How low can you go? How – and why – to do a deep squat

Hello friends! If you’re an email subscriber, you’ve probably already seen the video I’m about to share. (And if you’re NOT an email subscriber, WHY??? Girl, you’ve gotta get on that! Sign up here.)

Here’s the video — our most recent “Midweek Move.” Take a look! It’s just 7 minutes long, and goes through a great tutorial that shows you how to deeply squat.

Why is squatting so great?

I am one among MANY fitness and healthcare providers who LOVE and preach the value of deeply squatting. Squats are something that we are born knowing how to do. Observe toddlers and little kids… They squat all the time, when they’re playing, looking at things, relaxing, (not to mention pooping)… Their bodies intrinsically know that deeply squatting is actually a restful position that our bodies were designed for. Many cultures around the world still squat to relax and to use the toilet. It’s primarily the Western cultures that have adopted more upright (and certainly stiffer, less mobile) habits when it comes to positioning our bodies. We perch on the “throne” to use the bathroom, we sit in chairs to do our daily work, and we sit on couches to watch the tube at night (to “unwind.” Heck, if we really wanted to “unwind” we should be doing stretches and twists and hip circles either standing up or lying on the floor! But that’s a whole ‘nother blog post…)

It’s too bad that we have gotten away from squatting, as a society, because a deep squat is truly “the gift that keeps on giving.” It takes a lot of lower extremity, hip, and spinal strength and flexibility to be able to get down (and then back up) from a deep squat. Being able to transition from a squat to stand will keep you toned and strong, helps sculpt a nice perky rear-end, and — most importantly — could keep you independent for longer, as you age. Being able to transition from sit to stand will help you with independent toileting, mobility, housekeeping, and self-care… All essential functions that we need throughout our entire lives in order to keep ourselves safe and living at home. Most people I know want to live an active, independent life well into old age and certainly aren’t jumping at the opportunity to move into a nursing facility or senior care center. Most of my readers are women between the ages of 30-50, so most of us aren’t really thinking about our 80’s onward… But it’s reality, and we HAVE TO think about it NOW if we want to safeguard against a future of dependence and restriction.

Squats are one of the most basic exercises you can do, and deeply squatting (such as described in the video above) is both an exercise for strengthening and a delightful stretch that really opens the hips, stretches the low backs, and more.

As I state in the video, you do need sufficient flexibility of the ankles, calves, hips, and low back in order to be able to go all the way down with your feet flat on the floor, so be sure to stretch those muscles. This archived post is about pregnancy, but it shows some lovely stretches that will help you loosen up the calves and hips (even if you’re NOT pregnant!).

After you have the flexibility piece “down,” work toward getting LOW… How low can you go?!!… Try the deep squat stretch detailed in the video above. Take a look at the modifications and the stepwise progression that helps you get ALL the way down.

Troubleshooting:

Q: “Ok, I can get pretty low, but it hurts my left hip if I don’t turn that foot out a bit (frog leg). I did fracture that hip in 6th grade. Should I work on being able to straighten out, or just go with it?”

A: Try widening your feet (your stance) and holding onto something (a rail, countertop, back of the couch, or even the front and back doorknobs on either side of a door). See if that helps you get lower with your feet pointing straight ahead. If not, keep practicing the squat and SLOWLY work toward straightening out the left foot. It’s most likely turning out due to muscular imbalances due to years of compensating for the old injury, so it will take time!

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Make sure your feet and knees point straight ahead, and sit WAY back. Hold onto something for support if needed.

Q: “My knees will not bend that far. Should I keep trying?”

A: Yes! Slowly increase flexibility and strength in the legs, knees, and hips by holding onto something with your hands as you lower yourself down into a squat, and squatting down toward something that you can sit on (cushions, a bench, a step-stool, etc.). Let your bottom rest on whatever you’re squatting down toward. That way you’ll have support and you can relax into the position.

Re-Frame!

So…. The next time you have to squat down to pick up your kid’s miniature Lego dude (the one that you almost stepped on), your naughty cat, or your husband’s dirty socks, don’t get mad… RE-FRAME! Loot at it as an opportunity to do a nice, deep squat… To shape and sculpt a perky, healthy, STRONG rear-end.

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And my favorite: Rather than think of laundry as a tedious chore, think of it as BONUS squat time. It feels so good to strengthen your booty and your back in this deep squat position! It’s also a lovely position to do a couple of kegels. Because your pelvic floor muscles are slight stretch when in a deep squat, you can really feel the contraction AND the relaxation, which is key for an effective kegel.

Fall in love with movement!

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10 Comments

  • March 14, 2014

    Erica

    Thank you for talking about all the benefits of the squat beyond just a great looking behind!

    • March 15, 2014

      Brianne

      You’re welcome, Erica! It’s so easy to forget the benefits that aren’t purely physical and rooted “in the moment.”

  • March 26, 2014

    Kelly

    I feel like I am finding great information but a little too late in the game! I had a pubo vaginal sling placed using the fascia from my abdominal muscles 10 weeks ago for urinary incontinence. Is a squat position safe? Should I be working up to do a deep squat or can I “wreck” anything from my surgery? I have no prolapses. Thank you.

    • March 26, 2014

      Brianne

      Hey Kelly! I must preface my response by stating my general disclaimer: every person is different and if you have specific concerns about your condition you should consult with your doc or your physical therapist. However, 10 weeks post-surgery seems like a completely safe timeframe to begin working toward the full squat position. I would encourage you to work up to it using the progression I demo in the video. Rather than “wreck” anything, it should actually be supportive of your surgery because deeply squatting is such a great strengthener for the back, hips, and pelvic floor.

      GOOD LUCK to you, my dear!

  • August 24, 2014

    Cecilia

    Bri,
    I don’t know how I got off your email list, but please put me back. Love your madness and methods! AND I am happy to say, I can do a full squat and stay that way for a long, long time. It is how I plant my garden seeds.
    🙂
    Cecilia

    • August 24, 2014

      Brianne

      Oh Cecilia, I’m so glad to have you back! I’ll add you right away. 😉

  • October 6, 2014

    Heather Joy

    Thanks so much for this! I sit all day for my job, and also have chronic back and joint pain, so I was really excited when I heard about squatting. This post has to be one of the most helpful posts I have read so far! 🙂 I do have one question, should squatting give you knee pain? I get pretty bad joint pain in my right knee cap when I squat, though it is much less painful when I go into a full squat, and not try to hold it “in the air” as it were. Am I placing my feet wrong, or something? I do have flat feet, would that be a problem?

    • October 6, 2014

      Brianne

      Hey Heather! I’m glad to get you on board with the many wonders (and magic!) of squatting! As for your question — No, squatting shouldn’t be painful. It might be uncomfortable at first as you use muscles and joints in new ways, but pain is never a good thing. You’ll want to work on total-body stretching (including hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves) and when squatting, you might experiment with placing your feet just a tiny bit wider and possibly turned out just a bit more. The other tip — rather than holding it “in the air” — is to stack up some cushions (i.e. couch cushions or firm pillows) or bolsters to the level where your bottom is when it’s in the air — and rest your bottom on the cushions so that you’re not dangling out in space which is definitely quite hard on your joints. This will allow your body to relax into the stretch and gain strength slowly, while being supported. You might also want to hold onto something (i.e. the back of a couch or a heavy chair) while in this position. This keeps your back straight and your chest lifted. I hope this helps… Be sure to let me know how it goes!

  • May 25, 2015

    Dima

    Hi Bri
    Not sure if it’s too late to post a question!
    I have PF and DR issues for few years now! I’ve got benefits from Hab it PV exercise by Trish Mulligan.
    I was trying to do deep squats as I read an article written by Katie Bowman about benefits to TA and PF. I like your demonstrations and ideas about using the time of chores to do functional exercise. I wanted to start doing the laundry while squatting but not sure if I’m doing “butt” and TA, PF activation! My feet are kind of parallel and I keep them wider but my knees are not in straight angel with ankles. I try to push my seating bones out to “untuck” PV
    Do yo think keeping up with doing that will get me eventually to a good squat that’ll strengthen deep abs?
    Thanks for the awesome website

    • May 26, 2015

      Brianne

      Hey Dima – thanks so much for stopping by and for your kind words! It sounds to me like you’re doing everything right. Keep working on maintaining proper form: sitting back, untucking the pelvis, and keeping your heart lifted/spine straight. Over time, you should see a difference when coupled with everything else you’re doing. Of course one of my primary messages is simply to move MORE (i.e. lots of walking, changing positions) and to move in many directions (I love hip circles) to really work and utilize all of those deep core muscles. Good luck!