My joint health suffered after running. Or so I thought. I was a regular runner, finding fitness joy in running mild distances, whether through the serene woods, along the calming beach, or on the open road. Running was not just a form of exercise for me; it was a source of thrill and a way to connect with nature. After much research, however, I have found that bad joint health was responsible for my demise, not the running.
I have ventured into many places, always pencilling in a run as a key feature of the holiday. However, one day, my knees decided they had had enough. I felt a buckling of my knee as I ran, which did not improve with the usual RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevate) trick. A visit to the doctor revealed the diagnosis of “old knees.” (I am paraphrasing LOL) Could it be possible that my knees, once my reliable companions in countless runs, were now betraying me?
Learning that my knees were showing signs of wear and tear was disheartening. The doctor prescribed physio, and the usual routine of tried and tested exercises to rehabilitate my knees. I did single-knee raises, deadlifts and single-leg squats. It took forever to get me back to walking pain-free. It was a challenging journey, and progress was slow. Despite my dedication to the prescribed exercises, I longed for the freedom and joy that running once brought me.
The Turning Point
Desperate for a breakthrough, I researched different methods to help weak knees. A study conducted in China found that strength training, specifically squatting daily makes it less likely to have knee osteoarthritis, and improves joint health. Amidst the various exercises, one unexpected solution emerged: the full Asian squat. The Asian squat is so-called because it is most practised in Asian countries, where even old people can perform this challenging position.
I also found that my own ancestors, along with many individuals in traditional African tribes, also embraced the practice of the deep squat and continued to reap its beneficial effects well into old age. (so I was going back to primal basics on joint health, always a good thing).
Most of us in the Western world can hardly hold this position in our later years. The reason behind this lies in our habits—sitting for extended periods in cars or at the office, spending evenings watching Netflix, wearing high-heeled shoes, and rarely going barefoot. All these factors contribute to losing our ability to squat like we did as children.
The Deep Squat is where we all began.
As infants, we constantly engage our knees—sitting on the floor, standing up, crawling, and more. However, as we age, we transition to using chairs, spending extended periods sitting in classrooms, and later, at our work desks.
As we age, joint health suffers; weakening our knees often results from muscle underutilization, stemming from the lifestyle factors mentioned earlier. Essentially, our knees bear the brunt of this neglect. The muscles around the knee can atrophy or weaken over time when not regularly engaged.
Joint Health: The Science Behind the Squat
I credit the Asian squat, a position where one rests in a deep squat with feet flat on the ground, as the game-changer in my knee rehabilitation journey.
Initially sceptical, I approached it with caution. I could not touch my bum to my ankles and sit in that position for more than two seconds. As I practised, however, and put time and effort into it, the Asian squat felt comfortable and refreshing. It engaged muscles I hadn’t realised were underutilised and gradually increased my knee’s flexibility.
Engaging in the Asian squat goes beyond merely bending at the knees; it involves a holistic enhancement of various aspects of lower body health. First and foremost, the Asian squat actively contributes to increasing hip mobility. The deep squatting position requires a wide range of motion in the hip joints, promoting flexibility and preventing stiffness. Hip mobility is particularly beneficial in older individuals who may experience discomfort or limited range of motion in their hips.
The Asian squat also helps with ankle stability. The full squat requires the ankles to support the body weight while maintaining a flat-footed position. This strengthens the muscles around the ankles and enhances their stability. Improved ankle stability is crucial for maintaining balance, especially in dynamic movements or activities involving direction changes.
Furthermore, the Asian squat targets the muscles surrounding the knee. The deep bending of the knees activates and engages various muscle groups, including quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles. This comprehensive muscle engagement not only builds strength but also supports the stability of the knee joint. Strengthening the muscles around the knee is essential for promoting joint health and preventing injuries, especially for individuals dealing with knee-related issues.
Joint Health: Practical Ways to Improve Your Asian Squat
Before embarking on any exercise, please seek the advice of your healthcare provider. Remember not to continue with any of these should you feel pain. What helped me was to perform these exercises two to three times a week.
Step 1: Hip and quad Strength – Knee Raises on the Couch
- Sit on the edge of a sturdy couch or chair with your back straight and feet flat on the floor.
- Place your hands on either side of you for support.
- Lift one leg off the ground, extending it straight in front of you.
- Hold the extended position for a few seconds, engaging your quadriceps.
- Lower the leg back down and repeat on the other side.
Aim for 2 sets of 10-15 repetitions for each leg.
Step 2: Hamstring Strength – Leg Raises
- Lie flat on your back on a mat or comfortable surface.
- Place your hands by your sides, palms facing down.
- Lift one leg off the ground, keeping it straight.
- Engage your hamstring muscles as you lift, focusing on the back of your thigh.
- Hold the raised position for a moment and then lower the leg back down.
- Repeat the exercise on the other leg.
Aim for 2 sets of 10-15 repetitions for each leg.
Step 3: Asian Squat Practice
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart or slightly wider.
- Position your feet with your toes pointing slightly outward.
- Initiate the squat by bending at the hips and knees simultaneously.
- Lower your body into a squat position, aiming for a full range of motion.
- Use a support if needed, like holding onto a sturdy surface or a pole.
Gradually increase the time spent in the squat position.
Step 4: Wall Calf Stretch
- Stand facing a wall with your hands placed on the wall at shoulder height.
- Place one foot forward and the other foot back, keeping both heels on the ground.
- Bend your front knee while keeping your back leg straight.
- Lean your body towards the wall, feeling a stretch in the calf of the back leg.
- Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds, focusing on a gentle, steady stretch.
- Switch legs and repeat the stretch on the other side.
- Perform 2-3 sets for each leg.
Step 5: Flexibility and Mobility
- Add hip, ankle, and knee stretches to your routine to enhance flexibility, and improve joint health.
- Yoga poses like Downward Dog or Butterfly Stretch can be beneficial.
Remember, if you experience pain or discomfort beyond normal muscle fatigue, consult with a healthcare professional or a fitness expert. Consistency and gradual progression are vital to building the strength required for the Asian squat.
In the quest to revive my joint health, particularly my knees, the Asian squat appeared as an unexpected hero. While traditional exercises have their merits, sometimes thinking outside the box – or, in this case, outside the prescribed exercise routine – can lead to surprising and effective solutions. So, is it possible to bring back suppleness to your knees through an Asian squat? In my experience, the answer is a definite yes. The results speak for themselves. The Asian squat brought back the joy of movement and taught me the importance of using your muscles to preserve them.