Study: Does squatting or using kneeling chairs have health benefits

Squats are a functional exercise ones that help your body perform real life activities – and are one of the best and most natural ways of toning your body.

Contrary to what some may think, squats aren’t just for body builders or weight lifters; they’re for everyone wanting to tone up at any age and they can be done anywhere, at any time, without the need for specific equipment. Some people even say that squatting is the best exercise you can do.

When you bend to tie your shoelaces or to pick up something from the floor, you are actually squatting. It’s a natural form of exercise. The only difference between those actions and squatting workouts is that while doing squat exercises, you deliberately maintain a correct posture to gain some intended benefit.

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Squats are one of the best compound exercise movements out there. Most fitness trainers recommend this as the first thing that you should learn to do much before anything else. The combination of deadlifts and squats form one of the best compound exercise combination that you can carry out in your gym. And they not just build targeted muscles, but are responsible for overall muscle growth.

Squat exercises can be done with or without weights. Either way will benefit you, and by adding weights will lead to improvements to overall muscle mass. However, if you do use weights be sure to squat correctly to avoid injury.

The squat is a dynamic strength training exercise that requires several muscles in your upper and lower body to work together simultaneously.

Many of these muscles help power you through daily tasks such as walking, climbing stairs, bending, or carrying heavy loads. They also help you perform athletic-related activities.

Adding squats to your workouts can help boost your exercise performance, decrease your risk of injury, and keep you moving more easily throughout the day. But these are just a few of the benefits.

What muscles do squats work?

If there’s one exercise that has the ability to challenge most of the muscles in your body, it’s the squat.

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The obvious muscles targeted are in the lower body, but in order to do this compound exercise correctly, you also need to use several muscles above your waist.

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The lower muscles targeted in a squat include your:

  1. Gluteus maximus, minimus, and medius (buttocks)
  2. Quadriceps (front of the thigh)
  3. Hamstrings (back of the thigh)
  4. Adductor (groin)
  5. Hip flexors
  6. Calves

In addition to the lower body, the squat also targets your core muscles. These muscles include the rectus abdominis, obliques, transverse abdominis, and erector spinae.

If you do a back squat or overhead squat, you’ll also work the muscles in your shoulders, arms, chest, and back.

A USC-led study shows that squatting and kneeling may be important resting positions in human evolution — and even for modern human health.

Sitting for hours a day is linked to some health risks, including cardiovascular disease, likely because it involves low muscle activity and low muscle metabolism. However, these risks seem paradoxical. For humans, evolutionary pressures favor conserving energy. Spending a lot of time sitting would seem to accomplish that goal. So, why should sitting be so harmful?

How about kneeling chairs

A kneeling chair is a type of chair for sitting in a position with the thighs dropped to an angle of about 60° to 70° from vertical (as opposed to 90° when sitting in a normal chair), with some of the body’s weight supported by the shins.

kneeling chair

The kneeling chair is meant to reduce lower back strain by dividing the burden of one’s weight between the shins and the buttocks. People with coccyx or tailbone pain resulting from significant numbers of hours in a sitting position (e.g., office desk jobs) are common candidates for such chairs. However, it is not proven that kneeling chairs are an optimal solution.

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A proper kneeling chair creates the open body angle by lowering the angle of the lower body, keeping the spine in alignment and the sitter properly positioned to task. The benefit of this position is that if one leans inward, the body angle remains 90° or wider. A misconception regarding kneeling chairs is that the body’s weight bears on the knees, and thus users with poor knees cannot use the chair. In a proper kneeling chair, most of the weight remains on the buttocks, and some of the weight bears on the shins, not the knees. The primary function of the shin rests (knee rests) is to keep one from falling forward out of the chair.

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A team of researchers found by tracking the movements and health of the Hadza, a hunter-gatherer community, that they lack the markers for heart disease and metabolic disease that are common in people in industrialized societies. A key factor: the Hadza kneel and squat more than they sit.

The USC-led team has shown that resting postures used before the invention of chairs like squatting and kneeling may hold the answer, as they involve higher levels of muscle activity then chair-sitting. These more active rest postures may help protect people from the harmful effects of inactivity.

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“We tend to think human physiology is adapted to the conditions in which we evolved,” said David Raichlen, a professor of biological sciences at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “So, we assumed that if inactivity is harmful, our evolutionary history would not have included much time spent sitting the way we do today.”

The study was published on in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

How you rest matters

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To better understand the evolution of sedentary behaviors, the scientists studied inactivity in a group of Tanzanian hunter-gatherers, the Hadza, who have a lifestyle that is similar in some ways with how humans lived in the past.

For the study, Hadza participants wore devices that measured physical activity and periods of rest. The scientists found that they had high levels of physical activity — over three times as much as the 22 minutes per day advised by U.S. federal health guidelines.

But the scientists also found that they had high levels of inactivity.

In fact, the Hadza are sedentary for about as much time — around 9 to 10 hours per day — as humans in more developed countries. However, they appear to lack the markers of chronic diseases that are associated, in industrialized societies, with long periods of sitting. The reason for this disconnect may lie in how they rest.

“Even though there were long periods of inactivity, one of the key differences we noticed is that the Hadza are often resting in postures that require their muscles to maintain light levels of activity — either in a squat or kneeling,” Raichlen said.

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In addition to tracking activity and inactivity, the researchers used specialized equipment to measure muscle activity in the lower limbs in different resting postures. Squatting involved more muscle activity compared to sitting.

The researchers suggested that because the Hadza squat and kneel and have high levels of movement when not at rest, they may have more consistent muscle activity throughout the day. This could reduce the health risks associated with sedentary behavior.

“Being a couch potato or even sitting in an office chair requires less muscle activity than squatting or kneeling,” Raichlen said. “Since light levels of muscle activity require fuel, which generally means burning fats, then squatting and kneeling postures may not be as harmful as sitting in chairs.”

In developed countries, humans spend inactive periods sitting on their duffs in chairs, recliners or sofas, so the only time they activate their leg muscles is when they bend their knees to slide into the seat. On average, people in more industrialized societies, including the United States and Europe, spend about nine hours per day sitting.

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“Preferences or behaviors that conserve energy have been key to our species’ evolutionary success,” said Brian Wood, an anthropologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has worked with the Hazda people for 16 years. “But when environments change rapidly, these same preferences can lead to less optimal outcomes. Prolonged sitting is one example.”

The scientists dubbed this the “Inactivity Mismatch Hypothesis.”

“Replacing chair sitting and associated muscular inactivity with more sustained active rest postures may represent a behavioral paradigm that should be explored in future experimental work,” they wrote. Resolving this inactivity mismatch with our evolutionary past could pay off in better health today.

“Squatting is not a likely alternative,” Raichlen said, “but spending more time in postures that at least require some low-level muscle activity could be good for our health.”

The study was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation, the University of Arizona Bio5 Institute and the American Diabetes Association.


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