Ultimate Guide To The Asian Squat: Benefits and Tips

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Have you ever seen those photos of people in Asia squatting very low to the ground?

Or maybe you or a friend went to Asia as one of the many travelers there and witnessed this in person.

It appears that people enjoying squatting while doing a variety of activities in Asia.

North Americans or Westerners might be looking at this movement as no fun at all. But in our ancestry, the deep squat is normal.

What is the ‘Asian squat’? It is essentially a deep squat where your feet are flat on the ground and your butt is close to the ground. Your torso stays upright or slightly leaning forward. The name comes from the high incidence of this squat in countries such as Vietnam, China, Singapore and Japan. Most people find this position very relaxing and can stay in this movement for long periods of time.

Benefits of Asian Squats include:

Let’s go through what exactly the Asian squat is and why it can be extremely challenging for many people. I'll also discuss a way to improve your technique.

What Is The Asian Squat?

As the name suggests, the Asian squat is quite literally a deep squat performed by people living in Asian countries such as Chine, Japan, Vietnam, and Taiwan.

The squat is not only done for practical reasons, but it’s also part of the Asian culture.

Those who live in Asia learn from a young age to sit in a squatting position instead of leaning, sitting, or standing for activities such as resting, eating, smoking, reading, and gardening.

The deep squatting position has been labelled as ‘The Asian Squat’ because westerners have almost completely abandoned this natural position.

Instead, use of furniture like chairs, settees, and tables have replaced the this basic body movement.

In Western countries, it’s rare to see somebody squatting while waiting in a queue or eating their lunch.

But in Asian countries such as Vietnam, China and Singapore this is totally normal. Even public toilets have pans to promote squatting instead of sitting.

Yes, this sounds extremely uncomfortable and not fun at all!

However, it is seen as more hygienic to squat over a pan than making toilet seat contact with the skin. The thought here is many different people's skin make toilet seat contact and between different people who sit on the seat.

Of course, squat toilets are not only found in a bathroom of Asian countries, and neither is deep squatting in general. But because this position is rarely seen outside of a gym in the Western world, it has been colloquially named the Asian Squat.

Asian Squat In Action

Check out these great pictures of people from countries showing off their squat technique.

In fact, here is photo from Facebook of Lee Hsien Loong, the Prime Minister of Singapore showing off his perfect technique.

Lee Hsien Loong asian squat

Photo of women from Vietnam squatting in the market.

A man from Vietnam enjoying noodles.

vietnam asian squat noodles

Youtube video of how to properly and safely use a squat toilet in Japan. The phrase doing your business in Japan takes on another meaning.

How To Asian Squat

The movement involves sitting upright in a very deep squat where the butt sits between the feet, and the heels flat on the ground.

Now, you don't have to be a yoga freak to do the movement. But, it requires lots of hip, knee, and ankle mobility to perform. Here’s how to give it a go.

  1. 1
    Stand with your feet just wider than shoulder width apart
  2. 2
    Point your toes slightly outwards to help increase your range of movement when you squat
  3. 3
    Hinge at your hips, driving your glutes backwards, and bend at the knees
  4. 4
    Lower yourself into a squat as deep as you can comfortably go. Aim to keep your torso directly above the midline of your foot
  5. 5
    Rest your arms or elbows on your knees while you squat. Aim to stay as upright as possible and keep your heels on the floor.
  6. 6
    Stay in this deep squat for as long as ten minutes depending on your abilities

Practice this as much as possible until you reach a level where this position is comfortable for you and your mobility allows you to get really deep. It will do wonders for your mobility and should get easier over time if you practice consistently.

Muscles Used During The Asian Squat

The Asian Squat is a compound movement, so it uses multiple muscle groups.

In theory, it predominantly targets the lower body, but there is also some core muscle activation required. The muscles used in this movement are listed below.

  • Gluteal muscles (gluteus maximum, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus)
  • Hamstrings (biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus)
  • Quadriceps (rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius)
  • Rectus abdominis (the ‘six pack’ muscles)
  • Multifidus and erector spinae (down the sides of the spine)

Is The Asian Squat Healthy?

A key component of the Asian Squat is deep hip flexion. Studies show that cultural factors affect prevalence of bone and joint problems such as osteoarthritis.

One study showed someone of Asian descent is more susceptible to knee and hand osteoarthritis because deep squatting behaviors is a common daily activity. [2]

Other studies have shown that repeated deep squatting can lead to reversals in shear reactions in the tibiofemoral joint. This can lead to changes in the mechanics of the joints and changes in joint stability and integrity. [3]

So, although there are studies showing the deep squats can cause large amounts of force to be put on the joints, this is only an issue if the deep squat is done with poor form and with limited flexibility.

To keep your joints healthy, practicing mobility before doing deep squats is going to be key!

If you are keen to improve your lifts in the gym, the Asian Squat is a good movement to practice. It can be applied to CrossFit and Olympic style lifting, as well as standard weight training for hypertrophy.

Health Benefits of The Asian Squat

Deep squats provide a number of health benefits to the body.

In the west, where this movement is rarely used, a number of health issues have been related to this such as arthritis, poor circulation in the legs, and constipation.

Luckily, we can work on this movement as adults even if we have poor mobility. My advice is to practice deep squats so you can gain all of the following benefits and improve well being.

Ability To Engage Your Core

Not only are you using your lower body muscles during a deep squat, you are also required to activate some of core muscles in this pose.

You have to keep them engaged in order to stay balanced and upright. This is something that can help with other daily activities such as sitting in a chair or standing upright.

Keeping strong, engaged core muscles will stop you slouching. Bad posture is a major cause of neck, shoulder, and back aches and pains.

Improves Body Awareness

The deep squatting movement has use in daily life while doing a number of activities.

By understanding where your hips, knees, legs, and feet are in relation to your torso, and how each joint is being used, will help you gain better control over your body.

Improves Balance and Posture

The Asian Squat can improve your balance over time.

To maintain a deep squatting position for a prolonged amount of time, you need to have good balance! If not, you will fall over.

In Asian culture, children are brought up with the idea of squatting to perform daily activities, so it comes naturally to them. They are practicing balance and stability from an early age.

Because you need to activate your core muscles to stay upright in the squat, this helps with your posture too.

Attacks Multiple Muscles

Any type of squat is in fact a compound movement, meaning it works several muscle groups at the same time. The deep squat is no different.

By sitting in a deep squat, the muscles of the lower body (quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves) are activated.

As I mentioned above, the movement also targets your core so you can stay in an upright position.

Improves Flexibility

Due to the hip, knee, and ankle mobility required to get into a deep squat, it can improve your flexibility. The muscles are either contracted or stretched to their full range of motion.

The muscles are activated and engaged more than when you are sat or stood.

Most people struggle getting into a deep squat because their muscles are too tight. The Asian Squat can help to stretch tight muscles like those around the hips, and the calf muscles which improves the flexibility around the nearby joints.

Practical Application To Everyday Activities

Doing Asian Squats requires a movement pattern that can be used in everyday life.

We need to squat to perform a number of activities, whether that is lifting a child into our arms, or to look into a low cupboard.

The Asian Squat enables you to practice the squat so it becomes comfortable enough to where you don’t even have to think about it.

Helps Women During Labor

In many cultures, women simply squat with their feet on the ground while giving birth.

The squatting position opens up the pelvis and allows for an easier natural birth.

Improves Digestion

The Asian Squat can improve digestion for both men and women. It helps to open up the colon to make removal of waste products easier and more efficient.

Throughout history, our ancestors would squat to go to the bathroom before toilets were invented!

Carryover To Athletic Performance

Because the lower body and core muscles are essential to great performance, the Asian Squat can be helpful for many sports.

A deep squat uses flexion and extension at the hips, knees, and ankles, all of which are commonly the most used joints in sports.

Practicing movements in these joints can translate to better performance for athletes. Deep squatting can improve explosive movements such as jumping and sprinting.

Reduces Chances Of Injury

The Asian Squat helps you both inside and outside of the gym with squatting form.

By strengthening the muscles, your risk of injury decreases. If you have stronger lower body and core muscles, you gain more control over your body.

It also helps you to keep these muscles activated, which protects you by lowering your chances of pulling a muscle. 

Why Is The Asian Squat So Hard?

This exercise is made to look easy by Asians who are so used to doing it every day. Yet, the majority of people outside of Asia struggle to get into this deep squat, let alone stay in the squat for several minutes.

There’s a number of reasons and views to why you might have difficulty when attempting the Asian Squat.

You Lack Hip And Ankle Mobility

To squat, you need to achieve 130 degrees (full) of hip flexion and 111-165 degrees (full) of knee flexion [1].

Asians can reach this flexibility passively. In a way, it takes them very little effort to drop down into a deep squat.

The largest limitation in performing the Asian Squat is insufficient mobility. Studies show that ankle flexibility is strongly associated with the ability to properly sit in a deep squat.

The modern-day Western lifestyle requires little mobility or movement. Most people drive to work in a car and sit at a desk all day, so ankle mobility is not a concern.

The one positive side is that anybody can start working on mobility with proper training and consistently.

Your Limb Proportions Are Not Ideal For Squatting

Sitting in a deep squat will be difficult if you were born with certain limb-length proportions. The distances between your hip and knee, and between your knee and ankle, will partly determine how easy it is for you to do the Asian Squat.

Generally, if you have a longer femur (upper leg bone) and a shorter tibia (lower leg bone), or if both your lower and upper leg bones are long compared to your torso, you will have difficulty getting into a deep squat.

If either of these apply to you, it doesn’t mean you will never be able to deep squat. It just means it might more difficult and will require you to lean forward with your torso more.

You Don't Stretch Enough

Many people in the Western world lack the mobility required to get into a deep squat because they have tight lower body muscles.

Sitting down all day leads to changes in the muscles around the hips. The hip flexors are shortened and the hip extensors are lengthened. This makes it harder to squat.

Stretching can help to negate the effects of having a Western lifestyle. In particular, stretching the muscles around the hips and ankles will help.

Poor Squat Technique

Your body likes to adapt according to the outside information. If you barely squat, you will probably have poor squatting form. To do the Asian Squat, you will need to have good squatting technique to maintain an upright posture throughout.

Even if you have good mobility, you will struggle to squat deep enough if you haven't practiced the movement enough.

It will take a lot of practice to get your muscles to be flexible and strong enough to do the Asian Squat, and even more practice to be able to stay in the position for several minutes.

Exercises to Improve Your Mobility

Working on your mobility will improve your flexibility. In particular, working on your hip, knee, and ankle mobility will help you get into a deeper squat. It’s important to practice your squatting technique alongside improving your mobility.

Dr. Aaron Horschig at Squat University has an awesome video on warming up for deep squats.

Here are some exercises and stretches to do in order to improve your joint mobility for the Asian Squat.

Foam Rolling

Foam rolling is great to relieve tension in your muscles.

Sit on the foam roller and cross your right ankle onto your left knee. Lean slightly to the right and roll over your gluteal muscles and hamstrings.

Repeat on the opposite side. You can lie on the roam roller face down and roll it over the front of your hips to stretch out the hip flexors.

Hip Rotations

This exercise opens up the hips by pushing them to their end range of motion.

Lie on the floor face up, and bring your knee up into a 90-degree angle.

Twist your lower leg from side to side to internally and externally rotate the hip. Perform this on both sides for several repetitions.

Hip Flexor Stretches

Stretching daily will improve hip mobility and flexibility.

Start by kneeling on the floor. Lunge forwards with one leg so that your back leg is extended out behind you. Place your hands on your front thigh and lean forwards until you feel a nice stretch in the muscles at the front of your hips.

Do this on both sides, holding for at least 30 seconds each time.

Ankle Flexibility Rolls

Ankle dorsiflexion and plantarflexion involves moving the ankle up and down through its full range of motion. Most people struggle to sit in a deep squat way because they have limited ankle dorsiflexion.

Pointing your toes as far up and as far down as you can will work on the mobility around the joint.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Asians Can Squat So Deeply?

In Asian countries, children are raised to deep squat in everyday life, so they gain natural ankle mobility from a young age. As they get older, they continue to deep squat so they do not lose this mobility. 

Can Everyone Do An Asian Squat?

It’s unusual in Western countries to see somebody deep squatting whilst doing daily activities, as it is not part of the culture. Many people struggle to squat with proper form, let alone ‘relax’ in this squatting position.

How Can I Learn To Do An Asian Squat?

You need to be able to bend your hips and knees to full flexion, and your heels should be flat on the floor. This is pretty much impossible if you have poor mobility. 

Working on your mobility and flexibility will help you get into an Asian Squat. Practice your hip, knee, and ankle mobility, and make sure you have strong core muscles to keep your torso upright.

Final Thoughts

There is still a lack of evidence on the effects of long-term deep hip and knee flexion on joint health.

However, it’s safe to say that deep squatting has many benefits, whether it is performed while doing your daily activities such as the Asian Squat, or in the squat rack with a barbell on your back.

Yes, they are difficult if you lack enough mobility, or if you’ve never practiced your squatting technique.

But everybody can learn how to squat deep with doing the movement more times and mobility work. Start practicing today, and you will be able to do the Asian Squat in no time.

If you have any questions or would like more information, shoot us a comment.

References

[1] Mulholland SJ., and Wyss UP. Activities of daily living in non-Western cultures: range of motion requirements for hip and knee joint implants. Int J Rehabil Res. 2001 Sep; 24(3):191-8. doi: 10.1097/00004356-200109000-00004.

[2] Sathiyamoorthy T., Ali SA., and Kloseck M. Cultural Factors Influencing Osteoarthritis Care in Asian Communities: A Review of the Evidence. J Community Health. 2018 Aug; 43(4):816-826. doi: 10.1007/s10900-018-0470-8.

[3] Thambyah A. How critical are the tibiofemoral joint reaction forces during frequent squatting in Asian populations? 2008 Aug; 286-94. doi: 10.1016/j.knee.2008.04.006

[4] Hemmerich A. et al. Hip, knee, and ankle kinematics of high range of motion activities of daily living. J Orthop Res. 2006 Apr; 24(4):770-81. doi: 10.1002/jor.20114. 

[5] Zhang Y., et al. Association of squatting with increased prevalence of radiographic tibiofemoral knee osteoarthritis: the Beijing Osteoarthritis Study. Arthritis Rheum. 2004 Apr; 50(4):1187-92. doi: 10.1002/art.20127.

[6] Baker KR., et al. Quadriceps weakness and its relationship to tibiofemoral and patellofemoral knee osteoarthritis in Chinese: the Beijing osteoarthritis study. Arthritis Rheum. 2004 Jun; 50(6):1815-21. doi: 10.1002/art.20261.

[7] Hartmann H., Wirth K., and Klusemann M. Analysis of the load on the knee joint and vertebral column with changes in squatting depth and weight load. Sports Med. 2013 Oct; 43(10):993-1008. doi: 10.1007/s40279-013-0073-6.

[8] Zhu M., et al. Analysis of limb segments length and body proportion of southern Chinese children and adolescents. Paediatr Child Health. 2015 Dec; 51(12):1164-71. doi: 10.1111/jpc.12978

About The Author

Athina Crilley

Athina Crilley is a Biochemistry graduate and a qualified health, nutrition, and recovery coach. She believes that health and fitness is a lifestyle and should be enjoyable. Athina currently works with online clients to achieve their goals and creates helpful and informative content online through her podcast and social media platforms. She has also written and published a book all about her struggles and recovery from an eating disorder called ‘Diaries of An Anorexic’.

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