Bodyweight squats have benefits and limitations. In this article we will go through eight different bodyweight squat variation and how you can use them to you advantage, whilst also informing you on they are not the optimal exercise selection.
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The major benefit of bodyweight squats for more advanced individuals is to maintain both muscle mass and strength while they might not have access to weights to perform their normal programming for one reason or another. This is where using bodyweight squats can be highly beneficial for those looking to maintain their strength and muscle mass in the short term.
For true beginners, who have never performed a squat before, the bodyweight squat will be the beginning of their training journey, therefore making it a very important exercise. Learning without external load can actually make the initial squatting experience more difficult, I would also use counterbalance squats and very light goblet squats (depending on the client of course).
Performing air squats and bottom of squat sits can be a great way to improve your mobility, this is another reason to consider adding bodyweight squats into your current training programme. Using more rare squat variations like the offset squat can be particularly good to improve the mobility of the hips.
Using a variety of different movement styles through the squat will permit you to build a strong, well rounded squatting stance. Many people are able to master the back squat, yet are still unable to perform a sissy squat, using exercises like the sissy squat (KOT squat) to strengthen the knees can build a more well rounded individual and help to mitigate injuries.
This is one of the most effective uses of bodyweight squats, for anyone who has ever done the Crossfit WOD Murph without the weighted vest, you know that air squats can get very real very quickly. Using bodyweight squats as a way to build muscular endurance in your legs is a very beneficial aspect of bodyweight squats.
There is simply not enough load placed on the legs to create either hypertrophic or strength adaptations on individuals who are not beginners. The muscles need to be overloaded in order to create adaptation, and although a few exercises can create overload it will not be enough to create sustained progress over time. That being said, this is only if you plan to use bodyweight squat exercises as your long term solution to your training programme. If you plan to use them as a short term solution this isn’t an issue.
A lot of the more challenging variations that will allow more advanced individuals to use bodyweight squats to maintain strength and muscle size, like pistol squats and tempo step downs, require above average mobility that a lot of strong individuals may not possess.
Beginners who have never performed squats before will likely see a lot of strength benefits from bodyweight squatting. This is because in order to overload their current muscle, simply doing a squat with their body weight will be enough to create enough stress required for adaptation.
The intermediate trainee who can squat say 1-1.5 x body weight will likely be able to maintain their strength and muscle mass through the use of bodyweight exercises. Especially if they are technically able to perform the more challenging exercise variations including the pistol squat and the tempo step down.
Advanced individuals who can squat 1.5-2+ x bodyweight will likely see maintenance for a couple of weeks and then see a decrease in physical performance. Obviously performing the bodyweight variations will still be beneficial as they will allow you to maintain more strength than you would be able to if you were to do no form of squatting. However if you are used to squatting very heavy loads on a regular basis you probably don’t need me to tell you that bodyweight squat variations probably arn’t going to cut it.
I personally use a lot of bodyweight variations whilst away on holiday and find it an excellent way to maintain my strength and I advise my clients to do the same. Vacations should be a time to relax and not worry about obligations, so I only advise training if you genuinely feel it improves the feeling tone of your vacation.
A deload is when we take a step back from the intensity of training in order to recover from a challenging training block. A deload week usually consists of light weights in the movements you have been focusing on, but you could also use bodyweight variations in order to drastically reduce load
If for whatever reason you do not have access to weights being in monetary or time constraints, bodyweight squats will always be better than no squats. If you simply do not and do not plan to in the future have access to weights, you can use these exercises to get progressively stronger over time (to a point) that will probably be enough to live a healthy and active life.
My personal favourite that I use in my own training when I do not have access to weight is the single leg step down. This exercise performed with a strict tempo on the eccentric will allow you to maintain the strength in your legs while away and be ready to jump back into a squat cycle when you get back to the gym.
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This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.