Do Bodyweight Squats Build Muscle? Top Tips + 41 Variations

Many busy fitness enthusiasts often wonder about the efficacy of bodyweight exercises. As a Certified Person Trainer and Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, a common question that I’ve heard come to the surface is “do bodyweight squats build muscle?”  

This is especially true for those who have a busy lifestyle and find it challenging to make time for the gym or do not have access to weights at home. 

If you’re wondering about the effectiveness of bodyweight squats in building muscle, then this comprehensive guide is for you.

woman doing bodyweight squat on bench beside the ocean

Do bodyweight squats build muscle?

Bodyweight squats can indeed build muscle, particularly when variations are utilized or for beginners who are just starting their fitness journey.

The key to muscle growth with bodyweight squats involves utilizing various techniques to increase intensity and ensure progressive overload.

By incorporating methods such as tempo changes, increased repetitions, and varied foot placements, one can enhance the effectiveness of these exercises.

Maintaining proper form is crucial to prevent injuries and to ensure that you’re targeting the correct muscle groups. Let’s dive deeper into the mechanics of the bodyweight squat and explore advanced variations that can help you stay challenged and push past plateaus.

What muscles do bodyweight squats target?

Bodyweight squats are a compound exercise that engages multiple muscle groups. They primarily target the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and core.

  • Quadriceps: These are the muscles located at the front of your thighs. They are heavily engaged during the upward phase of the squat.
  • Hamstrings: Located at the back of your thighs, the hamstrings work to stabilize your movement and assist in the downward phase of the squat.
  • Glutes: Your gluteal muscles, or buttocks, are also intensely activated during this exercise, providing power for the upward movement.
  • Core: Your core muscles, including the abdominals and lower back, play a vital role in maintaining proper form and stability throughout the movement.

How to properly perform a bodyweight squat

Performing squats with improper form can lead to injuries and reduce the effectiveness of the exercise. Follow these steps to ensure you’re doing it right:

  1. Stand Tall: Begin with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes facing forward or slightly turned out. Keep your chest up and your spine neutral and engage your core.
  2. Initiate the Movement: Push your hips back almost as if you’re about to sit on the toilet. Keep your knees in line with your toes.
  3. Lower Down: Descend until your thighs are about parallel to the floor.
  4. Rise Up: Drive through your entire foot while engaging your glutes and quads to return to the starting position.

These muscles not only contribute to the aesthetics of your legs but also play a crucial role in overall lower body strength. Incorporating bodyweight squats into your routine helps ensure balanced muscle development.

Remember, quality over quantity is key. It’s better to perform fewer reps with perfect form than to do more reps incorrectly.

Common mistakes when performing a bodyweight squat

Even experienced fitness enthusiasts can make mistakes. Here are some common errors to avoid:

  • Knees Caving In or Toes Flattening: Ensure your knees stay in line with your toes to prevent strain on your joints.
  • Rounding the Back: Maintain a neutral spine to avoid back injuries. Brace your core (as if preparing to be hit in the gut) throughout the movement.
  • Heel Lift-off: Ensure your heels remain on the ground to maximize muscle activation and maintain balance.
women performing split squat at the park
Woman performing a split squat at the park.

41 variations of bodyweight squats to help build muscle

Standard stance squats

  1. Standard Squat: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Lower your body by bending your knees and hips as if sitting back into a chair. Keep your chest up and back straight. Descend until thighs are parallel to the ground, then return to standing.
  2. Goblet Squat: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding hands together at chest level (as if holding a goblet). Perform a squat by bending your knees and hips, keeping your chest up and back straight.
  3. Prisoner Squat: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, hands placed on the back of your head with elbows flared out. Lower into a squat while keeping your chest up and elbows back.
  4. Overhead Squat: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and arms extended overhead. Perform a squat while keeping your arms straight and overhead, maintaining an upright torso.
  5. A-G Squat (Ass-to-Grass): Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Lower your body as deep as possible, going beyond parallel, while keeping your chest up and back straight. Return to standing.

Explosive Squats

  1. Plyometric Squat: Perform a standard squat, but instead of standing back up, jump explosively as high as you can. Land softly, pause to reset your form, then descend into the next squat and repeat.
  2. Jump Squat: Similar to a plyometric squat but with less explosiveness and more rhythm, start in a squat position with feet shoulder-width apart and thighs parallel to the ground. Jump straight up, lifting your feet off the ground and landing softly back into the squat position and immediately jump again, keeping form intact.
  3. Kneeling Jumping to Squat: Start in a kneeling position. Jump explosively to bring your feet under you into a squat position, then return to kneeling.
  4. In-Out Squat Jump: Start with feet together. Jump your feet out into a wide squat, then jump back to the starting position. This is a dynamic variation that challenges coordination and agility.
  5. Box Jump: Stand in front of a sturdy box or platform. Jump onto the box, landing softly with both feet. Step or jump back down.

Endurance and Tempo Squats

  1. Tempo Squats: Perform a standard squat but slow down the lowering phase to increase the time your muscles are under tension. Return to standing at a normal pace.
  2. Pause Squats: Perform a standard squat and hold at the bottom of the squat for a few seconds before rising back to standing.
  3. Negative Squats: Focus on the lowering phase of the squat, taking as much time as possible to descend. Quickly return to standing and repeat.
  4. Hold Squats: Lower into a squat position and hold at the bottom for as long as possible to build muscle endurance.
  5. Tension Squats: Perform any squat variation slowly and with control, tensing your entire body throughout the movement.
  6. Timed Squats: Set a timer and perform squats continuously for the specified duration.
  7. Train to Fatigue: Perform squats continuously until your muscles reach fatigue, pushing your limits.

Single Leg and Asymmetric Squats

  1. Split Squat: Stand with one foot forward and one foot back, feet hip-width apart. Lower your body until both knees are at 90-degree angles. Push back up through the front heel. Repeat on the other side.
  2. Bulgarian Split Squat: Stand with one foot forward and the other foot resting on a bench behind you. Lower your body until the front thigh is parallel to the ground, then return to standing. Repeat on the other side.
  3. Single Leg Squats / Pistol Squats: Stand on one leg with the other leg extended straight out in front of you. Lower your body as far as possible while maintaining balance. Return to standing and repeat on the other leg. You can also use a suspension trainer for support as you work your way up to a full pistol squat.
  4. Shrimp Squats: Similar to pistol squats but with the non-squatting leg bent at the knee and held behind you. Lower yourself slowly and return to standing.
  5. Curtsy Squat: Stand with feet hip-width apart. Cross one leg behind the other and lower your body into a squat, as if performing a curtsy. Return to standing and repeat on the other side.
Joanna doing single leg squats with suspension trainer
Joanna performing an assisted pistol squat using a suspension trainer.

Mobility and Flexibility Focused Squats

  1. Cossack Squats: Stand with feet wide apart. Shift your weight to one side, bending that knee and lowering your body while keeping the other leg straight. Return to the center and repeat on the other side.
  2. Lateral Squat Walk: Lower into a squat position and stay there. Step sideways in one direction while maintaining the squat position. After several steps, switch directions.  Add a hip band for more of a challenge.

Coordination and Dynamic Squats

  1. Frog Squat: Stand with feet wider than shoulder-width apart, toes pointed out. Lower your body into a deep squat, then touch the ground with your hands. Return to standing.
  2. Rolling Squat: Start in a standing position. Lower into a squat, then roll backward onto your back. Use momentum to roll forward and return to the squat position, then stand up.
  3. Crossover Squat: Stand with feet hip-width apart. As you squat, lift one leg and cross it over the other, tapping the ground with your toe. Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.

Assisted Squat Variations

  1. Box Squat: Stand in front of a box or bench. Lower your body until you sit on the box, then push back up to standing. This helps with form and depth control.
  2. Wall Squats / Wall Ball Squats: Stand with your back against a wall and lower into a squat position, keeping your back flat against the wall. Hold this position or perform squats against the wall.
  3. Suspension Trainer Squats: Use a suspension trainer to assist with your squats, focusing on maintaining good form and adding resistance.

Stance Squat Variations

  1. Shoulder-Width: Perform a standard squat with your feet placed shoulder-width apart for balanced muscle activation.
  2. Wide: Perform a squat with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart to target inner thighs and hips.
  3. Sumo: Stand with feet wider than shoulder-width apart and toes pointed out. Perform a squat, focusing on keeping your knees in line with your toes.
  4. Plie: Similar to sumo squats but with a more exaggerated toe-out position. Lower your body, focusing on inner thigh activation.
  5. Narrow: Perform a squat with your feet closer together to focus on the outer thighs and glutes.
  6. Heel-Elevated: Elevate your heels on a small platform or weight plate to increase quad activation. Perform squats with this setup.
  7. Toes-Elevated: Elevate your toes on a small platform or weight plate to add a stability challenge. Perform squats with this setup.

Non-Weighted Equipment Squats

  1. Hip Banded Squats: Place a hip band around your thighs, just above the knees, and perform squats, focusing on pushing your knees out against the band to activate your glutes.
  2. Squat with Ball Between Legs: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and place a small ball between your thighs. Lower into a squat, squeezing the ball with your thighs to engage your inner muscles. Return to standing, maintaining the squeeze throughout the movement.

Transitional Squat Variations

  1. Sissy Squat or Matrix Squat: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Lean back while keeping your knees in line with your toes, lowering yourself slowly, then return to standing.
  2. Surrender Squats: Start in a kneeling position. Step one foot forward and then the other, coming into a squat position, then return to kneeling.

Adding variety to your squat routine can keep things interesting and target different muscle groups. Utilize a few of these variations anytime you want to change things up or progress your squat. Remember to always focus on good form and listen to your body. Keep challenging yourself, but always prioritize safety and proper technique. Your strong squat game will thank you!

woman performing squat with hip band
Woman performing a squat with a hip band around her thighs.

Benefits of bodyweight squats

1. Strength

Bodyweight squats build lower body strength by targeting major muscle groups. This strength translates to better performance in daily activities and sports.

2. Core Stability

Squats engage your core muscles, improving overall stability and reducing the risk of injuries.

3. Posture Improvement

Regularly performing squats can enhance your posture by strengthening the muscles that support your spine.

4. Can Be Done Anywhere

Bodyweight squats require no equipment, making them convenient to do anywhere and at any time no matter if you choose to workout at home or the gym or wherever you choose to workout.

5. Functional Movement

Squats mimic everyday movements like sitting and standing, making them a functional exercise that can improve your quality of life.

6. Versatility

There are numerous squat variations that target different muscles and can be tailored to individual fitness levels and goals. This versatility allows for continuous progress, more enjoyment in your workout, and avoiding plateaus in your workout routine.

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Limitations and progressions of bodyweight squats

While bodyweight squats are highly effective and can be done for years and with many variations, there comes a point where specific progression will be necessary to continue building muscle.

Breaking Adaptation

To get stronger, you must break through adaptation. Simply increasing reps and sets may not be enough.

Need for Load

Eventually, adding weights or resistance will be required to keep progressing. Muscle growth is stimulated when micro-tears are created during weight training, which then heal during recovery.

Bands and Beyond

If you’re not ready for weights, bands can be an excellent next step. They add resistance and keep your workouts challenging.

healthy protein surrounded by vegetables

Nutrition for muscle building with bodyweight squats

Protein Intake

Protein is essential for muscle repair and growth. Ensure you’re consuming enough protein through sources like chicken, fish, beef, pork, and protein snacks and supplements.

Balanced Diet

A well-rounded diet (you can check out my clean eating staples here) rich in fruits, vegetables, low in gluten, and high in whole foods will support your overall fitness goals.


Staying hydrated is crucial for muscle function and recovery. Aim to drink at least half your bodyweight in ounces of water each day.

Conclusion: can bodyweight squats really build muscle?

Bodyweight squats are a versatile and effective exercise for building muscle, improving strength, and enhancing overall fitness. By incorporating various squat variations, paying attention to form, and progressing appropriately, you can achieve significant results.

Always remember that your nutrition plays a vital role in muscle building, so ensure you’re cleaning up your kitchen and fueling your body correctly.

Ready to take your fitness to the next level? Start incorporating these squat variations into your personal fitness routine and watch your strength soar. Happy squatting!

a woman performing box jumps on large steps off the city street
Woman performing a jump squat off concrete bleachers downtown.


Will doing bodyweight squats make my legs bigger?

Yes, doing bodyweight squats can contribute to muscle growth and increased leg size, particularly if you are new to exercising or have not previously engaged in strength training. However, for continued hypertrophy, progressively adding resistance or varying your squat technique will be essential.

Will 100 bodyweight squats a day do anything?

While 100 bodyweight squats a day can improve muscular endurance and boost calorie burn, it may not be sufficient for significant muscle growth or strength gains on its own and may cause injury due to muscle overuse. While you can workout every day, for better results, it’s important to incorporate rest days and progressive overload while varying your routine.

Does squatting without weights build muscle?

Yes, squatting without weights can build muscle, particularly for beginners or those returning to exercise after a break. By focusing on proper form and gradual progression, bodyweight squats can effectively enhance strength and muscular endurance.

Is squatting bodyweight good?

Yes, squatting bodyweight is good for building foundational strength, improving balance, and enhancing mobility. It is an accessible and effective exercise that can be adapted to different fitness levels, making it suitable for beginners and advanced athletes alike.

Do bodyweight squats build glutes?

Yes, bodyweight squats effectively target and build the glute muscles when performed with proper form. Consistently incorporating them into your routine can lead to enhanced glute strength and improved muscle tone.

How many bodyweight squats to build muscle?

To build muscle with bodyweight squats, aim for 2 to 4 sets of 10 to 20 repetitions 2-3 times per week, focusing on proper form and muscle activation. Progressively increasing the number of repetitions or incorporating variations can further enhance muscle growth.

Do bodyweight squats build strength?

Yes, bodyweight squats build strength by engaging multiple muscle groups and enhancing neuromuscular coordination. While they primarily improve muscular endurance, consistently incorporating them into your routine can contribute to overall strength gains.

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