Squatting is the new sitting!


Squatting is the new sitting!Squatting. Not the loveliest word in the English language! But you might be surprised at how much evidence now suggests that squatting is better for you than sitting! Studies repeatedly show that sitting for long periods of the day – in the way that most of us do – is terrible not only for your lower back, but also your body in general. It has a disastrous effect on your cellular and metabolic health. In particular, sitting down for extended periods…

  • Dramatically slows metabolic activity and calorie consumption to about 70% less than just walking
  • Increases insulin resistance, which sometimes leads to type two diabetes
  • Increases LDL – in other words, ‘bad cholesterol’

In turn, these things can lead to lower energy levels, an increase in weight gain, a greater risk of colon problems and even a decrease in life expectancy! And all because our bodies aren’t designed to sit all day…

Lordosis and Kyphosis

Lordosis and Kyphosis

Lordosis and Kyphosis
They might sound like demigod enemies of Superman, but ‘lordosis’ and ‘kyphosis’ are the names given to two different states of spinal curvature. The image on the left, above, shows lordosis: proper spinal curvature, as when standing. The muscles around your spine are designed to support and work in this way. With the spine in this alignment, the muscles of the lower back engage and relax quite naturally.

The image on the right, however, illustrates kyphosis… This is how the curvature of the spine changes when you’re sitting. You can see that the forward curvature of the lumbar section disappears. As a result, muscles are forced to engage in order to stabilise this unnatural curvature. This isn’t necessarily a problem in itself if you’re sitting only for a short time… As you may have already discovered in a previous Bob’s Bones, though, as little as 40 minutes of sitting is considered “too long” for joint health! If that’s the case, you’ll already realise that sitting for long periods of time means that the muscles of your lower back barely move, and you may end up tensing around the natural curvature of the spine. This tensing can persist even when you stand again, giving rise to lower-back pain and tension… And the more you sit without stretching your muscles, the worse things get.

Exacerbating the problem is the fact that, sitting with this unnatural curvature, the weight of your upper body rests entirely on your lower spine. This leads to compression of the discs and muscles of your lower back – often for long periods! Just think how many 9-to-5 deskbound office workers there are, and comprehend the resulting effects on their spines: not good!

Move it or lose it
The average person spends the majority of their waking hours either walking – where your legs are at 180° relative to your spine – or sitting, where they’re at 90°. The legs rarely move beyond the 90° point; that is to say, they’re seldom close to the rib cage… This means that a huge portion of our potential hip and lower-back mobility is almost never used. But the fact that joints and muscles operate on a “move it or lose it” basis means that they slowly tighten, decreasing the range of their motion over time.

So why should you care if you lose mobility in some joints?
Simple – your body feels better when it’s able to move naturally. A tight back, and tight hips, change the way you walk. Moreover, as your joints wear, they naturally deposit dead cartilage at the end of their ‘journey’ in much the same way as a deposit of carbon is left on the lining of a cylinder engine. Taking a joint to its end range pushes the dead cartilage to the margin of the joint where it can be re-absorbed.

Joints are like sponges!
What’s more, Kenyan-born physiotherapist Mike Tetley compares cartilage to a heavy-density sponge. When you press and release a sponge, any fluid on its surface is sucked in. In your joints, the fluid in question – synovium – is both a lubricant and a nutrient… But if you don’t use your joints’ full range of movement, parts of the spongy cartilage don’t get compressed… They can therefore become undernourished and – eventually – arthritic.

What’s all this got to do with squatting?
Well, among other things, Mr. Tetley proposes that squatting for just a couple of minutes every day helps combat the near-epidemic need for hip replacements! It’s a huge and profitable industry, but may well be a largely unnecessary one. He explains: “The full squat, with the heels on the ground, as if defecating, resets the sacroiliac joint and takes hips, knees and ankles through the full range of movement.” It is this full range of movement that avoids uneven wear of the ball joint of the hip.

So… Squatting prevents problems?!
Yes! In most traditional cultures around the world, back pain is almost non-existent – despite the fact that people living in these societies perform a lot of physical labour. The reason for this seems clear: most people in traditional societies rarely, if ever, sit in chairs for long periods of time. When they need to rest, they squat! Put simply, it’s what our bodies are designed to do.

That’s because squatting extends your lumbar spine, stretching the muscles of your lower back. There is little to no compression in the spine, and stabilisation is distributed between the muscles of the legs, hips and core. Simply put, it’s a perfect posture! Aside from that, squatting has the added benefit of working to fix the damage done to your hips and lumbar spine from sitting in chairs for most of your life. When the muscles in your lower back stretch, the chronic holding patterns begin to release. Your hips move into that underexplored territory beyond the 90° point, and hip mobility gradually returns.

Learning to Squat Again
Go ahead and try to squat. Have your heels at about hip-distance width and your toes pointed slightly outward. How close do your heels come to the ground? How comfortable is this position in your knees, hips and low back? If it’s comfortable, and your heels are on the ground – congratulations, you’re in the tiny minority. For those who find squatting uncomfortable and discover that their heels lift off the ground, it’s a surprise to learn that this didn’t used to be the case! All small children can squat perfectly, and you could too at one point: but a lifetime of sitting in chairs has robbed you of your natural ability to squat.

Want to reclaim your natural squatting ability? Here’s how:

Support Your Heels
Lack of Achilles / ankle flexibility is often the main limiter for being able to squat comfortably. Relieving the strain on your Achilles not only makes ankles more comfortable, but also relieves strain on your knees and hips as well. A rolled up towel or yoga mat makes a convenient bolster. As your flexibility increases, you can make the bolsters smaller until you no longer need them.

Build Your Squatting Flexibility
Proper squatting posture needs a fair amount of flexibility from the ankles, hips and low back, particularly if you want to hold the posture for a while. Again, your body naturally had this flexibility at one point, and would still have it if you hadn’t spent a great deal of time sitting in chairs. Doing specific exercises to improve the flexibility of these joints can speed up the process of retraining your body to squat.

Finally, click on this link for a bit of light-hearted squatting fun:

Back in Shape cannot accept responsibility for the consequences of any action or inaction based on its Newsletter or Info Sheets. If you have any doubts or concerns over medical and health issues, our best advice is always to pop in to see us, visit your GP or call NHS Direct on 111 to discuss your concerns.