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  • West London PT

Bodyweight Squats: Benefits, Muscles Worked & How To Do Them Properly

Man performing a bodyweight squat.

What Is A Bodyweight Squat?

A bodyweight squat is a compound movement that works your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves. This squat is unique from other variations because it requires no equipment and can be performed virtually anywhere. Even amongst other bodyweight-based squat variations, it is the most accessible and the foundation for strength and mobility required to achieve more advanced movements.

The Benefits of Bodyweight Squats

Bodyweight squats are a lower body exercise that target the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves. The glutes and the quadriceps are two of the largest muscles in your body. The resulting increase in muscle mass in these areas from practising air squats stands to improve your base metabolism.

The glutes are widely considered the base of the core. Weakness and deactivation of the glutes due to extended periods sat down is often responsible for a plethora of back pain and loss of functional core strength. Air squats are an accessible and practical way to reverse these effects on your glutes, and potentially reduce back pain.

Although they employ such large muscle groups, air squats can be completed very quickly. This leaves plenty of room for potential cardiovascular benefits when choosing a high repetition / short rest approach.

How Do You Perform A Bodyweight Squat?

  1. Begin with your feet shoulder-width apart, and toes slightly turned out. Keep your gaze facing forwards, with hands resting by your sides.

  2. Keep your chest up and back straight as you descend by bending your knees and hinging at the hips. The knees should not be much further forward than the ankles. Ensure your heels remain on the ground, and that your knees are not collapsing inwards. You may wish to extend your arms forward as you do so.

  3. Once you're at the bottom of the motion, push through the heels and thrust the hips forward to return to the starting position. Your arms can return to your sides or beside you as you reach the top of the range.

The leg is dominant in 'slow-twitch' muscle fibres, which respond to high repetition counts with a short rest period. Three sets of thirty, with a 40-second rest is a strong starting point. Modify as necessary to match your current ability.

How To Make Bodyweight Squats Easier

A simple method to make air squats easier is to reduce the range of motion, i.e. not descending as low. You can work to increase this range as your confidence builds.

If you're finding it difficult to keep your back straight and heels flat, you can place your heels on an elevated surface (e.g. a plate). You'll find it easier to descend whilst maintaining good form.

Woman performing a barbell squat with heels elevated on a plate.
Elevating your heels can help you to maintain depth without pushing through the toes.

How to Make Bodyweight Squats Harder

An equipment-free method to increase the difficulty of air squats is to increase TUC (Time Under Contraction). This is achieved by taking 10-12 seconds to descend, before pushing back up. You can also choose to slow down your ascending phase, too.

Another option is to practice holds at the bottom and middle of the motion for an additional ten seconds each.

The final modification to make squats more difficult involves practising only the lower half of the motion, which the vast majority of people find more difficult.

Common Bodyweight Squat Mistakes To Avoid

  • Pushing through the toes. Many people are quadricep dominant and struggle to keep their heels on the ground. This can be countered by elevating the heels on a stable surface 5 inches above the ground.

  • The knees coming too far forward. Your knees should not be going beyond the line of your toes. You can work to fix this error by practising sitting backwards using a bench, box or another elevated surface as a target.

  • Not keeping the back straight. Your chest should be up during a squat. Elevating your heels will help your descent path, and allow you to build the required mobility to maintain a straight back.

If you have any further questions or think you'd benefit from a trainer to up your squat game, feel free to reach out. You can get in touch with me for a free consultation, and I'll do my best to help!


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