How To Do Bodyweight Squats So You Actually Get All The Butt Sculpting Perks

If I could only do one exercise for the rest of my life, it’d have to be squats. There are a million and one ways to keep ’em interesting and challenging—and nothing makes me feel as powerful as being able to lift a barbell with a few more plates on it.

But as much as I love the satisfaction of heavy squats, I’m not about to write off the simplest form of the move—the bodyweight squat. And while you might think squatting sans weight, equipment, or other fancy frills is for beginners only, that’s totally not the case.

“Bodyweight squats are underrated,” says trainer Sal Nakhlawi, USAW Level 1, founder of StrongHER Girls. “They’re a compound, functional movement you can do anywhere.”

Compound means that bodyweight squats work multiple muscle groups at once, firing up your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, hips, calves, and inner thighs, while also turning on your core. Functional, meanwhile, means they translate to real life. “Humans squat from the day they are able to walk,” Nakhlawi says. “We squat a lot in everyday life.” So, learning how to do bodyweight squats properly can make everything from standing from a seated position to picking stuff up off the floor more easily.

So whether you’re brand-new to exercising or practically work out in your sleep, the bodyweight squat can do your fitness (and physique!) plenty of good. Use this guide to check your drop-it-low form, take note of the move’s benefits, and learn how to scale or level up your own squats.

The Benefits Of Bodyweight Squats

Aside from making it easier to get off your super-plush couch, practicing bodyweight squats keeps your body strong and injury-free.

Since bodyweight squats involve multiple major muscle groups, they help you build strength and muscle throughout your entire body—especially in your legs, back, and abs, says Nakhlawi.

The sweet secondary result of firing up so many muscles? You boost your metabolism, burning more calories, she adds. (Do ’em quickly and you’ll spike your heart rate and get in some cardio, too.)

Aside from getting you the most bang for your workout buck, bodyweight squats help your body move better all day long. Not only do they help improve your balance and coordination, but also develop mobility in your hips, ankles⁣, and knees, Nakhlawi explains. All good news if you want to feel strong and bendy in pretty much everything you do.

How To Do A Bodyweight Squat Properly

Of course, if you want to reap all those juicy squat benefits, you’ve gotta nail your execution.

How to: Start standing with feet hip-distance apart, toes pointed out slightly, and arms at sides. Keep torso upright, engage core and glutes, shift hips back and down, and bend at knees to lower seat until thighs are at least parallel with floor. Drive down through heels to return to standing.

Common Bodyweight Squat Mistakes To Avoid

Simple as bodyweight squats may seem, there are a few common (and crucial!) mistakes that can mess with their effectiveness, Nakhwali explains.

Important Form Tips To Keep In Mind

    For best results, repeat these key cues in your head as you move through bodyweight squats.

    1. Brace before you begin. Nakhlawi recommends inhaling and engaging your core, which is called bracing, prior to initiating your squats. Doing so “can help protect your spine by increasing intra-abdominal pressure,” she explains.

    2. Push those knees outward. “To prevent your knees from collapsing inward, think about driving them out both on the way down and on the way up when squatting,” she says. “This will keep your hips open and allow you to maintain the correct squat position.” (Looping a mini band around your thighs just above your knees can help with this.)

    3. Keep weight in your heels. Coming up onto your toes is typically due to a lack of ankle mobility, Nakhlawi says. So, think about driving down through your heels when you squat instead. You can also elevate your heels on a pair of weight plates (or books if you’re at home!) or strap into weightlifting shoes, which have heel lifts, in order to squat deeper with proper form.

    Bodyweight Squat Modifications And Progressions To Try

    Though bodyweight squats come in clutch for all fitness levels, there are a few different ways you can scale them down or make them more challenging in order to get the most out of ’em.


    If you’re a beginner or have any trouble with standard bodyweight squats, there are two simple ways you can modify them.


    Once you’ve mastered the basic bodyweight squat, you could add resistance with weights or bandsOR you could make them hella more difficult with a couple of equipment-free tweaks.

    The bottom line: Bodyweight squats might seem like a beginners-only move, but they can benefit exercisers of all fitness levels—as long as they’re done with proper form. You can also make bodyweight squats more challenging without adding resistance by switching your stance or increasing or decreasing your tempo (a.k.a. speed).

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