You’ve probably seen pictures of people from Asian countries performing a deep squat. You might even have friends who have traveled to an Asian country and returned home telling you that it was common to see Asian people squatting at what seemed to be ‘random places’.
What is the ‘Asian squat’? The Asian squat is a deep squat performed by people living in Asian countries for both practical and cultural reasons. People from Asian countries are raised to sit in that position for resting, or in substitute for either standing or sitting in a chair. Additionally, public restrooms have pans versus toilets, which require people to squat down. Having thigh-and-toilet-seat contact is seen as less sanitary than performing a deep squat in Asian countries.
In this article, I’ll explain the biomechanics of the Asian squat, what makes it so hard, and whether you’re capable of doing it too. We’ll start by taking a look at some pictures of the Asian squat so you know what it looks like.
The Asian Squat Phenomenon: What Is It?
Many people in Asian countries prefer to squat than stand.
It’s a common resting position, instead of lying down, leaning, or sitting in a chair.
In addition, the Asian squat is used while performing everyday tasks, such as eating, reading, smoking, doing the laundry, talking on the phone, and countless other activities.
I currently have a friend traveling in the Philippines , so I asked him to take some pictures of the “Asian squat” throughout the course of his day.
Many households wash their clothes by hand, and performing the Asian squat while doing laundry is a common practice.
It’s also common practice to eat while performing the Asian squat, especially if it’s just a snack rather than a standard meal.
Here’s a lady performing the Asian squat while hanging out with her cats.
This is a lady preparing bamboo for garden construction while performing the Asian Squat. This is considered a much more comfortable position than ‘bending over’ to do the same task.
The family that my friend is staying with likes to perform Asian squats while playing games together.
It’s also important to recognize that in many parts of Asian countries toilets are not commonplace. The reason for not having toilets is because it’s viewed as more sanitary when there is no skin-to-skin contact on the same toilet seat between different people.
Instead of a set, a pan is provided and people are expected to squat down to go to the washroom. This is the case in public restrooms, and while some households in urban centers have toilets, the majority of homes in rural areas still do not.
Check out what the Asian squat toilet looks like and how to use it:
The idea of ‘squatting down’ to go to the washroom is one of the major cultural differences between the “East” and “West”, which is why so many travelers from Western countries are surprised by the Asian squat.
How To Asian Squat
The Asian squat requires a person to sit their hips between their ankles. At the same time, the torso is usually upright and the heels are flat on the ground. The position is multi-segmental, which requires superior hip, ankle, and knee mobility to perform correctly.
If you want to test out the Asian squat for yourself, try the following:
- Find a stance that is slightly wider than shoulder-width
- Flare your toes out slightly
- Crack at your hips and knees at the same time, and begin lowering yourself to the floor
- Think about keeping your body-weight over the midline of the foot to ensure you’re not rocking forward or backward
- Squat as deep as you can, while trying to keep your torso relatively upright and your heels on the ground
- Rest your arms on your knees
- Hold in this position for several minutes and try to feel your muscles ‘relax’
What Makes The Asian Squat So Hard?
The Asian squat might be hard if you can’t get low enough or you don’t have the stamina to hold it for long durations.
If this is the case, you likely have one of the following issues:
1. You don’t have the right limb length proportions
The ability to squat deep will not be easy if you were born with certain limb-length proportions.
Your body is divided into segments, which are the length of your bones between certain joints. For example, your leg is divided into two segments: the lower leg and upper leg.
The lower leg consists of the tibia, which is the distance between your ankle and knee.
The upper leg consists of the fibia, which is the distance between your knee and hip.
The proportions between your lower leg and upper leg will make it more or less difficult to perform an Asian squat.
If you have the following proportions, you’ll find it naturally harder to squat deep:
- If you have a long femur (upper thigh bone) compared with a short tibia (lower leg bone)
- If you generally have long legs (both upper and lower segments) combined with a short torso
This is not to say that deep squatting is impossible for people with these limb-length proportions. It just means that getting into a ‘deep squat’ will be harder, and might require a bit more forward torso lean than someone with opposite proportions.
2. You don’t have the adequate mobility
The greatest limitation in performing the Asian squat is having a lack of mobility.
The Asian squat requires a superior level of mobility in the hips and ankles in order to perform correctly.
In a 2009 study, it was shown that a person’s level of ankle mobility is strongly associated with the ability to assume a proper deep squatting posture.
While some people have biological limitations in mobility because of how their bones attach to their specific joints, everyone will have a natural degree of mobility that can be improved with training.
The problem is that most people aren’t forced to work on their mobility because their day-to-day activities don’t require such improvements. For example, in Western cultures, a person may drive to and from work and then sit in a desk all day. For this person, improving ankle mobility is not necessarily a concern for their daily requirements or quality of life.
However, in Asian cultures, because children are raised to use the deep squat in various parts of their day-to-day life, they are working on their natural ankle mobility from a young age. In addition, as they get older, their daily activities require them to continue to maintain this level of mobility.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to improve your ankle mobility, check out our article on 9 TIPS TO SQUATTING DEEPER.
3. You haven’t practiced the squat enough
If you’re able to squat deep enough, but you just don’t have the stamina to hold the position, then it’s simply due to the fact that you haven’t practiced the position enough.
It will take several times practicing the Asian squat for your muscles to get flexible enough to squat deep. Then, once you’re squatting deep, you need to learn how to ‘relax’ in the bottom position rather than straining, which can take time to teach your muscles.
My advice is to practice three sets of 60-second holds every day. Within a few weeks, you should start to feel more comfortable performing the Asian squat.
Can You Perform The Asian Squat?
So can you perform the Asian squat?
Most people can be trained to squat deep; however, as mentioned previously, the degree to which you find it easier or harder will depend on your bio-mechanics and level of mobility.
It’s been shown in a 2013 meta-analysis on human limb bones that some Asian countries have naturally smaller limb length proportions compared with other populations.
So while these populations may find it easier to get into a deep squat, this doesn’t exclude you from practicing to squat deeper.
If you want to squat deeper you simply need to work within your own individual mechanics. For example, someone with shorter lower limb lengths might have a more upright torso. Someone with longer lower limb lengths might have a more forward-leaning torso.
Don’t worry so much whether you look exactly like someone else while squatting, just simply practice getting your hips lower and keeping your weight over the mid-line of your foot.
In terms of ankle mobility, the key to an Asian squat is keeping your feet flat on the floor. For this, you’ll need to work on loosening the muscles in your calf and making sure you have the greatest mobility possible through your ankle joint.
Here are three exercises that you should do to improve ankle mobility for the Asian squat:
Banded Ankle Dislocation (2 sets of 20 reps)
Single-Leg Downward Dog (2 sets of 20 reps)
Soft Tissue Calf Release (60-sec)
Are There Benefits To The Asian Squat?
There are several benefits to performing the Asian squat:
- Asian squats allow you to keep your core muscles engaged in order to maintain balance and have an upright posture. Instead of sitting or slouching in a chair, which doesn’t utilize your core, try to spend part of your time in a deep squat.
- Asian squats work several muscles of the lower body without much effort. By simply sitting in a deep squat, the muscles of your quads, glutes, calves, and hamstrings are activated to maintain your position.
- Asian squats can improve body awareness, which will translate into other activities in your daily life. By understanding where your hips, knees, and torso are in space relative to each other, you can have better control over your limbs and body.
- Asian squats have been shown to help pregnant women during labor and delivery because it teaches the pelvis to open, which assists in the baby’s descent.
- Asian squats while going to the bathroom can open up the colon more, and allow for faster and more efficient removal of waste. It’s how our ancestors went to the bathroom for millennia.
For both practical and cultural reasons, deep squatting has an important function in many Asian countries. While it may be hard for some people to perform the Asian squat based on their limb-lengths, everyone can learn how to squat deep with enough practice and mobility work. If you plan a trip to an Asian country, be prepared to perform an Asian squat to go to the bathroom.