Air Squats Exercise – Introduction
What are air squats, and why are they that good?
Exercises are often discussed in terms of the best – the best for fat burning, the best for muscle building, the best for mobility, the best for health, etc.
In many cases, the best exercise is determined by your fitness goals, and what’s right for one person may not be ideal for another.
For example, a bodybuilder might do barbell bench presses to build their chest, while a runner may prefer push-ups to strengthen their upper body pushing muscles.
However, whatever you are training for, squats are good for everybody’s body.
Squats can help you achieve almost any fitness goal, from building bigger muscles to burning fat to toning your glutes and legs.
They’re also one of the most functional exercises, mimicking many daily life activities and athletic movements.
There are many different ways to do squats, some of which are very demanding and best left to experienced exercisers.
However, while ideal for beginners, air squats are an entry-level exercise that can be useful for more advanced exercisers.
This article reveals why and how to do this popular lower-body exercise.
What Are Air Squats
Air squats are simply bodyweight squats, i.e., they are performed without additional weight.
The term ‘air squats’ comes from CrossFit and is usually used to differentiate between weighted and unweighted squats.
With no external load, air squats are usually performed for high reps, making them an excellent exercise for developing local muscular endurance, fat-burning, and general fitness.
A high-rep set of air squats will leave you puffing and panting like a cardio workout.
Requiring no equipment, air squats are ideal for home workouts and for anyone who prefers to exercise outdoors or without relying on a gym.
Air Squats vs. Weighted Squats
Bodyweight squats and weighted squats share the same basic technique.
However, they differ in the amount of resistance used.
While air squats rely on your body weight, weighted squats involve additional weights, such as barbells, dumbbells, or kettlebell squats, to increase the challenge and promote muscle growth.
Here are some key differences between the two:
|Air Squats||Weighted Squats|
|No additional weight used||Uses added weight for increased resistance|
|Ideal for beginners||More suitable for intermediate or advanced individuals|
|Lower risk of injury||Higher risk of injury if not performed correctly|
|Focuses on endurance and mobility||Focuses on building strength and muscle mass|
Role in CrossFit
In CrossFit, air squats are often incorporated into workout WODS.
They serve as a functional movement that enhances body strength, flexibility, and coordination.
Practicing air squats regularly can provide the following benefits:
- Improved mobility: Increase hip, knee, and ankle joint flexibility.
- Enhanced balance: Strengthen core muscles responsible for stabilization.
- Total body conditioning: Work multiple muscle groups, such as the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and core.
- Low impact: Reduce strain on joints and minimize injury risk.
What’s so great about squats?
Can training squats truly have such a remarkable impact?
Why are air squats an exercise worth doing?
Years ago, I had a torn left medial meniscus and subsequent significant knee pain that left me limping for months.
While losing weight provided some relief, nothing helped as much as squats.
When I first read that developing leg strength around the meniscus through squats could help – I thought, “That’s frightening – there is no way I’ll try to do squats, especially at 55.”
But I tried anyway because I wanted to give exercise a shot before arthroscopy.
True, the first time I tried squats at the Y on 48th Street and 3rd Avenue, I could barely walk for an entire week.
But, after several months of squats 2 – 3 times a week (even without weight), one day, I realized that I was no longer feeling pain and stiffness in my left knee while walking.
(One caveat I found was that I needed to squat below parallel to avoid aggravating my torn meniscus.)
So, squats are a fundamental movement that can even help with rehabilitation from injury.
That’s why it is worth learning about and training what many fitness enthusiasts call the “King of all Exercises.”
Air Squats Muscles Worked
Air squats are a very effective lower-body exercise.
In fact, they work virtually every muscle in your legs.
The dominant movers and shakers during air squats are:
Known as the quads for short, this group of four muscles is very active during air squats.
In fact, most people feel their quads working more than any other muscle or muscle group.
The four quads are:
- rectus femoris,
- vastus lateralis,
- vastus medialis, and
- vastus intermedius.
Their primary function is knee extension.
Located on the back of your thighs, the three hamstrings are comprised of the:
- semitendinosus, and
- biceps femoris.
Opposing the quadriceps, the hamstrings are responsible for hip extension and knee flexion.
While not as active as the quads, the hammies get a good workout from air squats, especially if you descend below parallel.
Gluteus maximus –
Known as the glutes for short, this large and powerful muscle is basically your butt.
The glutes work with your hamstrings to extend your hips.
Deeper air squats result in greater glute activation.
Hip abductors –
Located on the outside of your hips and thighs, the abductors lift your legs out and away from the midline of your body.
The three hip abductors are:
- gluteus minimus,
- gluteus medius, and
- the tensor fascia latae, which is also known as the TFL.
These muscles work mainly as stabilizers during air squats by stopping your knees from caving in.
Hip adductors –
Like the hip abductors, the adductors also help stabilize your hips during air squats and help to stop your knees from falling outward.
The three hip adductors are:
- adductor longus (longest),
- adductor brevis (shortest), and
- the adductor magnus (biggest),
Air squats are performed without weight, so you don’t need to put a lot of energy into stabilizing your spine.
However, your core is still involved in this exercise.
The main core muscles are the:
- rectus abdominis,
- transverse abdominis, and
- erector spinae
Benefits of Air Squats
Do air squats deserve a place in your workouts?
Consider these advantages and benefits and then decide!
#1. Anywhere, anytime
You don’t need any equipment to do air squats.
As such, they’re ideal for home and outdoor workouts.
With no squat rack or barbell required, air squats are an excuse-free exercise you can do anywhere and anytime.
#2. Easy to learn
Air squats are a natural movement that’s easy to learn and master.
Compared to barbell squats, which can feel awkward, most people quickly pick up air squats.
There is much less to go wrong during air squats than weighted variations.
#3. Very safe
With no external load, air squats are a very safe exercise.
While you should always endeavor to maintain a neutral spine, with no weight on your back, they’re a bit more forgiving if your technique is not 100% perfect.
Injuries are rare with air squats, and you can rep out to failure without worrying about getting pinned under a heavy barbell.
#4. Good for knee and hip mobility
Air squats take your knees and hips through a large, safe range of motion.
This is good for joint mobility and muscle flexibility.
Like all movements, you’ll lose your ability to squat if you don’t do it regularly.
Doing air squats a few times a week will help preserve your lower body mobility and keep your knees and hips healthy.
#5. Highly functional
So-called functional exercises positively affect your ability to perform physical activities away from workouts.
Air squats mimic everyday and athletic endeavors and enhance functional fitness and strength.
#6. An excellent warm-up exercise
While you can use air squats as your main leg exercise, they also make for a great warm-up before weighted squats, e.g., barbell front or back squats.
They provide your muscles with a dynamic stretch while mobilizing your hips and knees.
Regarding specificity, air squats are one of the best ways to prepare for a weighted squat workout.
Air Squat Drawbacks
While air squats are a safe and effective exercise, it’s only right to mention the drawbacks of this popular bodyweight movement:
1. No way to change the load
The main advantage of bodyweight training is also its main disadvantage – your weight.
You’re stuck with the same training load and have no choice but to work with what you’ve got.
As such, some people may find air squats too demanding, while others may find them too easy.
2. The only training variable is volume
Leading on from the point above, the only way to make your air squat workout less or more demanding is to vary the volume, i.e., the number of sets and reps performed.
Well-conditioned exercisers may find themselves doing very high-rep sets to achieve much in the way of overload.
Such a high-volume approach to training can be very time-consuming.
3. Not so effective for building strength
While high-rep air squats are great for endurance, conditioning, fat-burning, and even muscle building, they are not so good for developing maximal strength, even if you train close to failure.
If you want to increase leg strength, you’ll have to find a way to load your muscles with heavy weights and work in a lower rep range, e.g., 3-6 per set.
How to Do Air Squats
Air squats should be an intuitive exercise.
After all, you probably don’t have to think about how to sit in a chair, get in and out of your car, or drop down to tie your shoes, all of which involve a squatting action.
However, despite being such a natural and common movement, you might get a bit anxious when you try to do squats as an exercise (I sure did!) and struggle to do this movement safely or effectively.
Proper form and technique
So, get more from bodyweight squats by following these step-by-step instructions:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart; toes turned slightly outward.
- Pull your shoulders down and back.
- Keep your back straight, engage your core, and look straight ahead.
- Your arms should be relaxed by your sides, ready to be extended as you squat down.
Maintain a straight back
- As you lower into the squat, focus on maintaining a straight back.
- Keep your chest lifted, shoulders back, and core engaged throughout the exercise.
- Avoid leaning forward or hunching your shoulders.
Correct depth and range of motion
- Bend your legs, push your hips back, and descend until your thighs are roughly parallel or slightly below parallel to the floor.
- Note: Squatting too low may strain your knees and lower back unnecessarily.
- Keep your heels pressed down and ensure your knees don’t cave inward.
- Don’t let your knees travel beyond your toes to avoid joint stress.
- Keep your lower back slightly arched, and avoid rounding it.
- As you descend, raise your arms forward to act as a counterbalance.
- This position of your arms will also help you keep your chest up.
Return to standing
- Drive your heels against the floor, engaging your glutes, quads, and hamstrings as you stand up.
- Bring your arms back to your sides as you stand, and maintain a straight back throughout.
- Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement for added benefit.
- Stop just short of fully locking out your knees to keep the tension on your muscles.
- Remember to breathe in as you descend in the squat and exhale as you stand back up.
- That’s one (beautifully performed) rep – keep going!
How to do air squats demonstration
Air Squat Variations
Resistance Band Squats
Resistance band squats add an extra challenge to your regular squat routine.
To perform this variation, place a resistance band around your thighs, just above your knees.
Ensure the band is secure and provides adequate tension, then perform your regular squat with your feet about shoulder-width apart.
The resistance band will engage your glute and hip muscles as you maintain good form throughout the exercise.
Sumo squats are another air squat variation that targets different muscle groups.
To do a sumo squat, position your feet wider than shoulder-width apart and point your toes outward.
Maintain good form by lifting your chest and keeping your back straight as you squat.
This stance emphasizes your inner thighs and glutes, increasing flexibility and lower body strength.
Bodyweight Sumo squat exercise tutorial
The Goblet squat exercise is an excellent option if you want to incorporate weights into your squat routine.
For this exercise, you’ll need a kettlebell or dumbbell.
Hold the weight close to your chest with both hands and perform your squat using good form, as described above.
Goblet squats help build a solid foundation of strength training and can be a stepping stone to more advanced squat variations like barbell front squats.
How to do Goblet squats – Technique tips
Squat jumps are a fantastic cardio and strength-building variation of air squats.
Follow the steps on ‘how to do air squats’ described above, but instead of standing up, explosively jump into the air and land back into the squat position.
This exercise engages your quadriceps while providing an excellent cardiovascular workout.
Jumping air squat demo
What Are Air Squats – Wrapping Up
High-rep bodyweight squats have a long and storied history.
Used by traditional Indian and African wrestlers, the military, and physical culturists for centuries, air squats are one of the most effective and convenient lower body exercises around.
Yes, you probably will have to do high reps, but that’s a small price to pay for such a rewarding exercise.
So, try doing a few sets of 30, 50, or even 100 air squats in your next leg workout.
And yes, that burning and breathlessness you can feel is entirely normal!
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