Posted October 28, 2014

Why Adults Can’t Squat Like Babies and Should Stop Trying To

For some reason, at one point in time or another, someone suggested that since and toddlers can squat with relatively admirable mechanics that this is somehow a trait that has been “trained out” of most people. From there it became a de facto argument as to why we should try to squat “ass to grass” all the time. Sure, having a few young nephews and nieces running around, I’ve watched in awe at their relative ease at dropping into a hamstrings-on-calves squat that produces next to no spinal flexion, a neutral neck position, and relative ease at sitting there for what would seem like as much time as necessary to figure out the mechanics of the Play Doh machine or the colouring book, or picking up that stuff that looks like food but isn’t even close to edible.

baby-squat

But the funny thing is – and I can’t believe I’m the one who has to point this out – ADULTS AREN’T BABIES. We’ve gone through size and morphological changes since we were running around in Huggies, and we can’t really go back. For starters, our bones are hopefully somewhat different lengths and thicknesses compared to when we were watching the generationally-appropriate equivalent of Toopi and Binoo. Our muscles have developed more tone, which explains why we fall over much less and don’t run in a stomping and squealing manner.

Let’s break down some of the reasons why, structurally speaking, we can’t squat like babies.

First, head size plays a big role. a 2 year old has already had their head reach 3/4 of it’s full growth, even though physically they’re only at relatively 20-30% of their final body size in terms of weight and maybe 40-50% of their size in height. This means when they squat their head is going to provide more weight anteriorly to their centre of mass than an adult, who is going to have much more mass around their hips and a posterior shift in their centre of mass. This makes squatting to depth easier for a baby as they can sit back into the movement a lot easier.

One way adults could simulate this baby head size thing is to take a weighted football helmet that adds about 10% of their total body weight to their head, and then squat. For me this would be the equivalent of adding a 25 pound plate to my cranium in order to dip it low. This is one of the reasons why it’s easier to squat deeper when you put your arms out in front of you, as it shifts your centre of mass forward making it easier to sit back into the movement without falling over, and also why front squats and goblet squats are magic for producing depth.

Leg length also plays a massive role in being able to squat. An infant leg is an average of 19 cm from the sub ischial position to calcaneus, whereas a full grown adult averages 81 cm in men and 74.5 cm in women. As the individual ages, the relative contribution of the legs to their total height increases. Where as a new born has 70% of its total height coming from their sitting height, a teenager contributes only 52% of their standing height from their sitting height, meaning their leg length went from being only 30% of their total height to 48% of their total height.

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 9.40.00 AM

This alteration in anthropometric percentages means it’s much harder for a long-legged adult to squat. Powerlifters have known this for a long time, noting that those lifters who have a long femur relative to their total height would have a harder time squatting compared to shorter limbed lifters.

The infant pelvis is also 3 non-fused bones connected through cartillagenous growth plates that later fuse at the end of puberty. The 3 bones are the ilium, ischium, and pubis, and when they are fused they limit movement to only the SI joint and some small movement through the pubic symphesis. If we want to squat like babies, it’s really simple. We just have to cut our femurs down by half and break the pelvis into 3 parts per side again. Shouldn’t be too much trouble.

Finally, infants tend to have a much larger acetabular width to depth ratio than adults. This greater adult depth will allow adults to bear more weight successfully while in upright ambulation, but will limit squat depth. The yin and yang of this is important, because most adults will choose the ability to walk and stand versus hit a deep squat all day long.

grchhipSo to summarize the main points:

  1. Infant’s heads are twice the size of an adults relative to their standing height
  2. Infants torsos account for 50% more of their total height than adults.
  3. Infants femurs are 50% shorter than an adults matched to their height.
  4. Infants have a greater width of their acetabulum whereas adults have a deeper acetabulum.

 

Adults don’t have the same proportions, levers, or mechanics to squat as an infant. The closest approximation one could get to the proportions of an infant is someone who has dwarfism. The typical physical proportions for drawfism invole an average torso size, shorter limb lengths, and a larger than proportionate head. These characteristics are similar to an infant, and can make it much easier to squat compared to others who have longer limbs. The most known example of this is Peter Dinklage, who no doubt can drop it like it’s hot, and also act the hell out of anyone in modern times.

dinklageStrikesAgain

 

One awesome example of this is a competitive powerlifter, Andrzej Stanaszek, who also has dwarfism.

[embedplusvideo height=”367″ width=”600″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/1zEI5Dj” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/X57aLTTEX_w?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=X57aLTTEX_w&width=600&height=367&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep3495″ /]

 The depth of the squat was to parallel, and only a couple inches, but he nailed it for a nearly 5 times bodyweight squat in competition. Not too shabby.

At the end of the day, adults are not children, nor do we exhibit the need to squat in the same manner, unless we haven’t seen growth since we were 5. Everyone has their own squat based on their specific structure, genetics, and abilities. This doesn’t mean you should not focus on using the maximum range of motion you have available, but rather that you realize that you will have an end point to your range of motion that is different from others. Train hard with what you have, and don’t try to fit your round peg into a babies square hole.

  • Brent

    Peer reviewed studies that show adults aren’t children please? 🙂

    • deansomerset

      Find a study that proves that they are 😉

      • Brent

        Don’t scientific method me man! You have exposed me…therefore this article is TOXIC PROPAGANDA! I bet you get paid 60 cents for these posts from BIG SCIENCE. For shame Dean!

        PS – I have a case study that shows some adults at least act like children, that count?

        see: Food Babe

        • Marco C

          For shame…haha, terrible article

  • Joey
    • Bob

      No, this picture just proves the article’s point:

      “This is one of the reasons why it’s easier to squat deeper when you put your arms out in front of you, as it shifts your centre of mass forward making it easier to sit back into the movement without falling over, and also why front squats and goblet squats are magic for producing depth.”

    • deansomerset

      Good point. I didn’t include how some adults have preferential hip structures to allow for squatting deeper than others, but it still remains consistent that Ido’s femurs are longer and in greater proportion relative to his total height now than when it was a kid.

  • Seth

    I’m wondering if ther is any benefit in working on the requisite mobility to sit in the bottom of a squat, ala Kelly Starrett. I remember him saying that in developing countries that toilet in a squat position have a much lower incidence of low back and hip problems. I have also read elsewhere that while it is positive to have mobility to squat ATG, it doesn’t mean we were designed to produce huge amounts of force from that position. Any thoughts? Thanks Dean, love your work.

    • deansomerset

      For those who have a true soft tissue restriction, absolutely. There’s no replacement for grooving the pattern within the tolerable limits of the individual. Most EMG studies have definitely shown the movement produced at the bottom of the ATG squat doesn’t come from the hips, and there’s also a lot more shear force on the knee there than at higher positions. This doesn’t mean one shouldn’t squat to the floor, but that there’s a risk to reward basis that may not be favourable, especially with heavier loading.

  • Duhpenser

    Uhhh, half of Asia squats like that daily, have you ever used a squating toilet? Lots if people can do it and so can you.

    • deansomerset

      You’re right. I didn’t explain why some groups of adults can squat in a similar way as babies. However, that doesn’t change the message of the article in that adults have undergone developmental changes since we were babies, so making the comparison to squatting like babies is erroneous. Maybe we should change the concept to squatting like Asians?

      • Marco C

        Natural developmental changes don’t change our ability to squat fully. Lifestyle changes do. sitting at a computer desk all day will have a bigger affect on your ability to squat than your head becoming proportionate to your body. this is a silly article, sorry.

      • Pablo

        Or the dude who wrote the article forgot about most of the world.

    • Hamza

      Can’t do it with a neutral spine. Are you even Asian?

      • east slav

        Many million of Slavs can do that and Slavs are perfectly Europeans.

    • dee

      i have had couple of Asian clients (Thai) who had never had lifting experience, but do go into squat ATG. let me tell you, they all have a major butt wink below parallel and noticeable knee valgus. while butt wink is not a big deal while doing bodyweight squat or even front loaded squats, once you add back load, it becomes a big deal. i would rather see them go to parallel with a back load with neutral spine.
      i myself can go ATG easily, but i never do it under the back load due to fore mentioned pelvic tilt.

    • gizzard of oz

      “squatting toilet” is quite a fancy term to describe the area behind a bush

    • east slav

      And western Europe deepsquat aswell.

  • I don’t understand how in 12 comments no one has brought up the last sentence “don’t try to fit your round peg into a babies square hole.” It has something for grammar Nazi’s and warped senses of humor alike. HAHA

    • pick a name

      I think most people would like to pretend that they never read that sentence. I myself wanted to gouge my eyes out once I read read it.

      • deansomerset

        Ahhh, I didn’t even realize that until you brought it up. Fail on my part, I guess. Maybe I just don’t think that way.

  • Justin

    Good points Dean. The average adult, at least in the western world, is so far removed from anything even approaching a deep squat position that it seems a growing proportion of society simply cannot get into a squat, period. Body-weight or otherwise. And that’s not even discussing genetic limitations of skeletal structure. That’s just plain laziness. We sit at desks all day, sit on high toilets made for wheel-chair-height access, sit in the car, and then slump into the easy chair or computer desk at night.

    • deansomerset

      Yes there is a usage assessment to it, but then I’ve worked with some highly fit trainers in some of the seminars I’ve taught who although they worked out daily and were very mindful of their bodies and their abilities, could only go so far before they ran into a bone to bone scenario. Usage plays a role, but it’s a role in a complex algorythm.

  • Dean

    The reason we can’t squat like babies, is because we stop squatting like babies when we reach around 3-4 years old. Why? Well, chairs.

    In societies where chairs aren’t as common-place/traditional as in Western societies (Asian, Middle-Eastern, African), you have pretty prolific examples of people still assuming that posture as easy as we might plop down on the couch (your anecdotal-improperly-squatted-sample-of-one Thai friend not withstanding).

    The body adapts to what we throw at it. Adult bio-mechanics is _highly_ influenced by useage. “Use it or lose it”, in this case is more apropos, than the very one-dimensioinal argument you put forward. Think about it, you’re recommending people be satisfied with their current limited mobility, because “it’s what you have”.

    Um no, thanks though. Yes, I’ll work hard with where I’m at, but I’ll keep trying to increase my mobility where it’s limited. Why? Because full ROM within the construct of ACTUAL human genetic potential INCREASES strength potential. There’s a reason olympic lifters can go ass to grass…. because you can lift more with that increased mobility!

    You need to spend more time on MobilityWod learning from your peers. This article sends a pretty piss-poor message in my opinion.

    • deansomerset

      By that reasoning someone who can squat deep in North America has never sat in chairs. Also, genetic potential is completely individual, and is going to provide different benefits for different populations. You would be hard pressed to find 2 completely separate haploid groups of humans who could do the exact same things to the exact same ability, regardless of how much smashing they do. There’s a time and place for everything, and comparing an adult squat to a baby squat is a poor correlation at best.

      • east Slav

        Millions of adult Slavs do squat deep, and it’s hard to say they don’t use chairs. 😉

  • Olivkah

    For some reason I’ve taken to squatting in my chair at my desk. When I was absorbed in reading something, I would notice that I squat, again, instead of sitting. I tried to fight it, but then I read (on Jolie Bookspan’s page) that squatting is good, so now I go for it. It is very easy for me to squat. (I’m not Asian.)

    • deansomerset

      My wife does a very similar thing. Some people have the advantage of limb length to make this happen. I don’t, plus a previous history of back issues makes sitting like that uncomfortable, but great to hear you can get it going. Keep doing it as much as you like because it is good to be able to sit like that.

  • Marco C

    I think anyone who knows me can agree that i have disproportionally long legs, my head isn’t oversized, lol and I’m in my 30s. and i have no problems getting into a full squat. In the past I did, but not since I’ve been training. Sooo that kinda disproves this article. :S

    • deansomerset

      Glad to hear you can squat deeply, and also felt the need to comment 3 times in a row. The main premise of the article was not to say adults could not squat deep, but that the comparison to squatting like babies was unfounded. My apologies if this wasn’t clear enough. If you can squat deep, that’s awesome, but to say we should squat deep because babies can is not a valid correlate. Thanks for reading.

      • Marco C

        Haha “commented 3x in a row” Replying to two separate comments doesn’t mean I commented 3 times in a row. I found other comments amusing, and reassuring that people don’t believe this nonsense.

  • Rances

    interesting…

  • asdfasdf

    I agree that people who don’t have the bone structure for it should stop trying, but it is indeed something that we have been “trained out” of. The changes in bone structure during growth are heavily influenced by the stresses put on them, not just genetics.

    Western toddlers squat like that less and less as they grow and start sitting in chairs. So their bones don’t experience the stresses of the full squat and therefore don’t morph in a way that optimally allows for it.

    Asians on the other hand squat all the time when taking a dump, eating a meal or just hanging around. And surprise, surprise – they have no trouble whatsoever squatting that way into old age, because their bones grew and adapted for it.

  • Essop Merrick

    Great article. This eloquently makes the important point that has been missed by the ATG crowd. Olympic weightlifters have the closest comparable anthropometry to babies, hence why their sport has chosen them. The 3rd world squat is a buttwinked unweighted squat which is absolutely a good thing but the ATG crowd is not advocating squatting in that fashion. They admonish it, citing disc bulges and knee problems. Not enough data either way on that as there are many people with disc bulges and knee problems that dont squat ATG loaded or not. Using baby squats as the model for ‘lost perfection’ is probably as errant as suggesting we should all be able to still put our heels in our mouth. Some can do it, (and will probably post a photo of it) but is there really something wrong with you if you can’t?

    • deansomerset

      Thanks bud. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Firedaugs

    This is junk, everyone outside of western culture squats like this on a daily bassis to in lieu of sitting in chairs.

    • deansomerset

      Still doesn’t look like a baby. It looks more like an adult squatting deeply, which is not the same as a baby squatting.

  • Firedaugs

    Adults can squat like babies.

    • deansomerset

      Looks like an adult, not really a baby.

  • JP

    I guess everyone is built differently because I’m 40 and can still squat like that.

  • #AYYTEAMLMAO

    lolwut? only invalid grandmas can’t squat