I get asked this question a lot.
The short answer is yes, squats can be great for creating pelvic floor strength. They can develop strong glutes and hamstrings, key pieces that support long term pelvic floor health.
There's another question though that's even more important.
Are you really ready to squat?
Without wanting to be Debbie Downer, chances are you're not quite ready to squat in a way that will give you the pelvic floor benefits (with none of the risks) you seek.
Chances are you'll need to do a fair bit of prep work before you can squat and:
- keep your heels down
- keep your feet straight
- keep your shins vertical
- not bear down onto your pelvic floor
Before you get totally discouraged, the great news is, even if you spend the next 2 months (or 2 years) doing squat prep, you’ll still get fabulous pelvic floor (and whole body) benefits even without ever doing a squat.
Isn't squatting natural?
Yes! On the one hand, squatting is a completely natural movement, something that should be a part of our daily movement. On the other hand, our modern day lifestyle interferes tremendously with being able to squat well.
The mystery of the lost squat
Have you ever noticed how much young kids squat? They squat all the time! That's how they lower themselves to the floor.
And then something happens. They get older. They spend more time sitting and more time in shoes. They go to school and spend even more time sitting and the squatting comes to a screeching halt.
Unless you've made a conscious effort, it's pretty unlikely that squatting is part of your daily movement because nothing you do during your day requires you to squat.
Humans used to squat to bathroom or to eat or to do any variety of tasks that required them to get lower to the ground. Most Western humans no longer need to do this.
Now we have toilets and beds off the ground and chairs and couches. You may notice that all of your sitting devices these days put you in a position where your hips and knees are flexed at 90 degrees.
The curse of adaptation
Your body is a marvel at adapting to the position it's in the most frequently. It changes muscle lengths and joint positions to create efficiency for what you do most often.
What do most of us do most often? We sit - in our cars, in a chair, on the toilet, on the couch, on our bed, etc.
You have these joints (knees and hips especially) and muscles (like your calf muscles, hamstrings and psoas) that have adapted to being in a seated position most of the time and then you ask them to squat because you want to fix your pelvic floor problem or prevent one from occurring in the first place.
You ask your hip and knee joints to flex beyond 90 degrees. You beg your calf muscles to lengthen enough to keep your heels down at the bottom of your squat. You call out to your glutes and hamstrings to help lower and lift you, but all you hear is crickets.
That, my friend, is adaptation at work. You are attempting to take a body that has adapted to the shape of a chair over years and years and you're asking it to morph into the shape of a squat so you can reap the benefits of a movement that ideally you would have been doing your entire life.
And of course you want to do this without getting injured or doing additional damage to your pelvic floor.
That is why you need prep work before you squat.
Taking the time to prep before you incorporate squats into your daily life means you'll develop the necessary strength, mobility and stability squats require so you avoid making your pelvic floor problems worse by holding your breath and bearing down (valsalva, anyone?).
You need prep work so your brain can begin to restore motor programs for movements you haven't done in years.
You need prep work so you can lengthen and strengthen your muscles and begin to gradually increase your joint ranges of motion before safely loading your full body weight onto them.
And yes, you need prep work so you can squat in a way that really does improve pelvic floor strength (no, not all squats are created equal).
Think about it, you wouldn’t attempt to hike the John Muir Trail without spending lots of time preparing and conditioning your body. The same goes for the squat.
And remember, just like preparing to hike the John Muir Trail gives you lots of benefits before you actually do it, so does preparing to squat.
How to start prepping
In the next post, I'll go into more detail about squat prep. For now, work on changing how you sit as well as how much you sit.
Until next time, practice these two things:
- Whenever possible, chose to stand rather than sit. This will get you out of a flexed hips and knees position and start lengthening muscles and opening joints.
- Choose to sit on the floor vs. your couch or chair or cushy recliner. Why? Sitting on the floor means you're less likely to be in one fixed position for any length of time. It also means your joints get a greater variety of movement instead of the same old same old 90 degrees of hip and knee flexion.
In the comments below, I'd love to hear what you notice about your current squat - can you keep your feet straight and your heels down when you squat?
Ready for more pelvic floor support?
Check out my free webinar recording Why Kegels Aren't Enough.