Pulse Squats Make Squats Harder Without Any Equipment

Pulse squats are the body-weight exercise that will take your lower-body workouts to the next level.
Image Credit: Yaroslav Astakhov/iStock/GettyImages

Squats are a staple in any lower-body workout. They're one of the most effective exercises for your glutes, quads and hamstrings. The pulse squat is one of many variations of this go-to move and is especially popular in workouts like barre or ones that involve no added resistance or equipment.

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Turns out, the pulse squat isn't just a good way to change up the squat and make it more challenging — it also comes with benefits for your lower body.

  • What are pulse squats?​ A pulse squat is a squat variation where you stay in the bottom of the squat position and move up and down just an inch or two — a movement known as "pulsing." Not only are you moving quickly, you're also not releasing to a standing position each time you pulse.
  • What are pulsing squats good for?​ Like other squat varieties, pulse squats target the lower body muscles — specifically, the quads and glutes. They also work the hamstrings and core and, depending on your feet are positioned, your inner thighs.
  • Who can do pulse squats?​ Pulse squats are relatively easy to learn and are beneficial for most fitness levels. Yet, if you're new to exercise, you should first learn how to do a squat correctly before adding pulse squats to your workouts.

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Below, Cathy Spencer-Browning, vice president of training and programming at MOSSA, details how to do a pulse squat, while MOSSA instructor Tracey DeLong demos them.

How to Do Pulse Squats With Proper Form

Pulse Squat

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Type Strength
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Lower Body
  1. Stand with your feet between shoulder- and hip-width apart, toes forward and weight evenly distributed between your feet.
  2. Keeping your chest lifted and chin tucked, bend your knees and lower your hips until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor or go as low as you can while keeping your heels planted on the floor.
  3. Push away from the floor as you lift up and lower down 1 to 2 inches for a given amount of time.
  4. When you’re done, return to standing and repeat.

Watch the Full Pulse Squat Tutorial

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How Many Pulse Squats Should You Do?

The right number of sets and reps depends on whether you’re doing pulse squats with body weight or added resistance like bands or dumbbells, Spencer-Browning says.

There’s also a lot of variety in how many pulses you do with each squat, and the more pulses you do, the more time under tension you’ll spend, encouraging your muscles to endure even more. For instance, if you do one pulse at the bottom, that’s slightly longer than a regular squat but different than doing three or seven pulses.

No matter how many pulses you do, the important thing is that you come all the way back up after your pre-determined number of pulses. “That will reset your posture and take your muscles through their full range of motion,” Spencer-Browning says.

If you're new to squat pulses, try starting with 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 15 reps (one reps = pulsing three times, then resetting). If you’re using resistance, lower the reps.

4 Pulse Squat Benefits and Muscles Worked

1. Adds Variety to Your Workouts

Pulse squats are an effective way to introduce variety to your lower-body muscles. "The more variety you have in the way you move, including the way you squat, the better," Spencer-Browning says.

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The pulse squat gives your body different speeds and ranges of motion to practice, she adds, which is great for building tissue resilience — how responsive and pliable it is and how much it can tolerate the demands of everyday life and physical activity.

2. Build Muscular Endurance

While the pulse squat works the same muscles as a regular squat, you're giving different areas of the muscles a targeted challenge. Instead of distributing the load through the entire length of the muscle, you're concentrating it in one small spot.

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"A smaller section of the muscle is being loaded for longer, something called 'time under tension,'" Spencer-Browning says. Doing this will build muscular endurance — the ability of a muscle to work against resistance for an extended period of time — in that specific range of motion.

Depending on the position of your pulses, they may even demand more work from other muscles that play a supporting role such as your lower back and core muscles.

3. Prevents Muscle Tissue From Becoming Tight

Pulses in squats can also hydrate fascia, what Spencer-Browning calls your muscles' 'Saran wrap.' Fascia is thin connective tissue that attaches to and separates muscles.

"[This tissue] can get dehydrated, stiff and sticky, which can lead to feeling sore, predispose you to injury and limit mobility," she says. There are a number of causes for this, including not drinking enough water and spending too much time sitting. It can even result from repetitive movements like doing a squat the same way every single time.

The solution? Pulse squats, which Spencer-Browning says push the interstitial fluid, a thin layer of fluid that surrounds the body's cells and blood vessels, through the soft tissue to make it loose, pliable and resilient.

4. Conditions Your Legs for Other Activities

That burns-so-good feeling in your legs when you're mid pulse squat? That indicates your muscles are building endurance. Having muscular endurance in your legs will help you with pretty much everything else you do, from walking to weight lifting to skiing and everything in between, Spencer-Browning says.

4 Pulse Squat Form Tips

1. Maintain Strong Posture

A common mistake when doing any type of squat is slumping or rounding your chest and shoulders as you squat. This places unnecessary strain on your back. To avoid this, engage your core and maintain a long, straight spine as you do the move.

2. Place Your Hands Where They're Most Comfortable

Unless you're holding weights or a barbell, you can place your hands on your hips, cross them in front of you or reach them out in front. Choose what feels best for you — there's no one right way to do it.

3. Move Your Hips and Knees Together

When you lower, check that you're moving through your hips and your knees. If you're moving only through your hips, you'll be doing more of a hip hinge, and moving only through your knees will make it more of a knee squat. You want to move your hips and knees together to put the right amount of work into your quads and glutes and avoid excess pressure on your knees.

4. Plant Your Feet

Give your body a stable base by making sure your feet are firmly planted on the floor with your weight evenly distributed between both feet. Note, too, that some of the options for pulse squats alter the width of your feet, and that will change which muscles you target, Spencer-Browning says.

For instance, the wider your feet, the more you'll use your glutes and inner thighs. Because a little bit of variety is good for keeping your body working to adapt, try all of them in your workouts, making sure your feet are firmly on the ground with each one.

5 Pulse Squat Variations

Want to give your lower body even more variety? Here are five ways to switch up pulse squats:

1. Banded Pulse Squat

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Activity Resistance Band Workout
Region Lower Body
  1. Place a resistance band (loop or booty band) slightly above your knees and place your feet shoulder- or hip-width apart.
  2. Keeping your chest lifted, lower through your hips and bend until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor.
  3. Push away from the floor as you lift up and lower down one to two inches for a set amount of reps or time.
  4. When you’re done with pulses, return to standing and repeat.

2. Pulse Squat With Barbell

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Activity Barbell Workout
Region Lower Body
  1. Bend your knees to pick up the barbell, then carefully lift it overhead and place it on your shoulders behind your neck.
  2. Keeping the barbell in place and your chest lifted, lower through your hips and bend until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor.
  3. Push away from the floor as you lift up and lower down one to two inches for a set amount of reps or time.
  4. When you’re done with pulses, return to standing and repeat.

3. Pulse Squat With Hand Weights

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Activity Dumbbell Workout
Region Lower Body
  1. Hold a weight in each hand at the sides of your body by your hips, palms facing your body.
  2. Keeping your chest lifted, lower through your hips and bend until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor.
  3. Push away from the floor as you lift up and lower down one to two inches for a set amount of reps or time.
  4. When you’re done with pulses, return to standing and repeat.

3. Plié Squat Pulse

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Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Lower Body
  1. Stand with your feet wider than your shoulders, perhaps about 2 to 3 feet apart, toes turned out to the sides.
  2. Keeping your chest lifted, drop your weight straight down, bending your knees until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor.
  3. Push away from the floor as you lift up and lower down one to two inches for a set amount of reps or time.
  4. When you’re done with pulses, return to standing and repeat.

5. Sumo Pulse Squat

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Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Lower Body
  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes turned out to the side at roughly 45-degree angles.
  2. Keeping your chest lifted, lower through your hips and bend until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor.
  3. Push away from the floor as you lift up and lower down one to two inches for a set amount of reps or time.
  4. When you’re done with pulses, return to standing and repeat.

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