The mother of all exercises — the squat! It turns out that it is one of the most important activities to do after a stroke in order to regain strength. Maybe you already have a bit of experience with the squat from your rehabilitation. And if you do, then you know it is not easy. To do it right, you need strength, focus, and patience. Since this is such an important exercise for your recovery, we decided to give you some tips to help you perform it right and maximize your benefits!
Adapt the squat to your level of fitness and strength
You can’t expect to be able to squat like a professional athlete right away after a stroke. In fact, for many stroke survivors, it is impossible to achieve a full squat. After all, it is a very demanding exercise. And even though your squat might not look the way you want it to, you need to accept your current level. Gradually, you’ll start to notice a difference in your strength and ability.
The most important aspect of the squat is how deeply you bend your knees. A 90-degree angle is the goal, but you can still reap the benefits even if you can only bend at a 10-degree angle at first. Find a position where you are able to complete 10 to 15 repetitions. Your muscles should be exhausted towards the end. After a few training sessions, you’ll be able to squat a little deeper. And who knows, maybe a full squat is not as far away as you think.
If you’re feeling a little insecure when you get started, it’s okay to hold onto something like a chair or other piece of furniture. This way you can practice the movement until you feel comfortable. Make sure you don’t lean on the chair though. You want to be sure your legs are doing the work and not your arms. So just putting one or two fingers on the chair is enough to give you the stability you need. Once you can comfortably do 10-15 repetitions, try it with your hand hovering just above the chair. It might turn out that you don’t need the support anymore.
Watch others and visualize
Visualization is an effective way to get better at something. Of course, you learn by practicing, but you can also learn by watching others. If you watch the video below closely and focus on how the person performs the movement, you’ll get better. After watching it a few times, close your eyes and imagine yourself doing the same squat. If you do this every day, it will help you improve your squat. And let’s face it, this is easier than doing a squat. But sorry, it doesn’t get you out of practicing!
Stand on your toes
You’re doing squats anyway, so why not get the most out of them? Stand on your toes at the end of the exercise. When you extend your knees, keep going until you are up on your tippy toes. This little addition gives your legs a bit of extra strength to increase your walking pace. This movement can be tricky, so make sure to practice slowly and stay focused. Even if you cannot fully stand on your toes at first, you can still try to do it and put extra weight on the front of your foot. Watch the video below to see how it’s done.
Focus on your affected side
It’s pretty common to favor your unaffected side when recovering from a stroke. That’s why you really need to pay attention to how you’re doing the squat. You need to make sure that your affected leg is getting the training it needs. If you notice that your unaffected leg is taking over, then shift your weight to the affected side to increase the pressure and make it work. It won’t be comfortable, but it will be worth it. And remember, you can always hold onto something for support.
Watch your breathing
Make sure you breathe! Many people actually hold their breath while squatting because it requires a lot of muscle strength. But by holding your breath, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Your muscles won’t be getting the oxygen they need. Inhale when you go down and get that oxygen you need for the tough part – going up. Exhale as you extend. Match your pace to your breathing, slowly inhaling and exhaling. If you can’t get this right at first, then start by focusing only on your breath and visualize yourself doing the squat movements as you breathe in and out.
Have a plan
To make sure you get the most out of your squats, you need to have a plan. Just doing a few squats a day won’t strengthen your legs the way you want them to. You have to increase the workload and vary the way you perform the exercise. Your therapist can work with you to create a program focused on building leg strength. Or you can pre-register for our new walking app! We guide you through a full 6-week course based on your current level. Our plan is designed to improve your walking, and of course, it includes squats and variations of the squat!