Watching my daughter begin to walk is one of the greatest joys of my life. It is also fascinating to observe her movements from the perspective of a body therapist ever curious and in awe of biology. Her walking gait is currently that of one with very poor balance. She lifts each leg up and out to the side, and then lurches over onto it. I’m sure I’ll enjoy watching this gait pattern change over time.
On the other hand, she bends and squats exceedingly well. Her shins are nearly vertical as she lifts and lowers her pelvis with alacrity. While her walking resembles that of a sailor just returned to land, she squats with the fluidity and ease of one with an appropriate strength-to-weight ratio. There are obviously some working muscles under that cute chubbiness of her posterior.
As she daily exhibits an ideal of squatting and other full-body movements, I endeavor to learn from her good example and not restrict myself to the creaky, rounded-back forward fold of a typical American adult. Just because we aren’t as cute anymore, doesn’t mean we can’t squat like we were born to.
The biggest difference between a toddler squatting and an adult is that the toddler is using the appropriate muscles, while the adult has become too stiff and tight in those areas and therefore calls upon other body parts that get abused with the work overload, leading to back strains and bulging disks.
From now on, when you bend, imagine your hips are a big hinge, and try to have most of the movement come from there instead of your back. Back your pelvis up as you bend so your shins stay vertical. This helps encourage the hamstrings and glute muscles to take on the heavy lifting work. Additionally, let your tailbone rise in the air by letting your pelvis tip forward with gravity.
Some things may make it difficult for you to squat right now. Stretch your hamstrings and calves often to help restore working length to your leg muscles. Notice if your pants, belt, or shoes are getting in the way of free and easy movement and consider your priorities. Finally, if it’s painful or a doctor has told you not to squat, heed those warnings. But also know that this is not the end of squatting for you. Find someone who can help guide you in how to progress toward squatting safely and painlessly. Because squatting isn’t just some adorable way to pick up a pumpkin, it’s necessary for health.