The Humble Squat (part 1)

The Humble squat – we all used to be able to do it but how many of us can do it now?

If you go and see any exercise professional worth their salt then you won’t be far into the conversation as to how you can get fitter, before they mention the squat.

So, if it is such a fundamental move and we all used to be able to do it – why can’t we now?

You will see some fancy explanations about the relative weight of a toddler’s head versus their femur length but I’m going to suggest to you there are two main reasons why we can’t squat anymore.

1 – someone invented the toilet seat

2 – misguided belief by the exercise profession that your knee shouldn’t go past 90 degrees.

The explanation of point 1 also covers point 2.

What is the problem with the toilet seat? I’m not talking about the flushing water closet that Thomas Crapper introduced to us in the late 19th century. I am talking about the first Greek or Roman who thought about putting a seat above the latrine pit. Up until that point if someone needed to go to the toilet then they had to squat down. At least once every day every adult squatted right down into what we now call the ‘ass to grass’ pose.

Why squatting is better than sitting? Squatting has a lot of benefits. The first thing it does is line up your rectum. The bottom of the digestive tract is supported in the pelvis by a big sling of muscles that help seal it off by putting a big kink into it. When you squat it becomes a lot easier for this kink to be relaxed as you go to the toilet and for the rectum to be completely emptied. You can find a number of devices on the market now that aim to bring your feet up when you use the toilet. They work on the same principle. The increase in colorectal cancer can be related to the drop in use of the squatting pose (so can the increase in the price of ice creams so watch out for cause and effect in medical claims). Squatting also moves your pelvis around. Opinion is divided on whether SI joints can move and what squatting does to them but you can’t deny that squatting moves the pelvis and the lower back around. The number one cause of days off of work (after mental health) is lower back issues. Maybe if we still moved it around by squatting each day it wouldn’t be such an issue. In our groin we also have a number of large lymphnodes. Squatting compresses these lymphnodes. Some would argue that that helps the lymph fluid to circulate, recirculating that fluid around the body – might help immunity (that’s might help, in the same way that feeling good about your self because you squat each day, might help immunity. It’s impossible to perform double blind trials involving humans and movement or touch so hard scientific facts don’t really exist in this realm).

For a long time in our history we squatted to go to the toilet, some people still do. How can it possibly be wrong for our bodies to perform a function they have done for centuries. It damages some people’s knees to go into full flexion because their knees are not used to it. You should never do any exercise that hurts you but a blanket ban on full flexion of the knee joint is as daft as saying don’t flex and twist your spine at the same time. Excellent advice for ballistic movements in high speed aerobic classes but you trying wiping your ass and not doing that movement.

Blanket anything is not good – everything should be considered and, as always, listen to your body.

During the lockdown I have started a program to get me back to full squat. I haven’t been able to do it for years. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Author: Anatomy Fundamentals

Janet Philp has spent a lifetime exploring fitness and wellbeing. Starting in group exercise, travelling through rugby to representing the UK at martial arts before including Yoga, meditation, Budokon and personal instruction. Her passion is anatomical function and educating people to use their bodies to their full potential.

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