Movement of the Week: The Hadza Squat

Have you ever noticed that toddlers are champion squatters? They sit into the deep squat with total ease, hang out there for a while, play with some toys, look around aimlessly, eat some dirt, poop their pants, get up again, walk three steps, and then drop down smooth as silk into the deep squat again. And then over and over again, like twenty times in ten minutes, with no sense of effort or fatigue at all. And each squat is a little different - it’s not all sagittal plane, squared off, perfect form squats like we adults strive for in the gym. There’s many different foot angles, knee angles, head positions, arm reaches, and other variations. As we westerners get older, most of us completely lose our squatting fluency. Is this a natural consequence of getting older? No, it’s a natural consequence of the use it or lose it principle. We are a chair sitting culture, not a squatting culture. After about twenty years on the chair sitting program, usually starting in kindergarten, we have pretty much lost the ability to squat comfortably. And this should be no surprise - how well would we all speak English if we stopped at age five?

Here’s a video of some guys who have continued to speak the language of squat all their lives, some hunter gatherers from the Hadza tribe in Tanzania. The video shows them sitting around the fire to roast some delicious monkey meat. Watch in particular the guys to the right of the screen, who glide effortlessly left and right while in the squat, perhaps to grab some more barbeque sauce.

I was totally blown way when I saw this for the first time. These guys are displaying some movements that only dancers or martial artists in our culture could make. (If you are not convinced, try to mimic these moves and see how many muscles you pull.) But these movements are not exceptional or unusual, they are simply what the human body naturally does when given the movements it needs to be healthy. My guess is that this video shows nature's mobility workout. What else do you need?

When you practice your squat, do you move at different angles, different rotations? Do you incorporate reaches and sideways movements like toddlers and hunter gatherers? Do you speak the whole squat language or just repeat the same word over and over again?

By the way, this video was filmed by none other than Frank Forencich of Exuberant Animal. Many of you are probably familiar with Frank’s excellent writings and books. One of Frank’s major themes is that the disastrous state of modern movement health is largely a result of removing human animals from their natural setting, and placing them in an industrial zoo. I agree. Frank is a very inspiring writer, and this video is worth a thousand words.