If you want to get the most out of squats without using weights, this article will show you the most effective way to build muscle and strength using bodyweight squats.
Squats are one of the most effective exercises – in fact some consider them king of all exercises. And since squats train the biggest muscles in the body – butt and thighs, they increase lean muscle mass fast. Squats activate the hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, and lower back muscles.
If you have doubts whether squats without weights are effective, read on. You’ll see that you don’t need a bar or the gym to build a strong and toned lower body.
I’ve noticed that most people don’t perform the air squats properly. So here’s a guide on how to do the air squats properly.
How to do air squats
Assume a stance wider than shoulder width, with toes slightly facing sideways.
Pull the shoulders back and keep the back straight.
Stretch your arms out in front so they are parallel to the floor or place them behind the head (prisoner style).
Inhale then bend the knees and lower the butt as if you’re going to sit on a chair. Keep the back straight and look forward throughout the set.
Squat as low as your hip mobility allows. To get the most out of squats you should squat until the thighs rest on the calves. But this might not be possible for most beginners since they lack hip flexibility. Go here to learn how to squat deeper.
Exhale as you slowly rise to return to starting position and repeat.
Even though most beginners can do the air squats, some may find them challenging. Well, don’t worry if that’s the case for you. The chair squats will strengthen your legs. In fact, chair squats perfect for people with bad knees.
How to do chair squats
Stand a step away from a chair (facing away from it), and keep feet shoulder-width apart.
Place the hands out in front, and keep the upper body straight.
Bend the knees and lower the butt until it slightly rests on the chair. Then slowly rise to starting position and repeat.
Once you can do 10-15 reps of the chair squats, start doing the air squats.
Even though doing squats without weights might seem straightforward, some people make mistakes. Here are a few air squat mistakes to avoid.
Common air squat mistakes to avoid
Bad breathing pattern – Some folks hold their breath throughout the rep, and this leads to fast exhaustion. Others breathe too fast, which is also bad.
The proper way to breathe is to inhale as you start squatting and exhale as you rise to complete the rep.
Not warming up – You have to warm up before you do any exercise. It’ll increase flow of blood in the muscles you want to train, and help loosen the joints. Some great warm up exercises for squats include, jumping rope, jumping jacks, side lunges and so on.
Knees sliding inwards – Knees can slide inwards due to bad foot placement or weak leg muscles. Place your feet with toes slightly facing outwards to avoid this. If that still doesn’t work, strengthen your legs with chair squats.
Shallow squats – A wide range of motion makes squats (or any other exercise) more rewarding. Make sure you squat until the thighs are parallel to the floor. But for better results you should squat until the thighs rest on the calves.
Lifting the heels off the floor – You’re supposed to push through the heels when squatting. Keep the heels on the floor all the time. One indicator that you’re squatting properly is when the toes try to come off the floor.
Upper body leaning too forward – Some folks lean too far forward due to lack of balance. Force yourself to stay as upright as possible. This will build more balance and stability.
Curving the back – The back should remain straight when doing squats. Curving the back can hurt the spine. Lock your spine and keep the back slightly arched. Looking forward and sticking the chest out helps maintain this posture.
Knees going too far forward – The knees might slightly go past the toes when you squat deep but they should be behind the toes when thighs are parallel to the floor. Knees going past the toes puts pressure on the knee joint and can lead to knee pain.
Do high reps of squats without weights work?
One of the disadvantages of air squats is lack of resistance, unfortunately, you can’t make up for it by doing high reps. Doing many squats reps won’t build a lot muscle and strength, it mainly builds muscular endurance.
You should only do a lot of reps if you just want to tone your legs or burn calories. But high reps won’t really make your legs or butt bigger.
To build muscle and strength you need to increase resistance. And the best way to increase resistance is to do harder squat variations, or add weights.
So once air squats become easy (when you can do 20 reps nonstop), start doing these squat variations. I’ve arranged the exercises in order of difficulty, but difficulty may vary from person to person.
More challenging squat variations
Close stance squats
This this just like the air squat but the foot positioning is different. Place your feet a few inches apart and then squat. This exercise is more challenging because it requires more balance and stability. Note that your back will slightly curve when you squat deep.
Once you can do 20 air squats, advance to the close stance squats.
Bodyweight jump squat
Plyometric exercises have higher impact on the muscles and they require more energy to perform. I may also note that jumping up and down is one of the best ways to increase bone density.
Just make sure you don’t jump too high to distort form or hurt yourself.
I consider the split squat the most effective bodyweight squat variation. Not only does it build the legs and butt muscles, it also improves hip flexibility. One common mistake you should avoid is to slide the front foot forward. Make sure you drop the butt, and rear knee directly downwards.
Once you can do 25 split squats per leg, start working on the pistol squats.
The pistol squat is one of most challenging bodyweight exercises. It will strengthen your legs and improve balance. Feel free to use a table or wall for support if you lack balance to perform the pistol squat.
There are so many squat variations out there, but you don’t have to do all of them. Just focus on the above variations. And if they still can’t give you the results you want, here’s one last option that will definitely work.
Even though this is a guide for squats without weights, backpack training is worth mentioning. Basically this is a way of adding weight to increase resistance and make the exercise more challenging. You simply load a backpack with books or newspapers, put it on your back and do different exercises. You can use this approach on any of the exercises mentioned above, and other exercises like pull ups and push ups. Or use a weighted vest if you have one.
When using a backpack, you can simply add more books to make the bag heavier or use the same weight and do harder variations.
Progression is the key to building muscle and strength. And there several ways to progress when doing squats without weights. You can either:
*Do more reps
*Do harder squat variations
*Add more weight to your backpack
The best option for you will depend on your goals.
Doing more reps – This is a good option for a person who simply wants to tone the legs or build muscular endurance. If that’s your goal, you can just focus on the air squats and work on increasing reps workout after workout. You can set a goal of doing 5 or 10 extra reps after each workout.
Doing harder squat variations – This option will help you increase muscle mass and strength. Advance to harder squat variations once you can do 20-25 reps in one set.
Adding more weight to the backpack – This is my favorite option and I like to combine it with different squat variations. Just make sure you use a quality bag that can carry a lot. And only do exercises that you can’t do more than 20 reps.
As you can see, the possibilities with squats without weights are endless. In fact, you can get the same results as folks who do bar squats. So don’t let lack of gym membership stop you from building your legs and glutes.
If you have any questions about doing squats without weights, leave a comment below. I’ll be happy to answer!