It’s not uncommon for me to hear my friends say one of two things. Either, that they’d like to start moving more, but don’t know where to begin. Or, that their backs hurt. This time, instead of philosophizing, I want to give you something more practical. Therefore I’d like to mention the two often missing pieces of the movement puzzle.
Those pieces are two basic movement patterns – a squat and a hang.
Why squat and hang?
Our body should regularly go through the entire ranges of motion it has in it’s disposal. But present day reality is that most of us only move in the middle of these ranges. We get up from and sit down on chairs/sofas/seats, the exception perhaps being tying our shoelaces. Our hands are either lowered along the body (most often in our pockets), or laid on the table in front of us, tapping at a keyboard, or possibly holding a pint.
None of that is wrong by itself. But the problem is that, if we move only inside these ranges, the body will adapt and our ranges of motion will decrease. But for optimal (meaning also relatively “pain-free”) functioning of our body we need our ranges to be large enough.
Regular squatting and hanging (~ compression of the body and extension of the body) will serve to push us into these “marginal positions” more often, and therefore expand our ranges. And that has many, many benefits – one of them being relief for our backs.
How to go about it?
Once upon a time, there was a man (who I’ll mention in a bit), and he came up with two challenges. The Squat Challenge and the Hanging Challenge. Tens of thousands of people have taken these challenges, and there is no doubt that both bring about very positive changes.
The Squat Challenge
For the duration of 30 days, try to accumulate 30* minutes a day in a squat – not at once – half a minute here, one minute there…
Everything is relaxed – the goal is “ass to grass”, relaxed spine, flat footed (meaning heels on the ground as well).
If you wish, you can take a look at illustrative pictures of the challenge participants in the dedicated FB group.
- If you are saying that you just can’t compress yourself into a squat, mostly it’s just a matter of straddling your legs more…
- If you are starting to fall back when nearing the ground, it’s helpful to bolster your heels with adequately high prop (e.g. a plank, an unpopular book…)
- If you fall back right after you start to squat, it’s helpful to hold onto something sturdy in front of you (e.g. staircase railing, a large piece of furniture…)
- If all this seems like an utopia, you can start by rocking back and forth in an all-fours position (video) – which is actually like a squat in a horizontal plane (prop your knees generously tho…)
The Hanging Challenge
For the duration of 30 days, try to accumulate 7* minutes a day in a hang – not at once – 15 seconds here, half a minute there…
There are 2 basic versions of hanging – passive and active:
- Passive hang (video) – best suited for healthy shoulders – the goal is to relax everything except for the grip – sag completely, let the shoulders muffle your ears
- Active hang (video) – best suited for unstable shoulders – the goal is to relax everything except for the grip and the scapulae (~ shoulder blades), sag completely, and then pull your scapulae down and together (~ depression and retraction)
- If any of this is too hard (or painful), you can unload some of your weight by resting your feet on the floor (from fully standing to gently touching the floor with just the tips of your toes)
Perhaps you now want to object that you have nowhere to hang. I only can say: Figure something out. Perhaps you have an appropriate clothes hanger in your backyard. Or buy a cheap doorway pull-up bar. It’s such a beneficial exercise, you won’t regret the investment. Stop finding excuses and thank me later…
The following links contain a wealth of videos illustrating the many variations, from beginner to very advanced. There is also detailed information regarding dosages, answers to frequently asked questions, etc.:
A revolutionary innovation?
Well, yes and no – it depends… It’s definitely nothing new – there’s nothing new under the sun – and it’s not something you can get patented.
E.g. in the poorer countries of Asia you can very often come across people doing various activities and fulfilling various needs while squatting.
But how often do you see somebody squatting while waiting for a bus where you live?
By the same token, if you have ever visited a climbing or gymnastics gym, chances are you saw people there practicing hanging. Or you can just look at what little kids do on the playground.
But how often do you see someone returning from work stopping by a tree and hanging on its branch for a bit?
Quite a few years ago, both of these oddities started to seep into the awareness of the general public, in big part thanks to these two challenges. Behind them is a man from Israel, whose name is Ido Portal.
Formerly a very non-mainstream figure, Ido Portal became kind of famous because of the fact that he used to help with the training camps of the famous MMA fighter Conor McGregor (video).
For a brief introduction to Ido and his philosophies I’m including the following video:
But here in Czechia we are not too shabby ourselves regarding these useful pastimes! The most significant contribution to that cause has been made by a man named Petr Růžička, the only direct student of Ido Portal in Czech Republic, and at the same time also my teacher and friend.
If you dare, try to take both of the challenges at the same time! If you feel that it would overwhelm you, pick the one that is calling you more and focus on it.
Squat and hang away!
* It’s not about the exact numbers, it’s about the fact that 30 seconds, or a minute daily (let alone weekly) just isn’t gonna cut it. It’s also unrealistic to expect to get to these higher numbers during the first days. There is no rush. It’s about consistency. That’s the only way to give your body space to adapt to these new stimuli.