Does the word “squat” alone cause your knees to tremble? We know, we know—squats are not exactly everyone’s favorite activity. However, these exercises can do a lot more for your body than just toning and building killer leg muscles.
We spoke with Dr. Chris Stepien, D.C., CSCS, CAPP, of Barefoot Rehabilitation Clinic to get some pointers on proper form and the ways integrating squats into your daily routine can improve your health.
Spry Living: In what ways can we incorporate squats into our day-to-day activities?
Dr. Chris: Reframe the squat not as an “exercise” but as a “natural movement” humans should be doing every day, throughout the day, for the rest of your life, like flossing your teeth. It isn’t about the workout. Add little doses of squats throughout the day to maintain flexibility and strength in the face of being sedentary. Performing ten squats when you wake, after lunch, after work, and before bed would be a healthy habit to implement.
SL: How does including squat exercises into a daily routine benefit mental health?
Dr. Chris: Movement isn’t just a mechanical phenomenon, it’s also neurological. When you move in complex and healthy ways, your brain sprinkles a fertilizer called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) on neurons to grow and stimulate new connections. These areas of the brain ripe for growth are particularly important for learning, memory, and higher thinking.
SL: What are the most common mistakes you see in people performing squat exercises?
Dr. Chris: Going from zero squats a day to one hundred squats a day, allowing the ankles or knees to cave in towards each other, or allowing your heels to come off the ground are surefire ways to walk the path of more disease and pain instead of the path of health and fitness. Start in a smaller range of motion and groove that pattern over the duration of a few days. As your comfort increases, increase range of motion to gently introduce ranges and complexity to the movement.
SL: In addition to squats, what simple moves might someone add to their daily set of exercises to complement the numerous benefits of squat exercises?
Dr. Chris: A well-rounded movement program delivering bang-for-your-buck results would include lunges and push-ups in addition to squats. With these movements, the vast majority of life activities are covered. Squatting covers the ability to use a chair or the toilet. Lunging covers the ability to walk or run. Push-ups cover upper body strength and the ability to get off the ground.
SL: What is important to keep in mind for avoiding injury when working out—not just with squat exercises?
Dr. Chris: Living the “Standard American Lifestyle” up to your current age has surely allowed weakness and disease to develop in your musculoskeletal system, the system responsible for moving your body through space. Therefore, it is vital that you ease into any movement with mindfulness of symptoms, excellent form, and gradually increasing the amount of work you do. A skilled set of eyes in the form of an excellent movement coach (whether CrossFit, yoga, Pilates, or a Physical Therapist) can be a highly leverageable asset towards making your goals of becoming more fit and able a reality.