Tutorial: Progressing from Squats WITHOUT A GYM
Once you have gotten to the point where you can perform high rep sets of deep squats with good form, the natural way to progress would be to start doing squats with a barbell, progressively overloading the movement by adding weight over time. However if you don’t have a lot of money to afford a gym membership, you have to get creative in how you progress your leg work outs. In this article I’m going to outline the 3 good bodyweight squat progressions. These can be used as a stopgap to improve your leg strength until you get to a point where you have access to weights. (As bodyweight training will never be a perfect substitute for weight training)
The Deep Step Up: 0:29-1:51
- Super Scaleable
- No extra flexibility or proprioception needed
- Not terribly exciting
- Easy to do very wrong if ignorant of form
To do the Deep Step Up, put your foot up on a surface (start knee height, then progress), and lean your body forward, arms outstretched in front of you until you feel your entire weight shift onto that front foot (in other words, position your centre of mass over the front foot) so you no longer put any pressure on the back foot and can lift off without using it in any ‘jumping’ way.
Stand up, and then lower back down with as much control as you can. Don’t drop down. The negative will help gain the control needed to step up perfectly with no back leg involvement, so at least do controlled negatives when you first start. It’s also good balance training for the shrimp and pistol.
You can adjust the exercise in 2 main ways, to make it easier or harder:
- Add weight to make the push harder, but easier because less need for forward lean
- Naturally, you can add/remove blocks or find a higher/lower platform to make it harder or easier. Do not go higher than you can for ego. Go as high as you can without jumping with the back leg.
The Shrimp Squat: 1:52 – 3:38
- Great test of balance
- Fun Variety
- Good for showing off and looking like a bit of a ninja contortionist without actually needing to be flexible at all apart from in your ankles.
- very hard to coordinate and learn
Form + Progression
Kneeling lunge position. Kneeling leg directly below you, other leg out in front at 90 degree angle.
Lean forward until weight is fully on the front leg (think deep step up) and then stand up, allowing some balance support from the back foot.
Assume same position as beginner, but instead of having your foot on the floor, toes down, point your foot and lean forward so it comes off the floor.
Your foot should not touch the floor any time during a rep.
Grab your back foot with the same hand and STAND UP BRO.
To make this actually possible, ensure your back knee is close to your front heel. This will make you able to lean forward enough to stand up.
With all progressions, do not swing your arms to use momentum to get you up. Do them in a controlled way. Try to have a brief pause at top and just after you lift your knee off the floor to make sure of this
Do the Beg, Int or Adv progressions with your front foot elevated. Good luck.
The Pistol Squat: 3:39 – 5:04
- If you can do these you are a paragon of knee health, balance, ankle mobility and ninja-ocity
- They look really cool
- Not really available to most people due to mobility restrictions
- Hard to balance
- Requires good straight legged compression
- Potentially hazardous for knees if unprepared
- ^ Related: So much easier for knee valgus to occur than the other progressions.
Heels on the floor at all times. Lean forward, Leg locked straight.
Hit the bottom and pause for 1 second. No falling onto your butt and rocking forward. Practice bottom holds if necessary. Rocking onto your butt shows a lack of control in the movement.
Do not allow your knee to valgus (knee should not come horizontally inwards relative to the ankle like you look nervous or need to pee. Like all squats, think tracking with toes, best you can)
If mobility and balance are your problem, do balance assisted pistols. Hold onto a pole or door frame and do them. Try to minimise the amount your arms help you balance over time.
If your straight leg compression holds you back, do elevated pistols on blocks or a box or the edge of a table. Slowly lower the platform until you can do them on the floor.
If both are your problem do balance assisted elevated pistols.
Once you can do floor balance-assist pistols confidently and your straight leg compression is sufficient, add a weight in your hands and hold it out in front of you. Decrease weight over time as you get better at leaning forward, until eventually there’s no weight, and you are doing pistols!
If your straight leg active compression is still an issue, though, do foot grab pistols, and do pike compression training whenever you train pistols until you can do weighted ones.
Finally, do the pistol! Well done.