Bodyweight Squat Exercise Guide
The squat is a great strength-builder, and should be a staple of any good resistance training program. But where to start if you’re a total beginner? Let’s start off by taking a look at the bodyweight squat – the first move you should master before you add weights. The bodyweight squat is definitely the easiest way to practice and learn the proper squatting technique since it doesn’t require the use of any additional resistance. However, unfortunately, prolonged sitting, poor footwear, and non-functional exercise prescription has made this simple, healthy exercise hugely challenging for the majority of adults, as they simply don’t have the required range of motion.
The full bodyweight squat is a seemingly simple quadriceps exercise but it actually requires considerable ankle dorsiflexion flexibility, hip flexion flexibility, and thoracic extension flexibility. This means that your knees have to be able to travel forward pretty far at the bottom of the movement without rising onto the toes, the hips need to be able to sink low with no rounding of the low back or tucking of the pelvis, and the upper back needs to stay tight to prevent upper-back rounding. For this reason, many people find that they cannot perform this movement until they increase their mobility.
Once you master the bodyweight squat, there are several squat variations and progressions that you can use to keep improving your strength.
Bodyweight Squat Exercise Instructions
It’s time to master the bodyweight squat.
STARTING POSITION (SETUP)
- Stand with your feet just wider than shoulder-width apart, your head up and eyes forward.
- Place your hands in front of your body. You can also place the hands in a mummy position, crossed in front of the body. Choose the arm position that feels the most comfortable and secure for you; arm position does not alter the recruitment of the leg muscles.
EXERCISE EXECUTION (ACTION)
- Slowly descend by flexing at your hips, knees, and ankles. It is important to keep your back straight by moving the pelvis back.
- Lower your hips at least until your quads are about parallel to the floor. We recommend you to descend as deeply as possible (full bodyweight squat) while keeping a flat lower back.
- Pause for one count at the bottom and then return to the starting position by driving up through the
middle of your feet or even through the heels of your feet.
Additional tips (performance pointers)
- Initiate the movement by simultaneously breaking at the knees and hips and dropping straight down.
- Focus on keeping the knees straight ahead. Hip tightness may cause the knees to collapse inward.
- Keep the weight on the whole foot.
- Keep the chest up.
- Avoid rounding of the low back or tucking of the pelvis.
- Keep your upper back tight to prevent upper-back rounding.
- Be sure your knees do not protrude past your toes. This can lead to knee pains.
- If going into a full squat is too difficult at first, lower yourself only as far as you can, until you develop the strength and flexibility needed to lower your body all the way down.
- Primary muscles: Quadriceps (rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius)
- Secondary muscles : Gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, hamstrings (biceps femoris, semitendinosus, semimembranosus), erector spinae (spinalis, longissimus, iliocostalis)
All squatting exercises are usually done with your toes pointing straight forward, or slightly pointing out, as
your feet are when you walk. You can adjust any squatting exercise to focus more attention on your vastus medialis (the teardrop-shaped muscle that protrudes just above the inside of each knee and runs about a third of the length of the thigh—the one that wearing shorts really shows off) by keeping your toes pointed further out than 30 degrees from straight ahead. Alternatively, doing any squatting exercise with your toes pointed inward will emphasize vastus lateralis (a.k.a. look-fabulous-in-slim-jeans-or-a-bathing-suit muscle) which creates the curve, or “sweep” of your outer thigh.
More demanding bodyweight squat variations
Here’s how you can make bodyweight squat more challenging.
- Wear a weighted vest or hold a medicine ball for more resistance.
- An unstable surface, such as a half foam roller or DynaDisc, will add yet another progression.
- In order to increase the muscular intensity of the bodyweight squat, use a continuous tension technique. This means that instead of allowing your leg muscles to rest at the top of the movement by completely straightening your legs, you stop your squat short and don’t straighten your legs completely.
- Sumo squat
- Pistol squat
- Sissy squats
- Single-leg squat
- Single-leg squat on a sturdy box
- Goblet squat
- Barbell squat
- Dumbbell squat
The easiest squat version is the free squat (bodyweight squat), in which you use only your own bodyweight. You can practice this exercise at home to tone up your legs without having to go to the gym. The main problem is that bodyweight squats rapidly become too easy because of the lack of resistance. In that case you will have to replace bodyweight squat with barbell squat (or dumbbell squat) to ensure further progress. The squat is considered a good starting exercise because it stimulates many muscle groups of the lower body.