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Have you ever watched toddlers play with their favorite toys? You were probably jealous at the ease with which they could execute and hold prefect squats — ass-to-grass, chest up, knees out and heels down. You then realize that at some point in the last 20 or 30 years, you yourself somehow lost that ability.
The squat is one of the most functional movements humans can perform: We squat to pick something up, we squat to sit down and we even squat to stand up. But modern life with all its sedentary tendencies has altered our biomechanics and as a result our squatting prowess has suffered. But as they say, that which is lost can be found, and your now-imperfect squat can become perfect once again with some dedicated mobility work targeting the hamstrings and hip flexors.
Sitting is the biggest culprit when it comes to stealing your gold-star squat faculties. First and foremost it limits your range of motion by putting the hamstrings in a shortened state for hours at a time. Then, when you go to squat, your lower back will round as the hamstrings pull the pelvis under — a dangerous position for your spine when top-loaded with a barbell. Prolonged sitting also causes your hip flexors to shorten, and during a squat they pull your pelvis downward, shifting your weight forward onto your toes rather than your heels where it belongs.
These five exercises help lengthen your hamstrings and hip flexors — as well as your glutes and quads for good measure — putting everything back into balance and rejigging your squat mechanics to once again be proper, safe and effective. Perform these moves daily, breathing in and out through your nose slowly, and holding each pose (on each side) for up to a minute.
Standing Forward Fold
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, arms at your sides. Hinge from your hips and fold forward, knees straight but soft. Shift your weight onto your toes and send your tailbone up, letting the weight of your head and upper body pull you lower with each breath.
Step your feet apart about three feet, right foot forward, with your arms at your sides and your legs straight. Press down into your right big toe and square your hips, then fold forward and place your hands on your right shin or on the ground if flexibility allows. Hold and breathe.
Extended Low Lunge
Step your right foot forward and lower your left knee to the ground to come into a lunge, right knee over your ankle. Tuck your tailbone and relax your hips to find the stretch in the front of your right thigh. Keeping your shoulders and hips square, reach your left arm overhead and lean to the right.
Kneel on the floor then step your right foot forward, knee over toes. Place your hands on the floor inside your right foot and extend your left leg behind you so it’s straight with your foot up on your toes. Lower your hips down as your reach your chest forward and up and breathe deeply.
From the Lizard pose, turn the toes of your right foot outward slightly and let your right knee fall away from your chest. Then bend your back knee and grab your left foot with your right hand, drawing your left heel toward your left glute. Hold here and breathe deeply.
Note: If you can’t grab your foot, wrap a band or strap around your ankle and use that as a lever.