You Don't Know Squat

Not long ago, I was with a couple of doctors, chatting in the shade of an umbrella at a Starbucks, when they surprised me by their lack of knowledge of one of the most basic body movements known to man - the squat. 

We had been talking about much healthier people would be, and how they would access the health care system less, if they ate more whole food and exercised more. I mentioned how earlier that week at our wellness club at work we had explored some very basic exercises everyone could do, without a gym, without any equipment, like push-ups, planks, the squat...

When this TOJ said "squat," one of the docs said, "Oh, no, you want to avoid those. They wreck knees. The patellar shear." The other nodded in agreement. "Yeah, those can be dangerous." One of these docs was an avid bicyclist and the other a distance runner, both of which can be very hard on knees. Not only that, both were family practitioners and one of the major complaints of people coming to see them is lower back pain, often caused by not being able to do a squat correctly.

The squat is one of the basic movements that is unavoidable in daily life. If you are going to lift a child or a bag of dog food, you are going to squat. If you don't use the squat, or don't do it correctly, you risk a back injury, usually in the lower lumbar area. Injuries occur when you try to use your back, rather than legs, to lift something off the ground. A properly executed squat requires you to have a strong core and correct posture. It ain't rocket science, but there are some fine points you need to be aware of.

The "patellar shear" mentioned by the doc is caused by using the large thigh (quadriceps) muscles rather than the butt (gluteus) muscles to lift your body during the squat. It's easy to determine whether you are glute or quad dominant by doing a squat. Just do a couple. If you lift your heel off the floor, you are likely quad dominant (and may also need to work on your ankle flexibility) and more prone to knee and back injury. Your heel will be solidly on the ground throughout the entire squat when you are using your glutes.

Learn to do a good squat so it's second nature. When you're comfortable doing them, you can add some weight if you like. But if all you ever do is use your own body weight, you will get stronger and burn lots of calories because you are using the largest muscles in your body.

Here's an excellent video tutorial on how to do a squat. Don't be put off by the trainer's muscles. He knows what he's doing and demonstrates the correct way to do a squat without using any weights.

The two docs know more anatomy and physiology than this TOJ will know in ten lifetimes. But if they want to help people avoid back or knee pain, they need to go back to basics. Until then, they don't know squat.

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