Squats are hard. So too are lunges. For most, squats and lunges evoke thoughts of pain – burning fiery pain in the legs and in the glutes; soreness stuffed with aches, wrapped with a blanket of misery. Oh, and sweat. When I perform squats or lunges the sweat is often as immediate as the burn. Pain, work, sweat; no wonder people avoid doing squats and lunges.
These exercises are so hard because they recruit a great deal of the body’s muscles mass in action. Sixty percent of the body’s muscle mass is carried below the hips. Male or female, we have a lot of leg meat. Notwithstanding, all the upper body muscles that are being used statically in maintaining stability while performing squats and lunges; these muscles are the supporting cast and are on stage for the entire performance.
In the course of a squat or lunge, ever muscle in your body fires at least a little bit, and most of them fire a lot. As all these muscles fire, they become void of oxygen and nutrients, and the heart and lungs have to work overtime to push blood into the muscles to replace spent oxygen and nutrients. That’s why squats and lunges (can) have a cardio aspect as well. Squats and lunges are perfect. They are the sum of balance, strength, flexibility, and coordination. These are very hard, but very useful exercises. But really they aren’t…
… aren’t exercises that is, though they are hard, and they are useful. In my book, squats and lunges don’t fall into the category of being called exercises. I perform squats and lunges as I teach them, as life-skills. The ability to perform a squat or a lunge translates directly into one’s ability to do just about anything else physical. Being able to perform proper squats and lunges enables one to more properly perform life; lifting, carrying, climbing stairs, getting in and out of the car, retrieving items from low places, being active and athletic, playing with the kids, and even that age old ritual of genuflecting – no wonder Catholics have such amazing quads.
I am not writing to teach anyone how to perform squats or lunges, or to suggest a protocol of how they can be included in your workout. If you are reading this than you probably already know what they are and how to do them – though I am certain I could teach you to do them in better form. I am writing to share a core belief from my fitness value set; that these exercises, practiced properly and with reasonable consistency are truly a life-skill, and should not be avoided for their perceived severity because they don’t have to be severe.
Squats and lunges can be a ritual reminder that we should be lifting with our legs and not with our backs – they reinforce that muscle memory. Knowing how to properly squat or lunge can aid, protect, and enhance our lives. They help keep strong areas of the body prone to weakness in aging such as the musculature in the areas of the knees, the hips, and the low-back. They can better prepare a person for the unexpected; the sudden need to move, need to transfer energy, or catch something which might be falling – including a child, a partner, or a parent.
Of course squats and lunges have an aesthetic value and that is why many people do them; they are useful in forging and shaping the legs and glutes. Using them to make and to maintain these changes is hard work, and that’s where the reputation for sweat, burning, and pain can come from. Bodybuilder squats and every-day-life squats are similar in motion, but not in protocol. Doing them to make your legs look like Tom Platz, squats and lunges might be feared. Doing them to better pick up your dog, and for the sake of bettering your physicality in daily life, just makes sense – though they may get your heart going, and may burn just a bit.
If you are not somebody who performs these exercise with any regularity, when you are done reading this, go life as you normally would; live, work, play. At day’s end stop, take an inventory of your life-living movements. Ask yourself, would these activities have felt better – could they have gone better, if you had more strength, improved flexibility, better balance, more coordination emanating from your legs. Squats and lunges should not be feared as much, as one should fear the inability to perform them outside the gym – where it matters most. Thank you Nick (Tim this month), and AFG for inspiring this week’s column. Be well. rc