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Air squats, also known as bodyweight squats, are commonly used in training programs like CrossFit and workout routines. They are only done using your own body weight, while regular squats may use additional weights instead. You should feel the squat in your thighs and in your glutes.
To do an air squat:
- Keep your feet at shoulder width apart and pointed straight ahead.
- When squatting, your hips will move down and back.
- Your lumbar curve should be maintained, and your heels should stay flat on the floor the entire time.
- In air squats, your hips will descend lower than your knees.
In a regular, weighted squat, you will want to lower as far as can be controlled with proper form, which for some individuals means that their hips will descend lower than the knees.
In both air and regular weighted squats, when rising from the squat position you will want to drive up (push up) through the heels, using the glutes to return to the standing position.
Like all exercises, you should always use the proper form when doing air squats so that you get the proper benefits and don’t injure yourself. This means stretching and warming up first. Even if you’re only doing squats, this is essential.
When doing an air squat:
- Your knees should not go past your toes.
- Your back should not round out.
- You should not drop your shoulders forward. Your lower body should be the only part of you moving.
- Keep your eyes up on the wall ahead of you. This will keep your chest lifted.
If you feel joint pain in your knees, you are either going too low or not using the correct form. In many instances, knee pain comes as a result of putting your weight more towards your toes instead of the back of your heels. You may also feel pain if your feet aren’t turned outwards at a slight angle.
If you experience back pain, this likely comes from inadvertently leaning your chest forward too much while doing squats, putting strain on your lower back.
You won’t want to do air squats every day. Instead, you should rest at least one day a week so that the muscles can heal and grow.
Air squats are a great way to learn the proper form for squats. Once you’ve mastered them, you can move on to weighted squats safely and with a much smaller risk of injury.
Air squats also help to build both a solid strength foundation and balance in your lower body. They target your thighs, hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes in particular, helping you to add muscle mass in these areas. Because balance is necessary, air squats can also engage your core.
There are some instances where air squats shouldn’t be used as part of your exercise regimen. If you’re looking to increase the difficulty of your workouts, air squats alone won’t be enough. Instead, you can progress to weighted squats or lunges with barbells.
If you’re struggling to sink low enough into an air squat, don’t exert yourself to the point of injury. Instead, do what you can, and work your way up to increasing the depth of your squat.
People with sciatica nerve pain — which can be felt from the lower back, upper buttocks, and down the thigh — should not do any kind of squats without first consulting their physical therapist, as the exercise could compress the nerve and irritate symptoms further.
Air squats are most effective when incorporated into a full workout routine.
To mix cardio and full-body strength training, you can use a routine from CrossFit Northeast Georgia, which includes four rounds of:
- running 200 meters
- 25 pushups
- 25 situps
- 25 air squats
NerdFitness has a routine that you can do in the comfort of your own home, using only your body weight and a few props you’ll likely have around your house. For this bodyweight routine, you’ll do:
- 20 jumping jacks
- 1 pullup (if you have a bar)
- 20 air squats
- 20 pushups
- 20 lunges (10 each leg)
- 20 decline pushups, where your legs are elevated
Some people do squat challenges as a way to build strength and endurance. Shape’s 30-day squat challenge, for example, incorporates air squats with other variations, like sumo squats and jump squats. Rest days are included.
- Ciccone T, et al. (2015). Deep squats and knee health: A scientific review. https://shruggedcollective.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/DeepSquat-Review-Barbell-Daily-3-27-15.pdf
- Dr. Squat. (2017). What all squatters knee’d to know! https://www.bodybuilding.com/content/what-all-squatters-knee-d-to-know.html
- Lynch, R. (2014). Air squats are an effective exercise for squats and glutes. https://www.latimes.com/health/la-he-try-this-harper-air-20140329-story.html
- McGill EA & Montel IN. (2017). NASM essentials of personal fitness training (5th ed.). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.