Hindu Squats – What, How, and Why


The Hindu Squat may be something you have never heard of. It has even been named the forgotten exercise and is described as “one of the most interesting exercises unknown to most lifters in the West.” Even though It is not a popular movement in the gym, it does make for a great squat variation you can perform at home without any equipment.

Hindu squats were “created” in India as a key component to the hindu wrestler training program. Since then it has been adapted to many yoga and strength training practices. A hindu squat is simply a variation to the conventional squat with a few major differences; your stance will be slightly more narrow, you will squat on your toes, and you will use your arms to help complete a smooth and balanced squat. With the use of your arms to help complete this type of squat, you will also utilize breathing mechanics that synchronize with the movement pattern.

Essentially, the hindu squat is more than a leg strengthening exercise. It is a way to incorporate the whole body, through use of the arms, legs, and the breath. If focusing on breathing is not your thing, you should still give hindu squats a chance as these squats fire up your quads and allow you to have better squat form if your ankles tend to be on the tighter side.

Muscles used during the hindu squat

The primary muscle targeted in the hindu squat are the quads, or the full name, quadriceps femoris. This includes 4 different muscles.

  • Vastus Lateralis
    • Performs concentric knee extension and eccentric knee flexion
  • Vastus Intermedius
    • Performs concentric knee extension and eccentric knee flexion
  • Vastus Medialis
    • Performs concentric knee extension and eccentric knee flexion
  • Rectus Femoris
    • Performs concentric knee extension and eccentric knee flexion
    • And helps to flex the hip joint

Other muscles that are heavily used in the hindu squat include

  • Gastrocnemius
    • One of the calf muscles
    • Keeps the heel off of the ground
  • Soleus
    • The other calf muscle
    • Keeps the heel off of the ground
  • Glutes
    • Powers the hip extension as you ascend from the bottom of the squat.
    • Helps you to stand back up to a tall, neutral position
  • Shoulders
    • Very active during the upper arm movement portion of this exercise
      • As you will read later, your arms swing during the descent and ascent of the squat.
  • Core Muscles
    • Rectus Abdominis, Internal and External Obliques, Transverse Abdominis, Lumbar Spine Extensors
    • Your whole torso really works to help keep a rigid and neutral midline
    • Helps you to avoid loss of balance
    • Helps you to perform the movement correctly

How to perform Hindu Squats

This “ancient squat” is going to look and feel different than your traditional squat. While they share some of the basic movement mechanics, bending at the hips and knees, and returning to a fully straightened, extended position, there are also several key differences.

To perform the perfect Hindu Squat make sure to keep the motion smooth and controlled while following these steps:

  1. Start with your feet underneath your hips. This stance is much more narrow than your traditional squat.
  1. Begin squatting down with the weight in the balls of your feet, NOT in your heels. Allow your knees to pass over the front of your toes.
  1. As you continue to squat down, keep your core tight, spine straight, and eyes looking forwards. Swing your arms, with your fingers extended, behind you.
  1. Continue to lower yourself to the bottom of the squat, as deep as you can go without pain or falling, with the goal of touching the back of your hips to your heels.
  1. At the bottom of the squat you will start to swing your arms forwards, lightly brushing your fingertips against the ground next to your feet during this transition.

Your arm swing will end with your arms straight out in front of you.

  • Continue to keep your weight on the balls of your feet. Push yourself up from the bottom of the squat, using the strength of your legs and the momentum from your arm swing to return to the standing position. Make sure you fully extend your knees and hips as the top of the squat.
  • Repeat for desired sets and reps.

However, performing the Hindu Squat is much more than ensuring you are moving your body properly, it is also about your breathing mechanics. In fact, the breathing mechanics during this type of squat is opposite of your traditional squat.

During the Hindu squat:

  • Exhale on the descent, the downwards movement.
  • Inhale on the ascent, the upwards movement.

Some trainers even state that the Hindu Squats “are as much a deep breathing lung-builder as a leg builder.” If you cannot hear yourself breathing, you may be doing it wrong.

Benefits of Hindu Squats

There benefits of the Hindu Squat are endless, from training ancient Indian wrestlers to adding variety to your current workout routine, anyone is sure to benefit from these squats.

First, this alternative to the traditional squat provides another body weight strengthening exercise to do at home. No equipment is needed to perform the Hindu Squat.

The number one benefit of this squat is the fact that it trains the arms, legs, and breath to work together to complete a functional, stable, and coordinated movement pattern.

From a muscle activation and biomechanical standpoint, this type of squat that requires a deep knee bend with ankle plantar flexion (aka your heels off of the ground), challenges different parts of your body more than during the traditional squat.

With the heels elevated, there is a significant increase in the gastrocnemius (calf) muscle activation.¹

Typically, if weightlifters have poor ankle mobility, they will elevate the heels in order to improve their squat form. So, if you are limited in your ankle mobility, Hindu Squats may actually be easier for you!

Plus, as your heels are raised, it is much easier to keep your torso upright, improving your form, and training your overall squat mechanics.²

While it is hard to find research, a lot of trainers report that the Hindu Squat also increases your quadriceps activation. Since this type of squat improves ankle mobility, one can squat deeper than in a traditional squat, allowing more knee bend, and therefore more eccentric control and activation of the quadriceps muscle.³

Besides training a functional movement pattern and providing an alternative leg strengthening exercise, the Hindu Squat can also improve cardiovascular fitness. Typically, these squats are done quickly with several repetitions in a row.

No matter what your goal is, Hindu Squats will most likely help get you there.

How Are Hindu Squats Different from Traditional Squat

As mentioned earlier, a few key differences between these two types of squats are:

  • The stance width
    • Hindu Squats- More narrow, with feet below hips
    • Traditional Squat- Feet at shoulder width
  • Weight placement
    • Hindu Squats- Weight on balls of feet
    • Traditional Squats- Weight on heels
  • Use of arms
    • Hindu Squats- Arms swing forwards and backwards to help coordinate the movement
    • Traditional squats- Arms stay in place
  • Breathing
    • Hindu Squat- Breathe out on the descent, and in on the ascent
    • Traditional Squat- Breathe in on the descent, and out on the ascent

However, there are several other differences to note.

During the Hindu Squat, much more force, pressure, and work is being shifted forwards to the knees and toes. This challenges balance and coordination more so than your typical squat.

You are also able to squat much deeper during the Hindu Squat since the heels are elevated. This challenges your mobility and builds strength in deeper ranges of motion than the traditional squat.

Both squats are great, but it would be well worth your time to add Hindu Squats to your training program.

Sources

  1. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/aaac/f8cf9a0efec4ec3dc255464b4dd7555e2f08.pdf
  2. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2017/06000/The_Effects_of_a_Heel_Wedge_on_Hip,_Pelvis_and.28.aspx
  3. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2017.00626/full

Heath Barrow

Heath is a certified personal trainer, an ordained minister, and most importantly, a father. He loves reading and learning new things...and enjoys it when he's able to pass that along to others!  ~"A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed." (Proverbs 11:25, NIV)

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