New Year’s Day is just around the corner, so let’s talk about everyone’s favorite topic: EXERCISE! My patients in my Norton Shores chiropractic office have one thing in common: sooner or later, I will assign them spinal rehab exercises. This is essential for achieving long term relief from neck pain, back pain, sciatica, and a host of other spine-related issues.
But what about the type of exercise you do to “get in shape?” That is a totally different matter. If you truly want to get strong and lean, and feel good doing it, there is one exercise that MUST be part of your plan: the squat.
It’s not fun. It’s not easy. You can’t read a magazine while you do it. But it DOES get results and it is a basic movement pattern that is essential to good health.
Benefits of squatting:
1. It is a whole body exercise. There is no greater “bang for the buck” exercise out there. You move the weight with the legs and buttocks, but your trunk stabilizes the weight, so you hit multiple muscles groups at once.
2. It is a ‘FUNCTIONAL’ exercise. You will improve strength, mobility, and balance. This translates to everyday activities. You will be able to lift the grand kids, shovel snow, and carry firewood better and more efficiently than ever before.
3. You will improve your body composition. You will lose fat and tone the entire body because when you perform a full body exercise, you send a very strong message to the nervous system. This has been proven in study after study. Isolation exercises (training one muscle group at a time) are nice but not nearly as effective in regards to fat loss and overall fitness.
4. You will have a stronger back. The combination of strength and flexibility needed to squat will make your back healthier than ever. However, if you suffer from chronic back pain, get your back checked by a chiropractor first. You don’t want to strengthen a crooked spine. Get it adjusted first and THEN strengthen.
Most people cannot squat properly. A sedentary lifestyle doesn’t allow them to get into a proper squat position. Some people have exercised their whole lives, but have muscle imbalance issues because they neglected certain areas of the body, leaving them with poor flexibility and dysfunctional movement patterns. This can be fixed, however. I recently re-discovered squats a couple of years ago and I was embarrassed at how poorly I did the first time I tried re-introducing the squat into my exercise routine. I needed to go back to school.
So I started reading articles and blog posts from experts on the subject and performed daily drills to help me improve my squat technique. It took time to re-learn those motor patterns and improve my flexibility and form. With time and patience, you can to.
If you are not sure if you are healthy enough to put squats in your routine, ask your doctor of chiropractic. He or she should be able to check your form and advise you on the matter.
If your chiropractor gives you the green light but you want more regular input on form and how to implement a routine, then the best thing you can do is hire a personal trainer or join a gym that offers personal training. Have the trainer check your form and make sure you are performing the exercise properly. One thing I hear often is that people avoid squats because of knee pain and back pain. 99% of the time, poor form is the culprit. Squatting with too much weight is also an issue because people often let their ego get in the way by adding too much weight too soon.
If you do not have the means to consult with a personal trainer, there are lots of YouTube videos on how to perform squats properly. Watch them. Practice. You can even take videos of yourself and compare.
Here are some resources on how to squat properly:
Again, if you are feeling overwhelmed, consult with a professional!
You should start by doing “bodyweight” squats. No bar. No weight. Just master the movement. Once you get it down, you can start adding weight incrementally. The squat will improve your overall fitness by providing an exercise that targets the whole body. The improved core strength and flexibility will also help prevent back pain in the future. If you are going to add one exercise to your routine…make it the squat!!