Really, how hard are squats?
Not the way you’re taught in exercise class, but the way our Asian ancestors did it in the age of toilets — after all, humans were meant to squat like our primate cousins.
The Asian squat is a form of squat that can be found all over the world, not just in Asia.
However, when chairs, comfortable sofas and toilets were first invented in the West, people opted for comfort and began to lose flexibility in their hip, knee and ankle joints.
Just look at the kids; all of them can easily get into this position, but at some point in their growth – probably in their teens – they lose this flexibility and prefer a chair for comfort feel.
As the West transforms, urban areas in Asia are slowly following suit.
In the Asian squat, the feet are flat on the ground, which means that the hips have a greater range of motion than in the Western squat, where the thighs are mostly parallel to the ground.
Many Westerners will naturally lift their heels to accommodate squatting or forward leaning, indicating limited flexibility in the hips and ankles.
If you look at the people who squat most commonly, these people are also slimmer.
That’s because they grew up in this tradition and are comfortable with it.
They sit, eat, rest, do laundry, work, and of course urinate (in women) and defecate in this position.
Some pregnant women also use it to facilitate labor.
More than a decade ago, a Chinese publication published a photo of what it said was actress Zhang Ziyi crouching down and looking at the bottom shelf of a store.
A snarky caption reads: “Ms. Zhang shows the special qualities of our compatriots in our motherland: spread your legs and squat.”
Can’t blame her; after all, it’s common for China’s population to crouch in crowded places, like train stations, where the ground is too dirty to sit on, and public seating is limited.
Poor Zhang had to put up with the media mentioning this in almost every article about her.
Not that she’s upset, but it looks like she’ll never be able to live with this.
In many cultures in our region, there is a perception that the contact between the thigh and the toilet seat is unsanitary, and some people believe that the infection can be transmitted from the toilet seat.
That’s why we sometimes see shoe prints on toilet seats, even in 5 star hotels!
Fact: Many disease-causing microbes live only for a short time on toilet seat surfaces.
Even if you’re supposed to be touching the toilet seat in that small window, germs have to transfer from the contaminated toilet seat to your urinary or reproductive tract, or through cuts or sores on your buttocks or thighs, for an infection to occur.
While this is certainly possible, it’s actually unlikely to happen.
When I correct my students’ foot and calf exercises in a dance or yoga class, the squat is my go-to position.
Although I’ve seen people in their 80’s squat effortlessly, it remains to be seen how long I’ll be able to keep doing this type of squat!
Unfortunately, most urbanites can no longer do this squat.
Although genetics can affect factors like bone length and shape, the ability to squat is more dependent on lifestyle factors.
If you’re Asian but sit in front of a computer or TV all day, you may find that your hips and ankles are tight, making it difficult for you to do any squats.
When we sit down, most of our weight is transferred to the chair.
This shuts down many of our deep core and gluteal muscles, which are essential for good posture and protection of the spine.
Also, sitting for long periods of time can tighten the hip flexors.
Tight hip flexors pull the upper lumbar spine forward, which can throw you out of alignment and can lead to back pain.
Squats ensure that your weight is evenly distributed over your spine and lower body.
What’s more, because you’re not transferring your entire body weight to the chair, the core muscles are activated and protect the spine.
If you can’t do squats right now, all is not lost.
You can train to improve the flexibility and range of motion of your hips and ankles so you can finally reach this pose.
People with longer legs (like me) may find the squat harder biomechanically, the determining factor will be your flexibility and range of motion in your hip and ankle joints.
do it gently
A word of caution: If you have knee problems, stick to Western squats.
If not, here’s how to slowly start doing Asian squats.
- Find a sturdy bar that you can hold, such as a bench, bar, table, etc.
Ideally, it should be about the height of your pelvic bone or upper thigh.
- Stand with your feet slightly hip-width apart and turned slightly outward.
- Grab the bar, it should be within easy reach in front of you, and slowly lower yourself into a seated position without lifting your heels off the floor.
If your heels start to lift off the floor, stop as low as you can.
If you can squat all the way without your heels off the ground, your hips should be close to your ankles or resting on the back of your legs.
- Hold this position for about 10 seconds, then slowly straighten your legs – this will be a challenge for beginners.
- Rest for a few minutes, then repeat.
You can do up to 10 squats a day, increasing the frequency and duration as you progress.
- As you get better, try not to grab the bar that supports your weight.
Focus on maintaining your balance.
Eventually, you’ll be able to squat without getting hung up on anything.
Remember not to spend too much time in this pose, as it can cause numbness in your legs and knee pain or strain, as well as lower blood pressure and make you dizzy when you stand.
If you experience any of these symptoms, sit down immediately and don’t lower down when you try to squat again in the future.
It’s great if you can get in and stay in the squat comfortably and return easily.
Do this every day because preventing incapacitation is always easier than regaining mobility after incapacitation
Once you’ve mastered the Asian squat, you’ll find that it also helps to support the other exercises you do, as it allows you to work more of your quadriceps (thighs), glutes (glutes), and hamstrings ( the back of the thigh) and other muscles.
Who knows, you may become more and more fond of a squat toilet over a sitting “throne”!
Revathi Murugappan is a certified fitness trainer who tries to fight gravity and continue dancing to express herself artistically and nourish her soul. For more information, please email [email protected]. The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only.neither star Neither does the author make any warranties as to the accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other warranties of such information. star The author is not responsible for any loss, property damage or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.