Squatting is an exercise that everyone has encountered, from the most finely-tuned athlete to the most sedentary. In Western cultures, we have lost sight of the squat and replaced it with the sit.
We sit on chairs at desks or other times while working. We sit at home, browsing the internet or searching for a new show to watch. We sit in our cars, or on the subway, en route between places where we also sit. Our highest levels of activity sometimes end up being carrying heavy bags up a flight of stairs, especially on super busy days.
For many of us, the way in which we sit, and have to sit daily, is unavoidable. We can take some measures against this, such as integrating standing desks. Alternatively, we can explore the lost art of sitting in a squat.
It’s no secret that many people around the world squat to sit down. What may be a secret to some is the fact that scientific studies suggest squatting in this way is healthier. Squatting may have fallen by the wayside on an individual and cultural scale. Despite this change, it’s never too late to reintroduce this classic movement.
What Sort of Squat Are We Discussing?
In exercise, your standard squat ends with your thighs parallel to the ground in a held pose. This activates your muscle groups most fully, as it is not a wholly natural position. This is not the pose we are describing here. We want to examine the type of squat that involves a much more natural, relaxed pose.
Stand with your legs just shoulder-width apart or slightly further. Bend your knees and lower your torso to the lowest comfortable position you can. It might take effort to get that far, depending on how often you flex your body this way. Once you get to a certain point, you can naturally “sit” into your squat.
With this, your legs are both bent, and your torso is positioned directly between them, balancing your weight. It may be that doing this causes horrible imbalance and slight discomfort. The fact that not everyone can do this is what makes sitting in a squat a lost art.
Staying in any single pose for an extended enough period of time will cause discomfort.
However, squatting in this style is meant to be easily done and comfortable. Many of our genetic ancestors squatted on a regular basis. This gives our bodies a degree of memory for reclaiming and utilizing this pose.
Where Do People Squat?
Squatting is primarily associated with particular cultures. The casual squat is so universally associated with Asian countries that some call it the “Asian squat.” The truth is that everyone squats, or at least used to squat.
In Western countries, squatting is most commonly associated with Slavic countries, hence the term “Slav squat.” This image is rooted in public perception of stooping Cold War-era street gangs in many East European countries. The standard look for such a gang member was athletic apparel, a cap, and a squatting posture. This easy position to move from suggested an unpredictability as to what one would do next.
Some movements are essential to people’s bodies. No one remains in movement all the time, and people innately find positions to be sedentary in. These positions are often identified with slightly different names and variations. What Phillip Beach calls Archetypal Postures are also classified in the United States’ Functional Movement Screen.
The FMS is a tool used to gauge a person’s present movement abilities and to identify places for improvement. The squat we’ve been discussing so far is known as the deep squat here.
The prevalence of the squat in Eastern European countries is largely due to public sitting spaces at the time. A squat could be held regardless of available chairs or benches in any location. Before discussing the medical implications of this topic, we will explain why people stopped squatting.
When Did People Stop Squatting?
Squatting became a lost art with the prevalence of one particular type of furniture: The chair. There are countless ways to sit in a chair, but few, if any, involve squatting. All cultures use chairs to some extent, but Western cultures, in particular, were early adopters of the furniture.
Part of this is due to perceived notions of modernity, where sitting in a chair was viewed as “civilized” and more professional. Squatting, on the other hand, was demonized or at the least denigrated. With this initial invention, the way we live our lives evolved around sitting in chairs.
This has been affected by the modern office wardrobe. For men, this includes structured pants, a button-down shirt, and potentially a blazer or even a full suit. The fitted nature of these garments does not allow for the full range of movement a squat requires. Even if working from home in leisure or active apparel, a squat doesn’t provide the easiest position to work from.
Consider the amount of time you spend sitting when not in active motion. Consider how much time that is. Lastly, consider the health implications this has for you, regardless of your activity level.
Health Implications For Squatting
Sitting, as the maxim goes, is quietly killing you. This totally relaxed position places responsibility for maintaining the body to the legs of a chair. This causes a low metabolic rate and low level of muscle exertion that is linked to cardiovascular disease.
It is not the inertia itself that has negative health implications, but the very act of sitting. This can be seen through a modern culture that rarely sits. The Hadza are a group of Tanzanian hunter-gatherers who were studied for their activity levels.
The Hadza were much more active on a daily basis than U.S. health guidelines prescribe. However, they also showcased sedentary behavior for 9 to 10 hours a day, which matches with inactivity in developed civilizations. Despite this, they were not nearly as susceptible to the chronic health conditions many in the U.S. suffer from.
The difference between the Hadza and your average office worker is in the way they rest. They spend their sedentary time in; it should come as no surprise, a deep squat position. While still inactive, this position requires marginal activity in the muscles of the body.
The suggestion of the study is simple: Squatting is good for you. Sitting can lead to cardiovascular disease and other issues which stem from multiple sources. Sitting allows for poor, ergonomically unviable postures. It also takes the effort of supporting the body away from your muscles when your body is at rest.
It’s important to note that squatting isn’t just used for purely sedentary activities.
Other Squatting Considerations
There are two primary postures for using the bathroom: Squatting and sitting. The former is prevalent in both mainland and Pacific Asia and some African countries. The latter is used predominantly in Western countries and highly urbanized areas.
Squatting is widely considered to be the superior position, though comparatively few toilets supporting this exist in the U.S. If someone wants to use the squatting position, it is necessary to buy equipment to allow the proper angle. Even then, this is only an immediate option for home facilities.
Sitting leads to longer, less effective bowel movements. It also increases the risk of complications due to the additional strain on your body. Diet also has an impact, with the right superfoods boosting metabolism and athletic performance.
The research and thought behind this are not new. The earliest scientific proponents of squatting rather than sitting emerged in the 1960s. Since then, the movement has only gained traction.
Squatting has far-reaching healthy benefits in all categories of life. The question is not “when should I squat,” but rather “when shouldn’t I squat?”
The Lasting Benefits of the Squat
People vacillate between periods of extreme activity and extreme sedentary behavior. This is natural and not to be avoided. Squatting is able to totally change the way we view inactivity. Though it still keeps our body in a relaxed position, it uses our muscles and integrates our sense of balance.
Squatting forces us to use our bodies that way; we have come to depend on chairs. Unless we have extreme control in our environment, it can be difficult to squat often. Squatting casually for just fifteen minutes during your regular day can afford long-term health benefits. This reduces the cardiovascular and metabolic risks long-term sitting can lead to.
Squatting where you might exclusively sit isn’t the only way to improve your performance. Olivers may be activewear experts, but we take the purpose of the apparel to heart. Every aspect of fitness and health, from nutrition to activity, is in our purview.
Bettering yourself is an ongoing process, synthesizing new developments through the traditions we’ve lost touch with. The art of improvement is in seeking new knowledge and the lost art of sitting in a squat.