Have you ever wished there was one exercise to handle every physical issue you have?  Unfortunately, that exercise does not exist. However, there are a handful that handle quite a few problems, and we’ll discuss one of those here—Deep Squatting.


Why choose deep squatting?

Many people think squatting, particularly deep squatting, is bad for your knees. On the contrary, deep squatting is not only not bad but is great for your knees.  Deep squatting addresses decreased flexibility and range of motion in several areas. Tightness in the ankles affects the knees, hip tightness affects the knees and lower back, and knee tightness can affect the joints above AND below.  One way these effects happen is that the adjacent joints are forced to become more mobile to make up for reduced mobility, which leads to instability in those joints. 

Another way these other joints are impacted is that the muscles surrounding them are forced to work in ranges they’re not designed to work in. One more potential problem is the fact that joint compression may increase with increased tension in the surrounding soft tissue structures.  


Understanding deep squatting

What exactly is deep squatting? Deep squatting is basically squatting down as far as you can and maintaining that position for a period of time.  In the beginning, this will probably be uncomfortable, but should get more comfortable as your tissues stretch and strengthen in the areas that are stressed.

I recommend starting out with a static squat for 20-30 seconds (sometimes even this is difficult at first, so start where your tolerance is) and increasing the time as you feel comfortable. 


How to perform deep squats safely

You want to get your feet approximately shoulder width apart and squat down by pushing your hips back as you descend.  Go as far as you can comfortably go–no further!  You may hold on to a bed post or door frame to steady yourself and help control the motion in the beginning.  Always keep in mind that it is a good idea to get help from an experienced fitness coach or physical therapist when starting to do any movement that is unfamiliar.

After you get to the point that you can tolerate holding the position well, you may try doing pulses, where you are basically initiating lifting yourself out of the squat, but only go up to the point that your thighs are parallel to the floor. The lower quads and connective tissue surrounding the knee really benefit from exercise in this range. 

It is best to incrementally increase reps, rather than increase the load. You can add load in this range, but you don’t really need to, in my opinion.


Deep squats should be pain free

One thing to keep in mind is that holding the deep squat position and doing the pulses should both be pain-free.  

Caution! You may have discomfort in the soft tissue around the knee, but you shouldn’t have pain in the joint. There is greater compression in the posterior or back part of the joint when you do this activity. No problem if there are no issues but, if there is any meniscus or other pathology in the posterior part of the joint, it CAN be exacerbated when you squat deeply.  

The biggest mistake people often make is pushing for too much time or depth too soon. Go as far down as is comfortable (well maybe a LITTLE uncomfortable) and maintain the position for a short time: 10 or 15 seconds is fine in the beginning. Then focus on gradually sinking further and staying down longer as your tissues gradually lengthen and your tolerance to the position increases.  

One thing you do not have to worry about is maintaining a flat back at the bottom. While this is necessary for safety if you are weight training, you do not need to be concerned about it while doing this exercise because you are probably not loading it; if you do, the load should be very, very light. 


Benefits of deep squats for joint health

As we discussed earlier, deep squatting puts stresses on the joint surfaces and connective tissue that they don’t receive if you never go into those ranges.  These stresses, if applied gradually and safely, can result in improved health of the joint surfaces and connective tissues surrounding the joints involved.

This exercise can be done at any age—actually, the younger the better. Due to our lifestyles (most of us anyway), we tend to start losing mobility in the ankles, knees, hips, and lower back very early-mid 20s-30s and sooner in some individuals. So, the sooner you start, the sooner those changes can be reversed or prevented. 


Deep squatting caution, convenience and cultural factors 

So, you can start at any age. You just need to keep the basic rule of any exercise in mind–it should not hurt. If there is any pain or more than minor discomfort, try to modify it by not going as deep or for too long. If you don’t have the strength to get into position, you can use a bedpost or put your hands on either side of a door frame and use your arms to help.

Another great thing about doing deep squats is that you can do them just about anywhere. At home, at the gym as a warm-up, in a hotel room, in the backyard—there is really no place you can’t do them.

Deep squats, if done properly, will improve the health of you lower back, hips, knees and ankles.  If all you ever do is squat to 90 degrees or even parallel, the joint surfaces do not get the compression they need, and the soft tissues around the joints do not benefit from being stressed in that range. So the muscles and connective tissue are strengthened, and the joint surface health and longevity are improved by deep squats.

Many cultures spend much more time in a deep squat position than most of us typically do. In fact, the time that we spend sitting in chairs they spend in a deep squat position.  Research has shown that these groups have a lower incidence of knee pathology than most of us who live in more Western cultures.

So, to wrap things up, there are no exercises that cover everything. There are a handful that cover several areas, and deep squats are one of those. Add deep squats to your routine and reap the benefits of this impactful exercise!