The Origin of My Logo
The deep squat and handstand has been my logo since I launched this blog in 2012 and became the logo of my physical therapy, personal training and bike fitting business in 2014.
When I was brainstorming logos in 20012 I was reading Grey Cook’s description of the overhead deep squat as an excellent test of lower body mobility, stability and upper body mobility. At the same time I was working on my handstand very intensively with 5-10 short practice sessions a day. I realized that a flexed-pike handstand was the same position as an overhead deep squat but with the weight bearing in reverse. I immediately set to work on the first draft of my logo. I set up my ipad to record video in a racquetball court and posed in the two positions. After putting the resulting screenshots through the cutout filter in powerpoint I ended up with the following passable logo:
Significance of the Deep Squat and Handstand
The overhead deep squat and the handstand are difficult movements to master and thus serve as sort of a fitness test, or ideal to strive for. To squat or handstand with the heels on the ground, the knees aligned over the toes, the arms in line with the torso and than hands behind the toes requires full mobility of most of the major joints in the body while at the same time requiring exceptional stability and motor control. The squat and handstand are to the functional movement world what the “rear double biceps pose” is to the body building world.
To understand a little more about what the squat and handstand require, it helps to understand the following definitions.
Mobility– The ability of a segment of the body to be moved.
Stability– The ability of the neuro-muscular system to hold one area of the body still while another part moves
Motor Control– The ability of the neuro-muscular system to coordinate the movement of multiple body segments at once.
Lessons from the Deep Squat and Handstand
Take a closer look at these two positions and there are a few things you can learn about human movement.
The first lesson is about the difference between active and passive range of motion. Notice the difference in the amount of bend in the hips, knees and ankles between the squat and the handstand? Which has more bend?
In the squat, the thighs contact the rib cage, but in the handstand they do not. The calves also contact the backs of the thighs in the squat but not the handstand. The squat has more motion in the lower body because the weight of the body forces the limbs to their full passive range of motion, this demonstrates their passive mobility. In the handstand I am actively trying to bend the lower extremities as much as possible but because the muscles are at their shortest active range of motion, they are weak and are unable to bring the joints to their full range of motion. This weakness due to shortening is call “active insufficiency.”
In the handstand, it is the wrists which are weight bearing and thus demonstrate passive mobility. In the squat I am trying to extend my wrists as much as possible but because the wrist extensors are actively insufficient they are unable to bring the wrist into as much extension as the handstand did.
The fact that active mobility is less than passive mobility is relevant to anyone trying to improve their mobility for a particular sport or movement. If you are an olympic weightlifter, trying to get a lower deep squat, should you work on active mobility (ie active dorsiflexion with a theraband hooked around the foot) or passive dorsiflexion (ie soleus stretch)? Since it is passive range of motion that is required of the ankle in a deep squat, the soleus stretch is the better option.
Beth Terranova demonstrating some serious ankle dorsiflexion in a deep squat. Photo by Bryan Simmons. Creative Commons. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/
The converse is true for a gymnast who has a full pike in sitting but has difficulty with their v-sit. Since the V-sit requires active hip flexion with knee extension and training their psoas in an shortened position will be the most effective approach.
A second lesson of the squat and handstand is the concept of regional interdependence. Because these movements require stability from one body region and mobility from the next, a limitation in one area must be compensated for by above average ability in the next region.
2014 Vectorized version from photos by Noah Hawthorne. The nose in the squat was accidentally chopped off in the process.
How to Improve Your Squat and Handstand
If these two positions represent an ideal of mobility and stability to strive for, how do you go about improving them? The complexity or the movements and the nature of regional interdependence mean that nearly anything could be limiting your ability to do these movements. There are however, a few common areas where people tend to break down. These areas include:
- Deep Squat: Often limited by a lack of ankle dorsiflexion. See this post for more on ankle dorsiflexion and squatting.
- Arms overhead: Often limited by a lack of shoulder flexion, which is commonly limited by the latissimus dorsi. See this post on the lats and shoulder flexion.
- Handstand: Most of us spent nearly a year working on the skill of balance while standing and squatting on our feet. Very few of us have spent a similar amount of time balancing on our hands. There are many resources online about how to improve your handstand so I won’t go into to much detail here.
- I recommend working on your flexibility of your wrists and shoulders first. (You will need 90deg of wrist exension and 180 of shoulder flexion).
- Once you have the mobility, I recommend starting on a wall with your back to the wall then gentle kicking off the wall to find your balance point. This point involves a slight lean towards your fingertips with more weight in the fingertips than the rest of the hand.
- To enhance motor learning, I recommend practice sessions of 10min or less, several times a day.
- Keep practicing.
Thanks to Noah Hawthorne for shooting the photos that made this latest (most beautiful) rendition of my logo possible. You can see some of Noah’s other work here.