Home Exercise 101 Q&A Wednesday: I’m Too Heavy to Do Squats!

Q&A Wednesday: I’m Too Heavy to Do Squats!

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Q: […] I really need to lose weight. I just don’t know where to start. I’m heavy and its appears because I’m heavy I can’t do squats. Please tell me how to get started…

For starters… actually… I don’t know where, exactly, to begin.

Actually, yes I do – it’s not “I can’t do squats.” The correct phrase is “I can’t do squats yet.” We’ve gotta focus on the fact that what we’re working on now contributes to what we will be able to do in the future — not just how we can’t do something. So, repeat after me: “I can do squats, I just can’t do them perfectly yet.”

Secondly, it’s absolutely possible for someone to not be able to do squats yet, and it happens for a number of reasons. Is it because they’re “too heavy?” Eh, that depends.

Squats are complicated. A squat engages every major joint in your lower body – ankles, knees, hips – which means that every muscle group in your lower body – calf area, thigh area, feet, abs/core – is being put to use when you do one. If the muscles are weak – possibly due to atrophy (atrophy basically means “muscle loss”) from that good ol’ couch potato life – then the joints are unsupported; if the joints are unsupported, you will somehow fail at completing the squat.

Q: I'm heavy and its appears because I'm heavy I can't do squats. Help! Share on X

Look at it like this: stand up. Now, sit down on the couch, and stand yourself back up. Can you carefully, slowly, and with great control, lower yourself to your seat until you are fully seated? Or do you plop down when you sit, and have to brace yourself when you stand? Since the motions and muscles you use to sit are the same ones you’d use to squat – and, in the same way, at that – it’s a good indicator of your squat ability, and whether or not you can use those muscles to your advantage. Chances are good that, if you can’t lower yourself and stand yourself up without bracing yourself, you might be in trouble when it comes to squatting.

It is certainly true that you have to crawl before you can walk, and the same thing goes for bending before you squat – not just because of muscle development, but muscle memory, too. Sedentary folks are often not used to using their muscles in certain ways to complete certain tasks but, with a little bit of practice, can tap in and figure out how to best use those muscle groups, squeezing and flexing them all when necessary, to safely lower themselves down and lift themselves back up. Muscle memory affects things like stability and balance –  can your body adequately hold you up and prevent you from wading too far over to any side? and, if you accidentally rock to one side, does that side’s muscle groups recognize the feeling of tilting too far over, and correct so you don’t fall? – and they take time to develop, as well.

Luckily, this doesn’t mean you can’t do anything squat-related, and there is work that you can do to help you get squat-ready. Here are a few tips that can help:

Tips to help you get ready for perfect squats Share on X

1) Triple-check your form. A lot of times, I see people who can’t do squats simply because they’re committed to a form that’s improper, drawing heavily on muscles in the same group in an unbalanced way. If your knees point forward and your toes point out to your sides, that’s wrong form. If your back is arched when you squat, that’s improper form. If your neck is straining when you squat, again – improper form. Triple-checking your form guarantees that you are using all of your muscles in a balanced way, and that all of the essential joints are protected when you move. It also ensures that your muscles develop in a proportionate fashion. If you’re doing any one of those and it’s preventing you from squatting, consider checking out your form.

2) As a beginner, it is totally fine to “sorta squat.” If you can’t go all the way down to the perfect 90º angle, bringing your knees and booty in line with one another just yet, that’s okay – it means that you may not have the muscle necessary to support your upper body in going all the way down, or that you struggle with the strength necessary to get all the way up. You build that through doing what you can now, as you can do it. It will still be challenging for you, as a beginner, but developing that initial muscle memory will be quite helpful for you when it comes time to start gettin’ low. You’re not cheating – you’re guaranteeing your confidence in your ability to handle it. That’s perfectly okay.

3) Brace yourself. Squat near a sturdy table, against a wall, with a pair of TRX bands, using a bench, next to a plié-type barre, anything that will help you balance and feel as secure as you can. And, naturally, once you begin feeling more secure, you will want to let go because you know not letting go is only holding you up.

What I’m advocating here is called a “progression” – a move that helps you develop the ability to advance into another move. Bracing yourself by holding onto another, more sturdy item – combined with performing a “sorta squat” – will help you progress into doing them on your own and, eventually, with weights.

Q: I'm heavy and its appears because I'm heavy I can't do squats. Help! Share on X

3) Stretch first. Rather, warm up a bit first, and then stretch. Do 25 jumping jacks or a minute or two of skipping rope, and then stretch – my favorite? sit with the soles of your feet together, and pull your heels into your groin, doing what you can to press your knees down into the ground and, if you’re feelin’ froggy, try to put your head down onto the ground so that you are bent forward over your feet – so that all of the joints you need and those muscles will be nice and warm for optimal squatting.

4) Exercise moves other than squats will help you squat. Mobility is important – not just for muscle but also for understanding how your body moves and how to tap into different muscle groups when you need support. Many people don’t know how to flex individual muscle groups, and thereby suffer when it comes time to do compound movements. Even the super-fit among us might struggle when we have to use our muscles in different contexts. (This is why cross-training is so important!)

Moves like good mornings, bicycle kicks with ankle weights, and donkey kicks are great for the muscle groups you’ll need to squat. There’s also a few more listed here.

We’re not born with the ability to squat perfectly – we develop that ability along the way, and some of us (for any number of reasons) need a little more training to get there. Hopefully, with these tips, you’ll be better able to get closer to your squat goals!

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Milaxx June 4, 2015 - 3:54 PM

I say this as someone 10lbs away from losing my first 100 (Can you tell I’m excited?) Get thee to a pool. It will make working out so much easier. even pool walking was easier on my knees and feet than doing so on dry land.

Terri June 5, 2015 - 11:30 AM

When I started working with a personal trainer 10 months ago, I couldn’t do squats or lunges. You are not too big for squats.They are still not my favorite, nor were they the first thing that I was able to go (push ups! yeah!), but keep at it and you will get there. Writing this in my skinny white pants.

ps: Erika, I don[‘t know what you changed, but your website loads much faster now. thanks!

Erika Nicole Kendall June 5, 2015 - 11:33 AM

Still working on it, but thank you! <333

Steve August 20, 2016 - 11:47 AM

Hi Erika, keep up the good work and keep that positive attitude. Without one, you will never accomplish any of your fitness goals (I should know that). I run a bodyweight training website and I get the same kind of attitude from my clients – I can’t train, my arms are too little, my thighs are too big, I can’t bend over far enough! Doing squats is as easy as 1 2 3. If you can bend over, bend your knees and get back up again, you can do squats, regardless of your size. Turn your can’ts into cans and see the results change dramatically!

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