5 techniques to ramp up your squat gains without adding weight or reps

5 techniques to ramp up your squat gains without adding weight or reps
·3 min read
An athlete performing a bodyweight squat exercise outdoors
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  • Squats are a key exercise for building muscle in your lower body and core.

  • To make them more effective without weight, experts recommend adding a tempo or partial reps.

  • For even more challenge and gains, try pistol squats, jump squats, or supersets.

Squats are a foundational exercise for lower body and core strength and can be done with just your bodyweight.

However, challenging your legs to adapt and grow over time without weights is difficult, strength coach Mike Boyle previously told Insider.

Strategies like adding a tempo or partial rep and variations like curtsy, pistol, or plyometric squats can help you take your squat gains to the next level without needing to hit the gym, according to experts.

Slow down the movement

The simplest way to make bodyweight squats more challenging is to add a tempo, or timed counts to any portion of the movement, Noam Tamir, founder and CEO of TS Fitness, previously told Insider.

For instance, you might count to five as you lower down to the bottom of the squat, or back up to standing. You can also add an isometric hold, pausing at the bottom of the movement as your muscles are working for a count of three to five seconds.

Any tempo squat variety works by ramping up the difficulty to provide more stimulus for you to get stronger.

"The muscle is under tension for longer so it's under stress," Tamir said.

Add partial reps

Tamir also recommends adding partial repetitions of an exercise to better feel the burn.

A 1 3/4 squat, for instance, involves lowering down into a squat, then rising 75% of the way to standing, then back to a low squat before standing up and repeating.

Similar to tempo squats, partial reps work by increasing the amount of time your muscles are under tension. They force you to continue working through part of the exercise without releasing the contraction on your muscles, by returning to a full standing position.

Adjust the angle of the movement

Squats are great for working your lower body, but to progress your fitness, it can be helpful to modify the exercise to target specific muscle groups. Adjusting your squat position can help work different parts of your glutes, as well as your quads and hamstrings for better gains, celebrity trainer Gunnar Peterson previously told Insider.

His recommendations include a narrow squat, with feet closer than shoulder width, a sumo squat, with toes turned out to 45 degrees, and a curtsy squat, with one leg crossed behind the other.

"Multidirectional work is important to make the muscles develop equally," said Peterson, whose clients have included Jennifer Lopez and the Kardashians.

Try more advanced variations like single-leg squats or squat jumps

More advanced athletes can continue progressing their bodyweight fitness by switching over to a single-leg squat variation, or pistol squat, which may be too challenging for beginners to do effectively, according to Boyle.

For a different kind of challenge, try a plyometric or explosive version of squats by adding a jump at the top of the movement, said personal trainer Bryan Goldberg. In addition to providing more resistance, since you need to push your bodyweight not just to standing but off the ground, jump squats elevate your heart rate to provide a cardio boost too.

Superset squats with other exercises

To build more muscle and strength from bodyweight squats, you can also combine them with other movements into a superset, or sequence of exercises with no rest in between.

Bodyweight movements that pair well with squats to challenge your lower body include lunges, donkey kicks, or fire hydrants. Some examples of full body exercises to superset with squats are burpees, push-ups, or plank holds.

You can also stack multiple variations of squats together, such as adding a tempo to jump squats, or 1 3/4 rep curtsy squats.

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