Squats are one of the most functional exercises we could ever perform, this is why they are my favourite exercise to prescribe. They help strengthen some of our most important muscles like our quadriceps, gluteals, hamstrings and calves. We need these muscles to be strong to complete normal activities like walking, going up stairs, bending to pick things up or getting out of a chair.
If you do not have the strength to squat you are at a high risk of losing the ability to stand up from a chair, which is essentially a squat. Once this ability to stand from a seated position is gone, all independence is lost. Then assistance will be needed to complete daily tasks like getting off the couch or going to the toilet.
I often have clients who tell me they cannot perform squats, however after observation I often find their technique can be an issue. Or perhaps they have injuries or medical conditions that restrict their ability to squat with good form. Despite this, with the right coaching I believe that everyone can perform a squat and should be working on this exercise most days; the trick is finding the type of squat that is most beneficial to the individual.
There are a huge variety of squats including – wall squat, sumo squat, single leg squat, goblet squat, back squat, split stance squat, pistol squat, lateral squat and many, many more. All of these squats work the leg muscles in different ways and some may be more appropriate to you than others.
Even a “standard” squat can be completed at varying levels of intensity. If knee or hip pain stops you squatting like above you may like to start with something a little less intense. A chair squat or sit to stand can be appropriate for a lot of people even with arthritis in the knees. Squatting down to a chair is often more comfortable because it is a familiar movement, you don’t have to bend as low, sitting in the chair takes stress off your knees and it still builds strength If you do enough you may even be able to ditch the chair after a while.
However even a chair squat can be difficult for some with weaker legs or more serious health concerns. Keep in mind that not all chairs are created equal and the higher the chair the easier the squat. If you don’t have a higher chair you can always use something to raise the seat height, like some cushions (or similar) as pictured. Alternatively, squats in the water, utilising bands or manipulating your position (leaning back) and holding onto something in front of you (e.g. TRX) can also reduce the stress on your knees.
There are many ways to perform squats, at all different intensities, for all type of people and conditions. I believe that everyone should be keeping their legs as healthy as possible and be performing regular squatting exercises. If you are unsure about what squat would be best for you please get in touch with an Exercise Physiologist to discuss.