I’m sitting in a small room at the back of Third Space, a luxury gym in the heart of London’s Soho. Opposite me is Luke Worthington, an ex-rugby player turned sports scientist and biomechanics genius, as well as a trainer at the elite gym.
“If you don’t know your starting point, you won’t know how to get to your destination,” he says cryptically. “How do you get to Birmingham?” he asks, waiting for me to answer. “Erm, well, it’s north from here,” I reply. “Yes, but what if I told you we’re actually in Scotland? Then it’s south.”
Thing is, we’re not really talking about directions in the literal sense: He’s using this as an example for reaching my fitness goals. I physically can’t squat, my bum just doesn’t want to get down low, and I have no idea why, which is the reason I’m sitting in front of Worthington today. Essentially, I don’t know where I am (in the fitness sense), so how can I ever reach my goals?
Worthington has masterminded a programme for all members at Third Space called Out/Set; it’s basically the gym induction to end all gym inductions. I went through the programme and am now out the other side. But can I squat, and has it affected the way I train for the better? Keep scrolling to find out.
Out/Set is pretty enlightening. After our abstract chat about geography, Worthington asked me to jump onto what looked like a set of scales. In fact, it was a scanner that measures everything from body-fat percentage and visceral fat to lean muscle mass and hydration.
Despite a little trepidation, I hopped on and discovered that my body-fat percentage was normal; in fact, I have quite a lot of muscle for a woman. The takeaway from this part of Out/Set was that if I want to be super lean (I do!), I need to focus on some fat-burning workouts, and I’m pretty dehydrated, so I need to drink more water (which is a metabolism-booster, don’t you know).
It’s not what you do, but it’s how you do it.
So what about my terrible squats? We headed upstairs, and Luke got me to perform various moves, from walking lunges to the dreaded squats themselves. His thinking is that with exercise, it’s not what you do, but it’s how you do it. Essentially, he believes you shouldn’t add strength to dysfunction. In other words, if I can’t squat down without a barbell on my back (I can’t), then I need to fix it before I think about going anywhere near a squat rack.
After some further assessment, Luke established that I can mechanically do a squat when I'm lying down but I can't when I'm standing. It turns out my core is super weak and this causes my pelvis to angle lower at the front than the back. So, as I squat down, the front lip of my hip socket gets in the way of my femurs which are trying to flex, which is why I physically can’t get my butt below parallel. By turning on and strengthening my core, I’ll be more upright, which will create space in my hips so my pelvis will be able to drop right down below parallel (ass to grass, essentially).
Why does this matter in the grand scheme of things? For starters, a squat that is parallel or lower is going to build more muscle than one that barely constitutes a squat, and yes, I do want a peachy bum, thank you very much. By not squatting correctly, I was also putting unnecessary strain on other parts of my body, which could cause me problems—injuries, wear and tear, or arthritis—in the long run. Also, I don’t like not being able to move well; you see a toddler squat down to play, and they do it with such ease, I hated to think that years of sitting at a desk and not working on my mobility had caused me to become so stiff.
Worthington recommended I do goblet squats—holding a weight in front of you (kettlebell or dumbbell) when you squat as this activates the core muscles, which pulled my pelvis into the correct alignment and allowed me to get lower. It’s basically strengthening and retraining my body in one go. My Out/Set plan, which Worthington and the team turn around in just 48 hours for all clients, included various moves to help strengthen my core and work my whole body. The plan wasn’t all rehabilitation: I’m able to deadlift a lot, and I really enjoy doing them, so to keep up my morale, Worthington told me to deadlift as heavy as I like.
After six weeks of heading to the gym three times a week (I was meant to go five times, but life gets in the way), I can now squat down almost as well as my 2-year-old self. It’s essentially a miracle. In yoga, I can now happily sit down into malasana (where you squat down, elbows inside knees and hands to prayer) and hang out there while my yoga teacher chats on.
My core is stronger, too, which in turn is helping me reach my other goals: I can do a pull-up now without any bands, and my headstand in coming along nicely. Fix your imbalances, and you’ll start getting better results in the gym, guaranteed. You see, the squat wasn’t really the final destination for me, but it was a fun place to visit on the way.
To enquire about membership at Third Space, head to the website. Don’t live in London? Try to find a personal trainer in your area who has a qualification in biomechanics to assess you and help create a rehabilitation and training plan for you. Luke warns that trainers can have the qualification but don't necessarily use it so chat through the type of assessment they will put you through before booking in.