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Complete Guide To Real Life Squats (Even If You Can’t Squat) – Part 1

by Mar 8, 2021Exercises, Squatting

Can you do a full resting squat, in comfort, without making wonky compensations? If so, stop reading! This post is not for you. This one is for everyone who struggles with their squat and wishes they could squat with more ease, comfort and depth.

Get ready for a complete guide to getting an awesome squat!

A few notes before we begin.

First, this is NOT about gym and weightlifting squats, cause I don’t know anything about weightlifting.

This is about squatting as a natural human movement that your body needs.

Second, as always, make sure to listen to your body as you explore this work – if anything causes pain, back off and try something different. This is about helping your unsquatting body get some of the inputs and benefits of a full squat and with time, adapt into a squatting body. No pain, lots of gain!

And finally, this series also appears on my Instagram where it was created so if you prefer bite-sized chunks, you can check it out there by searching for the #petrafyyoursquat hashtag.

Alright – let’s go do this!

tight forearms

Why you need to squat

Squats are a key human movement pattern that’s going extinct in the modern world.

Squatting multiple times daily and using squatting as a base position for life activities like food preparation and eating is a movement we used while our bodies evolved.

This means that many parts of our bodies work best when we squat regularly.

Off the top of my head, benefits of regular squatting include:

  • A happier pelvic floor
  • Hips, knees and ankles that are used in a fuller range of motion which feeds their cells and maintains their health & well-being
  • A higher metabolism
  • Overall more muscle use from the frequent work of transitioning up and down into a squat
  • Potentially less low back issues as squatting time replaces sitting time

I’m sure there are more – squatting is a whole body movement pattern and that means they have whole body impacts, but hopefully that list is enough to get you sold on why you should consider squats as a key foundation for your movement diet.

What is a good squat?

Since many of us haven’t squatting since we were a year old, many of us have lost the movement capacity required to allow us to do a full squat without wonky compensations. So what are we really going for here?

In my opinion, there’s no single perfect squat.

Bodies need variety more than perfection & a true ‘living squat’ is an active whole body movement that includes getting down, getting up, & moving around while you’re there.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

But some squats are more sustainable than others – if you don’t have the mobility for a true squat, you’ll end up in a compensation.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Most commonly, with heels lifted high, very wide, angled-out feet & knees, and ankles buckling in. Or you’ll fall over.

Some of these compensations just won’t help improve your squat. While others are actually not that great for your body long term (falling!).⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

So what movement ability do you actually need to have a ‘good’ resting squat?

✅ Ankle range of motion (ROM) – you need to have enough dorsiflexion. But if you have lots of hip & spinal mobility you don’t need as much ankle mobility – you can see in my first picture that my knees aren’t that far forward.

✅ Knee ROM – you need to be able to deeply flex your knees.

✅ Hip ROM – you need to be able to deeply flex your hips (this is a big one and missing it is a big reason why you might fall backwards)

✅ Spinal mobility – your upper back (thoracic spine) needs the ability to extend.

✅ Effective core pressure/breathing – if this is wonky, a full squat can exacerbate DR/PF issues

✅ And what I’m gonna call a supple posterior chain – if you have tons of tension in the backs of your legs it’s going to mess up your squat.

✅ Plus it’s a good idea to get into & out of your squats using the backs of your legs, not just pushing your knees forward which is what leads to a lot of the knee pain people get when squatting.

That’s a big list, but in these posts we’re going to tackle most of it.

Let’s start squatting!

Here are some squat variations to try out. All these positions are squat options: they’ll all give you some of what a full squat will, with lighter loads & lower pressures.

That means you’ll learn about your limitations AND starting on the path to changing them.

If your body isn’t ready for a full squat, these are all fantastic options to explore. FYI most of us get more progress working on modified squats than trying to push past our current abilities. PLUS modified squats provide many of the movement benefits we’re seeking from our full squat, so embrace them!

Meeting yourself where you’re at is the key to making healthy change, not something to feel bad about!

I’ll be using these positions throughout these posts to help you explore & work on your squat. 

  1. Supine – one leg up
  2. Supine – single legged squat (use a strap if your hand won’t reach
  3. Quadruped – legs at any width, pelvis untucked (Diastasis Recti/Pelvic Floor issue (DR/PF) friendly*)
  4. Seated – pelvis trying to untuck (bolster as needed) and one knee bent (DR/PF friendly*)
  5. Seated – pelvis trying to untuck (bolster as needed) and both knees bent (DR/PF friendly*)
  6. Standing mini-squats – only as far as your shins stay vertical
  7. Bolstered with a strap – (door handles, sinks, etc all work to hang on to)
  8. Squat prep on a chair (DR/PF  friendly esp if you don’t try to stand up*)
  9. Mini-squats with shins blocked

For today, try them all out & see what you notice. Which ones are hard and which ones easy? Where did you find the most success?

*Safety note: if you have a diastasis recti or pelvic floor issues, these all *may* be good for you, but I’ve highlighted the ones I like best for safer pressure loads to your core. Explore with care & love for your body!

Now keep up the squats!

How did those feel for you? Any faves? Any challenges? Keep note of what you notice as you explore and try to find a few of these to practice daily.

In the next post in this series, we’ll drill down into hip mobility and how you can improve your hip flexion for better squats, so stay tuned! The best way to get notified is to join my mailing list, which you can do right below here!

Hi! I’m Petra! I’ve transformed my body and my life with better movement, and now it’s my passion to share this amazing work with anyone who wants permanent natural solutions to body pain and who wants to keep doing all the things they love every day of their life!

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Petra is a movement educator and personal trainer with a passion for helping people find greater ease, joy and health in their bodies. She believes that better movement can help every body – and she’s always happy to chat about it. When she’s not teaching, you’ll probably find her hanging out on a set of monkey bars.

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