How to do squats: Form tips to master this bodyweight move

How to do squats with just your bodyweight – no special equipment needed

Woman showcasing how to do squats
(Image credit: Getty Images)

You might be interested in learning how to do squats with the correct form, especially if you’re just starting your fitness journey. Squats are one of the basic bodyweight exercises, alongside push-ups and sit-ups, and will remain key to building up strength in your lower body at all fitness levels. 

Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro doing goblet squats with some of the best kettlebells or best adjustable dumbbells, it’s worth re-examining your form for this exercise to ensure you’ve not picked up any bad habits, By and large, bodyweight squats are a very safe, effective, low-impact exercise which can help you burn fat and build muscle, but you may be able to improve your performance and get the most out of the exercise with our tips.

For beginners, the bodyweight squat is the perfect exercise to work on building up strength in your bum, legs and core, with no equipment needed. According to Harvard University, bodyweight squats help to increase the range of motion in the hips, knees, feet, and ankles, which you can augment with regular sessions on a foam roller if you like. 

It also trains muscles like the quads, gluteals (the muscle group that makes up your bum), hip flexors, hamstrings, and calves. Whether you’re getting up out of a chair in your old age or running a marathon, you’re using these muscles every day, so strengthening them is essential. Due to their low-impact nature, squats can also be performed at any age, with some supervision from a qualified professional such as a personal trainer, and you’ll still see benefits. 

For example, one study published in the International Journal of Sport and Health Science found bodyweight squats increased muscle strength, decreased overall body mass and even improved balance while standing, even when performed by 78 year olds. 

Want to get started on this very simple muscle-building move? Follow the steps below, check out our form tips and once you’ve mastered the basic move, try out our dynamic variations.

Squats


(Image credit: iStock)

How to do squats

Bodyweight squat

(Image credit: Future)

If you want to give your thighs a good workout, there are few better exercises than the simple bodyweight squat.

  • Stand up tall with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart. Your arms should be held out in front at shoulder level. 
  • Slowly lower your backside as far as you can by bending your knees and pushing your hips back. Your weight should be on your heels. 
  • Pause for a few seconds, before slowly returning to the starting position. 
  • Throughout the exercise, your core should be braced, by pulling in your abdominal muscles and holding them in that position.

How to do squats: Common bodyweight squat mistakes

Squat

(Image credit: iStock)

A good squat begins before the move actually starts. First, make sure your stance isn’t too wide or too narrow: you don’t want to be stood with your feet too far inwards, but neither do you want your feet to be so wide you look like you’re riding a horse! Instead, keep your feet around shoulder width apart, or a little wider, depending on what’s comfortable for you. 

As the model is doing in the image above, keep your head up for the duration of the exercise, as this will help keep your back straight.

To get the full benefits of the move, make sure you’re squatting deep enough. Ideally, you’ll want to lower your bum until your thighs are at least parallel with the floor. If you only squat part of the way, you won’t recruit as much muscle as somebody that squats deeply. However, some people have a restricted range of motion, so this isn’t an option for everyone (at least, at first). If you find the movement difficult, or if it causes joint pain of any kind, consult a professional. 

Variation: Bodyweight squat jump

Squat jump

(Image credit: Future)

This variation on the bodyweight squat adds in a jump for a more intense cardiovascular workout. If burning fat is your goal, squat as low as you can before jumping.

  • Place your arms out straight in front of your chest, with your palms facing the floor. You should be standing with your feet shoulder width apart. 
  • Lower yourself into a squat position by pushing back your hips and bending at the knees, keeping your back straight. 
  • Once in the squat position, dynamically jump upwards, aiming to get as high as you can. As soon as you land, squat and jump again.
  • Keep your arms still when you jump – the movement to jump should just be powered from your legs.

Variant: Explosive bodyweight squat jump

Variation: Explosive bodyweight squat jump

Explosive squat jump

(Image credit: Future)

In this variation of the bodyweight squat jump, pause before jumping as it helps you to jump more explosively and use more of the individual fibres that make up your muscles. 

  • Stand up tall, hands behind your head, your elbows drawn back to shoulder level and your feet shoulder width apart.
  • Squat down in the usual fashion and pause for five seconds. Get as low as you can
  • while squatting. Ideally, your thighs will be parallel to the floor.
  • Explosively jump as high as you can. Once you have landed, repeat the exercise for the set number of repetitions, or at least a minute.

Want to take your squatting to the next level? Check out our guide on how to do barbell squats to add additional weight to this lower-body power move. 

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and News Editor at Fit&Well, covering all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.