There are many different ways to improve your current exercise routine. What about doing bodyweight squats, what will the effects be?
Bodyweight squats are the no-weights version of the squat exercise where you lower your body by bending through your knees. This movement is not complicated but it can offer benefits if you add it or even more effective alternatives to your routine.
For many people the main downside of bodyweight squats is that they are not challenging enough to build a lot of muscle. If that is the case you may benefit from some of the bodyweight leg exercises that focus on one leg at a time and other alternatives.
How to do a bodyweight squat
To do a bodyweight squat take the following steps:
- Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width.
- Slowly lower your hips by bending your knees. How far depends on different factors like knee health but at your lowest point you ideally want your hips to be at or lower than your knee height. You will likely have to bend forward for balance but keep your back in a straight line throughout the movement.
- Push yourself up again into starting position by stretching your legs.
Bodyweight squat variations and stepping stones
The bodyweight squat done with just your body weight is the standard version of the exercise. There are also a few bodyweight squat variations and stepping stones that can make the exercise easier, different, or harder or help you work toward a full bodyweight squat.
Easier varations and stepping stones
Some people are not ready yet for a full bodyweight squat. To work up to the full version you can consider doing the exercise without going for the full 90-degree angle in your knees and hips. This will help you train similar muscles but at a less challenging level.
You can also do other stepping stone exercises. The first example is a VMO dip. This is where you stand on the edge of an elevated platform with one foot in the air. You then bend the knee of the support leg just a small amount and raise yourself back up.
The vastus medialis oblique is a muscle that plays a role in knee health. If you can’t do bodyweight squats because your knees hurt, strengthening this muscle with VMO dips may help you resolve this issue.
There are also bodyweight squat variations that are not really easier or harder but just with a different focus.
The first example of this is a jump squat. This is where you do the upward motion fast and explosive so that you jump in the air at the top of the movement. The way you train your muscles influences what fitness component you improve.
Regular bodyweight squats at a slower pace will train either muscle endurance or muscle strength. Jump squats can be a good alternative if you want to work on your muscle power fitness component. Keep in mind that the landing can be rough on ankles, knees, hips, and back.
You can also do a sumo bodyweight squat. This is almost the same exercise but with your feet farther apart. this makes it so sumo squats focus slightly more on your inner thigh muscles.
If you are more experienced with leg resistance training, bodyweight squat may be too easy to build a lot of extra muscle mass fast. At this point, you need to turn to other leg exercises or make bodyweight squat harder to keep growing your leg muscles a lot.
Making bodyweight squats harder at the right points in your training journey can also speed up muscle growth compared to doing the bodyweight variation over and over.
The main way to do this is to do squats weighted. This is basically doing the same exercise but with extra weights or resistance to make it harder.
Some leg workout equipment examples include a barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, weighted vest, but also things like a heavy backpack and grocery bags.
You can also do bodyweight squats faster but this is to make it more of a cardio workout. If that is your goal something like running or cycling may be a better choice.
Muscles worked with bodyweight squats
Some of the primary muscles worked with bodyweight squats include:
Some of the secondary muscles worked with bodyweight squats include:
Although these other muscles play a role as well, bodyweight squats will mainly focus on your quadriceps and glute muscles.
To build the most muscle mass you want to do about 4 sets of 10-40 bodyweight squats depending on how advanced you are.
Benefits of bodyweight squats
Inevitably some workouts are better for some of these benefits than bodyweight squats. Even so, it is amazing that you can get so many important benefits from adding one activity to your routine.
1. Helps you build more muscle
Squats are mainly a strength training exercise, which means they are mostly for improving muscle strength and endurance. Extra muscle is not only beneficial for your health in many ways but it is also considered to be visually appealing.
Keep in mind that at some point your body weight may stop being enough resistance to build extra muscle mass with squats.
When this is the case, harder bodyweight leg exercises, squats with external weights or strength training exercises where you use external weights are the next step if you want to keep building extra muscle.
2. Can help you lose more weight
Losing weight is about using up body fat, which is basically energy stored. To do this you want to make sure that you require more energy throughout the day than there is coming in from food.
The first way bodyweight squats can help you use more energy than usual is by increasing the intensity of your movements for a period of time.
Another way workouts, mainly strength training exercises, help you lose weight is by increasing your muscle mass which in turn helps with burning more energy with everything you do.
Bodyweight squats can help with both of these things. That being said, there are likely also better exercise options if you are trying to lose weight.
Also remember that other lifestyle habits like what you eat are important when trying to lose weight no matter what exercise you do. You can work out and gain weight at the same time if your other lifestyle habits are not good.
3. Improves mood
Most people are not always completely aware of it but the physical health of the human body has a big influence on the mood and thoughts of the individual.
Doing bodyweight squats doesn’t just help with this by improving general health. There are inevitably many different reasons involved but one reason why exercises like bodyweight squats benefit mental health is that they promote the release of endorphins, “feel-good” hormones (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).
Besides the actual physiological changes doing bodyweight squats will cause, you will likely also have positive feelings about having done something challenging that’s good for you.
4. You can do bodyweight squats almost anywhere
A downside of many exercises is that they need you to be in a specific location, or use specific equipment that you generally don’t have at home.
This makes it so you often have to drive, cycle, or walk somewhere for a while. Let’s say you exercise twice a week and going to your workout takes 10 minutes to get there and 10 minutes to go back. That’s 40 minutes less free time per week.
This extra transportation also makes it easier to say no to your workout. Being able to be consistent is key for a good workout plan.
However, with bodyweight squats you don’t have to worry about these things. You can do them as good as anywhere. All you need is a few blocks of free time throughout the day and you can get in a bodyweight squat workout.
5. Budget-friendly workout
Another potential hurdle for many workouts is the budget required.
Some exercises require inexpensive equipment starting at a jumping rope to at-home workout machines of hundreds or thousands of dollars. Even the investment required for gym subscriptions adds up after a while.
Money put into improving your health is generally a great investment but sometimes you can get the same effects with less. In the case of bodyweight squats you don’t need to invest any budget at all. This can be a great benefit depending on your personal situation.
6. Improves sleep
Good quality and duration sleep are extremely important for your physical health and cognitive function. Unfortunately, many people can do a lot better with both quality and duration.
A lot of the things you do throughout the day influence the quality and duration in some way. One of the things that can benefit sleep a relatively high amount is doing a workout like bodyweight squats (7, 8, 9).
You do want to keep in mind that exercising too close to bedtime can have the reverse effect and mess with your sleep. Make sure you give your body time enough time to calm down after a workout. For most people this comes down to avoiding exercises at least an hour or two before going to sleep.
7. Slows down aging
Most people think of age as the number of days, months, and years that have passed since the day they were born, this is usually referred to as their chronological age. There are also many other ways to measure “age” based on physiological factors (10).
Exercises like doing bodyweight squats obviously won’t have an influence on the number of days that have passed since you were born. However, physical activity can slow down the aging in terms of how fast other measurement methods progress (11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16).
In general these other age measurements are more accurate methods than chronological age for assessing risk on age-related diseases. Slowing these down can be a huge benefit for your health.
The main thing to keep in mind is that bodyweight squats can be hard on body parts like your ankle, knees, hips, and back even if you implement the right technique.
If you are weak or sensitive in these body parts you may need to do other strengthening exercises first. You may want to talk to your primary care provider before starting a new workout routine.
If you feel pain in any body parts it may be a sign you are overdoing it. In that case, you may need some rest, better lifestyle habits, a less intense workout schedule, or it may be a sign that bodyweight squats are not (yet) for you.
Bodyweight squat alternatives
While bodyweight squats can definitely be a great addition to your workout routine, there are also some alternatives available for training your leg muscles. Some of these bodyweight squat alternatives include:
- Weighted squats
- Bulgarian split squats
- Pistol squats
- Leg press machine
- Hack squat machine
Which one of these options is the best depends on things like your personal situation, training goals, the equipment you have available, etc.
Many people will benefit a lot from adding bodyweight squats with the right technique to their routine. That being said, most people will stop seeing a lot of results relatively soon because bodyweight squats will become too easy.
You likely want to switch to bodyweight leg exercises focused on one leg at a time, squats with extra resistance, or other weighted leg exercises as soon as possible for more progress in a shorter amount of time.
Another thing you need to remember is that doing bodyweight squats can be hard on body parts like your knees, ankles, hips, and back even if you implement the right technique.
If you are sensitive in these areas you may need to do other strengthening exercises first. You may want to talk to your primary care provider before starting a new workout routine.
Also keep in mind that consistency is an important factor for any workout plan. The more you love the exercise you do the easier it becomes to do it consistently. If doing bodyweight squats is a workout you love, great. If not squat alternatives and other exercises can also offer a lot of benefits.
If you do decide to implement more bodyweight squats make sure you give your body enough nutrients, rest, and sleep to repair and grow your muscles.