Squats are not athletic moves reserved for the gym. “We squat all day long. We just don’t call it a squat. We get in and out of chairs, seats, and cars,” said Michael Lazio, MS, ACSM-CEP, CCES, CET. Lazio is the clinical coordinator of the University of Northern Colorado Cancer Rehabilitation Institute (UNCCRI), Greeley, Colorado.
“A lot of people can go all day without using their upper body very much, but we have to use our lower body, and it’s a limiting factor if one can’t get up and sit down,” Lazio said. A person will limit their activity if they don’t have strength to move, leading to other health issues. The elderly and others with limited function benefit from practical squat applications, including getting out of a chair and using the toilet.
Squats, when properly performed, are beneficial, said Nevin Williams, B.S., CCES. “A squat helps with posture, leg strength, balance, and overall athleticism. It’s almost a full-body workout.There’s not a cookie-cutter mold of what a squat should be,” Williams said.
Winona Smith, a Sports and Exercise Science (SES) major, learned to squat in middle school. Her trainer taught her to raise a long wooden dowel over her head and hold it behind her back when she did squats. The dowel prevented hunching forward, correcting her posture. Carter Klehn, also a SES student, shifted his weight to the left when he learned to squat, probably to avoid discomfort. He intentionally addressed the imbalance and now squats without overcompensating.
Attention to correct form will help correct overcompensations. First, Williams said, plant the feet firmly on the floor. “You don’t want your heels raising,” he said. Brace, or hold tightly, the core muscles to keep upright. Tuck the pelvis forward slightly and activate the glute muscles to aid in lowering and rising. Lower slowly. Bend the knees and keep the trunk upright. Slowly raise to a standing position. Beginners may use props to help with squatting form. Squatting to a chair, for instance, provides a physical cue for squat depth and a safe place if the squatter loses balance.
Cancer Exercise Specialists (CES) at the UNCCRI also use ski poles, a TRX, or body bars to help clients gain range of motion before they attempt squatting without assistance. The CES modifies squats to help the client achieve range of motion and strength, just like a personal trainer would. For example, if the squatter’s knees turn toward each other, a band above the knee acts as a cue to keep the knees apart.
Stopping before experiencing pain is important, said Jonathan Ordoñez, a practicum student serving at UNCCRI. If the knees hurt in a low squat, stop the squat just before the pain point. “You’re still strengthening the legs and increasing the range of motion,” he said. “If you feel pain when you get lower, then, obviously, you’re going to avoid that position.”
When a person is ready to advance, adding weight or widening the stance can make squats more challenging.
Claudean Boatman lives in Northern Colorado where she enjoys walking her dogs, doing step workouts, and exercising under the direction of her Cancer Exercise Specialist.