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Paul Theodorescu 02-25-2005 04:06 PM

I was playing pool today I decided to notice how people crouch down (to get the balls). Well, without fail every single person keeps a perfectly straight back and sits back on their calves...and raises the heels.

Is raising the heels a bad thing since it seems to come so naturally to everyone (especially when performing a manipulation in front of the body)? It definitely feels a lot stronger and more comfortable than staying on the heels.

Just curious what the thoughts are on this. Maybe each has its merits.

Beth Moscov 02-25-2005 04:32 PM

lifting up the heels reflects a lack of flexibility in the calves. That is why it might feel stronger and more comfortable. Ini parts of the world where people don't sit, they squat, you might not see the same thing.

Paul Theodorescu 02-25-2005 04:47 PM

How can I tell if flexibility is the issue? I've been stretching for a few years now and I think I'm pretty flexible for a male. I can sit down rock bottom with a straight back. Let's say I have to grab a book from a bottom instinct isn't to sit back on the heels; it's to do something like a hindu squat.

Lincoln Brigham 02-25-2005 04:53 PM

Yes and no. Most people have the calf flexibility to do a full butt-to-ground squat but lack the hip flexibility by a mile. When one joint lacks flexibility, another has to make up for it. So they raise their heels. By raising the heels the knees come forward and the hip angle becomes less acute.
Here's a picture of Chad Vaughn, on his way to winning the Pan Ams with a snatch of 145 kilos (320 lbs.) Note the depth of the squat. It's way down there. Note the angle of the ankle. Nothing to it, right? He could be wearing ski boots and still get down there. Now look at the hip angle. Mere mortals do not have that kind of hip flexibility.
Now look at this guy. Similar depth. Similar angle at the ankle. Radically different hip angle, closer to 90 degrees than 45 degree. How did he get down there? He raised his heels and thrust his knees forward, WAY over his toes.

Paul Theodorescu 02-25-2005 04:56 PM

The second guy is what I'm referring to. Is it an unsafe position?

Pat Janes 02-25-2005 05:12 PM

I don't know if it is "unsafe", but for me, it is way more uncomfortable.

I can sit for hours in a full butt to ankles squat, with my heels flat on the ground. But raising my ankles off the ground puts way too much strain on my old knees...

Lincoln Brigham 02-25-2005 05:20 PM

Maybe the second guy is why uninformed Western doctors say that deep squats are bad for the knees. But in Asia, squatting flat footed is the norm.

Seth Drown 02-25-2005 06:07 PM

Lincoln, those pics are very helpful. I think this is my biggest limitation when it comes to progressing in the OH squat and squat snatch. I've been doing joint mobility movements, stretches, and several sets of OH squats with a 45# bar every day to try and improve my flexibility. Are there any specific exercises you recommend to improve hip mobility/flexibility?

Eric Moffit 02-25-2005 09:49 PM

i would also like to know some exercises to work on hip flexibility. any help is appreciated.

Beth Moscov 02-25-2005 09:59 PM

I use the yoga posture called pigeon pose. I also simply work squats and hold the low position - not so low that I am slouching but below parallel.

Veronica Carpenter 02-25-2005 10:08 PM

Squatting on the toes with the heels raised is NOT the proper way to squat. Try that with a 1RM, or with a squat snatch or clean, and you'll fall forward. Squatting 'heels through the floor' keeps you balanced when done '*** to the floor'

Love the pics Lincoln posted - squatting like the natives. he he. It comes naturally as toddlers/young children, but somewhere along the line people have gotten lazy and forget how to squat to pick up things. Oh yeah, and the chair was invented. I don't think many people in 3rd world countries have that luxury, so squat they must.

As far as increasing flexibility, try stretching in a squat position against a wall, gradually going progressively deeper each time you stretch, concentrating on keeping your heels down and your back flat against the wall.

Train Hard, Train Smart!

Veronica Carpenter 02-25-2005 10:13 PM

Oh, forgot to add: not everyone can squat to the floor, even with the heels down and with enough hip flexibility. You still have to be able to keep your back position without letting your tail 'tuck' under your hips. So, it's a matter of hip, ankle AND back flexibility.

Seth Drown 02-26-2005 07:19 AM

Here's another excellent (and humorous) illustration of Lincoln's point:

Watch the movie.

Robert Wolf 02-26-2005 07:45 PM


That was Awesome!!!

Brandt Stickley 02-27-2005 04:00 AM

That video was priceless! I lived in China and Japan and picked up the habit early. One of my acupuncture teachers said, "it re-arranges the architecture of your pelvis." And there are other health advantages to be had... That gives new meaning to GTG.

John Phipps 02-27-2005 08:48 AM

Thanks for the link Brandt. That site is unique. It does make sense. There is much discussion here about diet and the food we should or should not eat. But what about the elimination of that food? We discuss exercise and recovery, work and rest, why not talk about ingestion and excretion? I did not imagine when I got on CrossFit this morning I would be learning about the squat toliet.

chris muscarella 02-27-2005 02:48 PM

On the squat with the heel raised: Pavel Tsatsouline had an interesting comment, which I believe was found in his new book. He was speaking of the kettlebell hack squat (where the heels do come way up), and what he said was: with light weights such as are possible in the hack squat (I believe Hackenschmidt's record was ~150lbs) that the alignment is not problematic for healthy knees. However, if you try and back squat with that type of alignment and poundages closer to 300lbs, you are looking for a quick trip to an orthopedic doctor.

On the relation of ankle dorsiflexion to hip flexibility: they are often related. A test of hip flexibility: if you can lay on the ground and bring one of your knees to your chest than your hips have absolutely full range of motion. If not, get working on it. To be able to hold a rock-bottom squat with a perfect arch sitting bolt upright requires a harmonious blend of ankles, hip, and hamstring flexibility. It can be attained in 4 months for those with a will. The 'cossack' stretch is extremely helpful as is something called a 'crawling lizzard'--both out of Pavel's Relax into Stretch.

Veronica Carpenter 02-27-2005 04:24 PM

Chris, can you describe the 'cossack' stretch and 'crawling lizzard' or link to a reference? thanks!

chris muscarella 02-27-2005 05:14 PM

Veronica, see the photos below:

The Cossack


The Lizard

Veronica Carpenter 02-27-2005 07:04 PM

WOW! That lizzard stretch is wild! Thanks!

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