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How to do a resting squat?

by (268)
Updated about 7 hours ago
Created January 18, 2011 at 7:14 AM

I work near Chinatown in San Francisco, and I see people squatting at the bus stop, outside the market, playing chess. I know this is the default rest position for a lot of cultures out there, and from what I've read, you're supposed to be able to do it for hours without getting tired or sore. It seems to me that it's a more natural and probably more joint-friendly position than sitting in a chair or standing.

The problem is, I can't do it. I've tried. I just can't get my heels down without falling backward. I feel like the major strain is in my calves, but a couple months of stretching after exercise (cycling) and in the shower hasn't improved things. What am I doing wrong? And if you're lucky/talented/flexible enough to do it, do you notice that it's easier on your body than sitting in a chair or standing at the bus stop?

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268 · January 20, 2011 at 5:59 AM

Not a thing! I have two totally paleo lunch spots -- Chipotle, and then Bistro Burger on Bush and (I think) Kearny. They serve grass-fed burgers and they're happy to leave the buns off. You can get some nice sashimi at any of the sit-down sushi places. Usually I bring leftovers, though.:)

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588 · January 20, 2011 at 3:45 AM

Kelly's mobility exercises have helped me so much. My hips, calves, and ankles are not so resistant to doing squats now.

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1304 · January 19, 2011 at 12:51 AM

Yes, I don't want to offend anybody who believes that squatting is a natural human movement/posture, but I really think that you need to have a specific body structure to squat comfortably. For example, it's quite well known among lifters that some people can squat easily, but others do better with deadlifts.

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1614 · January 19, 2011 at 12:15 AM

Interesting point... my femurs/limbs are noticeably too long in proportion to my torso length. This must be part of my own problem in getting comfortable in the resting squat.

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650 · January 18, 2011 at 10:21 PM

Dan, I suspect I know where you got this information (Gokhale). IMHO, she is also wrong and does not provide good evidence to support her view. The tissue that is relevant to the full squat does not ossify in the same way bones do, and there is evidence that adults who are new to a squatting posture can indeed change the structures (squatting facets) over time by squatting more.

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801 · January 18, 2011 at 9:49 PM

It's not just connective tissue. What starts out as relatively soft in an infant gradually ossifies (turns into bone) as the child grows, and the manner in which this ossification happens depends on the postures and activities of the growing child. In cultures where squatting is common (for resting, toileting, etc.), adult bones have a different configuration than ours. I don't believe it's possible to reshape the bones after a certain developmental point -- and fighting your structure (e.g., with low squats) might be a bad idea.

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12 Answers

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10294 · January 18, 2011 at 11:42 AM

Connective tissue changes, but it needs proper stimuli and time, lots of time. The half life of collagen fibres is somwhere between 200 and 500 days.

A simple and good way to build up to a full squat is using a little heel. Shoes with heels are ok for this. Of course you don't use these shoes for walking or running ;)

If you don't own shoes (good for you), use something to mimic a little heel, like squatting with the heels on a little weight, or piece of wood, or a little book, ... You get it.

Simply decrease the height of the heels if you feel like you have gained some mobility. Don't rush it.

Good luck!

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650 · January 18, 2011 at 10:21 PM

Dan, I suspect I know where you got this information (Gokhale). IMHO, she is also wrong and does not provide good evidence to support her view. The tissue that is relevant to the full squat does not ossify in the same way bones do, and there is evidence that adults who are new to a squatting posture can indeed change the structures (squatting facets) over time by squatting more.

D13278772f6612432bf53413fad4e7af
801 · January 18, 2011 at 9:49 PM

It's not just connective tissue. What starts out as relatively soft in an infant gradually ossifies (turns into bone) as the child grows, and the manner in which this ossification happens depends on the postures and activities of the growing child. In cultures where squatting is common (for resting, toileting, etc.), adult bones have a different configuration than ours. I don't believe it's possible to reshape the bones after a certain developmental point -- and fighting your structure (e.g., with low squats) might be a bad idea.

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2312 · January 18, 2011 at 7:41 AM

spend some time here: http://mobilitywod.blogspot.com/

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588 · January 20, 2011 at 3:45 AM

Kelly's mobility exercises have helped me so much. My hips, calves, and ankles are not so resistant to doing squats now.

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753 · January 19, 2011 at 6:15 AM

You can definitely teach yourself to do it. Not hard. Just takes patience. You can do anything you want. Once you can squat you'll be like wtf how could I not squat before now I'm the sh#T.

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614 · January 19, 2011 at 12:06 AM

The best Mobility WOD I have ever done from that website (cited by other commenters, above), is the 10 minute squat test. The instruction is something like 'accumulate 10 minutes in the resting squat'.

At first, that is hard to do and you have to take breaks. Over time, it becomes comfortable to go the whole 10 minutes or more without taking a break from the full squat position. This 10 minute test requires you to experiment and find, subjectively, what works for you. One day, doing this I realized "Oh, so that's what they mean by inflexible ankles" and another day "this is turning the hips out correctly". These insights require actual practice.

I'd recommend doing the 10 minute squat MWOD every couple of days. Now, I make a point of doing the resting squat when I am playing with my dogs (they are toy dogs) or occassionally when watching TV.

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10 · January 18, 2011 at 11:12 PM

Sigh.....It's amazing how far Western society has regressed in terms of what it is to be a living freely moving animal!....Sigh

Ok. So I'm not really going to expand further upon the earlier comments. Def visit Mobility WOD & look at mobilization for adductor's/hamstring stretch/hip flexor stretch.

Everyone SHOULD be able to deep squat (ass to grass) However, your body no longer recognizes the natural movement pattern required to get your butt down. It's a matter of mobilizing/stretching muscles & practising squatting. Most importantly TAKE YOUR TIME. The below link gives a great explanation of the biomechanics of the squat & you can even fiddle with the bones!

http://www.athleticdesign.se/athletics/squat_article_1_english.html

Hope you find this useful.

A 6ft 4inc Deep Squatting Westerner.

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650 · January 18, 2011 at 3:30 PM

You don't yet have squatting facets. They are notches in your talus bones that will allow for enough ankle dorsiflexion. Humans are born with them, but they can fade away over time without use (chair sitting).

You can start with a rolled up towel underneath your heels or practice outside on small slopes of grass. You might need to start with a wider stance as someone has mentioned. Week by week, month by month, decrease the height of the towel or the angle of the slope.

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474 · January 18, 2011 at 2:59 PM

  1. Get a foam roller and learn to use it. Stretching after exercise will only go so far. A foam roller will loosen up stiff tissue and let you relax into the squat.

  2. Practice with a door. Open a door and hold on to the handles while you squat. Bring something to read to pass the time.

  3. Practice every day.

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7821 · January 18, 2011 at 11:09 AM

The thing you did wrong was sit in a chair up until this point in your life. It will take a very long time to acquire the mobility/flexibility necessary to squat like that comfortably. It is very hard to reverse years of adaptation, but you might be able to do it if you maintain consistency in your stretching program and practice the squat itself.

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0 · January 18, 2011 at 11:30 PM

I had trouble with the resting squat also at first. But after three years of CrossFit, I can squat all day if needed. For me it was a matter of strength and flexibility in the hips, gluts and quads. If you do lots of air squats and focus on maintaining the lumbar curve (stick your arse backwards) while getting the top of your hips below the knees, you'll acclimate quickly. Also, overhead squats are great for building strength and flexibility i.e., hold the barbell extended over your head [locked out] and squat.

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898 · January 18, 2011 at 7:52 PM

Here's an (hilarious) instructional video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y76UbfBr5vo

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1304 · January 18, 2011 at 8:28 AM

Apart form a flexibility issue, it could be that you have long femurs and short torso. Both resting and weighted squats are diffult for people so endowed.

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1304 · January 19, 2011 at 12:51 AM

Yes, I don't want to offend anybody who believes that squatting is a natural human movement/posture, but I really think that you need to have a specific body structure to squat comfortably. For example, it's quite well known among lifters that some people can squat easily, but others do better with deadlifts.

A2fe5bbd09c7804fd321e9e9a9f9d199
1614 · January 19, 2011 at 12:15 AM

Interesting point... my femurs/limbs are noticeably too long in proportion to my torso length. This must be part of my own problem in getting comfortable in the resting squat.

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587 · January 18, 2011 at 7:42 AM

Hey Adah, Maybe widen your stance?

(I work near SF Chinatown too. What do you eat there?)

5786a8dbc9f3c6e1b7ec5b46079562ae
268 · January 20, 2011 at 5:59 AM

Not a thing! I have two totally paleo lunch spots -- Chipotle, and then Bistro Burger on Bush and (I think) Kearny. They serve grass-fed burgers and they're happy to leave the buns off. You can get some nice sashimi at any of the sit-down sushi places. Usually I bring leftovers, though.:)

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