The flat-footed squat is often called the "Asian squat" because it is common in Asia and essential for using a squat toilet. The position allows one to sit anywhere without getting snow or mud on one's pants. But people all over the world do it, as evidenced by Norwegian golfer Suzann Pettersen, pictured above. It's not common among adults in the US, although children can squat with their heels down easily. The squat requires flexibility of the hips, knees, and particularly the ankles, which we may lose by having chairs available all the time.
Believe it or not, no one appears to have actually studied innate ability in deep squatting across ethnic groups. “You would have to take kids from the time they’re born in China and never let them do any squats to be a control group, and it’ll never happen,” says Matt Hudson, a physiologist at the University of Delaware, who kindly humored my questions. And ultimately, it may not matter. Practice and training make the bigger difference. (I suggested to my boyfriend that he could improve his squats, but he refused for reasons I cannot fathom.)
The good news is that, barring injuries, most people can work their way up to doing the flat-footed squat. Read about the physiology of the Asian squat at The Atlantic.
(Image credit: Wojciech Migda (Wmigda))