Squats are a popular bodyweight exercise used for goals like building muscle, losing weight, and more. Are squats the right exercise for you and how many should you do a day?
The first question you need to ask yourself is what specific goal you have in mind.
A typical squats session to build leg muscle mass will look something like 4 sets of 10-40 repetitions depending on how advanced you are. Between each session you want to give your leg muscles at least 48 hours rest to repair and grow.
A lot of the weight loss effects of squats come from increasing your amount of muscle mass which in turn benefits long-term calorie burning. For this reason you want to do the same number of squats a day for weight loss as building leg muscle, 4 sets of 10-40 repetitions depending on how advanced you are.
If you plan to do squats to lose weight other lifestyle factors like your diet are generally more important.
This article will explain in more detail how many squats you should do for different goals and experience levels, what the difference in repetitions between bodyweight squats vs weighted squats looks like, and better exercise alternatives.
What is your goal with squats?
The first important point is that you need to decide exactly what goal you are after with doing squats. Some habits, exercises, foods,… can be good for one goal but bad for another.
To get to your desired goal you need to stay open to the idea that other options than squats may be the smarter choice in some situations.
A more concrete example would be someone asking “how many cookies should I eat to lose weight?”. There is an answer to that question but as you will see the answer can seem a bit ridiculous if you pair a suboptimal method with a certain goal.
How many squats a day should you do to build muscle?
Squats are a type of bodyweight exercise that is mainly used for building bigger leg muscles.
The way you build muscle in places like your legs is by engaging these muscles so that they get damaged enough. This may sound counterintuitive but this damaging makes it so your body repairs these muscles, and adds a bit more to be better prepared to exert similar efforts in the future.
For the best muscle gain one study suggests not doing repetitions until failure with heavier weights, so related to when you first start with squats. And then once your body weight starts being a relatively “low weight”, continuing until failure looks the best for muscle gain (1).
In more specific numbers, the number of repetitions in one set of squats for leg muscle gains should be until you personally are 2-3 repetitions away from not being able to continue. At a certain point, for squats when you can do more than something like 20 repetitions you want to do reps until you can’t continue.
Up until the next point, about 38 squats, any more than that and your extra gains will be relatively low (2). As you can see the number of squats you should do in a session for gaining leg muscle is not a one size fits all.
Number of squats per session for gaining leg muscle mass
In practice how many bodyweight squats in a session you should do to build leg muscle will look something like these examples:
- Beginners: 4 sets of 15 squats with each leg
- Medium: 4 sets of 25 squats with each leg
- Advanced: 4 sets of 35 squats with each leg
If you are serious about building leg muscle using external weights, for example carrying a heavy backpack or other external weights like a barbell, kettlebells and dumbbells, will help with improving leg muscle mass.
For these weighted squats the number of repitions will look different but they will also follow the above mentioned principles.
Every day vs rest days
While doing something every day is a great way to make it a habit, for weight lifting exercises this isn’t always the best idea when it comes to getting the most results.
As mentioned before, working out damages your muscles. This in turn leads to more muscle mass if you let your body repair and build extra muscle. Often this takes more than a day if you did your squats intensely enough.
So to gain the most leg muscle mass you want to give your body at least two days rest, maybe more, between workout sessions.
How many squats should you do to lose weight?
The way you lose fat is by making sure there is less energy coming in from food than you use each day. Your body still needs to get this energy from somewhere so at that point it turns to stored energy stores like body fat.
Squats can help you lose weight in two ways. The first way is by increasing the number of calories you burn during the workout due to more intense moving around.
The second way is by increasing your weight by building muscle. How much you weigh is an important factor in how many calories you burn each day with everything you do. With extra muscle mass you can do this in a healthy way.
Keep in mind 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.
Calories burned with squats
The first thing you have to know that it is hard to make accurate predictions when it comes to calorie burning during workouts. These numbers vary a lot from person to person. Things like age, weight, activity levels, key hormone levels, and a lot more influence the actual amounts.
That being said, there are still methods available to estimate the number of calories burned. In the below chart you can find estimations for individuals doing squats for different time intervals (5).
If you want more in-depth estimations and techniques to burn more calories while doing squats make sure you read the article on how many calories squats burn.
|1 Minute||15 Minutes||30 Minutes||45 Minutes||60 Minutes|
|125 Pounds (56 kg)||6 calories||89 calories||177 calories||266 calories||354 calories|
|155 Pounds (70 kg)||7 calories||110 calories||220 calories||330 calories||439 calories|
|185 Pounds (83 kg)||9 calories||131 calories||262 calories||393 calories||524 calories|
|215 Pounds (97 kg)||10 calories||152 calories||305 calories||457 calories||610 calories|
Compare that to running at just 5.2 mph for 30 minutes which can help burn 266-457+ calories.
Let’s say the average person does about 40 bodyweight squats per minute. In that case you can expect to burn around 9 calories per 50 squats during the workout.
As you can see squats are one of the worst exercises to burn a lot of calories in the next 30 minutes. If this is your goal other workouts will be a lot better.
On the other hand, most people are interested in losing the most weight with the least amount of time spent exercising. For this squats may be a good choice anyway.
Your leg muscles, which squats mostly focus on, are one of the biggest muscle groups in your body. There is a lot of room for muscle mass building which in turn leads to more calorie burning with everything you do.
A lot of the calorie burning, and thus weight loss benefits of squats comes from building extra muscle mass. So if long-term weight loss is your goal you would do the same number of squats a day for weight loss as for building muscle.
Once you’ve hit that number of repetitions for the day, turning to another workout that is more focused on calorie burning can be a good idea when trying to lose weight.
Every day vs rest days
Since a lot of the weight loss potential from squats comes from building extra muscle mass the same every day vs rest days is recommended.
To let your muscles repair and build you want to give them at least 48 hours rest. If you’re interested in losing weight you can implement other muscle building exercises and cardio exercises into your workout plan to speed up the process.
What happens if you do 100 squats a day?
Let’s say you do 100 squats a day, what kind of effects can you expect?
If you do 100 squats a day you can expect stronger leg muscles than before. If this is your goal it may be smarter to implement rest days instead of every day. You also want to make sure you eat enough of the right types of nutrients to support muscle repair and growth.
Doing 100 squats a day will also help you burn a small number of extra calories but so small that you will barely notice any fat loss progress in the first few weeks. Once you start building some muscle you will start to notice more and more fat loss progress.
The scale might not move that much at first because you are gaining muscle weight while losing fat weight. However you are likely still becoming healthier and lowering your body fat percentage.