In the pursuit of wellness, your foundation has to be solid. Inner strength and the ability to weather storms is more important than merely looking good. Squats are the bedrock of fitness. They develop the fundamental muscles necessary for security and strength in daily life.
I did not grow up knowing how to use my body properly. Exercise wasn’t really my gig. I didn’t realize how much could go wrong without a base fitness plan. After the birth of my second son, I was advised to not pick up my children. That was not good advice. Our inner organs are held in place by ligaments and the surrounding muscles of the core and pelvic floor. The diaphragm regulates pressure in the cavity, which helps to support the spine and pelvic floor while lifting heavy objects. Without proper breathing and muscle tone all the way around, back pain is likely and a hernia or prolapse will appear. A minor slip on a wet floor could turn into a major injury. Proper core fitness is crucial to moving and accomplishing daily activities safely.
But I didn’t know all that, so I’ll skip ahead and tell you that four more children didn’t make anything better. Groceries and babies still needed lifting, regardless of how much it damaged my body. Although I never mentioned it, I was not alone. Depending on the source, anywhere from 20-50% of women have some sort of pelvic floor disorder or outright prolapse. Surgery is available, but again, depending on the source, failure rates for the different surgeries are 37-60%. This is deplorable. Like most ailments on the rise today, these are almost completely preventable.
Losing tone in your body doesn’t come from age – it comes from lack of proper use. Our bodies are designed to maintain integrity, heal from injury and continue to work well through the years. Yet, I struggled with the fact that, although my chiropractor could adjust everything back into place, it wouldn’t stay. Kegels were good, but insufficient. They only work the bottom sling of the torso, not the supporting structure. In order to strengthen the internal web holding organs in place- tighten the puppeteer’s strings, if you will – squats need to be incorporated.
Squatting is a natural human movement, and should be a part of our everyday activities. Somehow, though, the western world has nearly eliminated the need for squatting with the invention of toilets and EZLift recliners – much to our detriment. A squat, done properly, maintains flexibility of the ankles, knees, hips and shoulders. With proper flexibility comes solid muscle tone to hold those major joints in alignment. It is really a whole body exercise that strengthens and stabilizes the foundational muscles. With a strong core and rear end, falls are more easily avoided and getting back up from a fall is much easier.
It was hard at first. I didn’t see much change, and if anything, it seemed like I got worse. My knees hurt and my heels would not stay down. I found out how little I actually flex my hips, and had to learn where my glute muscles were. My breathing while lifting was actually pushing my organs out of place. I worked to match my form to the fitness experts on youTube. I was motivated by seeing disability rails next to every toilet in America and photos of people in foreign countries happily squatting for hours next to their wares at the market or over their work. I couldn’t even get in that position, much less hold it for hours AND get back up!!
Several sites helped me immensely. The first, to help me bring that prolapse under control and learn proper breathing, was the “Lift” series by FemFusion Fitness, which is a treasure trove of everything women’s fitness. The second, to improve strength and posture, was Foundation Training. His 12-minute workout is one of the best I’ve ever found for keeping my body working well. The biggest thing in learning to squat properly was to realize that the hips are a big hinge: start by bending there and pushing your weight back. Keep your weight in your heels, don’t let your knees go past your toes or fall inward, and try to make strong angles with hips and shoulders (curving your lower back or shoulders signals a need for better strength.) Work on form first, and depth of squat later. Here’s a good example –
Don’t think you have to join a gym to do this. I began doing a little each day, whatever I could fit in or felt like doing (or remembered to do.) Within two weeks, my kids commented that my posture had changed. I looked stronger. Whenever kids notice Mom, that’s significant. It took a few more months, but prolapse is no longer something that bothers me. Every week I am stronger and feel more secure. I don’t worry about picking up a child or a bag of dog food.
Fitness is a choice. It is up to you what you choose to lose or to keep. The floor doesn’t have to be out of reach, and getting up from ground level shouldn’t be a team activity. Squats are a fundamental, full body exercise for building balance, flexibility and strength, allowing you to do more, better, and look good in the process. Add a set or two into your day for 30 days, and see if it doesn’t change your baseline fitness. Your body was designed to work, and work well for many years. With the right foundation and maintenance, it will do so for a lifetime.