You (Still) Don’t Know Squat

I’m spending most of my free time working on my next book, which means blogging time is scarce. I did, however, just take a break from writing to finish a few last minute items for the blog book this week. Yes, the first 4 years of this blog has been edited, organized and indexed so that, very soon, you can own your own hard copy to read wherever you want. Like, in the bathroom.

Anyhow, while working on some photos for the You Don’t Know Squat post, the post that brought most of you to this blog, I thought I could update this oldie moldy.

I have gotten a lot better at both writing and teaching in the last three years. I hadn’t been blogging for a very long time when this post went out. I had no idea that my hastily (read: crappily) thrown together post would have been read by so many and when I go back and read this post I’m kind of like…meeeh. It’s not that great.

When you try to describe a reflexive human program, necessary for optimizing all sorts of physiological systems and boil it down to a set of exercises — in less than 1000 words — it’s bound to be a bit lackluster. I also cringe at the notion of squatting as exercise as you know that I think that exercise, used to spot-treat our lack of all-day natural movement, is part of the problem when it comes to why we aren’t as well as we could be.

But you can read more about that in my next book.

I get more questions off this post than any other. So today, I’m going to write a squat post companion piece addressing FAQs and include some of the stuff I wish was in the first post.

The first half of the original Squat post was squat-prep exercises. If you’ve been wearing shoes and sitting in chairs your entire life, there is a big old strong chance that your body cannot squat (right now) in a way that doesn’t create excessive pressure or pain. Which is why the squat prep exercises are mandatory and more important than the squat itself.

On squat-prepping exercises:

Do not underestimate the amount of time you need to do the Calf Stretch. If you’ve been wearing normal shoes for, say, 3 decades or more, you will need to do the calf stretch for at least 27 years. A day. You need to stretch your calves twenty-seven years a day. Which means you’re probably not stretching them enough.

When it comes to squatting, the tighter the calves, the more keeping your heels down while squatting is a challenge. Not-really-permanent, but-taking-a-loooooooong-time-to-undo tendon changes in response to positive-heeled shoes means that your calf muscles are always causing your ankle to plantar-flex (pointing your toes into the floor), rotating the rest of you backwards, knocking you back on your butt. All squat lovers should first be lovers of the Calf Stretch.

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But, this stretch only gets one chunk of the muscles knocking you back, so, you should also do this other calf stretch too (note the bent knee):

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Add a pelvis-untucking lunge. This can facilitate the lengthening of the front leg’s hamstring — in the way it would need to lengthen during an un-tucked squat — only here, you can practice unloaded and one leg at a time. In this lunge’s case, you’re trying to line up the pelvis with the front thigh. Bonus points for a vertical shin.

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And, speaking of vertical shins: Because the squat we are after is really a gluteal-using one, whole-body joint positioning is essential. To get a squat to move from the front of the body (think all quads) to the back (think all glutes) is by manipulating SHIN position. The more vertical the shin (that’s the knee joint stacked over the ankle joint) and the more untucked the pelvis, the more glutes you’ll use. The more the knees are in front of the ankle and the more tucked the pelvis, the less glutes you’ll use.

A squat done, in any way, has benefit. But the squat I am trying to teach here is one that applies a symmetrical, tensile load to the sacrum, which in turn can give a stretch to the pelvic floor, eliciting a eccentric action (force generation while lengthening). A vertically positioned shin, even if you are sponsored by Nike, is impossible to “just do it.” It takes joint mobility untinged by modern living AND the strength that you would have had, had you had that mobility and moved at more natural quantities. And, did I mention my next book yet? Cuz that’s what it’s all about. And guess what: There’s an entire chapter on squat science.

If you’re excited at the notion of a all-squat chapeter, you know that means you’re a huge nerd, right? And that I love you?

But anyway, to get more butt action in your squat, back yourself up from a door knob until your arms are extended.

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Then, move your knees back, until they’re aligned with your ankles, which should help untuck your pelvis. 100_0085

Initially you will be doing a lot of work with your arms, but this is supportive as your backside gets strong enough to hold you here with muscular force. And, the good news is, it’s still very beneficial, even with the arms working. (Here, I’m elevating my heels as mentioned in the first post. Here, I am also about 21 years old. Or, 34, actually but this was before my having two kids and I think I look very rested. Don’t you?)

There are many ways to approach improved squatting. In addition to the program from the original post, you can start with vertical shins and see how far you can go down before the knees have to move. THAT POINT is where you currently are strength and mobility wise. You can work from the bottom, squatting with forward knees and trying to untuck while you’re down; and you can work from the top — only going down as far as you are strong enough to support. Most people will find the range of motion of their ‘glute squat’ to be fairly small. Which is fine. It will improve over time, especially if you’re working on changing the habits of where you hold your pelvis throughout the day and how often you use furniture.

Do you need to do 200 squats a day? No. In fact, if you’re currently doing zero, it’s better to do only a few squats and a ton of squat-prep stretching. It’s the squat-prep that helps you orient your pelvis so that your glutes are working while you’re walking around doing other stuff. If you’re only working your muscles for that 20-60 minutes a day, it’s not enough. And, P.S. You can also practice your vertical-shin technique when you get up out of chairs and off of toilets.

I can’t believe that was only a year ago. I’m going to start crying just thinking about how big that boy is already! And, FYI, we both had girls.

And, speaking of Hawaiian vacations, in case you were wondering which part of the squat is valuable, it’s the whole thing. The down part. The up part. And the part in the middle. Gluteal action is primarily used on the way up. However, lingering in a squat, especially if you can kind of relax, helps the muscles and involved joints change their tension patterns.

Then there is the question if a squat is ever a no-no. Many men and women, either post-pelvic floor surgery (slings or hernia repairs, especially) or when you’re realllllllly pregnant will be advised to not squat. Is it because there is a problem with a squat itself? Not really. The problem is, when we don’t have strength to do something, we’ll often create momentum. And, in the case of hauling your body weight up from the ground, it is a normal response to bear down. This bearing down creates a burst of pressure, which, can leave downward evidence. In this case, it is best to start with all of the squat prep exercises and do those regularly and work on the squat as featured in the video above.

Most people have no clue when they have exceeded the boundaries of their strength. Major joint displacements (i.e. the knee needing to go waaaaay forward) are a sure sign that your glutes aren’t strong enough to get you up. Investing in guided sessions with people who really understand loads and alignment is also beneficial, as these peeps can design a specific progression with steps in between zero and full squat as needed.

(And, did I mention my new book’s entire chapter on squatting will contain such a progression? Just sayin’.)

The squat might have grown attractive to you because of what you’re read here about squatting and pelvic floor issues. But, keep in mind that what keeps a pelvic floor working correctly (constantly responding to the loads that are fluctuating with positional changes) and continuously is the glute firing while walking with hip extension. Since you got heaps piled on your pelvic floor all. of. the. time., it is always trying to contract and shorten. Which means you need to be lengthening it back out while it is working. The only way to do that in real time is by walking around via hip extension a lot, not sitting on your sacrum, sitting in multiple postures and frankly, not sitting as much.

What if my stomach it too big to squat with? For you pregos emailing me, YES, you can widen your knees. But, that doesn’t automatically mean that you have to turn the feet out. Turning the feet out is a way to take the calf tension out of the equation. Which is why everyone can squat better when they turn out. If you check out your arch when you squat with feet turned out, you’re likely to see that you’re actually rotating your shank, typically losing the arch in the foot.

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Which means your knee isn’t hinging like you think it is. Turnout is just a way to bypass the work to be done in the lower leg. And, since you’re going to squat, you might as well work on foot and knee health too. Unless you’ve got all this extra time you didn’t know what to do with.

Please call me if you have a bunch of extra time you don’t know what to do with.

Ok, It has been two hours since I started writing although I was doing all my squat prep exercise while writing this, so, I won’t put it into the procrastination file. But I do need to get back to my book writing.

And, for what it’s worth: I’ve gotten a lot of mail, saying that you’re better, both mentally and physically, because of this blog. I just wanted to let you know that this phenomenon goes both ways. I, too, understand my own work better and wanted to thank you for letting me grow in this forum.

{A bit of this was from an interview I did for Breaking Muscle, about the squat. You can read it (here) in its entirety. If you’re interested in more pelvic health stuff, read this book and get this DVD– or click the graphic below for even more!}

YDKS-graphic-blog

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41 thoughts on “You (Still) Don’t Know Squat

  1. You are soooo loved and your work appreciated. Thank you. Just thank you. I also am anxious to get this book of yours preordered! Go Katy go!

  2. Hi Katy
    ” rotating the rest if you backwards, knocking you back on your butt”- can you explain what you mean by this? Why do tight calves do this? Thank you!! Sue 🙂

    1. If your ankle is plantarflexing or chronically plantar-flexed, it means that your ankle joint angle increases from 90°. This can result in elevating your heels away from the ground (like a calf raise) OR, if you are trying to keep your heels down, the increase in joint angle would rotate your shank away from your planted foot — taking the rest of you with it. Try standing in bare feet and push the front of your foot into the ground, but keep the heels down. You should feel the backward rotation of your body at the ankle. If you’ve got chronically shortened calves, this is happening all the time. Which is why we compensate by moving the pelvis forward to passively “balance” the body’s segments.

  3. Thanks Katy. Another great one. I work with my clients all the time on this stuff, but you are able to say it so much more succinctly. (SP?) Plus, I can say, “I’m not just making this stuff up. Katy says….”

    Best,
    Kerry

  4. Katy,
    Awesome… All stuff I was trying to figure out!!
    Anotha question … I think I am starting to get this, everyday something new dawns on me … I bought the NMK course just haven’t had time to watch it yet ( the kids ) I feel like my lower spine, ribs, and pelvis are like a giant clam! And when standing I bring my ps to line with Asis it feel like I am now tucking my pelvis or vice versa ribs..same scenario with psoas course and no time.. . So the goal here then is to Get the pelvis in proper alignment while lifting tailbone? I cant seem to align pelvis without squeezing the dickens out of my butt cheeks.. And once I get my ribs to come down some if I can cuz they are jacked up!! Can you do a blog on boobs?? Cuz my ribs are kinda the only thing holding them up … Lol, just sayin 😀 after wieght gain/loss and breast feeding all 3 of my kids they look a little .. Well deflated ha ha … I have always wondered if there is something we can do to help that or if it just is what it is. I read a lot of mixed answers about it … if anyone knows I’m guessing its you… Off topic I know.. I like to multi task. Thanks for the post… Extremely helpful!!

      1. because of years spent carrying babies on my hip and letting them hang on my shoulder ligaments, i can’t do hanging yet. but my boobs can! what should i do to work up to hanging?

  5. YAY!!! I am positively giddy about the squat chapter! So happy to have found your blog. Look forward to the day I have the opportunity to do the whole course. Thank you!

  6. Since reading this blog I spend much less time in chairs. I have had two babies since finding you, (kid 6 and 7) and had almost no back pain and no hip pain as long as I walked, stayed out of heeled shoes and did my stretches.

    I now stand and move around most of the day, hang on monkey bars with my kids and stand or sit on the floor while homeschooling or blogging. We are a household of 9 and have one small sofa, mostly for my mom to sit on. I would say your work has been a huge positive influence.

    If you get a surge of traffic from the welltrainedmind forums it’s me recommending you 🙂

  7. Ooh…and while in a squat should you worry about where ASIS and PS are in relation to one another or is squatting purely for glute and hamstring strength to assist with that while standing ?

  8. Awesome! My friends hate me, because I nag them about squats all the time. Now I’ll never shut up, because I just read your foot book, and I’m stretching my toes. BEFORE I see a podiatrist. Aren’t I clever? This past weekend I helped clean while our oldest son moved. I vacummed four big bedrooms, a hallway and family room, and 20 feet of furry baseboard radiant heating registers. The next day, I mopped four big rooms. I don’t DO my own house work (kiss, kiss, cleaning lady), so it’s not like I’m in shape for this. What hurt? My quads and butt, NOT my back. Yay me! And I have fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis in one knee (titanium in the other). Thanks so much, couldn’t have done it without you.

  9. I have a fused (taylor) ankle. ? Do you have any suggestions on how to stretch the calf muscle. I tried it as you showed above with the half roller but it puts a lot of strain (pull) behind my knee. I have trouble getting into a squat. Also, I would appreciate any exercises you can recommend for building back my calf muscle? Since the surgery my calf muscle has never returned back to its original size. The orthopedic surgeon said I will never get it back.

    1. Very hard once you’ve fused a joint. It limits your ability to move! Have you checked out the foot book? You can at least stretch and strengthen some of your other bits….The forward bend with feet against the wall is a good calf stretcher that doesn’t need the ankle to move.

  10. Thank you, thank you, I love all the details. Putting movement into words is nearly impossible and you do it well. One of the most effective methods, for me, is when you point out the “cheats” as you did in the instructions for standing on one leg and bringing the other foot up behind to the thigh. It is a somewhat pejoritive word, I guess you could say “unproductive adaptations to lack of strength and flexability” but you need every second of your time, unconcious cheating, trying to achieve without the effort needed, is what it is, and I want to do it right with all the effort if only I can figure out what effort to make.

  11. Thanks for the reminders Katy; keep it coming! I appreciated your reference to the front leg hamstring in the lunge. I’ve felt that one for sure, and also in the adductors. Calf tension is a BIGGIE on squatting, and getting biggie-er now that I got some vibrams. I get what you mean about training in your previous post. I’ve been walking a couple times a week in the vibrams on the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy river trail, and ventured up a hill yesterday for the first time in the vibrams (soon I will be alternating this with hikes up Sulphur Mtn). Needlees to say, my calves are tight tight tight today (calf stretching and listing as I type), but my feet feel great. I’m gonna have some awesome lean legs come summer time, and my husband isn’t embarrased to hike with me in my new vibrams; which is nothing short of a miracle. Maybe he just digs my legs and butt even more. Who knows.

  12. I came across your blog while searching for pelvic floor pain. I must say that you are wonderful and generous in sharing your knowledge. Thanks Katy 🙂
    As a sufferer of pelvic floor tension myalgia, I noticed alot of articles out there point to weak pelvic muscle, or they are mainly for people with prolapse. Information that addresses hypertonic pelvic floor is scarce and I am sure that people like me would feel helpless and confused about our condition.
    How I wish there are more websites or blogs to enlighten and inspire us, ‘cos pelvic dysfunction is an illness that unlike flu or fever, never seems to go away but it haunts you day and night.
    I am learning to do that squat!

  13. Yeeeeesssssss!!!!!! Whoot Whoot! Lol… Thank you!!
    I haven’t started hanging yet at all… Because I feel like I should get my psoas and kyphosis under control first? Or does hanging help with kyphosis? Cuz when I align myself lower body I look about mmmmmm 90 years old on the top half! No wonder my boobs are headed for warmer weather! And can anyone point me to where exactly on the ribs should line up with ASIS? When I sit I notice posterior pelvis but standing is anterior… Wierd. So like when I bring my ribs down ps comes out in front.. When I lift them back up( where they like to be) ps goes behind… Like a big PAC man.

  14. Question: I’ve tried every squat variation I’ve found on your blog, and with every one I really feel it in the fronts of my quads (closest to my knees). Sometimes I can feel it a little in my glutes too, but mostly just that one area of my quads. What am I doing wrong?

    I really appreciate your blog and have seen some improvement in my chronic back and neck pain through doing the exercises. I just wish you’d been around 7+ years ago, before I had kids, when I actually had free time to do (a lot more of) the exercises!

  15. Awesome post, thanks! This clears up a lot of questions for me. I still have one thing that I’m trying to grapple with in understanding a squat. I can squat all the way down, but with my heels raised and my knees forward of my toes. I can untuck my pelvis somewhat in this position though. What I don’t understand is how i could possibly have vertical shins without all my weight (which is significantly more right now as I am verrry pregnant) being behind my feet and making me fall backward. Is it just the tightness of my body making me unable to see how this works? I feel like the reason I have to have my knees in front of my feet is to keep my weight balanced over my heels. Maybe I’ll see how this works when I can get my heels to the ground and my pelvis completely neutral? Still puzzling on this one…

    Also, I am SO excited for your new book! Can’t you be a little more super-woman and hurry up with it while not neglecting, you know, life (and those of us one the interwebs)?

    1. i think the confusion is because balance is not what we think it is. it’s not teetering precisely on the center of gravity. true balance is to have muscles that are strong (or long) enough to hold your weight. steadily. without shifting or wobbling. so, just as the muscles on the front of your body are able to hold all your weight while you are shifted in front of your center of gravity (tucking pelvis, shearing ribs, jutting head), the muscles on the back of your body should be strong enough to hold you in place in a squat.

      think pelvic listing for the side-to-side version of this. you shouldn’t be shifted over to one side ‘balancing’ on one leg.

      i still can’t do the squat yet, but i understand enough from the blog to see how it can be done. (and hopefully WILL be done!)

  16. Hi Katy,
    I LOVE your blog. I think you are totally funny too- which really helps. What do you mean regarding the pelvis and the thigh by “In this lunge’s case, you’re trying to line up the pelvis with the front thigh.”
    Cheers.

    1. “In this lunges’ case” is referring to the fact that lunges are used for different things, targeting different muscles. If you were using a lunge to apply a tensile load to the back leg’s hip flexors then the anterior pelvic tilt as used here would not be part of the lunge in that case.

  17. I am a little confused about how to stand upright. Having always been taught to pull the stomach in, bum in etc; am I right to think after reading about the squats that maybe when I stand I should stick my behind out?

    If I fully extend my legs, side on they tend to look like they bow backwards around the knees, so a slight cresent backwards. If I stick my backside out then they tend to straight in line.

    I’d be pleased for some direction in how to stand correctly.

    Thanks 🙂

  18. HI Katy,
    I happened across your sight and saw you were mentioned in Dr. C. Northrup’s blog. I watched the video and had a hard time hearing because of the wind, but I’m so glad I found you!
    Thank you!
    Dani

  19. Hi Katy, I am 22 weeks pregnant and just starting to squat. I find it hard to untuck my pelvis and keep balance at the moment – when I try to squat in the correct way I tend to lose balance as my toes lift off the ground…so I have started using the door knob version. How long should I use this for and have you any tips as to how not to lose balance? How many squats are good to be beneficial per day?

    1. You might want to focus more on the squat-prep exercises then. You are losing balance because your muscles are too tight to get into the position naturally. As for Squats Per Day, we’re just after the natural amount of squattage. This isn’t an exercise recommendation as much as a “get back to natural movement” one! -KAB

  20. Hi Katy.
    I’ve just discovered your website and love it! I want to buy the book but as I’m in the UK I can only get the Kindle version. May I just ask, does this Kindle version cover all your work on Squatting because that is where I want to start?
    Thanks, can’t wait to learn more!

  21. I have had two babies and might consider a third. I don’t have any glaring problems related to pelvic floor (recurrent UTI’s though…maybe related?) I can easily do squats all the way down and it feels perfectly comfortable. If I wanted to prep for baby number 3, what is most effective: length of time I can hold the squat or amount of times I do the squat throughout the day? (And of course, per the blog I’ll focus on the squat prep stretches as well.) But, I’m always left confused about how many to do or how long to hold. With two little ones, I prefer most effective but the least time consuming method of course. *wink* Thanks!

  22. Yay, you answered my question about actually squatting with my knees and thoughts back behind my thighs…I think your answer is yes that this is okay and correct? While keeping lumbar curve and tail up…and squatting without the yoga mat on heels is good and okay too as I had been a little lost reading the squat exercise before…I am new though so need to get my head around what I have learned previously that is wrong…applying your philosophy to everything I do is helping heaps!! 🙂

  23. If we decide to start a squatting regimen while pregnant should we be squatting for reps or for time? Does the amount of time you hold a squat matter? I’m also confused from other articles if we should cut out kegels all together or if there is some merit to doing them along with squatting.

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  26. Katy,

    I am new to your blog, but I already appreciate the valuable information you have to offer. I am a dance teacher with a strong pilates background. I also have have, as you put it “hyperlaxity” issues, and am currently dealing with what appears to be overactive semitendinosi (this started with one side and is now an issue on both legs–initially I thought it was an old injury). In any case, the PT I am working with has said that I need to work on getting to a full squat, but he also asked me “what [was stopping me] at 90 degrees” when I tried to get to a squat for the first time. He called me “textbook flexible” which, as we both know, is not necessarily the case. I do know something about pelvic alignment, but since I was feeling tight and he couldn’t fathom that, it helps to hear that I am not crazy. Anyway, the exercises they are giving me are fine and will likely help my problem, but I did have a question about squatting. I am 5’10 and my legs make up most of my length. I have read something about femur ratio as it relates to squats. Could it be true that I have “especially long femurs” and that is the reason I am falling backward? I thought everyone had long femurs compared to the rest of them :-). When I saw your doorknob exercise, I have to say I was relieved, because I had thought of that as an alternative to “just hold[ing] a 5 lb weight.” Do you think it’s okay for me to add a load to my squat to “get me down?” Finally, what do you think of the practice of using a foam roller for self-massage? I like to use them, but I want to make sure I am doing so safely and effectively. ‘sorry for all the questions–feel free to steer me toward the search bar (I would take your courses if I could afford to do that right now)! Mainly, I wanted to say thanks for the validation as I try to improve.

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