Top tips to help sitting nature’s chair (the squat)

Watching my daughter progress through different stages of learning to move has been fascinating. This has especially been the case since she started walking as it has opened up a whole new world of running, climbing and exploring.

One thing I am quite jealous of is her ability to squat. She just drops right down as if it is nothing (to her it is!), hangs out for a bit, maybe drops further so she’s sitting while she fiddles with something, then pops back up and totters off (her back is flat as pancake throughout btw).

It’s amazing, if only to compare how difficult the movement has become for me after too many years of not using my squat and lounging about. It has also inspired me to get my squat back, or more specifically have the ability to sit in a squat for an extended period of time, starting at 1 minute eventually working up to 10+.

The hope is that if I can do it, then she will never stop and won’t miss out on the mobility benefits of regular squatting. I’m getting there, after a bit of limbering up I can now hang out down there for about a minute.

I’ve used exercises from a few different resources to improve my squat, not really following any routine but just doing a few bits during the day and as part of my warm up/cool down. Here are my top picks:

  • Mobility WOD is a great resource for exercises that can improve the squat. In fact K Starr uses the squat as a monthly diagnostic check to see how your mobility is improving. The foot on the wall or sofa stretch is especially good but there’s loads more in there. I love the way he refers to the squat as a paleo chair – it’s spot on.
  • This post by Ido Portal has some exercises I had not seen before for working on external and internal rotation of the hips and also ankle mobility. A quick run through these makes a squat feel much more relaxed and easy.
  • Nick Tumminello demonstrates a great exercise in this video. It makes getting into a deeper squat much easier if you are feeling a bit tight and the addition of an overhead reach really enforces sitting back and a more upright body position.
  • Finally, in this post Todd Hargrove uses Feldenkrais techniques to improve the squat. Feldenkrais involves improving awareness of how different parts of the body are involved in movements to make them easier to perform. This lesson followed the same path as a baby learning to stand, starting with four points of balance (two hands, two feet), moving to three and then finally two. It was really interesting and my squat was definitely much more comfortable afterwards. This is something for further exploration at a later date – luckily there is also a follow up post.

I also want to mention Matt Metzgar as he has just run a series of posts about his own quest for a flat foot squat. There’s some gold in the comments sections of these posts, it was through these that I discovered the Ido Portal & Nick Tumminello tips. They can be found here, here, here, here and here.

Finally, to mimic Matt’s last post here’s me hanging out in my chair. There’s still much work to be done (feet pointing out, feet wider than shoulder width, back far from flat) but we’re getting there.

Squat

Fitness attributes – posture part 1

This is the next in my series on each aspect of the What do you need to do to be fit? post.

I am going to split the posture post into three parts as there is a lot to say. This post will focus on why it is important and what good posture looks like, the next will look at some resources I use to help improve my own posture and the final post will be about exercises that can help improve posture.

So why is posture important?

It has a massive influence on overall fitness and wellness. Poor posture will likely stop you being able to perform certain exercises and movements properly which may lead to injury. As we age poor posture becomes amplified as the muscles become weaker, the elderly person that is bent over their walking frame probably started with a fairly minor slouch.

I believe proper posture can fundamentally improve a persons well being and longevity.

What does good look like?

The four main points that make up good standing posture are:

  • Neck extends directly up from torso
  • Shoulders (and scapula) are held back and down
  • Gentle S curve to spine
  • Knees and hips softly locked

Result – when standing bones (structure) are aligned so weight is comfortably supported by skeleton.

Common postural issues

The most common changes to the four points above are:

  • Neck and head jut forward
  • Shoulders slump forward
  • One or both of spine’s curves are exaggerated
  • Knees/hips unlocked when standing

Result – skeleton misaligned so weight supported inefficiently or held by muscles

These issues are linked so rarely appear on their own e.g. an exaggerated curve of the upper back may be joined by slumping shoulders and a forward head position.

These issues will likely cause pain over time. Fortunately they are not permanent can be rectified.

There are many possible strategies. In my next post I will talk about a few books that I have found especially useful.

Modern life makes young ‘weaklings’

This scary stuff, if not in the slightest bit surprising.

It’s especially interesting to see fear of litigation blamed for the removal of productive climbing exercises (trees, ropes) from children’s lives.

Parents have to pick up the baton here. I’m certainly not going to sue myself if any of my kids fall out of a tree!

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/may/21/children-weaker-computers-replace-activity

Example exercise progressions

I mentioned in my recent current training post that I would progress exercises by either adding weight or move to a more difficult exercise..

How to add weight is obvious, but how to make bodyweight exercises more difficult is less so. Fortunately with some research and creativity it can be done fairly simply. Here are the progressions I’m currently using for my main exercises, both weighted and bodyweight only.

These are not the only ways to progress on these exercises, just what I’m currently doing. For each exercise I have highlighted the progression I am currently using.

Upper body pulls

Front lever
Tuck – advanced tuck – one leg/straddle (relative difficulty will depend on straddle flexibility) – full lay

Back lever
Tuck – advanced tuck – one leg/straddle (relative difficulty will depend on straddle flexibility) – full lay

Ring row
Feet on floor – feet raised – add weight or harder exercise (front lever row) or embed front lever

Chin up
Bodyweight – harder pull up variation or add weight (10kg)

Inverted pull up
Increase ROM

Upper body pushes

Handstand
Headstand – wall handstand – freestanding handstand

Planche
Tuck – advanced tuck – one leg/straddle (relative difficulty will depend on straddle flexibility) – full lay

Pseudo planche push up
On floor, hands & feet level – on floor, feet raised – hands on rings, feet level – hands on rings, feet raised

Handstand push up
Incline PU* – pike PU* – HeSPU – HSPU
*both full ROM, i.e. hands raised

Bulgarian dips
Bodyweight – add weight

Lower body

KB squats
Add quality (depth) – add weight

Running
Add distance – add speed – reduce distance/add more speed (sprint intervals)

KB snatches
Add reps – reduce rest time – add weight

Here are some great places to look for more information on bodyweight exercise progression:

 

Fitness attributes – physical skills

Physical skills are the attributes most commonly associated with fitness. A stereotypical image of a fit person will likely be an athlete who displays a high level of physical skill.

In my last post on fitness I mentioned the ten general physical skills as stated by Crossfit. I think these cover every outward expression of fitness you could want your body to be able to perform.

  • Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance – the ability of body systems to gather, process and deliver oxygen.
  • Stamina – the ability of body systems to deliver, process, store and utilise energy.
  • Strength – the ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply force.
  • Flexibility – the ability to maximise the range of motion at a given joint.
  • Power – the ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply maximum force in minimum time.
  • Coordination – the ability to combine several distinct movement patterns into a singular distinct movement.
  • Agility – the ability to minimise transition time from one movement pattern to the next.
  • Speed – the ability to minimise the time cycle of a repeated movement.
  • Balance – the ability to control the placement of the bodies centre of gravity in relation to its support base.
  • Accuracy – the ability to control movement in a given direction or at a given intensity.

A good level of skill in all of these characteristics can be summarised as – the ability to move your own body and external objects at a range of angles and speeds, in varying situations.

So, how do you go about training these attributes? As it is Crossfit’s list is that the best way? Maybe. I actually really like the Crossfit methodology, working hard to master a wide range of attribute and skills makes perfect sense to me.

Personally, I use the ten movement families from Georges Herbert’s Methode Naturale to check my training is heading in the right direction. Here’s all ten along with some notes on how I think they should be approached.

  • Walking
    This should be easy locomotion, not a workout. Make it easy and do it often. Wear minimal (or no) shoes and feel the ground beneath your feet.
  • Running
    Vary speeds and distances. Go as far as makes sense providing it doesn’t negatively impact other skills (i.e. strength) or until walking is a better option. Same footwear rules as walking.
  • Jumping
    Pretty self explanatory. Jump up onto things, jump off of things, jump over things. Vary the heights.
  • Climbing
    I love this one. A rock face, climbing wall or even a tree is ideal. If you can’t get to those then pull ups count. The main thing is to move your body upward through space using the power of your muscles.
  • Quadrupedal movement (moving on all 4 limbs)
    Think about mimicking animal movements (apes, crab, bear walk). Great for warm ups and play. Harder work than it looks.
  • Balancing
    Self explanatory. Don’t go too high until you are confident you won’t fall off! Fallen logs and low walls are a great place to start.
  • Lifting
    There are a ton of ways to approach this. Pick things up, get stronger, the method is up to you
  • Throwing
    Big things for explosive power. Little things for accuracy. Do it outdoors.
  • Defending
    I miss this. Learning a martial art was great, I will get back to it at some point. There are many styles to choose from, the most important things are that you enjoy it, the teacher knows what they are doing and that you spar, a lot.
  • Swimming
    I am bad at training this, probably because a chlorine filled pool is really unattractive – it’s a good skill to have though. Drowning would be rubbish.

Now the weather is getting warmer I’m really looking forward to getting outside and combining a few of these in true Methode Naturale fashion. I did it last year and it was brilliant. I need to get my running up to speed (ha ha) first though.

Recommended training resources

Current workouts – May 2011

Although I’m no longer recording every workout on here I still want to include notes of what I’m currently doing.

I moved house a few weeks back and have an awesome new spot to set up my gymnastic rings so have been doing a lot of gymnastic movements recently. I’ve also been squatting in every workout, doing grip work along with a few added extras.

For most exercises I’ve been pairing upper body pushing movements with upper body pulling movements, and lower body movements with grip work. The pairings are shown seperated by a slash. I’ve also been fitting in 1-2 gripper sessions on my off days plus some occasional yoga.

This is the basic template, it has been varying slightly depending on time available:

Every session – warm up
Joint mobility/prep – wrists, shoulders/scapula, reverse lunge, squat and reach, alternating cossack, bridge wall walks

Monday
Hand stand practice
Back lever / Planche
Chin up / Incline or pike push up
KB front squat / Sledge hammer overhead lever
Hip thrust / DB bent lateral raise
Weighted carries

Wednesday
Hand stand practice
Front lever / Planche
Ring row / Pseudo planche push up
KB front squat / Pinch grip
DB bent lateral raise
Running

Friday
Wall hand stand / Back lever (1/2 volume)
Inverted pull up / Bulgarian ring dip
KB front squat
KB snatch

I’m doing most exercises for 3 sets of 5-8 reps. The idea is to start at 5 reps per set and add reps until I hit 8, I then add weight or move to a more difficult exercise. The exceptions are hip thrusts, DB bent lateral raises and KB snatch all of which are done for higher reps.

The weighted carries have mostly been farmers walks done for distance. The run has been fairly short and quick, after I’ve got used to running again (I’ve not run since my ankle injury) I’ll start doing sprint intervals.

What do you need to do to be ‘fit’?

Update – as I write the more detailed posts I’ll add links in here so this can become an index of all of the info.

Over the last year I’ve been trying to pursue a well rounded approach to fitness. The more I thought about what that actually means, the clearer it became that there is far more involved than just the physical.

In this post I’m listing out different attributes that make up well rounded fitness. It’s not exhaustive and plenty of people probably disagree with aspects of it but is where my thinking is currently at.

In the article What is fitness? Crossfit lists out ten general physical skills (as well as touching on wellness, nutrition and the Crossfit methodology). In terms of the physical aspects of fitness I can’t think of any reason to remove or add to their list, so here it is:

Physical skillslink to post

  • Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance
  • Stamina
  • Strength
  • Flexibility
  • Power
  • Coordination
  • Agility
  • Speed
  • Balance
  • Accuracy

These are outward expressions of fitness, but there are also more internal aspects that are just as important and won’t necessarily be covered when training the physical skills. I’m calling it physical wellness:

Physical wellness

Finally there is mental fitness. If you go into specifics this list could go on and on. I’ve cut it down to four big ones, fitness here is the ability to control or refine each of these qualities.

Mental fitness

There’s quite a lot to train for! That’s the positive message though, they can all be trained, you can improve in any/all of these with effort.

Over the next few weeks I’ll expand on different sections of the list and give some recommended resources to help train them.