Paleo Fitness: The Lowdown on Squats

By Kellyann Petrucci, Melissa Joulwan, Patrick Flynn, Adriana Harlan

The squat is the most potent of all Paleo exercises; pound for pound, it burns more calories and triggers more muscular activation than any other movement. The squat is also the king of all strength-building movements, and nothing can dethrone it.

Heavy squats are marvelous. They place a tremendous amount of stress on the body and flood the system with natural growth hormones (including natural human growth hormone).

Another benefit of the squat less talked about but equally valuable is to help you sit down, perhaps the most common application. But it should be noted that the original intention of this movement pattern was not to sit down but to stand up. People first enter the squat as babies, from the ground (oftentimes out of a crawl) and use it to stand. So like the Turkish get-up, the squat is just as useful of a device to pick yourself up off the ground as it is to sit down onto it.

Getting to the truth about squatting

People often think squatting is bad for your knees. But forget about that. How you squat may be bad for your knees, but the squat itself isn’t bad for the knees. In fact, there are no bad movements, only a lack of preparation for movement. You need to strengthen the knees just like all other joints and muscles. And the only way to strengthen the knees is through movement.

If you have prior knee issues, or any issues for that matter, always get clearance from your doctor before beginning any type of fitness program.

Another common, somewhat silly myth is that your knees shouldn’t cross over your toes during a squat. It’s okay if your knees cross over your toes as long as they stay in line with your toes. The knee is meant to bend. In fact, it’s just about the only thing it can do, so let it do just that.

Exploring the benefits of a deep squat

The deep squat is an essential pattern. Ideally, you should be able to squat butt to ankles with your heels on the ground and your knees in line with your toes, all the while keeping your back relatively flat. Go ahead and give it a try! If you have the mobility, the bottom of a squat should feel like a rest position — like you could really hang out there for a while.

The cave man probably spent a lot of time hanging out in the bottom of a bodyweight squat, and you might want to do the same. The more time you can accumulate in the bottom of the squat throughout the day, the better. This position loosens your hips, toughens your joints, and gets you up off the couch!

As your deep squat improves, so will your lower body strength, lower body mobility, and general usefulness in society. An uninhibited squat is a strong indicator of functional movement. It requires ample mobility of the ankles, knees, and hips and stability of the pelvis. What does that mean? Well, a lot has to be working right for someone to squat deeply. It means your working equipment is somewhat in order, so you’re less likely to fall apart.

Here are a few ways to work the squat into your daily routine:

  • Answer at least ten e-mails a day from a squat.

  • Talk on the phone from a squat.

  • Watch TV from a squat (or, at the very least, watch the commercials from a squat).

  • Eat one time during the day from a squat.

  • When waiting in line, get down into a squat (let ’em stare!).