Our modern, sedentary lifestyles complete with creature comforts, have led to a rise in back and shoulder pain, as more and more jobs reward sitting at desks, keeping our arms out in front of us, staring at computers, and work that involves mental rather than physical effort.
Our lives offer plenty of mental exhaustion on a daily basis but not a lot of physical exhaustion – an unintended consequence of progress.
This is why becoming reacquainted with the squat should be a wellness priority.
This is what we can gain from squatting:
Correct body position
The muscles that hold the spine straight can be developed by squatting, as it places weight naturally and functionally through the erector muscles of the spine and stimulates natural strength. Many think that by going to the gym and using the machines correctly it will improve body posture and position, but this is not true. While machine-based exercises increase the size of the muscle being trained they also create imbalance, and don’t provide a broad enough base for good functional movement to help and protect the spine.
Eliminate chronic pain
Functional training with movements such as squatting improves our movement proficiency. When we move well, we are less likely to generate forces on parts of the body that have wear and tear. It follows that we will have less pain. Less pain equals more and better movement, and that means less force on degenerate tissues.
Squats increase flexibility
Good functional movements such as squatting increase the range of motion in the hips, knees, ankles, shoulders and upper spine. This means less stiffness generally, and from an injury prevention perspective, a more flexible joint needs less force to make it move and therefore there is a lower risk of injury to the joint.
Reverse effects of imbalances
Bones are held together by ligaments. Tendons attach muscles to bones. Strong muscles keep our bones and joints moving well and stop them from moving poorly and causing pain. Squatting is a functional, symmetrical movement that keeps our spine neutral and focuses our movement on the hips which allows large muscles to strengthen and reduce pain.
Slow the signs of aging
Squatting increases collagen production, which means a more tightly toned appearance. Collagen maintais tendons, skin, and cartilage which in turn gives integrity, and elasticity to the body, potentially reducing wrinkles.
Reduce the risk of osteoporosis
Squats improve bone density in our spine and hips. Bone health and strength prevents injuries. Remember that up to 30 per cent of patients admitted to hospital with an osteoporotic hip fracture never leave hospital. Strong bones matter.
Strengthen your knees
Doing squats increases strength in the muscles above the knees which protect and stabilise knees. Contrary to popular opinion, squats are not bad for your knees. In fact, when done correctly, they will protect and stabilise knees.
Generate a boost in human growth hormone
Through the movement of squatting, especially when a weight is applied, large muscles exert a significant effort which causes damage that must be repaired. In response the pituitary gland releases human growth hormone to allow the body to heal. It also stimulates bone strength, fat loss, increases energy, stabilises mood, cell reproduction and regeneration.
When we do a cardio workout (think treadmill, stationary bike, rower etc) we burn fat for up to two hours after finishing the workout. When we squat with weights, we burn fat for up to 18 hours after finishing the workout. Because the largest muscles burn the most calories, strength training, particularly at high repetition, creates excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), the length of time metabolism elevates after exercise.
In order to squat well we need to think about how we move for every single repetition in every set. This focus and connection to the movement of our body deepens the benefit we get from the movement and enhances the effects of the workout and overall wellbeing.
Theo Shemansky is a movement specialist at FitMed Pulse. Visit fitmedpulse.com