Everybody Squats…or at Least They Should
The Bodyweight or Air Squat
For evaluating and treating lower-body pain, the bodyweight squat is by far my favorite and most beneficial exercise. The squat, whether it's with weights or just the body's weight, is a fundamental compound movement that everyone should be able to do regardless of age or athletic ability. Ideally, most people should be able to perform a weighted and/or resisted squat of some variation, however that is not my intent when just starting out and learning the movement pattern.
Complexity of the Squat
Interestingly enough, a lot of people have trouble performing even a bodyweight squat, which is why it's one of my favorite exercises for identifying abnormal movement patterns caused either by a joint dysfunction or muscle imbalance. The ability to squat requires sufficient ankle, knee, and hip mobility, as well as the ability to stabilize the upper body to remain upright and balanced. Watching the squat gives me a greater insight into why your low back or hip might be hurting, even if the pain is a result of poor shoulder mobility or inadequate ankle mobility. We'll talk about how poor shoulder mobility can lead to low back pain in another post, but for this one, I wanted to focus on why it's so important to be able to squat. Squats allow me to determine what body parts we should further evaluate in order to ensure proper mechanics.
A natural squatting movement pattern is essential for enhancing stability and mobility in daily activities. Squats are involved in virtually every physical movement we do, such as picking things up off the ground, climbing stairs, getting up from a chair or toilet, or picking up children.
Why It's Important
First, we'll talk about mobility. Due to muscular imbalances or joint restrictions caused by daily living, young adults and the working-age population are losing mobility in their hips, knees, and ankles. If mobility isn't sufficient, it will be compensated for elsewhere in other joints and muscles, which can eventually cause pain. Example: If you start to lose mobility in the hips, the low back will typically start rounding every time you bend down to pick something up, which is going to increase the risk of injury from a relatively simple task. A seemingly simple task is by far the most common mechanism of injury I see when treating a low back. It usually is not the simple task itself that was the problem, but rather, the compounding and repetitive dysfunctional movements and compensation over years that finally reach a breaking point. To reduce the risks of injury I instruct patients, whether they are reaching for a pen or a 50lb weight, they should always brace like they are reaching for a heavy object. Bracing increases core stiffness and protects the back from injury. Motor learning processes will eventually lead to the bracing becoming subconscious with repeated repetitions. That means, with a little bit of practice, you will start bracing without even having to think about it. So, for the younger and middle-aged groups, the ability protect the back, regain, or maintain mobility will save you from pain and injury.
Next we have the aging population, which is the other side of the coin. In addition to losing joint mobility across all of the previously mentioned regions, they have to also worry about maintaining their strength, balance, and stability throughout all of these daily activities. Falls are a leading cause of hip fractures in the elderly population, and in some cases they can prove fatal. When you train and practice bodyweight squats, your strength, stability, balance, and mobility in the whole lower half of your body will improve. Resistance exercise for the elderly can prove even more beneficial as weight bearing exercise has been shown to improve bone density, which can lessen the chances of bone fractures if a fall does occur. If these areas are improved, you will have the confidence to walk more steadily, reduce the risk of falls, improve your chances to catch yourself without falling if you trip, and pick yourself up more easily if you do fall.
I always say to not overcomplicate things, and this can be very simple to incorporate into a daily routine. If you need help or have questions, don't hesitate to reach out! You can call/text or message us on Facebook anytime!
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