Squats, a love affair. They are like the mentor that pushes you to be your best self and challenges you to be better even when it annoys you in the moment. But it feels so good after, like a breath of fresh air and a revelation. Squats don’t make my heart sing, but they are so good for my knees, hips, and back, especially when I was full on struggling with Hashimoto’s. That’s right, I said good for my knees! For those who were told by their doctors “squats are bad for the knees” take a look at that doc and sum up if they’ve ever lifted weights.
If I never had to squat again and know with certainty that I would live a life without pain, I would choose this option. But knowing what I do physically every damn day, like pick up my kids, press my suitcase into the airplane overhead, and crawl around on my knees to play horse with my toddler, squats are a non-negotiable.
When done with impeccable form, it sets a woman up for resiliency, reduced pain and better performance aka badass rockstar. It leads to incredible transformations mentally and physically. Squats gives us a better shot at surviving the day, from getting out of cars, hopping up from a our desk and repeatedly scooping up a two year old in the air who only screams “More!” The benefits go on and on.
Why should I squat?
A bodyweight squat with the hips traveling below the knees uses most of the muscles of the body from head to toe. It’s a beautiful example of real mobility and true stability. The hips, knees and ankles hit maximum end range. If you drew a line from the ears, shoulders, hips, think of this line unbroken and long allowing the torso to descend with grace. Add a weight (kettlebell and barbell are my fave) and every muscle group benefits from the squat.
The benefits of squatting with amazing form:
- Increased strength and resiliency
- Helps fight gravity, aka just makes life easier
- Develops the glutes, hamstrings, core and quads
- Better muscle definition (who doesn’t love that?!?)
- A full body movement makes for more muscles working together leading to more energy expenditure
- Improves bone density
We started off squatting naturally in the first year of life and at many points along the way we got off track. Long hours of sitting in one place, old injuries, and poor chest breathing patterns has robbed many of us the muscle memory of squatting. But its re-trainable!
Why focus on the front squat?
There are multiple ways to squat: front squat, goblet squat, high bar back squat, and low bar back squat. I love the front squat especially with kettlebells aka the goblet squat or double racked front squat. You can work on form without feeling stuck or asymmetrical with holding a barbell. Especially us women with Hashimoto’s who tend toward hyper mobility and sway back in the low back, a front squat will help what I call “close the box.” The box being your “tank of strength” core with your ribs STACKED over your pelvis. Way less chance for sway back or that overarching in the low back.
Notice below how a front squat will create less rib flare and less low back sway than a back squat.
How do I squat
Let’s break down squat form, shall we? It’s not easy, and it may not be pretty at first. But try this checklist, this is what I take myself through every time I squat:
- Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Instep of the foot to the outside of the shoulder. (ladies, to accommodate our wider hips)
- Toes turn out to 11 and 1 o’clock.
- Long through the back of your neck, soft chin.
- Sniff a breath in through the nose (just enough, but not so much your ribs flare) before your descent.
- Drive your knees towards the 3rd toes on the way down (and up). But not so far the big toe picks up or you roll to the outside of your foot.
- Control the descent. Think slow motion elevator not “drop it like its hot.”
- Butt travels below the knees, and make sure not to butt wink and no tucking the pelvis under.
- Solid exhale to stand. It should sound like “TSSSS-A.” Crisp, clear, audible.
- Squeeze those heels towards one another without moving the feet on the way up, aka foot dialing.
- Powerful glute squeeze at the top to finish, like you’re cracking a walnut between the cheeks.
This may seem like a hefty checklist but once you build the basics, this will feel like second nature. Creating ownership of how you move takes work, but nothing will change unless you take action.
3 ways to make squats not suck
Back to the love affair, it’s much more romantic if you warm up properly before you squat.
1. Start with breathing drills to get into your core kicking in and prepped for squatting. Lay face down, make a pillow for your forehead with the backs of your hands. Breathe down and wide into your belly and feel your tailbone drop towards your heels as you breathe in. Do this for 15 breaths which is about a minute.
2. Rock like a baby. Before babies start to crawl, they get on all fours and rock their tushy back to their heels and then forward with their shoulders over their hands. Do the same with your toes tucked under to open up the hips and ankles. Do this for 15 breaths.
3. Squat pause. Get into the bottom of the squat with a 12 kilo kettlebell and drive your elbows into the inner sides of your knees to drive the knees open. This will help to open up the hips. Then pause in the middle and exhale are you drive up to stand. The pause hold at the bottom makes it a wee bit harder without having to load more weight. 5 reps is all you need.
Want more full-body compound movements to help heal Hashimoto’s and your thyroid? Check out Thyroid Strong. I had to do it for my own body and have helped women ever since doing the same.
In Good Health,
Dr Emily Kiberd