What to Expect When You’re Squatting

If you’re interested in reading more on ideas presented in the article below, I suggest reading Diastasis Recti. If you’d like movement instruction via video, start with Nutritious Movement for a Healthy Pelvis.

When I was fifteen or sixteen I remember babysitting for someone who had a copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. I read the whole thing that night, and felt that I memorized all the necessary parts although it was pretty clear after reading it that I would never be actually having a baby because it all seemed pretty gross. And dangerous. Very dangerous. And very gross.

Then I fell in love with birth and then I had a baby and then I got pregnant again (should have memorized more of those book *details*) when I decided to download the “What to Expect” App for my phone. Why? Because it seems that when you’re pregnant for the second time and have a 6-month old, you have a hard time remembering the answers to questions like “how far along are you”, “when’s your due date” and “did you take a shower today.” So, I got the app.

I should have known there was a problem when, on the same day it told me my baby was the size of an orange, it also gave an advertisement for orange juice:

I never really looked at the app beyond the “you are this pregnant” and “your baby is the size of this fruit” page. Until yesterday, when I decided to read through the 290 daily tips of “stuff to do” to get ready for delivery. Oh. Mah. Gawwwwwd. For the sake of my health, I’ll refrain from going through them one at a time, but seriously dude. This is the information that people have going into labor? They weren’t all horrible, but that’s about all I can say.

My favorite was Day 272, a page titled “Squat Exercises.” Evidently, doing squat exercises can aid in labor because it increases the pelvic opening. Word. But here’s the thing. Evidently the time to begin them is on Day 272. “Now’s the time to start working squats into your workout routine.”

Now’s the time? Workout routine?

Can I just say that I like to keep myself in a whole-lotta physical shape, but yesterday’s “workout routine” consisted an hour-long nap about 90 minutes after I woke up and a follow-up three-hour nap in the afternoon. Yes, I took a walk to the post-office and got up and down off the floor (not as easy as you’d imagine) about a billion times and carried my 30-pounder all about the place, but workout routine? Seriously? Makes me sleepy just thinking about hauling my 272-day pregnancy somewhere to work out.

I’m also all about prepping throughout a pregnancy especially for delivery (it’s kind of my thang), but I hate to say that 38.5 weeks is NOT the time to start your squatting program for the same reasons that you don’t start your marathon training program a month before the big race. There is an appropriate time for the body to adapt to new loading patterns and develop the necessary muscle, tissue length, strength, capillaries, etc.

In addition to it not being enough time, jumping right into squatting exercises this far into pregnancy isn’t that smart (read: safe). By 38 weeks it is likely that you’ve already got an additional 30+ pounds on your body. In the same way you wouldn’t wear a 30-pound weight vest to your first day at the gym, you don’t want to start pregnancy-prep exercises AFTER the extra mass is there, but rather do them AS the mass is coming on. Which ensures that the ligaments that hold your pelvic organs and stabilize your joints (pelvis, hips, and knees) are always supported by the muscles in that area. And probably most importantly, new squatters tend to bear down quite a bit because their weight exceeds the strength in their muscles and this downward pressure is not something you want to create at this point. Or at any point, really, but especially at this point in your pregnancy because of the heaviness of the uterus on the ligaments that support it.

It’s all very basic exercise physiology/strength training science which tends to be forgotten by those prescribing exercise.

So, what if you find yourself realizing CRAP! I need to start squatting and I’m already super-duper-far into my pregnancy? You can still make a ton of progress when it comes to birthing space and pelvic floor strength by doing squat-prep work like the lower leg and hip opening stretches here (click). There is also a lot of benefit to sitting on something elevated (like a bolster or stack of pillows) keeping your shins vertical, while rolling your pelvis forward — no supporting (or straining) needed.

This is me (this morning) sitting on my BOSU with a slouching spine and tucked pelvis (boo):

This is just a simple untuck (do this motion at the pelvis and not by thrusting the ribs forward):

If you can get up from your low seat WITHOUT STRAINING and WHILE KEEPING YOUR SHINS VERTICAL, then go for it.

If you need to elevate your hips with more pillows, then do it — until you find the height at which you don’t need to HARUUMPPH out of your squat or move your knees forward.

(Can you please get off of my pillows so I can finish taking these pictures so I can get to my midwife appointment so I can get home to eat lunch so I can finish this blog post? Please?)

But remember, just sitting in a supported squat position with an untucked pelvis is good too — no need to up and down it like a crazy person.

There are multiple benefits to a squat and each benefit occurs at a different phase of the motion. Getting down into it requires eccentric strength (force generation while lengthening), while resting in the lower position or “holding it” provides a nice stretch/lengthening phase, and coming up out of it also generates strength (force) but in a different way than coming down. And, P.S., which muscles do the work depends on the angle of the shin bones.

The entire squat is certainly necessary at some point, but should it not be the best time for you (read: 272 days into your pregnancy) to begin a squatting program, at least reap some of the streeeetch benefits. You can do this safely and know that you’re making headway.

Headway. Get it?????

Is anyone else craving fresh orange juice?

(For more on birthing space, i.e. “headway” and how pelvic floor tension and glute mechanics affect the size of the obstetrical conjugate during delivery, I’ll be lecturing at the Midwifery Today conference April, 2013! Come and take some courses with me!)


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33 thoughts on “What to Expect When You’re Squatting

  1. WTEWYE books are AWFUL. Truly. I would love to write a sensible, non-freak-out-it’s -dangerous!!! series that was useful and ACCURATE.

      1. I agree, What to Expect is near the top of my birth book #@$% list. Goes to show how far a great title can take a book, I guess. I got my local food co-op to stop carrying it and replace it with Sarah Buckley’s absolutely excellent book: Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering. Now, THAT is a must-read!

    1. I went with “Emergency Childbirth: A Manual” (Dr. Gregory White) to teach me, well, what to expect. I loved it. Very objective and realistic about risks (as in, potential bad stuff is very unlikely, and more likely to be caused by too much interference by “helping hands”). Originally published in 1958. Of course, I didnt learn anything about what to do for the 9 months previous to labor, but I found that eating everything my wife ate kept my baby weight gain to a good constant rate. 🙂

  2. thanks for the reminder about supported squats-verra helpful even to those of us who are not pregnant and never will be. I will now move my BOSU into position at my work station and add supported squatting into the standing/calf stretching/listing routine of my work days. good luck w/ the coming birth.

    1. Thanks! I forgot to put that these modifications go for everyone — pregnant or not. Advanced PFD — perfect modification. Stiff knees and hips? Prop it up. Have fun at your squatting work station!

      1. I have wanted to create a chair with all kinds of adjustable parts so that one can ‘squat’ at one’s desk. I often pull one foot on to chair (half squat). Must try 2 feet sometime …..

  3. Congratulations on baby #2, Katy! I’m expecting baby #3 in February and have been keeping up with my squats ever since we talked PFD. They sure came in handy during a recent vacation in Canada where I went fishing in a rather remote area with no bathroom access. Being twelve weeks pregnant, I had to make twice as many “bush visits” as everyone else, but I never peed on myself thanks to my squatting prowess!

    Wishing you a smooth delivery!

  4. Ah yes, _What to expect when you want to be a neurotic wreck_. Mothering has a similar week by week update that doesn’t remind you of all the irritants and complications “every” woman has.
    Funny 3 pregnancies (last UP/UC “advanced maternal age”) and not a cackle or most other “normal” issues yet.

  5. when un-tucking the pelvis (in the seated position), should we align the ribcage with the ASIS ? i see in the picture that you are ‘leaning’ forward yet still keeping a neutral spine. i hope i’m not digging too deep into this… its been a long day:)


    1. Yes, ideally your torso is still entirely neutral, only relative to the pelvis and not the ground during the squat. Nice work, alignment-junkie 🙂

  6. I found that squatting in the water (on a shallow part of a pool) allows me to get myself into a good squatting position and stay there for a long while in a way that I cannot on dry ground. Feels very comfortable and right. The muscle effort part is of course very relieved, which is useful for me since I could not keep up with my weight gain during pregnancy and can only do very “high” squats without feeling pressure on my pelvic floor. Would you confirm that this also brings some benefit?

  7. Expecting number 4 in April, otherwise would be very tempted to go to a midwifery conference! Obsessed over fresh grapefruit juice (can’t get enough), and your blog. Need it desperately! Although I had all of them at home without complication, my nearly 40 year old body is complaining, and I needed the reminder that NOW is the time to get in gear….not when I can barely move from standing to sitting. Thank you! Happy pushing!

    1. OMG Fresh grapefruit juice sounds SO GOOD RIGHT NOW!!! Happy pushing to you as well! Or, happy “allowing” — you know what I mean 🙂

  8. You are seriously the best writer ever! You really need to write a preganancy book. Preggo moms would get a “workout” just laughing at all your humor in it! I couldn’t stand that WTEWYE book either…dreadful and off on sooo many levels…

  9. I’ll share a secret… my friend gave me her well-worn copy of WTEWYE (along with something called “The Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy”) and I threw them in the trash. I didn’t even take them to Goodwill, because I decided other women didn’t need that encouragement. Don’t remind me of my high-mindedness when I sell my Danskos on ebay.

  10. Squatting question: no matter how I try to squat, I really feel it in my thighs and not at all in my butt. I’ve tried the squat where you put your knees against something to help your shins stay vertical, and it’s the same deal. Any idea what I’m doing wrong? I’m 20 weeks pregnant but had the same issues with it before I got pregnant.

    Also, when I do the exercise where you put your hands against the wall and stand on one foot, I feel that on the sides of my upper leg/butt (of the leg I’m standing on). Is that where I should expect to feel it, or am I doing something wrong? I thought I was supposed to feel it in my butt like in the back. Sorry for the vague descriptions, anatomical-terminology challenged here!

    1. Interesting, Valerie. I’ve been reading all the posts here I can on squatting and I still seem to have the same problems that you mention!

      I got my husband to check my form for me and he thinks I look pretty good. But the squats I still feel in legs rather than bum. FYI, he said that I was not keeping my hip level on the standing at wall exercise, and when he physically corrected my position for me, I think it felt more like it should.

  11. I remember early into my first pregnancy calling my sister (a trained midwife) and saying “I think the baby is dead” cause I didn’t feel sick that day. SHe asked me “What are you reading” I told her “WTEWYE” and she said “Get rid of it” and “Only read Birthing From Within” ! NOw let’s add “katy’s blog!!” although not for me ever again!
    Thanks for this post! I am finally going to do a pre-natal/post-natal class for some Ojai Mamas. Looking forward to it!!

  12. Thanks for addressing this! I am 28 weeks pregnant, with my third. (My first 2 were born 12 months apart, so I know how your brain can disappear in those crazy days 🙂 I came across your blog about a month ago when I started researching stretches for pubic bone pain (I had quite severe pain during my first two pregnancies, and was noticing it flaring up again) Through reading many of your blog entries and comments, I realized I was a pelvic thruster and have found remarkable relief by untucking my pelvis and backing up my center of mass–thank you! I’ve also been working into the squat stretches (from You Don’t Know Squat). My question…How do I know the difference between bearing down (creating downward pressure) vs. just healthy stretching of the pelvic floor? Thanks!

  13. I received that book from a friend and couldn’t read it without rolling my eyes. Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn by Penny Simkin was much better and is what I recommend to crunchy and non crunchy friends alike now.

    I used your stretches during pregnancy and labor and they were awesome for loosening up and lower back/foot pain. I also credit your blog advice for my finally getting my baby out after three days by relaxing and NOT pushing (which everyone was telling me to do)! Turns out she was caught up on my placenta but came shooting out after I relaxed enough.

    Now to get squatting with my extra post pregnancy thirty pounds…

    Best wishes for your pregnancy and birth!

  14. My fav birth books are “The Thinking Woman’s Guide”- by Henci Goer- it is a summary of available research.

    My other fav is “Spiritual Midwifery” by Ina Gaskin. I just like reading the birth stories over and over- they were out in the woods in the middle of nowhere. They believed that birth was meant to turn out well, and it was more about relationships and attitude (being grateful to be giving birth).

    But it takes a few readings to be able to translate the hippy lingo. Things were very psychedelic and ‘heavy’.

  15. When breastfeeding a newborn 5-6 hours per day, what do you recommend in terms of posture/alignment/not sitting? Little Man is almost 1 month old, and I feel like I’ve been sitting in the rocking chair for 8 hours a day. Not the best scenario. But birth went very well (slightly than 3 hours, unmedicated) thanks in large part, I believe, due to the exercises/stretching you suggest in your blog and DVDs. So, how can I sit less and still EBF?

    1. I nurse my babies laying down on my side. I don’t know if this is BEST but it is at least not BAD! (at least you switch sides regularly) What say, Katy?

      I have seen ladies walk around and carry with their arms or in a sling. I can nurse while carrying the baby in a sling (for only the first 2 months- and then they are usually TOO FAT for my upper body strength), but not quite as enjoyable as chilling out on my side.

      The first 2 months are a great time to catch up on any reading…

  16. After I found this blog I realise that a lot of what I thought I knew is just not true. It is so cool, but of course a little disturbing since I work in wellness (or “wellness”..) I might have to change jobs..

    I guess this is nonsense but I feel I have to ask if it is:
    I have been taught that when pregnant you should not stretch anything further than you could before you got pregnant because of the risk of stretching the ligaments (that are affected by relaxin).

  17. Thanks for a great post! I’m excited to share it with my clients (pregnancy massage), and hopefully use it myself very soon! In the meantime, I have been enjoying shifting my focus from quads to glutes in my squats; my knees are happier. 🙂

  18. I have mod-severe arthritis in one of my knees and find it impossible to do a proper squat. Is the supported squat shown here a good substitute or is there another version I could be doing?

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