The bodyweight squat is a lower body strengthening exercise that can be performed virtually anywhere with no equipment and limited space. It's a highly functional movement working all the major muscles of the legs.
- Primary Muscle: Quadriceps
- Secondary Muscle(s): Calves, Hamstrings
- Difficulty: Beginner
- Also known as: Bodyweight Squat, BW Squat
- Optional: Kettlebell, Medicine Ball, Resistance Bands, Sandbag, Barbell and Weights, Dumbbells, Weighted Vest, Bulgarian Bag
View Squat guide
Bodyweight squats guide
The squat is fundamental body movement that strengthens and tones the lower body. This functional exercise can be performed virtually anywhere with no equipment and little space, and because it's such a basic movement the benefits will carry over into everyday life.
It's important for beginners to learn the bodyweight squat before progressing to weighted squats. This will teach you the correct technique with a safe load. Aim for at least 100-200 successive bodyweight squats before progressing to weighted versions.
The benefits of the squat:
- Build muscle: Squats hit your legs hard, requiring multiple muscles to work in unison and stimulates growth.
- Increased strength: Squatting will strengthen your legs and the tendons in your knees like no other exercise.
- Improved hip mobility: The exercise builds and maintains mobility in the hip joint.
- Fat burning / general health: Bodyweight squats allow you to perform many controlled reps in succession, elevating the heart rate and burning fat.
How to perform the bodyweight squat
- Set your feet shoulder-width apart, toes slightly turned out. Pull in your lower abs, and keep your eyes forward.
- Slowly bend at the knees and drop your hips to lower your body. Keep your heels flat on the floor.
- At the bottom of the exercise pause for a moment and strongly push back up to the starting position, mirroring the descent.
- Repeat for desired number of reps.
- To counter balance your weight hold your arms out in front of you at shoulder height.
- Keep your back as straight as possible throughout the lift to avoid strain or injury.
Squats for beginners
Squats are almost synonymous today with weight training exercises (see barbell squat). This is most likely due to many people training for muscle-mass or strength gains and outgrowing the standard bodyweight squat in order to acheive these goals.
However the value of the bodyweight squat should not be underestimated. The exercise can be used to build endurance in the legs, learn the correct technique before progressing to weighted versions of the exercise, burn fat, and can be performed almost anywhere with no equipment.
These tools essentially support some of your bodyweight to make the exercise more achievable (see Suspended Single Leg Squat as an example).
Bodyweight squats are a beginners movement that many people quickly out grow, especially if training for muscle mass and strength rather than endurance or weight loss. If you're ready to progress from the bodyweight version it's time to add some increased resistance.
There are many ways to add resistance to a squat. The obvious choice is to increase weight, which can be achieved using a barbell (see barbell squat), by wearing a weighted vest or holding dumbbells, kettlebells and other weighted objects.
Alternatively, resistance bands can be a cheap, effective and ultra-portable method of adding progressive resistance to the squat movement. Simply wrap a heavy-duty band round each foot and over the shoulders to secure in place.
As with all strength exercises you should strive to make incremental and continuous gains. Make small additions to the added resistance to safely progress.
Squat exercise variations
- Weighted squats - see barbell squat, kettlebell squat, goblet squat or use a weighted vest, dumbbells or medicine ball.
- One-legged squat / Pistol squat - the intense, single leg version of the traditional squat exercise (see single leg squat).
- Assisted squats - suspension trainers, resistance bands and gymnastics rings can all be used for squat assistance (see Suspended Single Leg Squat for example).
Always consult your GP before undertaking any form of weight loss, fitness or exercise