Ode to the Squat: Flex Your Hip to Save Your Spine
Squats are a classic exercise for good reason. When I teach my clients how to squat, I focus on flexing at the hip joint and maintaining a neutral spine. This is how a human should bend, especially when picking up something heavy. Proper body mechanics should be taught in elementary school so people grow up knowing how to protect their precious spine.
If you flex your spine (or bend your spine forward) when picking something up--instead of flexing at your hip--you are putting pressure on your intervertebral discs and over time may cause degeneration and possible herniation.
As my wise rehabilitation guru Denise Small said to me years ago, "I think 90% of back pain is due to lack of hip flexion." This statement obviously has stuck with me.
People who have tightness in their hamstrings, glutes, and external rotators of the hip will have more trouble getting the hip joint to flex. Men tend to be tighter in this way and will more likely flex their spine when bending over. Rolling out the hamstrings, glutes and external rotators can help allow the hip joint to flex.
Training clients to "open their sit bones" when doing a squat is a great cue to practice opening the pelvic floor and allowing the hip joint to come into flexion. When performing a squat in this way, you will be strengthening your glutes, hamstrings, and quads without loading your spine. Isn't this what we all want? Strong butt and healthy spine!
That's why I teach 50-100 squats in my barre class so people will hopefully not have to think before they squat!