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Bodyweight Squats – Ultimate Bodyweight Exercise For Legs

Written by shapeshifter

When it comes to equipment-free exercise options, bodyweight squats or some variation of them make it into just about every bodyweight workout program. That makes sense, because squatting is a fundamental human movement.

It should be simple, right? Unfortunately this isn’t necessarily the case. Our increasingly sedentary lifestyle messes with our movement patterns, pulls apart our posture, and makes even the most well-intentioned person chair-shaped. We no longer have access to the free, natural movement we had as children, and we have to learn to squat all over again.

But don’t despair! We’re in your corner, and we’ll get you on the fast track to a whole new you.

Check out the video for a detailed primer on exactly how to perform this fundamental movement.

Let’s review the main performance cues of the bodyweight squat:

  • Begin by standing tall with your spine long, core engaged, and feet about shoulder width apart.
  • Try to keep your feet straight and parallel, but don’t worry if you can’t. Turning up to 15 degrees to the outside is okay —  just make sure your knees track in the same direction as your feet when you squat.
  • Break at the waist first — pretend you’re sitting back in an imaginary chair.
  • Your back should remain neutral throughout. Squat to the point where you can maintain a flat back. That’s your current range.
  • Press through your heels to return to standing.

It’s a simple movement, but there really is a lot to it, and it may take some practice to nail down the fine points. The cool thing is, it carries over to all aspects of your life! Bending down to pick up that penny on the sidewalk just got a whole lot easier…

And what about your workouts? Where do you go when bodyweight squats stop making you sweat and gasp?

Once you’ve mastered the basic version of this seemingly simple exercise, you open yourself up to an entire range of more advanced possibilities. You can increase the load with one-legged squats — pistol style with the free leg in front, or lunge style with the free leg in back. You can put a little spring in your step with jump squats. You can add movement components to the bottom portion for burpees, mountain climbers, and deck squats. The list goes on and on.

Bodyweight squats. They’re versatile, adaptable, fundamental, entirely natural, and jeez, we just plain like them.

Get practicing, and if you’ve got questions please post them in the comment section.

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  • I have been told, repeatl, in doing squats, never let yur knee go beyound your toes – yet in your domostration your knees are definitilly going beyound your toes – why???

    • Hi Bob,
      It’s a common cue used by a lot of trainers to ensure that people who have pre-existing knee troubles don’t aggravate the problem. But physiologically there’s no reason why healthy knees can’t be flexed beyond the toes as long as the squat technique stays solid.
      There was a thorough explanation of this in the comments on this previous post.

      • Hi Adam
        So I assume then if we do have knee problems (which I have), that we dont go all the way down in the squat as per the picture above?
        Thanks, Janine

        • Hi Janine. If you have any kind of pre-existing injury or chronic joint problem, you’re always best to get the OK from your health care professional before doing any exercise that might exacerbate it. A full squat may be OK for you, it really depends on the exact knee problem and how the exercise affects it. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to give a definitive answer over the internet, but to be on the safe side you should probably avoid a full squat.

  • I have a fun variation on body weight squats: I pick up my wife “piggy back” fashion and use her body weight as resistence when doing squats. These have gotten kind of easy so I am going to try to figure out a way to have my daughter join in also!

  • great vid, many thanks for showing this, I just found out that I need to correct my form in a few places.

    keep up the great work it’s appreciated, especially when I dont have access to a gym!


  • I am a personal trainer and I was taught the proper way to execute body weight squats is to aim to keep your thighs parallel with the floor. I was taught NOT to let your hips drop past your knees because it puts too much pressure on your knees. What’s the deal?

    • Hi Nancy,

      This falls into the same category as the “knees never go past toes” advice. There has been some research indicating that people with pre-existing knee conditions should not squat past parallel.

      However, if no pre-condition exists, there’s no reason why you can’t squat to the rock bottom position, assuming you have the mobility to do it properly (using the cues given in the video above). In fact, according to Mel Siff, you must learn to squat below parallel to ENSURE long term knee health. Since life and sport does not play by the rules of partial range of motion, you increase your risk of injury if you TRAIN in partial ranges.

      There’s even some evidence that partial range of motion squats increase compressive forces on the patella (Huberti & Hayes, Journal of Bone Joint Surgery, 1984: 715-724). And because of decreased hamstrings activation in squats at or above parallel, there may even be MORE anterior sheer force on the knee then on squats below parallel.

      I’ll be honest, I use squats in many different ranges of motion for different goals. But I firmly believe that we CAN squat below parallel — especially bodyweight squats. In fact, one of my favourite “resting” positions is to drop into a full squat. I’ve spent some time in Asia and I can tell you that over there pretty much everyone can drop into that full squat resting position. To me, it’s a natural human movement that’s been suppressed by modern living.


      • You are correct, Adam. Only going to parallel is worse for the knees than going into a deep squat; in fact, stopping at parallel puts an extreme amount of stress on the knees. It’s stunning to me that many trainers advise clients to go to parallel — it’s actually become training dogma. When a person stops at parallel, it shifts all of the body’s weight to the lower quads and knees. Most people think that a deep squat is a more difficult movement, when in reality, it’s much easier than a “parallel squat.” Not only is it much easier, but it works more muscles — the proper ones — quads, hamstrings, and glutes.

  • Hi Coaches:

    If you guys can show some exercises on how to release and gain flexibility in the hamstring and calves. From sitting all day, the back of my legs feel really stiff. I cannot do a full squat with my feet flat and when it comes to martial arts, I can’t kick like I used to.



  • Hi Adam

    thanks for the tips on squatting. Youve packed on some serious muscle in the last few months and looking good man, keep it up. 1 questions please, What can i do to increase muscle in my calfs, will doing squats regularly help or do i need to do something else.



    • Hey Bash,

      The lower you squat, the more you’ll recruit your calf muscles. Personally, my most impressive gains in calf strength and muscularity have come from running — both “jogging” speed and sprinting or tempo running. I’m not a big fan of isolation movements for the calf muscles. I figure they should get plenty of work through a well rounded program.

      Hope that helps. And thanks for the compliment… 🙂


    • What would you do with the stability ball? You mean having it against the wall with your back pressed against it? I’d rather see beginners learn to control their body weight… If they are having stability issues, I’d have them hold onto a towel hooked on a door handle or use some other support assistance from the front.

  • Basic helpful information like this is why I’ll be a long term member. Great explanation. Keep it coming. And, like the post above, noticed you’ve put on some serious beef the last few months, & I was also highly interested in your calf training(problem area), guess I start sprinting now.

  • Good Morning,

    Great tutorial video (you guys are great at it). Have you heard of a Hindu Squat? I have seen several versions, can you guys demonstrate?

    Thank You

    • Hey Ricci,

      Yep, I’ve heard of Hindu Squats and have used them a bit. But it’s a very specialized movement with specific cues. And I have to admit that I’ve never been formally trained to do them. However, we will be giving you guys a tutorial sometime soon since we’ve received several requests. We’re working on getting one of the “masters” of the Hindu Squat to make a guest coach appearance. If that doesn’t work out, I’ll do my best to do it justice… 🙂


  • Awesome Adam, thanks so much. I just heard that the Hindu Squat and Hindu push ups are good (maybe great) all body exercises. Thanks again, Ricci

  • Excellent Video. My form has been off for a whle. Refeered a few friends to the link as well to help them with their form. I see too many people doing “speed squats” with the such poor fomr that if they added a barbell or sandbag they’d be kissing the floor or in the Dr’s office, or both. Thanks again.

  • Quite similar to “hindu squats” great exercise but done to excess is guaranteed to shag your knees!!!
    I always had healthy knees till I got into high rep free standing squats classed as the best thing since sliced bread at the time. Ended up in a situation where I could no longer squat at all due to the pain caused and took a good 5 years to get them 80% healthy again.

    But I learned to listen to my body and not the Gurus!!

    • Hey Nick . Its not guaranteed to destroy your knees unless there is a limitation somewhere that isn’t fixed first, there is an existing knee problem, posture is bad, and/or too much too soon. Plus, (like any exercise) it shouldn’t be done as a constant increase or at the same intensity level all the time. If any of these (or something I forgot to mention) is present then yes, there will be a problem. Let’s not always blame the exercise when there are many other factors involved.

      • Hey Nick,

        I think a lot of people got hoodwinked into thinking that Hindu Squats were “the” exercise (along with Hindu Push-ups and the Wrestler’s Bridge). As you mentioned, anything done to excess is not good in the long run, sometimes even in the short run. Sorry you had such a bad experience but glad you are listening to your body and not the “gurus”!

  • Great details and cues Adam. Like any good teacher, and you are, you place great demand on good structure (and thus injury-preventing). This squat is integral to a Flowfit practice and I believe that we should make our Trinity squat technique as high and with mindfullness as with all the other ensuing Flowfit exercises (and be mindful of the fact that this bodyweight squat is the juxtaposition of every other movement. You do this over and over again and end up doing 6X more squats than any other exercise (e.g. leg swoop, tripod switch, etc.).
    Please, keep on with these videos (lunges, side lunges, etc.). Evolving with them.

  • As always Adam, great video! Following your training, I have gradually increased the strength in my quads and rarely have knee problems anymore. Love the basic BW Squat – it’s a terrific foundation exercise for so many – as Kevin listed above. I’ve noticed I use it a lot in everyday life. Thanks for all you do!

  • Hey Robert,
    I’m not blaming the exercise don’t get me wrong I’m just warning people of my experience.

    Like Keith was saying I was one of those who got caught up in the Hindu Squat push up and wrestlers bridge hype. At the time I was doing Muay Thai and people were impressed by my fitness and power due to those exercises. Unfortunately like any exercise or any movement done to excess repetitively over a period of time will nine times out of ten cause repetitive strain injuries. And the thing with repetitive (sorry to keep typing that word it is quite…well ya know what I mean) strain you’ve got to stop doing that movement to heal and it can take a long time and it may never heal fully.
    Variety is the spice of life and thats the way I train now I just wished I had listened to my body back then cos you never get that time back.
    Fitness is all about getting fit and feeling good folks not injured and depressed

    • Hey Nick,

      That “Royal Court” can be a real “Royal Pain,” eh? 🙂

      I’ll give the unnamed guru credit, though. (I think we all know who we’re referring to here, right?) He now stresses joint mobility exercises and softer style routines! Since he’s now in his mid-forties, something tells me those Hindu Squats got to him, too.

  • Adam,

    My doctor told me that, biomechanicly is not good to pass 90º when bending the legs.
    More than that you put to much stress on the knee cap. But I always see lots of programs doing the full ROM bodyweigth squats.
    What’s the truth?

    Well, I have a knee injury, had surgery 2 times, once because of my torn ACL and other because of my meniscus (parcial meniscectomy).

    Thanks for all, you and all the crew!

    • Hey Alexandre,
      See my response to Bob g above… But in the end, if you have confidence in your health care professional, you should be following his or her advice. It is specific to you. And that person knows your condition intimately.

  • Hi,
    A friend referred me to this site for proper form on squats. I watched the video and tried this, but I don’t understand how to keep the weight on my heels and not the balls of my feet which is where the weight just goes naturally. I’m obviously missing something very basic here, but what is it?
    I can easily go all the way to the floor if wanted and have no knee issues, FWIW.
    Thanks in advance,

    • Hi Trish. If you can’t get the weight onto your heels in the bottom position of the squat, the most likely candidates are a lack of hip mobility or ankle mobility. For many females it’s the latter, usually because of high heels.

  • Hi Adam,when i try to squat,i cant get my legs parallel to the ground keeping my back straight……..i have got no back or knee problems……..can you tell me why cant i go upto that point…i have been doing squats for about 2 3 months…….and my legs are also getting better 🙂

  • Great start to having nice legs. 5 sets of deep slow 15 reps every other day will do amazing things. Or 5 as fast as possible 15 second sprints. It won’t build big muscle, but why in the world would you want bulky legs? It makes dense thigh and calf muscle. Great for endurance and agility. Compliments the other days of push-ups, dips and pull-ups. In fact those upper exercises work the legs to a small degree too. No weights, no bands only be is what I’m teaching my son and he will have a free life of injuries. Build that T body and rock on!

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