Do you need a quick, go-to exercise that targets all the muscles in your lower body and raises your heart rate at the same time? Then why not try a few sets of air squats? Otherwise known as bodyweight squats, air squats require no equipment, are easy to do anywhere, anytime, and they can be modified to accommodate most fitness levels.
What Are Air Squats?
When you perform an air squat, you will feel several muscles in your lower body contracting as you squat down to parallel. More specifically, air squats target your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, adductors, abductors and calves.
To perform air squats safely, you also need to engage your core muscles throughout the movement. This helps to keep your back flat and protect your lower back from injury.
Additionally, air squats improve hip mobility, which allows you to perform other exercises involving the lower body such as running and cycling.
One question that comes up often is whether or not bodyweight exercises are effective at building strength. The good news? Yes, you can build strength using your body weight for exercises such as air squats, especially if you're new to strength training.
You can also include air squats in an overall leg workout that uses resistance such as dumbbells, barbells and kettlebells.
Read more: The 20 Best Body-Weight Exercises
How to Do Air Squats
Stand with your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart, arms at your sides. This is your starting position. Engage your core and keep your abdominal muscles contracted throughout the entire movement.
- Extend your arms out in front of you and slowly bend your knees as you push your hips back to squat down. Focus on lowering your body as if you were going to sit on a chair.
- Squat down until your thighs are parallel with the floor, or as low as you can go comfortably while maintaining good form. Your knees should be over your toes and your gaze should be straight ahead.
- Pause for a moment at the bottom of your squat.
- On an exhale, reverse the motion by pressing through your heels to return to standing. As you stand, lower your arms back to your sides.
- Perform 2 to 3 sets of 12 to 15 repetitions. As you get stronger, you can add more sets or reps.
If you have any knee, hip or lower back issues, you can modify air squats by not going down to parallel. To determine how low you can go, begin the descending phase and note where you feel pain. Stop there and stand back up. Use this as your base.
As you get stronger, increase your range of motion by lowering your body a few inches at a time and perform the desired amount of sets and reps. You can also make this exercise easier by doing it against a wall.
Read more: 12 Essential Squat Variations to Try
Variations of Air Squats
Once you've mastered the basic air squat, you might be wondering if there are ways to make it more challenging. Adding resistance such as dumbbells, kettlebells, a medicine ball or a barbell is one way to make this move more difficult, but you can also change up the way you perform air squats.
- Wide-stance air squat. Follow the same steps for the air squat, but instead of hip-width distance, widen your stance and then squat.
- Narrow-stance air-squat. Follow the same steps for the air squat, but instead of hip-width distance, shorten your stance and then squat.
- Single-leg air squat. This is an advanced move that requires strength, stability and balance. Stand with legs at hip-width distance, arms out in front or single arm if you're using one arm to brace yourself. Balance on one leg, opposite leg behind you. Squat down. The goal is to get to parallel. But only go down as far as you can without losing your stance.