Written by: Kevin Cann
I love to squat and deadlift. In fact, I am a firm believer that every person needs to do some type of squatting and deadlifting multiple days per week. This does not mean that we need to throw a bar on our back or load up a bar with maximum weights.
People fall on different spectrums in terms of their capabilities in the gym. I have a specific assessment that helps me identify where upon this spectrum they fall. If a client is not capable of putting a bar on their back or pulling weight from the floor, the plan is to get them there.
Many will argue there are other ways to get strong and healthy in the gym. I agree that you can do other training programs in the gym, but they will not be as beneficial as one that makes you squat and deadlift. There are a few reasons for this.
We live in a time period where we sit throughout the majority of the day, and even when we are up and moving, our heads tend to be buried in our phones. We have all heard the dangers of too much sitting. In fact, the media even titled stories stating that sitting was more negative for your health than smoking.
I would strongly discourage you from smoking, but I think we all know that sitting is bad. Often times we chalk up too much sitting as a major cause to the obesity epidemic. I do not disagree with this, but there is much more that comes along with too much sitting.
Gravity is one of the forces that is always enacting upon our bodies. Our ability to withstand gravity is critical to our health. When we sit down in a chair all day long, we do not need to fight against gravity, the chair does it for us. Due to the way that we sit all day long, our posture rolls forward.
Our head comes forward, shoulders internally rotate, and our spine and hips flex. We tend to get very tight in the front of our bodies and our muscles lengthen in the back. On top of being in this position for prolonged periods of time, we do not need to stabilize ourselves against gravity. Again, the chair is doing this for us.
Our posture collapsing in is a safe position. This is why you see many nervous system disorders present with this postural adaptation. We are built to have muscles stabilize and organize our joints, while the large muscles on the backside of our bodies propel us into movement. The problem is these muscles are nonexistent and weak.
We then tend to go to the gym and ride the bike and do some crunches, which continues to strengthen the poor posture we are in all day long. We don’t want to squat or deadlift because we don’t want to hurt our knees and our back.
The problem is sitting down all day long is far worse for your knees and lower back. The muscles responsible for stabilizing your spine are asleep and from having our knees bent all day long sitting, we lose terminal knee extension, placing increasing shear forces on the joint. You need to squat and deadlift to make your back and knees healthy. Of course with proper form, this should be able to go without saying.
Squats and deadlifts teach us how to fight gravity. I know the research shows inconsistent results when looking at bad posture and pain, but we cannot ignore all of the anecdotal evidence out there. When people get stronger at resisting gravity they tend to feel a hell of a lot better. Chronic joint pain dissipates, mood elevates, people get less sick, and even digestion can improve.
When we compress against gravity a few things happen. For one, our breathing is compromised. Our ribs cannot expand allowing us to take a deep belly breath. This for one, weakens spinal stabilizers, because our breathing muscles play a major role in that. It also negatively effects our mood and can even cause pain.
The research is pretty clear in showing that taking deep breaths can allow us to relax by turning on our parasympathetic nervous system. If our ribs are compressed, we never get these deep breaths. This actually can negatively affect our immune system as well, leading us to be more prone to illness.
Our spine is a highway for nerves to run up and down. When we develop poor posture these nerves cannot relay messages quite as efficiently. This alters the mechanics of our movements. Moving with poor mechanics over time can lead to a lot of wear and tear and chronic pain. Roughly 1 out of 3 Americans over the age of 50 suffers from chronic back pain. That is an incredibly high number and only looking at pain in one part of the body.
Our nerves play a critical role in our immunity to illness as well. This is known as the neuroimmune system. Our nerves help to maintain barriers such as the blood-brain barrier, control inflammation, and mobilize our immune defenses. Our poor posture, limiting the efficiency of our nerves, can be a major reason why we tend to get more colds then others during the winter.
One of our largest nerves, the vagus nerve, goes from our brain to our guts. When this nerve gets compressed it can negatively affect our digestion as well as our mood. Not only does the vagus nerve send signals controlling our digestion, but it also passes signals to the brain.
90% of our serotonin is found in the gut. When serotonin levels fall we can get depression, anxiety, and anger issues. Serotonin is not the only neurotransmitter found in our guts. Our opioids also have receptors in our gastrointestinal tracts. All of these neurotransmitters can negatively affect our moods. They may not be able to adequately pass through the vagus nerve and/or cross over the blood-brain barrier, because remember, the blood-brain barrier is maintained by our nerves.
Partaking in exercise is always a good option. However, a couple of days per week we should dedicate some time to helping us get out of our poor posture and teaching us to fight back against gravity. This not only can make us strong, but can help improve nearly every function of the human body.
There are no better exercises to teach you how to fight gravity than the squat and deadlift. The squat requires you to place a bar on your back. The weight being placed here is constantly trying to push you forward. You need to stand up tall, breathe deep into your belly and brace hard, and then move through a full range of motion. This helps with everything that we discussed earlier, even teaching you how to breathe right.
The deadlift does the same thing as the squat. As you break the floor with the weight you have to continue to fight gravity to maintain position and lock the weight out. The stronger we get at fighting gravity, the less prolonged poor postures are going to negatively affect us.
This doesn’t mean we squat and deadlift a couple of times per week that we can just sit down all day long and be fine. We still want to be up and moving around as much as possible. However, life requires us to sit down for periods of time. This is something that is a lot of times out of our control. Getting stronger in the squat and deadlift will help us get through these periods of time that are out of our control.
Other exercises can make us stronger, I will not argue against that. However, squats and deadlifts allow us to load the movements more than other exercises. Of course weight is a measure of gravity. The more we load it up, the better we are at resisting gravity with no weight.
If you suffer from chronic pain, poor mood, gastrointestinal distress, or frequent colds, I highly recommend you find a good coach and start adding in some strength training that includes squats and deadlifts. Of course, still get adequate sleep and eat well. That is a powerful combination.