Bodyweight squat is a very simple calisthenics exercise that develops muscle definition and strength in legs. It is a beginners level exercise because it’s really easy to do and it can be performed anywhere. It’s an immensely functional movement that targets all the major muscles of the legs.
This article will cover how to do squats safely so that you can reap the most benefit out of this exercise. It will also cover two exercises to help increase your ankle mobility so that you can squat deep down low without your heels lifting off the floor. Along with covering four variations so that you can start practicing today!
The primary muscles that are targeted are quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. The secondary muscles are abdominals, calves, lower back and hip flexors.
As mentioned, bodyweight squats can be done anywhere without the need of equipment and little space, which makes it a great exercise for beginners. It’s basic movement will have positive carry over into your everyday life.
Stand with feet shoulders-width apart, your back straight, chest out, and shoulders down. Your toes should be turned out slightly outward. Engage your core.
Inhale and begin the movement by hinging at the hips first, followed by bending the knees. Keep lowering down until your thighs are parallel with the floor, if your ankle flexibility permits you to go deeper down, you can do so. Make sure your knee is following the direction of where the big toe is pointing, and bring your arms out in front of you to counter balance. Your back should be straight and long in this position. If your back is rounded, you should lower as far as you can whilst your back is straight.
Exhale and press with your heels to straighten your legs, with hips and torso rising simultaneously. Continue to engage your core throughout this movement to keep your back flat.
Repeat this movement for a desired number of repetitions (see the recommended rep and sets ranges for all levels below).
Squatting with your heel rising is an issue. It will prompt you to feel off-balanced while squatting and affect how you shift force through the ground, which will lower your overall strength. This is due to lack of ankle mobility or flexibility in your calves. There are two great exercises to keep your heels fixed on the ground.
This exercise will require an elevated surface that is around your waist height to hold onto for support. You'd want to hinge back with your arms straight or have them bent a little and get squat as low as you can. Doing this will force your heels to stay flat on the ground, whilst feeling a good stretch in your ankles and calves. If your heels are still coming up, you can squat further back and squatting closer towards your heels with each rep, whilst keeping your heels on the ground. This will build up flexibility in your ankles and calves.
You will need a chair or any elevated surface that is as high as the distance you would want to squat, for example, low enough that your knees are able to be at a 90 degrees angle. Gently tap the chair with your butt, but don’t sit down, and do this for a desired number of repetitions. This will help to improve your ability to squat whilst keeping your heels down.
Bodyweight Squats help to build your body’s joints. It is one of the most compounded exercises the lower body can go through as it requires your muscles and joints to work together. Joints enable you to perform physical functions such as bending your hips and your knees. Stronger joints can prevent damaged cartilage and arthritis, allowing you to live a healthy active lifestyle.
On top of joints, Bodyweight Squats work on diverse groups of muscles such as quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, abdominals, lower back, hip flexors, and calves. If performed on a regular basis, you will achieve a well toned lower body.
This exercise is great if you’d like to shed some fat whilst putting on muscle. This should be done at a high intensity. Doing Bodyweight Squats can increase your Metabolic Equivalent (MET). The higher your MET rate, the more calories you’ll burn. Squats could be counted as an aerobic exercise such as running or cycling. Performing this exercise would burn lots of calories and help you to lose body fat.
Not only doing Bodyweight Squats will improve the look of your muscles, but they also increase your strength, as well as the ability to improve your physical tasks such as jumping or sprinting. This is important if you're an athlete as your speed and power are greatly affected by the impact of squats. Therefore, your athletic performance can be greatly enhanced through this exercise.
If you are new to this exercise, you should perform 5-8 reps on each leg for 4 sets, 3 times a week.
Once you get stronger you want to aim for 12-16 reps on each leg for 4 sets, 3 times a week.
Eventually, after 3-4 weeks, you will be accustomed to bodyweight and should progress to doing weighted Bulgarian Split Squats. You will see real results in the definition of your legs once you do this. Perform weighted variation for 10-12 reps on each leg, for 4 sets, 3 times a week.
This variation is a progression to the bodyweight squats. It is an intermediate level exercise, and it is great for developing your explosive power. Also, it burns calories faster than Bodyweight Squats because of the jump. It will enable you to take off faster and move quicker, which athletes in sports such as football and tennis strive for. You will need to press your feet down to explode off the ground and jump as high as you can, and land safely with your toes touching the ground first.
Sumo Squats are a beginners level exercise that uses the same muscles as the Bodyweight Squat. The only difference is that your feet are now wider apart and are more turned outwards, which externally rotates your hips. This puts extra focus on your inner thighs and abductors.
The Goblet Squat is an intermediate level exercise that works all the major muscle groups of the lower body. It’s performed by holding a dumbbell or kettlebell with both of your hands at the centre of your chest. You would squat down while holding the dumbbell, and your elbows would come between your knees. This exercise works on the upper body muscles group which helps to tone your deltoids, trapezius, abdominals, forearms and latissimus dorsi.
My name is Pat Chadwick, I am a calisthenics coach with over 4 years of experience in helping people from all backgrounds to achieve their calisthenics goals. My goal is to become the number one calisthenics coach in the world as it is my passion to help people change their lives through inspiring bodyweight movements. I believe everyone deserves the right to feel good about their health, body, and be delighted inside and out.