Every summer when I was a child we would pack up the family car and head to my grandmother’s home on the Jersey shore for our summer vacation. After an 800-mile journey, we would arrive at our destination but before driving to my grandmother’s home, we would stop by the ocean just to stick our toes in and test the water. We wanted to see how the water felt and looked in preparation for the next day at the beach.
The concept of testing the water is also applicable to fitness. It is the small changes that we make that collectively result in the positive, long-term outcomes. When you take one position, perhaps the most common position, of an exercise such as a squat with both feet approximately shoulder distance apart on the floor and manipulate one small aspect of that exercise, testing the water to see how the body responds, you may be able to challenge the body in a way that it has not experienced previously.
This week the squat will be the featured exercise and each of the three planes of the body will be highlighted to emphasize how you may make one small change in each plane and receive a host of benefits. As always, prior to beginning any exercise program, please consult your physician.
First, the sagittal plane is the plane that divides the body into right and left segments. So, in order to create a change in this plane, you might step the right foot slightly ahead of the left foot and perform a squat. This changes the load distribution and consequently, changes how the body responds from a neuromuscular (i.e. nervous/muscular systems) perspective. Always begin with very small, baby step changes, to see how this change feels and looks.
The frontal plane divides the body into front and back segments. Therefore, to modify the squat in this plane, you might widen the stance of the squat or stand with the feet closer together making the stance narrower. Always begin with small width position changes to see how this change feels and looks.
The transverse plane divides the body into top and bottom segments. To modify the squat in this plane you might internally rotate the hips so that the knees and toes point inward or externally rotate the hips so that the knees and toes point outward (i.e. toes in/out). This changes how the femur tracks in the hip joint and consequently, changes how the entire body performs the squat.
What is the benefit of manipulation and testing the water with an exercise such as the squat? Well, consider how you move throughout the day. Not just your daily round but if you participate in sports, you are not always performing a common squat. You are stepping forward, backward, laterally, rotating with one or both feet. Therefore, including uncommon positions of the squat may create more efficient form and function addressing the functional needs of the body.
Tip: Are you able to perform an uncommon squat with precision, creating challenge without compromising the knee joint? If so, then take the time to master each variation before progressing to the next.