Think about your favorite lower-body exercises that give you strong, powerful legs. I’m sure bodyweight squats aren’t the very first thing that come to mind. But don’t write them off so quickly. Bodyweight squats may not sound that powerful because you don’t have any external weight added to the movement, but when used strategically in your programming, bodyweight squats provide you with more strength and range in your lower body.
I use bodyweight squats very often in my workouts. I like that you can mix up the tempo and the rep range, and you can add explosiveness to gain more power. Although you won’t build a lot of muscle mass by exclusively doing bodyweight squats (you need to also add in weightlifting if you want to develop sustainable muscle mass), they’re still a fundamental movement that belongs in any and all workout routines and they’ll help you get stronger and leaner.
I’m going to take you through some basic information you should know about bodyweight squats, as well as give you some insider tips on how to execute them and incorporate them into your programming usefully.
What Are Bodyweight Squats?
This may sound like a silly question at first, but it never hurts to start at the basics so you’re equipped with everything you need to know. So let’s define what a bodyweight squat is: a lower-body exercise in which you perform a squat without any equipment or additional weight. There are many different squat positions you can use, but if it’s a squat done with just your body and no additional weight, it’s a bodyweight squat.
It’s tempting to just jump into weighted squats when you’re starting to workout for the first time. It’s just as common for avid weightlifters to never do any bodyweight squats because they think it’s simply a waste of time. Never mistake the power of the bodyweight squat. There are so many benefits to be had from squatting with just your bodyweight. It helps your body map out the squat pattern in a safe, injury-free way. Even if you’re someone who lifts weights regularly, working on your bodyweight squats can have great results in the long run. It can help you increase the range of your squat, correct any imbalances or misalignments you may experience in your squat, and help you prep the joints and muscles for a tough workout session.
How Do You Properly Perform Bodyweight Squats?
The primary thing to achieve in your bodyweight squat is that it’s pain-free. The squat pattern will look a little bit different in every person because each one of us has different hips, knees, ankles, etc. No two bodies are exactly the same.
Ideally, you want to see the feet about hip-width distance apart with the feet fairly parallel. From there, the knees should track over the line of the toes and your hips should sit lower than the line of your knees. However, we have to be realistic and understand that not every single body will be able to achieve this alignment right away. Most people have to turn their feet out rather than parallel to reach a deep, comfortable squat—and that’s totally fine, as long as your knees are still tracking over your toes. What we don’t want to see is the knees buckling inwards when the toes point outward.
Additionally, it may be difficult for some people to sit their hips lower than the line of the knees, maybe because of past injuries or chronic pain or lack of range. This is ok; just make sure you’re sitting down in the squat as far as you can.
Coming back to what I said earlier, the most important thing is that you’re not feeling any pain when you perform the bodyweight squat. The second you feel pain is the moment you’ve either gone too far with your range or you’ve put your body in an uncomfortable position. Find the positioning of the feet that work best for you and sit down as low as you can—pain-free.
How Do You Include Bodyweight Squats Into Your Workouts?
There are all sorts of ways to include bodyweight squats into your workout sessions. You can use them as a warmup, you can incorporate them into a bodyweight circuit, you can perform them as an active rest in between strength sets. This is just the beginning; there are countless ways to use the bodyweight squat!
I personally like to use bodyweight squats for both a warmup and as a bodyweight pump. I create circuits all the time that have some kind of bodyweight squat in them. Just because you’re not using weight doesn’t mean it’s not difficult. There are more than enough ways to make the bodyweight squat challenging. You can combine it with other movements, you can change up the tempo or position, etc.
What Are the Best Bodyweight Squat Exercises?
It’s hard to pick a short list when there are so many great bodyweight squat exercises. The classic bodyweight squat is a great place to start. You simply squat up and down at whatever pace you like. You can do this slow and controlled, you can speed it up, or you can play with different tempos.
Another favorite that I use in a lot of my programming is the jump squat. This explosive movement may not be suitable for everyone, but if it’s right for you and your ability, you’ll definitely find it useful. Squat jumps are a fantastic plyometric movement to fit into a full-body circuit or use as a finisher to tough session.
Sumo bodyweight squats are another good movement that will surely help your lower body develop. This wide-stance squat hits different lower-body muscles in your inner thighs and helps you achieve more range in your hips. You can do these slow and controlled, at a high tempo, or you can even perform sumo squat jumps. The possibilities are endless!
No matter which bodyweight squats you decide to use, I’m sure they’ll help you get stronger and leaner. Do them often and try as many different variations as you can. Combine bodyweight squats with weightlifting and you’ve got the perfect formula for strong, powerful legs.