Recently I asked five personal trainers and coaches from the WithU and Mvmnt fitness apps to share their best beginner exercises, and two of them picked the air squat. That’s not a big surprise because the squat is undoubtedly one of the best bodyweight exercises for people of all fitness levels and a great move for beginners to get to grips with.
More of a surprise was the top tip Rory Knight, director of fitness at WithU, gave to help beginners improve their squat.
“My game-changing tip is to remove your footwear and perform the exercise barefoot,” says Knight. “You have thousands of nerve endings in your feet that enhance the recruitment of your muscle fibers. To create more engagement, think of each foot as a tripod and look to grip the floor equally with your big toes, little toes and heels. By doing this, you should feel stronger, more balanced and connected when you squat.”
The squat is an exercise that you can work on no matter how experienced you are in the gym. Even if you regularly squat using heavy barbells it’s worth doing some barefoot air squats to regain that connection to the ground and ensure the foundations of your technique are sound.
If you are starting from scratch, Knight also recommends using something for support while you learn the movement.
“Use a chair for stability as you gain confidence with the move, before moving on to an unsupported squat,” says Knight.
If you’re keen to improve your form, then our 30-day squat challenge is a good way to stay motivated and give yourself a short-term goal while you practice good squat technique. The challenge builds up each day so that by the end you can do 250 unweighted squats—no mean feat—whether you’re doing them barefoot or not.
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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.