Forgotten Exercises: The Hindu Squat

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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 epicsย 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!

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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.

18 Comments

  1. 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.

    1. 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!

      1. 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0NLilpx1l4

  2. 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.

  3. 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?
    Steve Z.

    1. 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.

    2. 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! ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. 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 โ€œHinduโ€ wrestler. He was Muslim and his real name was Ghulam Muhammad Bakhsh.

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