Do You Need To Squat?
Short answer, YES!
Here goes the long answer - The fact this question needs to be answer begs the question; where did this question arise from in the first place?
Well, I don't have an answer right now I hope to find it soon and educate you all about where this horrible myth started and made us weak in one of the capacities that we are literally born with.
In the mean time, I'd like to bring your attention to how babies pick up things from the floor. Most often babies, bend deeply at their knees and hips to achieve a deep squat, pick the object of their fancy and then they get back up. Well some people may object that movement of the babies shouldn't be used as a model for adult movement. True, I mean babies are not entirely coordinated and they don't necessarily think about their movements. Therefore, let's take example of few adults squatting deeply.
(Insert a collage of weightlifter, tribal people around fire, villagers in a squat, gymnasts doing single leg squat)
As you can see, these people go deep and they retain these abilities till late in their life. For eg. villagers in India continue to squat and do pretty much everything while squatting down well into their old ages, and they have no trouble whatsoever with getting in and out of a squat, even in their old ages. This shows that it's not the squat that's messing with the knees, and hips in us urban people. The culprit is something very very innocuous.
What is messing with us is our lifestyle, that requires us to sit on our butts for 6-7 hours a day. When we are sitting on our butts, all the muscles that are responsible for maintaining our posture are turned off which in turn lead to stiff dysfunctional joints. Also, the lack of movement at the joints make them weak which in turn reduce their ability to tolerate load. Thus, the knees become susceptible to some kind of overuse injury if you start squatting ass to grass after being chair bound for a long time.
However, if you take time to increase the ROM and load on the joint you'll notice that your knees have started to become stronger, annoying pains and strains have started to resolve them and your walk or run has become that much more enjoyable.
So what did we learn?
That starting to squat aggressively and not the squat itself causes issues to knees.
So should one squat?
Absolutely. Their are many benefits to doing squats apart from the obvious increased muscle mass in the legs, let's go through a few briefly -
Increased bone and cartilage density
Increased testosterone released
Improved balance especially in older adults as it teaches the body co-contraction quite effectively with significant load.
The skill and strength developed by squats is transferred to almost every athletic movement, be it running, walking, climbing stairs, jumping etc.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of benefits of squatting heavy, you can add more benefits as you discover in your own bodies as you get more adept at squatting. That being said what is the right way to squat?
Squat is not a very complex movement, it however needs to be coached properly. So here goes a step by step breakdown of squat:
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, and pointing relatively straight.
Take a big inhale and pull your pelvic floor and navel in to brace your spine.
Simultaneously break at your hips and knees
Start to descend down in a straight line till your hamstrings are resting on your calves
Pause briefly, 1 second, in the bottom and stand back up squeezing your butt right out of the hole.
Exhale once you are back in the starting position.
If you feel trouble with the above technique you can try the following modifications.
Balance - If balancing in the bottom position is the issue, you can try squatting by holding on to something sturdy. As you grow stronger you will be able to squat without support. Work on your hip flexor strength simultaneously.
Pain while going deep - Scale down by squatting to a depth that you're comfortable with. As you grow stronger you will be able to squat more deeply.
Pain in the knees near the bottom - Most likely cause of this is poor ankle mobility, you can squat by elevating the heels on a 2.5kg plate. This will ease the stress on your knees. Work on your ankle mobility separately.
If you have been a chair warrior for a long time, it is a good idea to stretch your adductors regardless whether you are experiencing any pain anywhere or not. This will free up your hips and will make your squats that much more pleasant.
Can squat be bad?
Absolutely. Squatting is a great power and like with any power if you are reckless with it you are going to get hurt. It is always a good idea to have yourself assessed by an experienced professional who might prescribe an appropriate progression for you so you can get stronger without getting hurt.
There are certain population groups such as people with degenerative cartilage or bones might want to be extra careful. Work strictly within your pain tolerances. It will be better for you to build your leg strength in movements that does not aggravate any existing issue before jumping on to squatting. That way you will be able to train more frequently thus making you better overall and not just at squats.
This is it, I hope I have presented the case for squats quite strongly and it will motivate you to take up squatting seriously. Thanks for reading! Thanks :)