Owing both to its effectiveness and its sheer longevity, the Hindu Squat is one of the most interesting exercises unknown to most lifters in the West. Targeting the quads and aerobic system to a remarkable degree, the exercise serves as a fantastic finisher to your workout or indeed a workout in its own right.
A core part of a wrestler’s training in both pre-modern and modern India, the move is sure to be of interest to those looking to switch up their training methods and try a truly gruelling exercise.
The History of the Squat
As detailed by Joseph Alter in a series of fascinating articles and books, Hindu squats have been used for centuries as part of the gymnastic training for Hindu wrestlers across India. Combined with a specialised form of push ups, which will be covered in future posts, the squat was used as an overall body developer. Capping off the training combination of squats and push ups would be a series of wrestling and overall conditioning practices such as digging a pit, grappling and various other forms of callisthenic exercise.
While it is perhaps impossible to detail the precise date of the Hindu squat, its longevity can be attested owing to old Hindu epics such as the Ramayana century publication, which highlighted the practice. Furthermore if one considers that the squat exercise has itself a long association with Indian forms of Yoga, it becomes clear that we’re not dealing with a new exercise fad.
What makes the Hindu Squat different?
Two things really. One practical and the other painful.
In the first instance the squat places much more stress on the quad muscles than your average squatting motion. By shifting one’s weight onto the toes, much more emphasis is placed upon the front of the thighs, thereby encouraging muscle growth. In this way the exercise resembles the hack squat in terms of the muscles recruited. Furthermore the exercise itself is a test of balance and coordination, something the author learned to his great embarrassment when he first attempted the exercise.
Though the traditional squat is all to familiar for many gym goers, the Hindu Squat demands a not unsubstantial bedding in period. Another consideration in this regard is one’s breathing patterns, which in theory are done in almost perfect unison with the movement itself. An approach all to alien for the hold your breath and squeeze mentality of the gym floor.
So that’s the practical out of the way, what about the painful?
Whereas 20 rep squats are about the limit that most of us are willing to go to outside of the callisthenics community, Hindu Squats are commonly done in the hundreds or thousands per day. Indeed, most beginner programmes recommend straight sets of fifty reps as a bedding in period. Personally I have no idea what kind of beginner can achieve this but it nevertheless gives an indication of the high expectations attached to the exercise. If you’ve never gone past twenty reps, be prepared for the pump from hell!
Indeed, you’ll quickly understand why this exercise serves as got aerobic and anaerobic training for wrestlers.
How to do it
Begin with your feet shoulder width apart with your arms slightly behind your back. Breath out as you descend towards the floor with the heels raising off the ground. Maintaining as upright a position as possible, touch the hands onto the heels. Breathing in, push upwards returning the heels to the ground as the arms extend in front of the chest before rowing once more to the start position.
Given words are not generally my strongpoint at the best of times, the following video details the squat in almost perfect form. Having waded through several videos on Hindu squatting techniques, this one seems to provide the most accessible understanding for the beginner.
A Final Word
For those looking for motivation, look no further than Gama the Great, the goliath Muslim wrestler detailed below. According to Percy Longhurst, Gama’s training would encompass thousands of Hindu squats a day!
Finally for our visually demanding friends, check out the below video which details the Hindu squat being used in conjunction with current wrestler’s training routines in India.
Glad you liked it! Stay tuned as we’ll be covering the push up accompaniment in the coming weeks 🙂
That senshido dude demonstrating the hindu squat has got the breathing reversed – he breathes out at the top of the movement. This is wrong – both the hindu squat and the hindu pushup use anatomical match breathing – in through the nose at full extension, then out through the mouth at full flexion. Try doing the exercises with that way of breathing and their full value will be revealed.
Hi Matt, thanks so much for stopping by. As these exercises are often new to me as well I’m at the mercy of others descriptions at times.
Really appreciate you setting the record straight!
No worries – I’ve noticed that the majority of videos out there purporting to teach the hindu squat or hindu pushup make the same mistake. From lifting heavy weights for years (deadlift, power clean etc) I myself am accustomed to the usual ‘biomechanical’ style of breathing, where the breath is held at the top of the lift to increase intra-abdominal pressure and thus stabilise the trunk. The hindu exercises are a whole different kettle of fish – master them with anatomical match breathing, get your reps up to 30 then 50 and then beyond and you will find yourself entering a whole new zone of exercise, with tangible effects beyond just markedly increased strength and stamina. The hindu pushup for example acts as a pump, moving blood and lymph fluid around the body – I’ve been in the fitness game for a long time, also did a very physically demanding job for years, but there’s something special about the 3 Royal Court exercises (hindu squat, hindu pushup, wrestler’s bridge) – without wanting to sound like an evangelist, I believe them to be the products of superior understanding. But hey, try them yourself, individual mileage may vary 🙂 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0NLilpx1l4
Great Gama was NOT a Hindu Wrestler, he was a Muslim named Ghulam Mohammad Baksh Butt. He was borin in British India and later held Pakistani Citizenship. Get the facts correct.
Hi Jesan, many thanks on the correction. You are, of course, correct. I’ll leave your comment here for others!
I have exercised my whole life and always recognized the importance of squats am I in danger of injuring my knees with the Hindu Squat?
I’ve done hundreds of thousands of squats, both Western & Hindu, reckon that the Hindu version with its ankle movement feels more natural and is actually less stressful on the knees – but approach it slowly in the beginning and master the form first – shouldn’t take long.
Thanks for the contribution Matt. I absolutely agree with you. 🙂
Hey Conor, don’t know if you’ve featured the Kushti Swing already, but if not check it out – I’ve been doing these for a while, a very efficient & enjoyable way to hit multiple muscle groups. It’s all in the rhythm: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHJRtXVduvg
Hey Matt, that is complete news to me! Awesome, thank you, I’ll be doing a bit of research now!
what is the significane of heel off the floor, other than balance and working out calve muscles?
is it ok to do it without lifting heels off?
Hi Jason, I think you’ve nailed it there in that it works on balance and working out the calves. Anecdotally I began doing this exercises with heels on the ground before progressing to heels off. I found that heels off the ground allowed me to get into a cool rhythm with higher reps. Heels on the ground is absolutely good though – do what works for you!
Hi Steve, I think Matt’s comment here is useful as well. I would say slowly and carefully try them out. I found they helped my knee pain but other friends have had less luck. As always if it hurts don’t! 🙂
Hi Conor, its a great article and thanks for all the information. May I suggest an edit , at the risk of being a nitpickker, The Great Gama is not a “Hindu” wrestler. He was Muslim and his real name was Ghulam Muhammad Bakhsh.
Hi Usman – thank you for the kind words and also the correction. You’re right about Gama – shall amend it now 🙂
jason – it can be hard at first to complete the hindu squat with heels raised, but I urge you strongly to keep at it – I’ve tried it without and the exercise is much less effective, really it’s a whole-body exercise like the Dand Pushup, and each part of the movement is important.
Once you get the feel for it and balance improves you will reap the rewards.
I love this answer and this support. Thanks Matt for being one of the good ones!
This squat was part of Edwin Checkley’s natural fitness course from the late 19th century.
Thank you very much, Rick Duker – I hadn’t heard of Checkley, found free download of his book here https://archive.org/details/checkleysnatural00chec started reading it online, there is so much sense in the first few pages, have now got the actual book on order – one of those moments of serendipity where the direction of one’s own thinking is suddenly illuminated by a bright bright light, but took me years to get there.
I had the same sense when I discovered his work some years ago. Checkley was brilliant and for the most part his ideas are still of great value today. Central to his system is costal breathing and proper posture from which everything else flows. Glad you have discovered Edwin Checkley’s natural training system now too! Enjoy!
I absolute love when readers interact through this website. Thanks so much folks! I think a Chekley post needs doing for me
Having done the typical young man’s thing of pushing my body to insane extremes and then paying the inevitable price, Edwin Checkley’s ideas now make perfect sense to me – I wish I’d read him sooner, but at the same time doubt that I would’ve listened to them back in the day when my bible was Schwarzenegger’s ‘Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding’ and my concept of moderation was doing four hours a day in the gym instead of six. It’s a sad fact that most of us learn only through negative outcomes, and even then only by repeated doses.
There were weight lifters such as Alan Calvert who abandoned weight training due to the influence of Checkley. Checkley believed it was detrimental to destroy muscle tissue to make the muscles larger and harder. Flexible supple muscles were more useful. Balancing the body against the ever present force of gravity was the best exercise. He emphasized conservation of energy as an important principle in body management.
Yes – conservation of energy (aka vital force) is the basis of health and of power, and once you realize this you see its truth everywhere, eg the humble domestic cat (my current old tabby is 11, can still run ten metres in half a second, jump eight times his own height, always carefully stretches on waking, trains once a day for 15 minutes, a session of mad dashing, but rests most of the time – if he had to catch his own food he could do it easily, rodents, birds, lizards, might take 2-3 hours at most) or in the world of human politics, Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’, which emphasises conservation of force at all times. Energy, which includes your mental attention, must not be squandered, but almost everyone, me included, acts as if they have an unlimited supply, and our society is in fact structured to rob us of this resource in a million insidious ways.
Question is, what are you trying to achieve – a muscular appearance? endurance? feats of strength? or good health?
The single-minded pursuit of any or all of the first three mitigates against the fourth, because training to excess reduces your vital force.
In terms of strength training, I have only used one method: lifting heavy things, at first I did it with high frequency, then because I was doing a hard physical job as well, I had to reduce the workload – simple burnout and chronic injury forces that upon you. Can you become very strong without using weights? I haven’t tried it myself, but I have seen enough examples to think it can be done, and it seems that what matters is the cultivation of vital force by training with relaxed and natural actions that aid the conservation of energy.