There are six primary movements that we perform as human beings in our Activities of Daily Life (ADLs). These movements, according to the late UCLA Professor of Physical Education and Kinesiology Richard A. Schmidt, are squatting, bending, lunging, pushing, pulling and twisting. There is a seventh movement, walking or running, but for this article I am going to focus on the first one of the Big Six, squatting, and training the muscles involved through exercise. In future Current issues, I will go through the remaining movements.
We perform a squat every time we go to sit down and get back up. If you need to jump, I know not since high school right, you squat to initiate the energy needed to explode off the floor. As we get older, strong legs are vital for us to remain mobile and maintain our balance. Improving your ability to squat will go a long way in helping you with the many day to day movements that occur, especially as you get older. If you are unable to squat, that is a sign of a weak posterior chain. This chain consists of the low back, the glutes (buttocks), hamstrings and calves. In particular, if the glutes are not functioning properly, the low back and hamstrings will take on that extra load and not in a good way. Due to the fact that many older adults do not perform the types of athletic movements involved with strengthening the posterior chain, it is often times the first thing to go. I have witnessed this in my 80+ year old mother-in-law. Although her legs are strong enough for her to walk, sometimes needing a cane, she struggles to get up from the couch. She needs to rock back and forth a few times to get her momentum moving forward and getting her weight over her legs to stand. Her hips, hamstrings and glutes are unable to support her movement into hip flexion; she needs this momentum of rocking to help get her upright. Does this sound or look familiar to you? This instability results in the many falls that our seniors experience. So squats are a really fundamental human movement, and represent a great point of intervention for a host of different lifestyle problems.
So, you ask what exercise is the best to help keep me strong in this primary movement. Have you ever heard the phrase when in Rome, do as the Romans do? Well you need to Squat to be able to squat. There are many types of squats performed in the gym environment such as the traditional with a barbell, sumo squats, split squats, single leg squats, Stability Ball (SB) squats and several other variations as well. The traditional exercise is performed with a barbell across the shoulders. This exercise works all of the muscles in the posterior chain that were detailed earlier as well as the muscles of the quadriceps group which are on the front of your thighs. The movement is initiated with knee flexion and continuing to a seated position while maintaining a flat back. Showing the movement without the use of a barbell looks like this:
I prefer having my clients use dumbbells held by the side of their legs to add resistance instead of a load across their shoulders. I also incorporate the use of kettlebells or a medicine ball to give them additional weight to move as their form gets better thus transferring to them getting stronger. The following are samples of Stability Ball Wall squats; Dumbbell Goblet Squats; and an SB Single Leg Squat.
As you can see, there are many ways to safely perform this very beneficial exercise that is so valuable to maintain your strength and ability to perform this primary human movement involved with your ADLs. If you are currently exercising and do not have this movement as part of your training protocol, please get it added. If you are not sure on the proper execution of the squat, seek out a certified fitness professional where you work out. If you do not belong to a gym you can contact Poston’s Fitness training center and setup a meeting with one of our many certified expert trainers. As always, I wish you great health and safe exercise. Bob