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To solve problems caused by sitting, learn to squat (2017) (qz.com)
312 points by ValentineC on Feb 27, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 154 comments

I used to have terrible "programmer" posture. It's still not great, but it's way better. I credit a regular routine of loaded barbell squats with an experienced trainer. I think part of the progress is because I got stronger, but part of the progress is because the squat would point out quirks in my body that simply had to be fixed in order to continue progressing.

There's only so much of "try to sit up straight" before you just go back to sitting the way your body has adapted to sit. In general, your body doesn't want to change. You need to provide some sort of external stress that forces an adaptation. Squats are great for this.

For lazy/shy people like me I recommend bodyweight fitness. Reddit has some nice community for that. Various core drills and stretching (back bends, lounges, squat) cured my back pain.

r/bodyweightfitness' Recommended Routine[1] is a great place to start. They have a section on squats.[2]

[1] - https://www.reddit.com/r/bodyweightfitness/wiki/kb/recommend...

[2] - https://www.reddit.com/r/bodyweightfitness/wiki/exercises/sq...

For shy lazy people there's not much I'd recommend more strongly than lifting anyway.

I’m pretty sure “shy lazy” is a cover for “proud”. I’ve been there, and i soon realized nobody cares at the gym.

I'd still recommend learning to squat under load. I'm fine under my own body weight. Put a bar on my back and problems show themselves again.

In case you are travelling and cannot bring the bar with you ;-) a good alternative is the "prisoner squat". Place both hands behind you head crossing your fingers. With elbows out as much as you can do the squat like prisoners do it, veeery sloooowly, start with 4 x 12.

I would also recommend "Wall Sits". Very similar.

If it's your back your worried about, I would recommend deadlifts over squats. They're much easier to do from a technique standpoint & have less risk. Also squats are more for leg strength. Deadlifts are great for your back and also work several other muscles, including your legs.

Squats are great for building leg strength but have a high risk of back & knee injury under heavy loads if done incorrectly. Even if you do them correctly, a heavy load might force you to lean forward which can damage your back. There are much safer lifts for those of us who aren't experts, such as hex bar squats.

According to Rippetoe if it's a low bar squat it's OK to lean forward as long as your back is straight[1].

Of course as anything in fitness it's always up for debate.


From my own experience in the gym, leaning forward can cause an almost instinctual movement to lift the bar by "pushing back" with the back.

That is, rather than lifting the bar using the legs, lifting the bar by bending back. Of course, Rippletoe would never recommend doing this, and while leaning forward doesn't guarantee improper form, it can sure make it easier.

Thank you for clarifying that. That is exactly what I meant but obviously failed at communicating.

Leaning forward is okay while doing squats. A heavy weight causing you to lean forward out of your position is bad.

> Even if you do them correctly, a heavy load might force you to lean forward which can damage your back.

Leaning forward damages your back? Then why are you suggesting deadlifts?

Squats are not hard to do correctly. Risk of injury is probably not higher than deadlifts. And squats work more than just legs. They do work the legs hard, but they also work the back. Front squats will also work the upper back quite a bit.

It appears "leaning forward" was not a great phrase to use. I meant to say it may force you to lean forward an additional amount into a bad position where you need to lean backwards to correct it. This is where hurting your back would occur.

I agree, front squats are great! But I personally feel squats do minimal to back muscles.

Those back muscles are doing a ton of work keeping you from falling forward. They don't work as much in the squat as in the deadlift, but they still do a lot of work in the squat.

The amount of work the lower back does is directly related to how far forward the body leans (at the hips; I'm assuming we're not discussing bent-back lifts). The lower back does a lot of work in a deadlift to counteract the torque the weight creates via the upper body lean. In a low-back back squat, the amount of work the lower body does is reduced somewhat because the lean and therefore the torque reduced. It's reduced even further in a high-bar squat, and in a front squat the back muscles are mostly doing isometric work in conjuction with the abs to keep your spine from collapsing.

Even if your squat form is bad and you're leaning excessively, you're probably not putting more stress on your back than in a deadlift. Unless maybe you're dive-bombing your squats and letting your lower back round a ton at the bottom.

Why not both? Plus other mobility and cardio work. It's all beneficial in various ways.

Of course do both. I was not advocating otherwise. :)

That's the whole point of doing the exercise in the first place. You get hurt and have bad form because you are weak. Squats are not just for leg strength. They work the entire posterior chain. Any exercise has the potential to hurt you if you do it incorrectly.

I don't disagree. My argument is that getting the technique right on certain exercises is harder & have a higher risk than others.

In traditional calisthenics, there is a progression beyond a simple squat with your body weight. Uneven squats, half one-leg squats, assisted one-leg squats, all leading up to one-leg squats.

I'm also a big believer in calisthenics and bodyweight progression, but it's worth noting that pistol squats and several other advanced bodyweight squats can strengthen your quads and glutes very well, but end up teaching you a different movement pattern from a biomechanically-sound (i.e. straight-spined) squat. It's basically impossible to avoid tucking the pelvis and rounding the spine when doing a pistol.

E.g.: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NvOuty_Fnc

Edit: Shrimp squats are an exception, I suppose.

Safe alternative: hip belt squat. Don't load your back/spine. Google it.

Yes, take the back entirely out of the exercise. That will definitely help with strengthening the back.

There are safer exercises for strengthening the back. Squats are good for the legs.

Squats are awesome for the back and quite safe unless done very improperly. If you can’t squat the weight safely, it’s too much for your legs anyway. You have an imbalance, by definition, if the weight that is appropriate for your legs is enough to put your back at risk.

Legs are stronger than your back. So a good load for the legs will probably be too much for the back. Also there is only a limited amount of repeated compression that the vertebral discs can handle.

> Legs are stronger than your back. So a good load for the legs will probably be too much for the back.

Well, yes and no. In unnatural movements like the hip belt “squat” where you have no range of motion and have almost created an isolation movement, sure. In more natural movements like a lunge or squat, where the muscles must work together and you use reasonable range of motion, not necessarily true. It’s more commonly the legs that fail in a squat.

You do realize that the glutes and hamstrings are part of the legs, right? They execute the hip hinge that makes bending at the hips possible. When you take the back out of a squat, you largely remove these as well.

> Also there is only a limited amount of repeated compression that the vertebral discs can handle.

This is a definite “citation needed” sort of claim. The spine produces synovial fluid and heals like the rest of the joints.

Obviously there are limits to how much it can heal, but that applies to every joint and consistently studies indicate better joint health among strength training individuals. A few dozen squats a week is definitely not the maximum the spine can handle.

I’m not sure what problem you’re trying to solve.

Back squats and front squats are good because they involve the posterior chain.

Often all of that has to work together. A squat with a small load will show you where you are deficient and will help you improve as you learn to squat properly.

As the article states:

> At best, we might undertake [squatting] during Crossfit, pilates or while lifting at the gym, but only partially and often with weights (a repetitive maneuver that’s hard to imagine being useful 2.5 million years ago)

I kind of go along with that. Squatting with a bar on your back is a weird maneuver.

Squats under load are pretty fundamental. Carrying a killed deer on your back, or stone, clay, or a mate or a child all require effective loaded squats.

Where is the rest of the movement, then? Why not pick a big bag of sand and place it on your back, walk around with it, and set it back down again?

Wouldn't our ancestors carry far less, maybe max 90kg, then people do today? It doesnt make sense to brutally punish your joints with much more than that for part of that action and completely ignore the other part of it.

Sandbag carries and farmer walks do just that :). As for the idea that you are brutally punishing your joints, I don't believe that to be the case. Controlled squats vs running? Yeah, controlled squats will be way better on the knee. I do weighted exercises regularly and have a marketed reduction in joint pain from before. A barbell squat with good form will not put undue stress on the knee joint and builds muscle that supports it. For me, the added muscle also removed my lower back pain. This also comes with the caveat that you need to stretch and mobilize too.

“Studies have shown that an ant can carry one hundred times its own weight, but there is no known limit to the lifting power of the average tiny eighty-year-old Spanish peasant grandmother.” ― Terry Pratchett, Reaper Man

Bodyweight fitness is awesome! It also trains a lot more muscles at the same time when doing a single exercise.

For the doubters who think you need heavy weights, try to do:

- 1 arm pull-ups

- 1 arm, 1 foot pushups

- Dragon flag (for abs)

- 1 leg squats (pistol squats)

Of those I can only do the 1 leg squats and 1 arm-1 foot pushups (working on the rest ;)).

Also search YouTube for "calisthenics" to get a bunch of stuff you can do. There are things from absolute beginners to insane.

That's a bit like saying you can do anything in C, working from scratch though.

Yes you CAN. That doesn't mean it is not a hell of a lot easier to get the same results by using other tools though.

If you want to get fit (build muscle), and you're not using a barbell, you're most likely making things harder for yourself. If that is what you want to do, fine, but recognize that you're taking a more difficult route.

I partly agree with you.

Using weights indeed allows you to fine-tune your workouts more. Want to do 8 reps instead of 5? Just take some weight off. This is indeed harder to finetune with bodyweight progression.

If you talk about bodybuilding, max strength gains, etc, I agree you need to use weights for the fastest/best results.

But if your goal is to "get fit", my personal opinion (or preference) is that there is nothing better than bodyweight. Different muscle groups working together, balance, etc.

I guess it all comes down to personal preference. I got bored lifting weights, but absolutely love those bodyweight trainings. All I'm saying is that it's a viable option where you can build a lot of strength. Is it optimal for size, strength or endurance? Probably not. But it's not something to dismiss either.

You equate getting fit with building muscle but for me it would be doing these crazy positions like dragon flag or planche. Not sure how much barbells can help with that.

Actually, no, you are making it a LOT more difficult to get into proper shape WITHOUT injuries if you are starting from scratch and use heavyweights instead.

Your body needs time to adapt to exercise, and body-weight exercises can provide a longterm plan to get that growth without threatening some serious injuries.

I think you two are talking past each other. You don't jump straight into 300 lb squats. You start with squatting with no barbell. Then you add an empty one. Then you add 20 lbs. Then another 20 lbs. In a few months, you have a lot of weight. This is going to get you stronger faster and safer than trying to do pistols (one legged squats) because you control the weight advancement. This is true for all weighted exercises vs body weight that I can think of. Pistols are hard and rough on your knee and the form is hard to get right. My back squat is over 2x bodyweight and is still find pistols hard and rough on my knees.

First off, you are wrong if you think that bodyweight exercises cannot injure you. Even something as simple as doing pushups with bad form for too long can have a detrimental effect on your posture and cause back issues.

Also, that's a false comparison. Nobody said that you need to get off the couch and go straight to squat 500lbs to be in shape. You need a proper training plan with reasonable progression, and you need to start as low and as light as necessary, no matter the training stimulus (BW, barbells, dumbbell, kettlebells, bands, ...). The difference is that weights can provide an external force that can be scaled to your strength in many ways that BW training cannot, because in BW training the only weight is your body and you need to use leverages to modify your training stimulus.

Finally, BW versus weights is a dumb debate. They complement each other, and a well-rounded athlete should do both.

You are right though, this is not a fight for either, I should reiterate that I think that STARTING with BW first to help your body adjust, and when you have an initial, flexible and durable base to work with, you can go crazy with whatever next goal you set. That is what I would prefer for myself I could go back in time, anyway :P

I kind of disagree and agree at the same time. I'd recommend that a new trainee start with simple bodyweight stuff* but for different reasons: it's an excellent teacher of proprioception, which is one of the things that couch-to-barbell people like myself tend to lack, and it's now starting to bite me in the ass now that my numbers have grown more respectable and that I can find myself squatting 450lbs with ease but having a hard time doing unweighted lunges.

*to be fair, I'd recommend that a new trainee start with anything but barbell stuff. Simple bodyweight training 3-4 times a week, playing a real sport once-twice a week and doing some form of cardio twice a week should be the starting point of any athletic career, at least for 3-6 years. I started training with people who had an athletic past like this and they blew past me at an incredible speed progress-wise, and ended up stronger, healthier and in better shape than I ever was.

Don't use heavy weights, use light weight and add slowly.

When I was around 16 years old and started training with weights (just like what my father recommended me doing), and gradually increased the weights, there were joints and muscle groups in my body that just could not adjust. I had no way of improving triceps reasonably alongside the rest for pushups for example, and my right shoulder had the weirdest pain points whenever I moved weights with it beyond the initial smaller scales. So I eventually gave up.

Fast forward a decade, and my right shoulder still remembers these pains - I dunno if the weights caused it or some previous injury, but when I started training with my own weight, one sign that I was getting ahead of myself was that small pain. Now I can progress slower, but still I have to be very careful. Some of the exercises with heavy weights are just not natural for the body and simply exhaust/strain it more than it should. If you are experienced, you can work around these limitations, but I prefer body-weight exercises now.

Your issue is that you were 16. I don't mean that weight training young is bad, but that you were a 16 year old training himself. People think that because lifting weight is a meathead sport you would have to be an idiot to do it wrong, but that is incorrect. Lifting weights is easy, but lifting weights in a way that makes you progress towards your goal and emphasizes longevity in the sport is hard and the domain of experienced strength coaches who have seen it all.

You were increasing the weights at a rate that your body couldn't handle. It is very frequent with new trainees because the neurological adaptations that appear at the beginning of training are always impressive: you finally learn how to use those muscles you always had and make them work towards a simple common goal, lifting that barbell. The main problem is that the rest of your body sometimes cannot keep up with that speed, and that results in this sort of issue. Had you been to a professional strength coach, he or she would have forced you to lower your pace and think about long-term progress over short term gain, which would probably have been at your 16 year old self's annoyance (as it was to mine).

Yeah, you are right, most likely. I remember quitting then due to being frustrated over lack of progress. Hah!

Ah, so what is the training equivalent to Rust?

Adding onto this

Get a ironmaster superbench + attachments / or powerrack + bench, and some suspension trainers. Makes a huge difference on what body weight exercises you can do

For example, I do bulgarian split squats. But I have a TRX suspension trainer on a ironman adjustable bench, so I can have one leg suspended and have a more natural movement doing bulgarian split squats. This is a much easier progression going into a pure 1 legged pistol squats.

I use a modified reddit r/recommended routine /bodyweight fitness / callisthetics

Also, I'd recommend picking up a kettlebell. Plenty of videos on YouTube with workouts you can follow.

What subs would you recommend for someone starting out?

/r/bodyweightfitness has a great progression in their wiki.

/r/fitness also has a great wiki with a number of programs, including a recommended progression of programs.

/r/bodyweightfitness has a nice routine that is suitable for beginners

Likewise. I have been powerlifting for over 7 years now and there are things about my body I would have never realised until they had gotten much worse. Like that I always leaned slightly to the left because of how I had my mouse, and I had a way overdeveloped right spinal erector and funky core because of it. Likewise still not perfect, but simply leagues ahead of my former physical self.

I wouldn't recommend powerlifting to everyone, but some kind of weight training and especially the squat and deadlift. You can pick a weight training style to suit your goals though. I have moved to a more powerlifting / bodybuilding regiment as I have reached the strength level I am happy with at my current bodyweight.

If someone reading this is going to use resistance training to "fix" their weaknesses, it's important to have a trainer assist as they can pick poor technique when you think you're doing it perfectly.

For example, I used to be a fencer, and as a result my left leg was much stronger than my right. I thought I was doing squats correctly, but a trainer spotted that I was tilting my hips as I was doing the exercise.

This is definitely true. And finding a good trainer is difficult. For my SF friends, I've worked with Linda Chungchootairong at www.opengymsf.com before. She's an accomplished competitive powerlifter and olympic lifter. She can make sure your squat is on point. She also has a sick deadlift.

I went to a personal trainer about a year and a half ago; when trying squats, he pointed out a load of issues and started me on what felt more like a physical therapy program than a gym program, working on (primarily) flexibility in the err, calves? No the joint below the calves, the thing that moves your foot. Forgot the name. That, and my knees were wobbling a lot when lifting, so those were also sorted out. It was uncomfortable and painful to squat, but it really was just broken. Need to keep those exercises up, too, I still can't do a proper / relaxed / balanced one without weights.


Little humans (kids) have great mobility in their ankles, hips, and shoulders.

Big humans (adults) generally have poor ankle/hip/shoulder mobility. The body compensates by doing more with the knees, back, and neck. Hence the preponderance of back problems, knee problems, neck problems.

Everyone has unique bio-mechanics but sounds like your trainer started off diligently.

Goblet squats are a good way to groove and re-train the squat pattern in adults with bad mobility. Dr. John Rusin, a physical therapist, has quite a few easy to understand articles on his site. Here's one on goblet squats. https://drjohnrusin.com/goblet-squat-variations/

Other good people to learn from are Eric Cressey (uses a bit more technical language) and Ben Bruno. Not a mutually exclusive list though by any means!

https://ericcressey.com/?s=squat https://www.instagram.com/benbrunotraining/?hl=en http://benbruno.com/

Starting strength is a good book to learn about barbell squats. Pretty simple to understand and the postures are mostly based on angles w.r.t joints.

Deadlifts did more for me than squats ever did. That will really strengthen your back. That and lots of pulling movements for the upper back. If you can't do ten pull ups then you're weak.

I live in Thailand. People can squat here. People have all sorts of sitting and office injuries just like in the West.

Perhaps we need squatting tables, not toilets. Apparently standing desks won't fix all health problems ... https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/mar/28/is-a-st...

I've owned a treadmill desk for about 3-4 years. I've pretty much looked at almost all the products in the market related to desktop / standing desk ergonomics, and have conducted my own studies on myself

Standing in a standing / treadmill desk is not something you do all day. What it does it give you more oppurtunities for positioning yourself while at your desk. Sitting at a desk only has so many ways of sitting down (foot hammock, foot on desk, foot on footrest, normal position, etc)

I currently have about 10-15 variations of sitting / walking / standing up at my standing desk. Differnet foot hold mounting options, different modes of sitting on my varidesk seat, different standing postures.

By adding more variants of being at your desk, you can adjust yourself as you see fit depending (1) how long your at your desk at a time(2) what muscles you have currently fatigued (post workout).

That and also working out helps too, I do mostly bodyweight fitness. Pullups, squats, body rows, pushups, etc or anything on a suspension trainer

What you should buy if your interested in a standing desk is actually either an (1) transformable adjustable standing / sitting desk + a chair or (2) a treadmill desk + a varidesk chair for overall ergonomics.

Any fixed, static posture is bad for prolonged times. You need to move (a lot) to stay healthy.

What’s the solution for those of us (probably everyone here) that spend 8+ hours a day on the computer then, if not a standup desk?

Find a reason to get up and move.

Drink water, refill it when empty, go to the bathroom more frequently as a result.

Take breaks to go outside and lap the building or parking lot a couple times a day. When I worked with smokers, I would take a break every time they did, though I'd go for a walk instead. That worked out particularly well because when a boss tried to call me on it I asked why the smokers were able to take so many breaks but I wasn't (I was outside for no longer than they were, and often less time as I aimed to complete the lap quickly, not leisurely).

Collaborate with colleagues in person rather than via your office's messaging app when possible. Not to the point of disrupting them, but if they ask you a question that is reasonably complicated, go to them and communicate it in person. If they're free to answer yours, go to them and hear the answer.

I don't know about the other people here, but I'm not coding, documenting, etc. for 8 hours a day. It's maybe 4 hours a day with the rest being communication and thinking time.

I'm afraid that in the end, this is the only one that won't involve some compromise of our health:


I don't have solution for everyone, but here's what I do:

- take a 5 min break every ~hour and walk around office (in my country it is legal requirement that for every hour you spend in front of computer, you get 5 min break, so I don't have to explain that to anyone or look for excuses).

- do simple exercise at desk from time to time (like standing up and down, moving head, stretching hands and back etc.)

- walk to/from work (~5 km one way) whenever it's an acceptable weather outside (I use this time for thinking as I've found out that walking helps to concentrate).

- exercise 3 times a week (well, at least I try to).

I've never been a fan of standing desk, because due to my physical condition my back and knees start to hurt after some time standing still.

> What’s the solution for those of us (probably everyone here) that spend 8+ hours a day on the computer then, if not a standup desk?

Why preclude a stand up desk?

I have at least five different positions I use at my office that I switch between periodically:

1) Stand up desk, up

2) Stand up desk, down, seated (office chair)

3) Stand up desk, down, seated (balance ball)

4) Meeting room, laptop on table

5) Random chair around the office, laptop in lap

I also try to stay hydrated and intentionally use the restroom furthest from my office to just get a few steps in throughout the day, which helps more than you might think.

The stand up desk makes a massive difference. I can't handle working from home now.

Source: I have herniated disks in my neck

* Have various computing positions and alternate * Swap out chair for a kneeling chair if you still have okay knees. * Currently experimenting with: Head Mounted Displays with yoga bolsters

i find myself moving more when doing standup desk fwiw.

I find a good mat can help with this.

Similar. I do powerlifting, i have a great squat and regularly use it for relaxing or doing things at home in a comfortable pose.

My back still has issues from sitting all day to program.

Take breaks to rest your back! Humans aren't "designed" to hold the same position for hours on end. Even short (20 second, even) breaks can be extremely helpful:

Lie on your back. Knees bent / legs up, so your back is fully supported by the floor. Arms at your sides, hands on your stomach or whatever the most neutral position is. Small pillow / book under your head to keep that portion of your spine properly curved.

Source: family member is an Alexander Technique teacher, also personal experience.

That's useful info, thank you. :)

I'm actually surprised by the legs part since i would've thought proper pose is legs down.

My wife is Thai. She often squats while "sitting" on a chair at the table.

And there lies the depressing truth about health and fitness: it's mostly dependent on genetics. The many optimisations you read about are only a small part of the equation

Any position maintained for long periods of time is a stress on your muscles (sitting, squatting, ...).

People tend to think that sitting is "not doing anything" but your muscles ARE working to keep you upright. The wonkier you're sitting, the worse the effects will be.

I struggled with lower back pain for over 5 years, visited lots of doctors / physios / chiropractors and nobody could give any decent advice. "You're too old" (at 38!), "it's the electromagnetic rays from your computer screen!".

In the end what helped me was a routine of body strength exercises that I developed myself from online research and with the help of a young physio who finally knew what he was doing.

I'm now basically pain free, as long as I do my routine 2 or ideally 3x per week.

I highly recommend anyone struggling with lower back pain to build up a simple routing of core strengthening exercises.

> I highly recommend anyone struggling with lower back pain to build up a simple routing of core strengthening exercises.

As someone who tried this, I'd recommend seeing a medical professional to ensure it's actually going to help first. I made things far far worse before getting help and making them better.

Can you go into more detail? What made things worse? What made them better? Obviously what worked for you might not work for others, but concrete X's and Y's could inspire someone to follow the advice of talking to a medical professional.

My knee jerk reaction is that I don't trust the family doctor to really know much bio-mechanical stuff and will trust a well-referred fitness coach. Maybe you meant you saw a physical therapist?

Sure - but caveating this with "Don't take medical advice from strangers on the internet" (Which was kind of my point).

I've had lower back pain on and off my entire adult life. When I started investigating how to fix it, I came to the (same) conclusion that strengthening my core muscles would help - as someone who trained quite heavily I was confident in my ability to perform basic core exercises without injuring myself [0]. These only exacerbated the problem, and after 2 weeks of doing them I was bed ridden, and in agony.

I had been to a GP who referred me to a neurosurgeon that I was able to get temporary relief from by multiple epidurals, and some severe pain relief medication. Got better again after a few weeks, and I ignored it for 18 months until it came back. Took an experimental procedure that bought me another 18 months. I then saw a physiotherapist who walked me through some of the basic exercises that they give to people who are recovering from spinal fusion (which I had been referred for but held off on). I still get waves of lower back pain every few months, but I'm aware of the early symptoms, and can begin with the PT exercises for a few weeks at a time, until they subside (which they have done every time so far).

Overall, it was about finding what worked for me, as you said, but I definitely wouldn't recommend making that journey on your own.

[0] offhand, cannot remember exactly what I did, but would have been some basic version of some of the exercises from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/multime...

Thanks for the added color!

Just want to clarify that, while I never worked with a fitness coach, I started off following Stronglifts which is touted as the best thing since sliced bread, but it's way too aggressive and down right dangerous if you don't have perfect form. It really made things worse for me.

The physical therapist that eventually helped (even cured) me showed me basic routines of much less "aggressive" exercises (basically the same as what the other person replied to you).

I then used those routines a base for further research and now always try to switch up the exercises I do, it gets boring otherwise. /r/bodyweightfitness has a good suggested routine.

One more thing to note. A friend of mine is recovering from a knee injury right now, and saw a fitness coach who came well reviewed. Unfortunately for my friend, the fitness coach didn't really understand the extent of ligament damage, and worked her way to hard, causing her incredible pain. The trainer had her doing things like squats, and she followed their advice (based on them being a professional). Again she saw a Physical therapist (different to mine) who gave her some actual recovery exercises and a training plan and she's coping much better.

I found just keeping up daily with a routine of pushups was enough to alleviate any back pain for me.

In my travels I've gone from fear of a latrine-style loo to enjoying them enough to consider installing one in my home in England. I'm not exactly sure what it is, but it just feels better for my body somehow to hold a more folded posture.

My challenge is flexibility. I did yoga for three years, twice a week, and while the whole of my body became much more flexible (amongst other benefits) my ankles did not yield very much at all. If I try to squat on a level surface, I have to force my arms forward to maintain balance, and it's not comfortable at all.

In Iran several toilets had slightly angled surfaces for the feet. With the toes pointing downwards just a few degrees from level, it was very comfortable.

My wife is from South Korea, a country where squatting in the home is still practiced regularly, especially by the older generations. It always struck me as a very relaxing way of passing the time, though I couldn't quite do it.

Perhaps there is a physiological aspect to this too. Japanese and Korean people appear to have different skeletal proportions to Europeans. I'm curious if this changes anything, or whether it's just a matter of culture/practice.

Yup, it's more biomechanically natural. There's a footstool product that makes Western toilets more comfortable, giving you the best of both worlds: https://www.squattypotty.com/

Here's an amusing explainer video: https://youtu.be/YbYWhdLO43Q

I don't think the ability to squat comfortably depends on race. For example, Soviet (so Eastern Bloc as well) prisons had a culture of squatting, due to overcrowding. Sometimes you still spot an older man squatting, like he could do it all day.

To predict a Westerner's skeletal inflexibility, I think it's enough to ask if he took up activities that required flexibility at an early age. In Japanese and Korean cultures that's plain squatting and sitting on your heels. Not that there aren't different kinds of flexibility. By Westerner, I mean someone with an excessively sedentary lifestyle.

> I don't think the ability to squat comfortably depends on race.

I agree with this. However, I reckon that the ability to perform heavy squats does depend slightly on race. For example, short femurs provide beneficial leverage, and Asians tend to have shorter femurs than other races on average. I think this goes a little way towards explaining the dominance of China in Olympic weightlifting. If you look at the Lü Xiaojun, he has the perfect proportions for squatting and associated movements.

> but it just feels better for my body somehow to hold a more folded posture.

Have you tried putting a stool or something in front of your toilet so you can bend your legs in a squat-esque position? It's a bit more practical and feels much the same to me.

There are even stools marketed for squatted position on western style toilets. One is the "Squatty Potty". As a German Kraut, I feel, the name must appeal to a Brit.

> German Kraut

Is there another kind? ;)

> There are even stools marketed for squatted position on western style toilets.

I've seen these -- of all places -- in Costco here in Japan. They seem moderately popular since they're sold out sometimes. Personally, I think it's a bit overkill and would rather just plop my feet on a pack of toilet paper. :)

I'm forty and I can't do it. Like at all. I don't remember ever being able to do it.

The main problem is that my ankles are not flexible enough. When I try to squat, my heels inevitably raise above the ground so that I find myself resting on my tiptoes, struggling to keep my balance.


How about timeboxing 15 minutes a day for body maintenance? Start out just reading some articles, then watching videos, then try out your first stretch, feel sore the next day, take a week off, then try out a different stretch routine, then progress, then increase your time per day because you see improvement, and one day, out of the blue, you're squatting. What do you think?

It so happens that I was interested in increasing my flexibility anyway. So yeah, I'll definitely look into this.

It might be your ankles, but it's likely your hips are the major contributor here. Inadequate hip flexibility will force you to lean too far forward, lifting your heels off the ground.

If it's something you're willing to work at, from personal experience I know it can be improved.

It might also be hamstrings. For example, while sitting on the chair try lifting one of your legs so you make L shape with your torso (without flexing your lower back).

I can't do that, my leg can't stretch fully. This prevents me from squatting properly.

I've been slowly stretching the hamstrings but I'm still not there. I remember having the same issues when I was a teenager.

It is very unlikely that hamstring is preventing you from squatting properly. Hamstring is nowhere near the end of it's range of motion in squat because it crosses both knee and hip joint and knee is bent during the squat - therefore hamstring is not considerably stretched.

Ankle flexibility is more frequent cause of not being able to squat properly. Hips also, but not because of hamstring.

Here's a good video on improving flexibility for squats: [1]

and then the first part of of a series of more general ankle flexibility exercises you can do: [2]

[1] - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJBLDJMJiDE

[2] - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apCIhoPmHW8

Try doing lunges. Anecdotally from a friend (32 yo) who also couldn't do squats at all, after doing lunges for a while that enabled him to squat without either going on his toes or falling backwards trying to keep his feet flat.

Practise. Having a weight on your back actually makes it easier as it literally forces you down. Unless you have a known severe mobility problem, you can definitely squat.

(I am not a physical therapist.)

The ankle part can be trained separately by flexing them, I would believe. If your heels keep raising and you really want to be able to do it, have someone take a video of your attempt and study where your center of gravity travels. It should move towards the floor in a straight line. Chances are, you are simply not extending your behind outwards enough because there are other parts of your core muscles that are not flexible enough.

It's an exercise worth practicing and should be much more popular than the typical "pushups/crunches" routine that many non-athletes do at home. (This is where I will be taken apart by someone who knows more details:) Pushups and crunches train precisely the muscles that will pull your back and shoulders forward. A complex exercise such as squats and a good extension-stretch for your back will go a long way of making office dwellers feel better.

You just need to work on your flexibility. Fortunately, if you wanted to, it's a fairly easy thing to improve upon and doesn't require much time, space, or any equipment. Just do some stretches every day, pushing a little bit against your limits, every day.

You'd probably be surprised by what happens after years of this.

I was almost in the same situation after years and years of bad sitting. A year of light but daily stretching and a little exercise got me to the point where i can squat comfortably and almost touch my toes standing.

But I can't emphasize how important the point of daily routine in the article is - it doesn't take much to get quite an amount of flexibility back, but habit

Don't keep your feet parallel. Keep them in a V-shape, with heels pointing towards each other. Much easier.

Be careful about this. My doctor pointed out to me last year that I was pointing my feet outwards (or my heels together, as your say), and suggested that I try not doing that. Within a few weeks, decade-old problems with my right knee had vanished -- the angle of my feet when I was walking had been straining the inner side of my knee.

The angle of the feet is not so much a risk as whether or not your knees move in the direction your feet are pointing. If you feet are at an angle to your knee movement, then, yes, you will very much hurt your knee.

Your doctor was probably right to give that advise for walking.

But when lifting weights it is a much more stable position for many, and as long as you ensure your knees track a line over your feet rather than at an angle it's not generally a problem.

Yap! In a squat position, the feet should be in the same line as the knee. So if the knees open out to the side, the feet should follow :)

I lived in SE Asia for 8 years, and I learned to squat again. It does open up your hips. At first I couldn't do it without almost falling backwards, but then I worked up to where I could squat for over 5 minutes in ease. Now that I am back to the US, I have gained 25 lb. in one year. I am vegetarian, and still eat healthy, no junk, but I eat more. I had to start my exercise program up again, since I am back to an office job whereas in SE Asia I was doing 50-50 office/physical labor. Squatting loosens my hips, and generally seems to make me feel better if done more often. I go outside at work and walk a half mile, and squat at lunch for 10 minutes in the sun if it's out.

For body weight animal movement stuff I’m loving https://gmb.io

I can hold a low squat indefinitely now because of it and my neck and back feel amazing!

How long have you been doing this? Looks interesting.

9 months. 3 thumbs up!

Since the beginning of this year, I have begun to squat (and sit on my haunches) for 15 minutes daily. The target is to do this comfortably for at least 30 minutes by the end of the year. In my country (India), in the villages, you are likely to see people sit like this, even into their 90s. Meanwhile, here I am, in mid 30s, unable to do this even for 5 minutes, complaining of knee and back problems.

I wonder how it can be healthy for knees and bloodflow at all, given the squashed and torqued position of the knees

I assume that people who do this have an active lifestyle anyway. So they might be physically fit not because of the squats, but despite the squats :)

If the knees are taking a lot of strain, you're not distributing your weight properly

the angle remains the same

I remember the profound shock during a study exchange to east Asia when I realised I'd have to spend a year on squat toilets.

Took a couple months to feel 'safe', and not have to constantly check my pants weren't in the way.

Never got comfortable enough to read on the toilet.

> not have to constantly check my pants weren't in the way

My issue was my trousers kept falling on the wet floor. In the end I just took them off whenever I needed to go :D

I remember this as well. I simply just avoided going to the bathroom until I got to the hotel, they usually have western toilets inside.

You haven't really experienced a squat toilet until you've had diahrrea though (pretty common for people travelling abroad for first time / not used to differences in bacteria culture / not taking food medication).

I had some terrible experiences

Thanks for this. I've been wondering how to better help my legs and general body health. I go to the gym regularly and I'm in pretty good shape, but I know there is some ongoing issue with my legs related to sitting all day. Wasn't sure how to tackle it - I started doing more leg exercises and even squats (but only up to 90 degrees). This article make it clear that I need to do a few different types of squats to get the real benefit. My legs have been scrawny chicken legs for years because of sitting at a desk all damn day. And it surely doesn't help that I cross one leg under the other half the time and alternate throughout the day. My legs feel slightly numb sometimes which I know is terrible. My leg muscles have atrophied to a large extent and I suspect that there is even a blood flow / circulation issue all surrounding the "use it or lose it" concept. I'm not sure if it's possible, but maybe my veins or arteries also got smaller from lack of use. I've noticed my legs get fatigued much quicker and take longer to recover.

It's been very difficult to get full function back, so for anyone reading this - try to avoid making the same mistake I did. I overlooked the issue for too long. I will certainly overcome it, in time, but it sucks and it's a long process because my body has become used to not needing my legs 95% of the time.

And don't forget dead lifts and pull ups. I see a lot of people at the gym focusing on chest and upper body (biceps, arms, torso) but you need to focus more on centre of your body and lower back (dead lift), legs (squats, leg press) and upper back (pull ups).

Bench press is also good but that's it for chest, I wouldn't do more. Squats, bench press and dead lift as a core of your routine is a good idea. You can add some other minor components but you should keep focus on the big three.

This article is talking about squatting as an alternative to sitting, not the exercise.

But to be fair, one should not skip leg day.

I'll also add that before embarking on a serious squat regimen one should work first with a trainer (or friend with good technique) to develop proper squat form. Squatting is one of those gym exercises that is often underestimated in its difficulty and is routinely done incorrectly, leading to injury.

Lots of comments here saying "yeh squats are great, do squats." But the article is not talking about exercise squats! It's talking about "deep squatting as a form of active rest".

Personally I think squatting as a form of sitting is not going to be happening too much with larger framed people. Smaller and slimmer people will obviously have a much easier time of sustaining a sitting squat comfortably.

This article doesn't really make a case in my opinion. The only two justifications seem to be:

> So if a joint doesn’t go through its full range—if the hips and knees never go past 90 degrees—the body says ‘I’m not being used’ and starts to degenerate and stops the production of synovial fluid.”


> A 2014 study in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that test subjects who showed difficulty getting up off the floor without support of hands, or an elbow, or leg (what’s called the “sitting-rising test”) resulted in a three-year-shorter life expectancy than subjects who got up with ease.

(Study here https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23242910)

As far as the first one, I'd say, so what? More fluid means healthier? Why?

As far as the second one, correlation doesn't prove causation. We should stop pretending this is the case with everything.

I mean if you're fat, you can't do that, and that's a pretty large risk factor for dying early.

I wasn't aware that squatting is such a big deal.

I often find myself squatting while working at my laptop. Frankly, it's just for a few minutes, because at some point my feet will hurt.

I wonder whether this is just a matter of exercise, or whether squatting for too long (in that position, with a laptop on the thighs) is unhealthy.

Most often I do this while in public transport, where I don't always find a seat. It happens rarely within the train but more often at the station, where the seats are even more limited.

In the beginning, I often looked for a wall to lean my back against. But I soon discovered that I don't really need it. Walls are cold and, in the end, they are just a help for balancing.

May I ask how you are able to rest your laptop on your thighs and work on it while sitting like this: https://shootstreetphotography.files.wordpress.com/2017/08/a... ?

Good point. It's not exactly that pose. I move my centroid more to the front, so the thighs are horizontal.

Unfortunately, I found just one good picture of that kind of squatting position, which is NRSFW (not-really-safe-for-work): https://thumbs.dreamstime.com/z/woman-weight-scales-checking...

Ah. That's the type of squat you do when you don't have the ankle mobility required to do a real squat. :) It is a very stressful position for your feet and it's probably not possible to sit that way for prolonged periods of time.

This is something I do normally as an adult in the West, but only because for whatever reason I never got out of the habit from doing it as a child.

It was my default position playing outside in the dirt or the sandbox. I didn't like getting my clothes dirty so squatting, as opposed to sitting on my behind or knees, made sense.

These days when I'm working on anything below waist height I'm usually squatting. People always remark how child-like it looks and I remark how comfortable and easy on the knees it is.

Our poor posture and use of the body in the West is partly a side-effect of our mental activities, in my opinion. Not merely due to sitting. Rather sitting and performing mental activities whilst partially tranquilised:

e.g. playing video games at a desk whilst sipping coffee/soda/alcohol.

I can't explain why this is but intuitively I think it's to do with our locus of attention being out of the body and into abstract ideas. In the developing world their locus is more 'in the body'.

Really interesting. I've always been a squatter for no apparent reason (white, raised by middle class republicans in california).

I often sit semi-squatted at my computer; basically my feet on the seat and thighs against my chest. I've actually avoided this consciously since it seemed like 'bad posture'.

I wonder if I have actually been actively avoiding something I should be doing more of. It's always felt more comfortable this way.

Am I missing something? -- what would political affiliation have to do with squatting? Are republicans against squatting?

Squatting requires a lot of flexibility, and not only on your hips. Your ankles need to be supple enough to support that degree. That said, a lot of "office problems" with posture take time to become minor. Squatting is an option that works your legs and glutes. But your back needs work too. Complete sports such as swimming, along with yoga for example could provide good balance! :)

Sitting like this is pretty common in sub-continent as majority of people prefer WC over commode system. Beside that home maids and house women sit in squat position when cleaning home. We are also being exploited by modern luxuries hence more and more people suffering from knee and joints problems.

I am from one of the poorest countries in the world and women no longer squat to clean houses. There are brooms.

my goal for this year is to stay more active during work. I'm your typical American working in small cubicle 8 hours a day in a boring looking office. Soon January I started doing push ups 6 times during my work day. I start a set number so, for example 4. And set I add one. So first set is 4 and last set of the day is 10. Once I'm comfortable doing 9. Then I add one to my starting point. So start 5 and then end at 10. It has been now nearly two months and I am starting at 10 and ending at 15. That adds up to 75 push ups in one day. It's incredible but I couldn't do more than 4 when I first started and now I can do 15 at once.

Next month I plan to add one other excersise. Either squats or crunches.

I'm a fairly built 190lb person and I was a baseball catcher as a kid and in high school. It definitely took a toll on my knees - I wonder if squatting as rest is also somewhat dependent on humans being a little more wiry than they are today.

This idea that it requires lots of flexibility to squat is actually a pernicious myth.

It is really about the angle of your feet and the width of your stance, most anyone without a debilitating injury can learn to squat in a few minutes when given correct instruction.

This depends what you consider "lots of flexibility" and what you consider "squat".

No, you don't need to be a gymnast but there are still plenty of people for whom the angle of feet and width of stance is totally insufficient to do a squat below parallel because they lack the necessary hip flexibility.

If you can touch your toes with straight legs, you can probably squat below parallel for at least a short while - it's not like it takes a huge amount of flexibility. But that too still requires weeks of training for a surprising number of people.

It's not hard to get there, but to write it off as a myth is not helpful.

Regardless of stance width or foot angle, it seems that ankle mobility is still a limiting factor for most people. Simply raising the heel on a 1" block seems to allow most people to achieve a full squat.

However, there's still a huge difference between getting your hip crease below your knee for a moment, and being able to sit in the bottom of a squat for a prolonged period in comfort.

However some people (me!) definitely have some bio-mechanical impediment.

I can clearly remember at school, 10 -12 years old, during winter after heavy snow, my friends all sliding downhill, feet absolutely flat on the floor, sat hunched as low as possible.

Absolutely impossible for me - I couldn't get my backside within 30-40 cm off the ground no matter what I tried.

Interesting, I sit cross-legged quite a bit at work purely because I find sitting for long periods to be uncomfortable, nice to know it's also better than sitting for health reasons, i guess it pays to listen to your body.

I also have back problems. Weight, age and other problems prevent me to squat or do most exercises, but I found immediate beneficial effects by consuming meals standing when I'm alone.

The best cure for stiff muscles is to trick them to relax. For example doing concentric movements using the antagonist muscles using light load. For example pushing water.

I'm genuinely starting to think people should just lay down when working with a computer. That's what I do all day long anyway.

Can't do that when you type a lot... or can you?

It is indeed not ideal, so there is a drawback, but imho it's worth it.

I want a squatting desk.

I am a life-long squatter. It has ruined my knees. Also their expert is an osteopath.

From the article:

"So should we replace sitting with squatting and say goodbye to our office chairs forever? Beach points out that “any posture held for too long causes problems” and there are studies to suggest that populations that spend excessive time in a deep squat (hours per day), do have a higher incidence of knee and osteoarthritis issues.

But for those of us who have largely abandoned squatting, Beach says, “you can’t really overdo this stuff.”"

I have both bad back and runner's knee. Once I found out the most effective treatment for my bad back is regular exercise (40min a day, 4 days of the week... but I can't afford to skip it), I started thinking about other problems I could solve this way.

I thought about runner's knee. I started googling around. I found some contradictory info initially, but in the end there seems to be consensus squats not only don't harm a knee, they make it stronger! You're essentially building your exoskeleton.

What I found gives me best results is wall-facing squat.

It's difficult to start. It took me weeks, perhaps even months to feel benefits, but now I'm a squat addict. Wall facing squat is very good because it makes it impossible to cheat. You have to develop better stance, balance, and flexibility. And you have to think how to get there.

As a nerd who played computer games A LOT, I was so inflexible I could only straighten my leg about 120 degrees when lying on my back and raising the leg vertically. Now I can grab my heel with leg perfectly straight, or touch my forehead with my knee. So don't think you can't do that. You just need to be persistent, systematic and don't force it (especially if you're starting to feel pain).

Nowadays I try to incorporate those wide wall-facing squats into every raising movement I make. I get some odd looks (I don't do it at work, though), but I don't care. When I raise from bed, I don't use my hands. Same for couch, chair, and other platforms.

Don't get obsessed with numbers. Numbers don't mean a squat if they come at the price of bad technique. Bad technique is like building a tower on skewed foundation. Repeat that movement enough times, and the tower will start leaning, then fall (injury). So once in a while I lower my weekly number of squats, when I feel I can get even closer to wall. At first I thought I'd never manage it, but every couple of weeks I can exercising closer to wall. It's better to perform smaller sets of perfect exercise than lots of bad. Too bad I learned it the hard way.

Aside from feeling very flexible at thighs and legs in general, it's rewarding because my knee feels very stable. A few years ago, when I was shifting my weight while standing, I could feel it rotate in various ways. Now I feel more confident because I feel it supports me better. My balance also got a lot better and I'm leaning over tables and other objects in ways that seemed impossible before. I naturally adjust my stance when walking upstairs, downstairs, or running downhill. It feels like my entire leg works through the entire range of motion. I get bonus points when cycling, I can power through some smaller hills at full speed where previously I would be soaked with sweat.

In general, anaerobic exercise like squats gives your body more HP (Hit Points), making you more resistant to injury, increasing bone density etc. The last one is especially important for women, who are prone to osteoporosis when getting older.

I'm getting the itch to resume long distance running, and now I could probably pull it off. I learned to listen to my body, and prevent injury in advance by adjusting my stance and movement until I feel no pain or discomfort of any sort. I dig the endorphin, the runner's high. I don't know if i will find enough time, but worst case scenario is I will just focus on cycling.

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