Bodyweight Squat

How To Do A Proper Squat
By Alli McKeeFebruary 11, 2016

Bodyweight Squat Exercise

The bodyweight squat is a great exercise for strengthening the lower body, particularly the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. This exercise is a perfect option if you are a beginner and want to master basic squatting form, or need to gain the necessary levels of full body strength, stability, and mobility, before you move on to more advanced squatting variations. It is also a great way to warm up your body before you perform more advanced squatting variations, or other lower body exercises.

Equipment needed:

You do not need any equipment to do this bodyweight exercise.

Ability level:


The bodyweight squat is a great option for beginners who are looking to master the basic squatting movement pattern, and are looking to develop the strength, mobility, and technical proficiency to be able to perform more advanced squatting variations. In some instances, the bodyweight squat might be too advanced for women who are just beginning to strength train. If this is the case, you might prefer to start with the bodyweight box squat variation (squat/sit down on a bench/box, and stand back up) as it is slightly less technical. Beginners might perform 2-4 sets of 6-12 reps of the bodyweight squat. Once beginners can perform 12+ reps with good form, they can move on to more advanced progressions of the bodyweight squat.

Beginners who are comfortable with the bodyweight squat exercise can choose to perform negative bodyweight squats where the lowering phase to each position is increased to 3-5 seconds. This trains the muscles eccentrically. You can also perform the pause squat variation, pausing for 3-5 seconds in each position, or you can combine the negative and pause squat variations.


Intermediate lifters who have mastered the bodyweight squat can use this exercise as part of a general dynamic warm-up before a strength or cardio based conditioning session, or can use it as a specific warm-up to prepare their body for any loaded squatting variations. The bodyweight squat can also be included as part of a bodyweight HIIT circuit which would be perfect if you don't have access to a gym. This exercise can also be used in workouts that are done in de-load weeks, during recovery workouts, or as part of a workout finisher on lower body days. Lastly, bodyweight squats can be done in between sets of upper body exercises as a way to increase the overall squatting volume over the course of the week.


Advanced lifters can use the bodyweight squat in their workout program the same way as intermediate lifters.

Benefits of Bodyweight Squats:

There are many bodyweight squat benefits. How a woman chooses to use a bodyweight squat is highly dependent on her overall technical ability and experience, her reason for using the exercise, the set/rep scheme used, where it falls in the workout, what it’s paired with, and what the rest periods are. In general bodyweight squats can be used to do any or all of the following:

  • increasing lower body strength, primarily in the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes
  • increasing core strength, particularly the anterior core
  • teaching the basic squatting movement pattern
  • warming the body up before performing more advanced squatting variations, or as part of a general warm-up
  • fat loss (if your diet and exercise routines are conducive to fat loss)
  • conditioning (if used as part of conditioning circuits)
  • convenient as it requires no equipment and can be performed anywhere, any time

How to perform a Bodyweight Squat:

  • Stand with your feet so they are slightly angled out, and set your feet so they are approximately hip width in the heels and shoulder width in the toes. While the optimal stance will vary from person to person, this width seems to feel best for many. See what works best for you.
  • Before you descend into the squat, take a deep breath in (360 degrees of air around the spine), brace your core (imagine that you’re about to block a soccer ball with your stomach), and lightly tuck your rib cage down towards your hips (close the space in your midsection).
  • While maintaining muscular control and the same tempo the entire time, simultaneously move at the knees and hips, and aim to sit between your heels.
  • While you should have a slight forward lean in your torso, keep your chest up and do not allow your torso to collapse forward. Maintain a neutral spine.
  • As you stand up and return to the starting position, press your body away from the floor by squeezing your glutes, quads and hamstrings.
  • Once you reach the top position, extend your knees by squeezing your quads and hamstrings. Lock out by squeezing your glutes and pushing your hips forward, bracing your core, tucking your rib cage towards your hips (closing the space in your midsection) as this will prevent your lower back from arching and will help you maintain proper alignment.
  • Make sure that your weight remains in the mid-back portion of your feet but keep your toes down, particularly your big and baby toes. This will improve your stability and strength, and ability to perform the exercise.
  • Do not allow your knees to collapse in or fall outside of your feet.
  • Squat only as deep as proper form allows you to go. Do not sacrifice form for depth.
  • Reset before each rep.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.
  • Only add more speed when you have good squat form. Your number one priority should be good form, not making yourself tired.

Video Transcription: 

Once you've mastered the bodyweight box squat you can move on to a bodyweight free squat. You are going to set up the exact same way, you just won’t have a bench or box behind you.  So you are going to start with your feet a little wider than shoulder width , toes turned out, you are going to brace your core big breath in through your nose, blow out through your mouth, breathe in again to fill up with air, drive your knees out and sit back into your hips. You only want to go down as far as you can while maintaining a neutral spine.

Let me show you from the side what it looks like.  Again, your squat is going to look a little different than everybody else’s based on your leg length, your training history, your movement history, and if you have ever been injured. For me, because my femurs are really long and I’m a little bit taller, I usually don’t go quite as low unless I am holding a kettlebell because I don’t feel stable in that position and I can’t maintain a neutral spine. I might be leaning a little bit forward and sit back into my hips a little more,  where if someone has shorter legs and a longer torso they might be a little more upright. So whenever you do it make sure you only go as deep as you can maintain a neutral spine.  There are a lot of people who say you have to be squatting all the way down to the floor for it to be legit, but it's really whatever feels good and feels safe to you, and keeping your  neutral spine is what’s going to be most safe.  So if you can’t go below parallel  - when your thigh is parallel to the ground, keeping your spine neutral - that’s totally fine. Just go as deep as you can and over time you can work on that range of motion. Deep breath in, blow out, breath in again, sit back and come up. Make sure you control it all the way through.


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About the author:  Alli McKee

Alli is a certified strength and conditioning specialist. She's contributed to and modeled for a number of major publications including Oxygen magazine and the New Rules of Lifting: Supercharged. You can find out more about Alli on her personal blog at

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