Squatting

When I was pregnant with my first child, my childbirth instructor recommended squatting as an exercise (along with walking, pelvic rocks, etc. — start off slow and build up in either duration, frequency, or both), either as beneficial in general, beneficial in pregnancy, or to make us feel more comfortable about squatting which is a natural and effective position to give birth in. Later, I heard that squatting as a form of exercise may not be the best thing to do while pregnant. The reasoning behind this is that while squatting is normal and natural, most Westerners have lost the ability to do it since they just don’t squat much if at all. So, trying to learn how to squat when heavily pregnant may cause strain on muscles that are unaccustomed to bearing the weight or doing the activity… as well as being just plain awkward, or setting you up for a fall, or what-have-you. With the lovely pregnancy hormone relaxin kicking in, you can more easily over-extend yourself when stretching, and squatting is a form of stretching, so it is wise to be wise.

That said, it would be beneficial for all of us — men and women alike — to get more used to squatting. One precaution should be given, however, which I learned the hard way. I was having trouble getting into a squat (although my two-year-old does it easily and effortlessly — makes me jealous!), so “compromised” by keeping my heels off the floor, balancing on the balls of my feet and my toes (and I stayed there a while). Big mistake! For the rest of the week — and it is still a little sore on occasion — that area of my left foot was sore. Most likely, I had overstretched it, or just overused it, by my mini-marathon of squatting. So, start slow and build up. Don’t feel like you have to squat like a toddler straight off. Remember that your body is probably used to sitting in a chair and most definitely not used to squatting, so treat it like any other position or exercise. You wouldn’t go from being a gold-medal couch potato to running a marathon in a day, so go easy on squatting. Just as you would start with walking around the block and work your way up slowly to walking or running a mile or five or ten, so you should squat for a little while and build up.

If you’re already pregnant, be even more cautious. If you’re not pregnant, start now, so that you don’t have to start new while pregnant. Listen to your body; go slow. Remember that the muscles you use while squatting have probably not be used — at least in this exact way — for many years, and it may take some time for them to adjust to bearing your weight.

The problem with squatting — or not squatting, as the case may be — came from our history of chairs being “proper” and squatting being “primitive.” Girls are especially coached not to squat, if they’re wearing skirts that don’t come well below the knees, because otherwise they show their panties. Even if they’re wearing long skirts or even pants, it’s still not considered ladylike to squat. Maybe not very ladylike, but that’s too bad! When I injured my foot, as I mentioned above, I was squatting (deliberately) and feeding my younger son who was standing. It felt good to squat (very healthful and counter-culture, like eating something vegan at a steakhouse or something), but after a little while, my mother pulled a chair over to me, because I looked “uncomfortable” to her. How many times do we do something, or refrain from doing something, because it makes another person uncomfortable! (Although in this particular case, even though I was not uncomfortable, I was over-doing it, as I found out later.)

I can do the splits. Something made me decide to learn when I was about 16 years old. If on that first night it came into my head to do the splits, I decided to successfully do the splits, do or die, I would have definitely injured myself. Instead, I stretched my feet as far as I could (which wasn’t far) and got as low as I could (which wasn’t low). And every day I got a little more limber, was able to stretch a little farther and go a little deeper. One day (probably a month or two later), I was able to do the splits. And I’ve been able to ever since. I’m going to take that lesson in squatting, and start by doing supported squats, and not very deep, and not holding them for very long, and gradually work my way up until I can do them like my kids. As an adult, I’m used to doing everything better than children, so it’s a little humbling to look to them as my examples, but it’s the truth.

So, what do you think about squatting — do you squat on a regular basis? do you think it is good to do while pregnant? do you have reservations about doing it while pregnant? is there anything I’ve written that you disagree with? (I make no claims to perfection, and am always ready to learn) do you have any tips or other things to keep in mind?

5 Responses

  1. My only reservation of squatting during pregnancy, esp. late pregnancy, is that I have read somewhere that it can engage a possibly malpositioned baby. Any thoughts?

  2. I’ve read that somewhere too, and am not sure. The thing I read said that if women have a healthy pelvic floor (do lots of Kegels), then they shouldn’t have to worry about this; but that since most women do *not*, then the average American woman would need to worry about it. I’m thinking that if women are able to effortlessly squat in a non-pregnant state, and they keep squatting throughout pregnancy, then they will have strong enough pelvic floor muscles enough that they won’t have to worry about it. But I don’t know.

  3. I squat all the time. It is effortless to me. I do not realize how rare it is to be a squatter until I try to demonstrate it in birth classes and realize how inflexible many people are and how unfamiliar squatting is to them. Many people can only get about halfway to the ground. My bottom almost touches the ground when I squat (probably half and inch to spare). I was much less of a squatter before I had a daily yoga practice (which I began in 2001 and have continued on nearly a 365 day a year basis ever since).

    Anyway, yay for squatting!

  4. If you find you’re lifting your heels when doing a squat, it’s better to have about a three-inch block or half-round foam roller (six-inch) under each heel. That way you’re still leaning back in your heel. Stretching our your calves should help–you can put your toes on the same block or roller with your heels on the floor, leaning forward over the roller to reach a good stretch. If it’s a bit too much, try leaning your back against a wall.

    I got this concept from Stand Taller, Live Longer, a book that has exercises to improve your balance.

    • Cool! Thanks for the tip. I haven’t been squatting as much as I should — just when I happen to think of it and pick stuff up off the floor, but not deliberately working on it. I need to, though…

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