Squats are arguably one of the most popular exercises you’ll see at the gym and a staple of any leg day.
Bodyweight squats are an important exercise for beginners, teaching the correct form and technique needed to perform a squat safely and effectively. But, they’re not just for beginners…
Bodyweight squats can be incorporated into any workout, either a stand-alone exercise or as part of a warm-up before those heavier lifts. They’re that versatile.
What is a bodyweight squat?
The bodyweight squat is an easy go-to exercise that can be performed with no equipment and with minimal space. This is simply your standard squat however, you are relying on your body weight and gravity as resistance.
If you are restricted to minimal equipment or space, adding the bodyweight squat with high volume will certainly get them legs working.
What muscles are targeted?
The bodyweight squat will target the same muscles however you may need to increase the sets and reps due to the much lighter resistance. Your core will assist in the exercise as it targets your quads, glutes and supporting muscles like the hamstrings.
What are the benefits of bodyweight squats?
- Strengthens the core
- Strengthens and builds lower body muscles
- Burns calories
- Reduces the risk of injury
- Boosts athletic performance
How to perform a bodyweight squat – master the technique
- Stand with feet shoulder-width, with toes slightly turned outward.
- Tighten up your core to stabilize yourself, start to shift your weight back into your heels while pushing your hips behind you as you squat down.
- Continue to lower yourself until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor. Your feet should remain flat on the ground, and your knees should remain over your toes.
- Keep your spine neutral, chest out and push through the heel to return to the start position. Keep the core tight.
The deeper the better. Keep your form but by getting deeper there is more glute activation for booty gains.
Common bodyweight squat mistakes and how to fix them
Just like any exercise, the bodyweight squat has its own technique that needs to be followed. You can check your form in the mirror or ask the PT at your gym — who will be happy to help.
During the bodyweight squat, your spine should not be excessively flexing as you ascend and descend. This places more stress on the spine itself and not the muscles.
To reduce this happening, try bracing your abs as hard as you can during the rep, this will support the spine as you squat.
Knee valgus sounds fancy, but it’s simply the term given to the movement that happens to the knees as you squat. If you watch yourself in the mirror whilst you squat, and see your knees go out as you go down, but go in towards each other on the way up, that’s knee valgus.
This means your quads are dominating the movement, with your glutes not being involved as they should. You can fix this by pushing your knees out as you drive upwards from the bottom of the squat.
You can also try wrapping our resistance or Pilates bands around your knees. This will provide an external stimulus to help remind you to push your knees out.
How to add Bodyweight Squats to your workout
Bodyweight squats are extremely versatile, so can be performed at any time throughout your workout.
At the start of your training, bodyweight squats are the perfect warm-up exercise for seasoned lifters. They’re also a great strength movement for beginners too.
Alternatively, adding them to the end of your workout as a burnout exercise would make sure you finish off whatever energy is left in your legs.
Variations and alternative exercises
Once you’ve mastered the technique of the bodyweight squat and you’re feeling confident, you might want to make your squats more challenging. Well, we’ve got a few exercises that’ll do just that.
1. Barbell back squat
Once you’ve mastered the bodyweight squat, you can try adding extra weight to the exercise to make it that little bit harder.
You can add the weight in many different ways, like holding dumbbells in each hand. Or, you can hold a barbell across your upper back (standard barbells at the gym weigh around 20kg on their own). Once you’re comfortable with the barbell, you can look to add extra weight to increase the difficulty further.
As a guide, try adding 5-10% of your bodyweight as extra weight, so if you weigh 90kg, try adding somewhere between 4-9kg.
How to do a barbell back squat:
- Start with the barbell resting on your shoulders and your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Descend by bending your knees and keeping your back straight.
- Continue all the way down, or as low as you can go, keeping your weight on the front of your heels.
- When you’re at the bottom of the squat, drive your hips forward and push up through your heels to return to the starting position.
2. Bulgarian split squat
Bulgarian split squats are a great way of building single-leg strength in your glutes, quads, and hamstrings while improving overall balance.
How to perform a Bulgarian split squat:
- Find a bench and get into a forward lunge position. Your torso should be upright, hips square to the body, and you back foot elevated on the bench.
- With your leading leg around half a metre in front of the bench, lower yourself down until your front thing is almost horizontal. Your knee should be in line with your foot.
- Pause for a second at the bottom, before driving up through your front heel back to the starting position.
- Repeat for the desired amount of reps.
3. Goblet squat
The Goblet Squat is a great way to substitute a back squat in order to improve your performance and strength. Targeting your leg muscles, core and arms if you hold a weight, it has benefits beyond just improving your squats and leg strength.
How to perform a Goblet Squat:
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-distance apart, your toes angled slightly outward.
- Hold a kettlebell or weight in both hands at your chest, gripping with one hand on either side of the handle or weight.
- Bend your elbows so the weight is positioned right at the centre of your chest.
- Engage your core and look straight ahead as you want to keep your back neutral.
- Press your hips back and begin bending your knees to perform the squat. Inhale as you lower your body.
Take Home Message
The bodyweight squat is an exercise that can be added to any workout, whether it’s cardio or weights, helping to build lower body strength.
They’re so versatile that you can do these out at your gym, or even from the comfort of your own home if you have limited or no equipment or space.