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Bodyweight squats are a fundamental, lower body strengthening, bodyweight exercise. They can be performed with no equipment, almost anywhere, even with limited space.  

All major muscle groups of the legs/lower body are hit. The primary target is the quads with a secondary emphasis on the hamstrings and calves. Even your core, upper back, and lower back get some muscle burn action. 

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Bodyweight Squats Benefits

  • Very suitable for beginners. 
  • Good for learning correct squat technique before progressing to weighted squats. 
  • Improves hip mobility.   
  • Good for fat burning and improving general health.  
  • Great as part of a warm-up routine for other exercises, or as a workout in as of themselves using high reps, and/or sets.  
  • Safe – low impact exercise, low injury risk, more relevant as age increases, 35+. 
  • One of the five main foundational movements for daily life! Should benefit you in other everyday tasks.  
  • Builds muscle and increases strength in beginners up to a point 
  • No equipment or gym needed to perform bodyweight squats.  

How to Perform Bodyweight Squats

  1. Stand straight up with feet shoulder-width apart and toes turned outwards a little, engage the core and keep back straight.  
  2. Begin by slowly bending at the knees and allowing your hips to drop down. Ensure heels are kept flat on the floor for the entire movement.  
  3. At bottom of the movement pause briefly and begin to strongly push back upwards. The upward action should mirror the descent.  
  4. Repeat for the required number of reps.  

To counterbalance your weight the arms may be extended out in front at shoulder height.  

Ensure the back is kept straight throughout the entire movement.  

Don’t allow knees to move too far forward past feet. Your feet should not move past toes (as you look down from above on them!) 

The Not So Good Things About Bodyweight Squats 

At some point further increasing the rep and/or set numbers becomes unrealistic. Because these squats are a bodyweight exercise, a fitness progression plateau will be reached relatively quickly. 

Imagine getting to the point where you are comfortably doing 3 sets of 100 reps. The progression options now are something like 4 sets of 100 reps, or 3 sets of 130 reps, not too appealing or motivating!  

So the best option at this point, for fitness progression, will be adding weight to the equation. This will increase the load you have to work against instead of having to increase the reps and/or sets. 

Ingraining Correct squat technique 

It is really important to master the correct squat technique before progressing to the weighted varieties of the exercise. The bodyweight squat is perfect for this.  

If you get to 100 –200 successive reps with good form you should be in good shape. This ensures repetitive learning of the correct technique with a lighter load before moving to the riskier weighted versions, which is very important. 

 At this point, you should be able to confidently start performing squats using additional weights. 

Progressing from Basic Bodyweight Squats 

Once bodyweight squats have been mastered and if you require a different challenge you can begin moving toward different variations of the basic, or one-legged varieties!!  

  • Hindu squat

Similar to the basic bodyweight squat the Hindu Squat has greater rolling arm movements and more emphasis placed on the breathing technique used during the exercise. 

Start by standing tall and straight with arms straight out in front, start to pull hands and arms toward chest, almost like a rowing movement. Once arms reach the chest start moving them vertically down towards the floor with palms facing to the rear whilst beginning the squat movement. At the bottom of the exercise start moving upwards again whilst swinging the arms to eventually extend out in front again at the top of the movement. 

Breath in on the way down and out on the way up. 

Also, note that the heels will leave the floor during this exercise. 

  • Prisoner squats

These squats again are similar to the basic bodyweight squat, the only difference being that hands are kept behind the head with fingers interlocked during the entire movement. 

This small change however removes the extra momentum gained from swinging arms which thereby provides a greater challenge over the basic. 

  • Jumping squats

These squats are pretty much how they sound, and very similar to the basic bodyweight squat. At the bottom of the movement however, instead of raising slowly back to that standing start position, you will push back up much more explosively, launching yourself so that your feet leave the ground. 

Be sure to have a slight bend in the knee when landing back down. 

Very good build for building extra explosive strength and power. 

  • Pistol squats

This squat is done with one leg only providing the up and down movement of the exercise, as you can imagine it requires great leg strength to complete. 

To perform begin as per basic bodyweight squats but with one leg off the ground and extended in front of you.

Next, begin to lower down into a squat position until the hip becomes aligned with the knee whilst keeping the extended leg off the ground. 

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This exercise is as close to a total body workout as you can get, particularly when combined with the other variations mentioned above. When performed correctly with good technique and form, it is also a relatively safe exercise to perform. 

The ability to do it anywhere with no equipment needed can be invaluable. No requirement to travel to and from a gym means time is always on your side. That alone can make the difference between doing a workout, or saying to yourself “ah I’ll do it tomorrow when I have more time”. 

It is also fantastic as a warm-up exercise. I personally always do some before a run, cycle, or weights session. So, add another bodyweight exercise to your arsenal and give yourself one less reason not to chisel that body!! 

As always, feel free to leave a comment if you have any thoughts, advice, questions, or opinions related to this article.


Always consult your GP before undertaking any form of weight loss, fitness, or exercise. 

Michael Duffy
Michael Duffy

Fitness, health, and outdoor enthusiast! 2 decade of experience training for, and competing in different sports. Boxer, runner, road cyclist, triathlete, and XC mountain biker. More about me here.

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