When applied properly, ergonomic analysis, design, and applications have been proven effective in the corporate battle against physical white collar pain.
Others market a different approach. Instead of using our bipedal features and magnificently designed hips, we have created new markets to fill our need for better chairs. From the Zenergy to the Swopper to the Wobble – we as a culture have worked to fix a problem with materials that will likely create future problems.
As a kind public service announcement, I think it’s important people understand the following: the body’s purpose is not solely its transportation service the head. It is capable of movement. It was born for change.
Ass to Grass...Why It’s Important
In a comprehensive piece describing the deep squat's good, bad, and not so ugly, physical therapist Aaron Swanson sites a plethora of deep-squat resources. He includes in his article a diagram based on several studies illustrating varying degrees of knee flexion and their associated forces and EMG activity.
Importantly, most studies don’t mention any activity beyond 135 degrees. The diagram illustrates shear forces shift from anterior to posterior between 50-60 degrees, suggesting that the deep squat spares the knee of shear forces and prevents ligamentous. The information shown also suggests that, in general, the deeper the squat, the greater the quad and glute activation.
Since many lower extremity injuries involve muscle imbalance, muscle weakness and shear forces, the deep squat can provide a great exercise to help reduce daily use injury. It also serves as a fantastic strength exercise, helping to improve vertical movement performance. Other deep squat benefits include:
· Improved antagonistic muscle activation
· Improved multi-joint and multi-planar movement
· Improved axial stability
· Decreased knee shear forces
· Improved mobility
· Improved digestion
· Better circulation and increased hormone release
· Improved body composition
Isn’t it Bad for the Knees?
“The squat does not compromise knee stability, and can enhance stability if performed correctly. Finally, the squat can be effective in developing hip, knee, and ankle musculature, because moderate to high quadriceps, hamstrings, and gastrocnemius activity were produced during the squat.” -Escamilla RF Isn’t it Bad for the Knee Cap?
"This is basic physics (Force = Pressure x Area).
There is increased compression with the deep squat, but there is also increased retro-patellofemoral contact area. Meaning the direct pressure on the knee cap is dispersed among a greater area, thus less focal retro-patellar forces. Just keep in mind the location of the retro-patella forces associated with the different degrees of knee flexion.” – Aaron Swanson
With this said, it is vitally important to remember that deep squatting is not for everyone.
Importantly, with decreased shear force comes increased compressive force due to the inverse relationship that exists between the two. Proper implementation of progressive overload and the SAIDprinciples (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands) should diminish the possible negative effects caused by their force relationship. Still, it could pose a problem to some.
Furthermore, as Swanson puts it, “Everyone was born to squat, but not everyone has grown to squat. This is due to the body adapting to life’s imposed demands.”
People with mobility restrictions and certain pathologies should not perform such movements. Certainly the little gentleman pictured was born to deep squat. So was the fifty year old gentleman corporate worker; yet sitting at a desk for hours upon hours each week has undone his ability to do so properly. Incorporating such movements into ones programs undoubtedly depends on individual goals and abilities.
Your invitation to take a seat: the 30/30 challenge
Maybe you are wondering how to start implementing this information into your daily routine. Movement is the organic solution, and practice makes better. Try working on it with the so-simple-yet-so-hard 30/30 challenge!
...Kick Up the Challenge
Try implementing some of Ido Portal’s squat and flexibility routine into your workout regimen for a greater challenge.
About the author:
Julia Anthony, owner of Time Under Tension
- Exercise Specialist and Nutritionist, West Chester University
- Certified Personal Trainer
- Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist
- TRX Suspension Training
- Fitness Model
- OCB Figure Competitor
- Sponsored Athlete