Table of Contents
What are Air Squats?
Air squats, otherwise known as bodyweight squats are commonly used in workout routines. Instead of using additional weights, you only use your bodyweight as resistance. The air squat may look simple to do, but nailing this exercise is more than just bending your knees and dropping your butt to the ground. When doing air squats, you will:
- Use only bodyweight
- Squat lower than traditional squats where your hips are lower than your knees. The eventual goal is to touch your glutes with your calves
This exercise is easy to master and is practical in toning your lower body muscles. Also, because you don’t need to use any weights, air squats are greater for home workouts, or while travelling.
What Muscles do Air Squats work?
The primary muscles worked are glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, abductors and adductors. The secondary muscles are abdominals, calves, hip flexors and lower back.
What Level are Air Squats?
The air squat is a beginner-friendly exercise as the movement pattern is simple to do and you can master it very quickly. This is great for beginners to understand the movement mechanics of a squat to gradually build up strength in the lower body muscles for weighted squats. Air squats can be used as a warm-up routine for your leg day!
How to do Air Squats?
1. Stand Tall
Stand tall with feet shoulder-width apart with toes pointed slightly outwards. Your knees will move in the same direction as your toes. Keep your chest up, your spine straight, and your arms by your side.
2. Engage Your Core
Keep your core engaged at all times to keep a straight back. This will give you protection from injury as well as improve your balance as stability during the movement.
3. Lower Down
Inhale, and squat down by bending the knees moving your hips down and back as if you were sitting on a chair, and bringing your arms out in front of you to counterbalance. Make sure your knees do not go past your toes. Keep lowering until your hips are below your knees, and your heels flat. Your ultimate goal will be to touch your glutes with your calves. Your lower back should be straight.
You may not be able to squat as deep down, this is due to poor ankles and calve mobility. To fix this, you can lower your butt until your thighs are parallel to the floor and try to go down a little further with each rep, and make sure your heels remain flat on the ground. Over time, after 2-3 weeks, your mobility will improve!
4. Push Back Up
Exhale, and push back up from the heels of your feet to straighten out your legs. Squeeze your butt as you come up while lowering your arms back to your side. You should feel it in your quads, glutes, and hamstrings.
Repeat this for a desired number of repetitions (see in the air squats workout section below).
Air Squats workout
- Beginners to this exercise should perform 5-8 reps, for 4 sets, 3 times a week.
- Intermediate-level athletes should perform 9-16 reps, for 4 sets, 3 times a week.
- Advanced-level athletes should perform 17 reps or more for 4 sets, 3 times a week.
You should move on to harder variations once you have achieved your reps and set goals, this should take around 2-4 weeks. The air squat is one of the most basic forms of lower body exercises so you’ll see progress in a short amount of time.
What are the benefits of Air Squats?
Strengthen Lower Body
This exercise will build a solid foundation of strength for your lower body, especially your glutes, quads, and hamstrings. Lower body training should be an essential part of your overall fitness. Stronger legs will improve functional movements such as jogging, jumping, and sprinting, which in turn will build muscle, tone, and sculpt your legs.
Improve Cardiovascular Health
Air squats will assist you to build your lower body stamina and muscular endurance which can be used as a form of a cardio workout. This is the case if it is done at a fast pace with a high volume. Doing this will get your heart rate pumping which will develop your cardiorespiratory system.
No Need For Equipment
Air squats are free to perform, all you need is your body weight as resistance and a little bit of space to perform this awesome exercise. You can do it anyplace, and anywhere, making it an ideal go-to exercise for training at home, gym, or even at the beach!
Improve Core Strength
In addition to the lower body, air squats also target your core muscles, in particular the rectus abdominis, obliques, erector spinae, and transverse abdominis. Engaging your muscles will keep your spine aligned and prevent your lower back from arching. Moreover, it will help you to build balance and stability.
In fact, a 2022 study concluded that having a stronger core will initiate or strengthen the muscular strength phenomenon in all games and sports. Therefore, air squats will improve your functional strength.
Bodyweight Squats Variations
Jumping Air Squats
Jumping sir squats increase your explosive power, enhances lower body strength, and burns calories faster than regular air squats. This is an intermediate level and above exercise as it is performed at a higher intensity. To perform this you will stand tall with feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointing slightly outwards.
Inhale as you lower down until your hips are below your knees. Then, exhale and explode upwards by pushing through the heels of your feet to jump as high as you can. Keep your core engaged and land softly with your toes, followed by bending your knees. Aim to perform this for 10 reps for 4 sets.
Side To Side Squats
This variation is similar to air squats combined with a side step on each squat. It is for those who are at intermediate level and above due to greater body balance and coordination required. You will need to have extra space on both of your sides to be able to step a foot out.
To perform this, you will stand tall in the starting position and descend your hips back into a squat, followed by pushing back up and taking a small step to the right side, and squat again. Return back to the starting position and repeat this on the left side to perform a side-to-side movement for a desired number of reps. Aim to perform this for 14 reps for 4 sets.
A pistol squat is a squat that is performed on one leg. It is an advanced level exercise as it is a cross-section of strength and mobility in a squat, which you will require both. I have created a comprehensive guide to this exercise, and you can check it out in this pistol squat tutorial.
To perform a pistol squat, you will stand with feet shoulder-width apart and engage your core. Then, you will extend your arms and one leg in front of you followed by bending the standing knee to lower into a squat. Aim to touch your glutes with your claves. Try to keep your back as straight and your torso upright as possible. Lastly, engage your glutes and drive through your heel to push back up and repeat on the opposite leg. Aim to perform this for 10 reps for 3 sets.
Air Squats vs Squats
The air squat, otherwise known as bodyweight squat is a beginner lower body exercise that uses only body weight for resistance. This is ideal if you are new to lower body training and want to crank on some size. On the other hand, squats are performed with an external load on top of your body weight. You can apply progressive overload using a barbell or a pair of dumbbells.
This is great for those beyond the beginners because adding weight is essential to getting stronger. According to Men’s Health, in order to make continuous gains in size and strength, you will need to give your muscles a reason to continue growing, which “progressive overload” supplies it.
Air squats are great for home workouts or whilst you are traveling as you need no equipment to develop your legs. You can make this more challenging by increasing the number of repetitions, increasing sets, and decreasing rest time. If you have access to the gym, you can do squats with weights to increase resistance on the targeted muscles.
Are Squats Cardio?
Squats are seen as strength training because they are a component of resistance training that builds muscle and strength in the lower body muscles such as the quads, glutes, and hamstrings. Cardio exercises are usually defined as cycling, running, swimming, and walking. The difference is that cardio is performed for long enough, or with enough prolonged intensity.
The Takeaways: Air Squats Exercise
The air squat is a fundamental lower body exercise that is featured in many workouts. It is great for home workouts, Hight Intensity Interval (HIIT) workouts, and circuit training. Air squats teach the correct movement pattern for you to squat correctly and are a great preparatory exercise for weighted squats. For example, dumbbell goblet squats. Check out this goblet squat tutorial to learn the correct techniques.
Stronger athletes may find air squats redundant because it is easy with just only bodyweight for resistance. Thus, individuals who are looking for a challenge can try out these bodyweight lower body exercises to further fatigue their muscles without using any weights, check out:
All Lower Body Exercises
I’m Pat Chadwick, a qualified Level 2 and Level 3 calisthenics coach and athlete from London, England, with six years of experience. I’ve competed in various UK competitions, including the Kalos Stenos Championships, where I achieved third place in the lightweight category. My passion is highlighting the beauty of calisthenics as an authentic and pure form of body expression. I believe that everyone has the potential to become a champion of their body and mind, and that calisthenics opens the door to personal empowerment.