“There is a compelling tendency among novices developing any skill or art, whether learning to play the violin, write poetry, or compete in gymnastics, to quickly move past the fundamentals and on to more elaborate, more sophisticated movements, skills, or techniques. This compulsion is the novice’s curse. The novice’s curse is manifested as excessive adornment, silly creativity, weak fundamentals and, ultimately, a marked lack of virtuosity and delayed mastery. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to be taught by the very best in any field you’ve likely been surprised at how simple, how fundamental, how basic the instruction was.”- Greg Glassman
Often misunderstood, the good old “air squat” is actually a vital, natural, functional, component of your being. The following will illustrate the “why” behind the programming of this movement and hopefully bring it back some much deserved respect. There is a saying in CrossFit that goes “the deficiency illustrates the need”, and what it means is simply if you can’t do something you should do that thing more. So, if you can’t get into the bottom of a squat comfortably the best remedy is to continue trying to get into the bottom of a squat until it becomes comfortable. At its most basic level that is why we do it. There are, however, several more reasons and so here they are in no particular order:
1. Squats are an innate human function: The first and most important reason why squats are important is that squats are natural. Did you know that you squat multiple times a day? Sitting, standing, and using the restroom all require you to squat. If you want to be a functional human being, it would be a good idea to keep one of your most basic movements in strong working order. The more that you build your squatting muscles, i.e. your quads, hamstrings, calves, and abs, the longer you’ll be able to function normally and even optimally.
2. Strength and conditioning: Any strength and conditioning program worth anything will not only make you stronger but will also increase flexibility and strengthen your joints and connective tissues. We see this in the air squat. A sound air squat will keep the joints and tissues in the hips, knees, ankles, and back strong for as long as you live. Everyone can benefit from it. The most elite athletes in the gym and the newest on-ramper in the gym will both benefit from spending time everyday to perfect their air squat. It safeguards us against damage when we squat with weight. There’s a reason they don’t build houses on quicksand, people. A shaky foundation leads to a shaky temple and it is our job as coaches to do everything we can to protect you from injury.
3. Improve posture: Whether you're performing a weighted or body weight squat, you'll be engaging the upper back (lower/upper trapezius and rhomboids) to help stabilize the body through the movement. This strengthens the muscles responsible for proper posture.
4.Squats increase your circulation: A study published in the American Heart Journal states that “squatting from the standing position increases arterial blood pressure, cardiac output, and “central blood volume” in normal subjects”. Simply put, squatting gets the blood moving around your body in a more efficient manner. Good blood circulation is imperative to good health because blood carries oxygen to the brain and all other parts of the body. Poor circulation can lead to diabetes, thyroid disease, hypertension, and obesity.
5. Fundamentals: Back squat. Front Squat. Overhead Squat. Thruster. Wall ball. Clean. Snatch. What do all of those movements have in common? That’s right, a squat. If you can’t air squat properly, you can forget about performing these movements at heavy loads. Did you miss your last PR back squat attempt? Revisit your air squat! Laziness learned by going through the motions in your air squats instead of really trying to do each and every one perfectly will quite literally turn different muscle groups on and off. If you can do 25 air squats unbroken and you’re not tired at all, you’ve probably found a way to do them with very poor form.
So there you have it. Way more reasons than you ever wanted when you asked the question “why do we do this” and hopefully the next time this exercise shows up in a wod or warm-up you will slow it down, do it right, and reap the benefits. If you want to get a little deeper into fixing your air squat read this article (http://journal.crossfit.com/2002/12/squat-clinic-by-greg-glassman.tpl). You can also always ask a coach for mobility exercises to improve your squat.