Properly executed squats are one of the most useful movements you could do on a daily basis. Having the ability to squat down to the ground uses all the muscles of the core in a coordinated movement that is a catch-all exercise of strengthening. Despite the emphasis on core strengthening and the finer points of how to squat properly I've seen a tendency in many athletes toward habituating the Green Light Reflex. This means that the muscles of the back of the body (the "posterior chain") - become tight and stay tight. If the back of the body is tight, the front of the body, and especially the hip flexors, co-contract. It's a full body pattern response to stress.
There is a need for a different kind of squat, done as more of a somatic release - after a training session of vigorous athletic squats. The "laundry squat," also known as a "frog squat" is a simple squat that, when done fluidly and effortlessly, allows for coordination and communication between all of the joints, from the neck and mid-back all the way down to the knees, ankles, and rounded pelvis. There should be an easy, coordinated "distribution of labor" that feels utterly natural and effortless to do.
Most Westerners don't squat in our daily lives, so if you don't want to lose the ability to bend the knees, hips and ankles to get up and down, there's no time like the present to begin bringing this quintessentially human movement back into your life.
Try this "Somatic Squat" for improved flexibility when squatting.
The "laundry squat" is simple: you sink straight down to the ground, the tailbone drops, the back lengthens, the pelvis gently rounds under a bit and the weight settles on the heels and the mid-foot. The upper body is slightly forward. It's the preferred squat of millions of people in Asia and Africa. And of me, when I'm in a cave in India (at right).
I understand that many people are afraid to squat; perhaps they've had knee surgery, hip problems, an accident or injury. Any kind of injury, as you already know if you've been following this blog, has the potential to create Sensory Motor Amnesia in the brain/muscle connection. This means that you lose an accurate sense of how you move your body and where it is in space. Perhaps squatting is scary because you've lost the connection between the feet, ankles, knees, hips, and back.
Whatever your fear, I invite you to begin to explore this important and basic human movement. View the short video below for a fun exploration that can begin to create more awareness and freedom through the shoulders, back, and hips. By exploring and differentiating the twisting of the shoulders and hips, and gently increasing movement in the ribcage, you might find that the front movement of squatting becomes a little easier. This exploration is also useful for anyone with scoliosis whose ribcage feels more compressed on one side. I enjoyed making the video - and yes, it helped me squat more smoothly and effortlessly.
This "laundry squat" exploration is taken from the book Mindful Spontaneity by Ruthy Alon. Enjoy it and let me know how it works for you.