Air squats seem to be the favorite bodyweight exercise for HIIT classes and other boutique fitness studios. Since you use no other equipment except your body, air squats are supposed to help you tone your legs, build a booty, and torch lower-body fat. But are these promises too good to be true? (Spoiler alert: squats alone won’t transform your butt.)
We asked personal trainers the truth about air squats and whether or not they are actually an effective exercise. If you’re embarking on a squat challenge and busting out dozens of air squats a day, will you see any results? Here’s what the experts had to say.
Air Squats Are a Beginner Move
For more advanced gym-goers, air squats may seem like a waste of time, especially if you’re able to sidle up to the squat rack and take on 150 pounds. But for beginners, air squats can be a great place to start.
Personal trainer and dietitian Jim White, RD, ACSM health fitness specialist, and owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios, recommended people start out with air squats before advancing on to other squat variations.
“Air squats are the beginner squat; they help to ensure that your squat form is correct in order to avoid injuries,” he told POPSUGAR. “As the person advances and the air squats become easier, they should try regular squats and jump squat intervals because it will keep their heart rate high and in the anaerobic part of their workout. Then weights should be added to the squats that will lead to more calories being burned as well as increasing the BMR (basal metabolic rate) and cardiovascular for burning a higher amount of fat.”
Using Your Bodyweight Is a Functional Movement
Some people may be so into weightlifting that they dismiss bodyweight moves and neglect the importance of functional movement for not only muscle building but overall fitness. Certified personal trainer Kendall Janicola, NCSF and instructor at Fhitting Room in New York City, told POPSUGAR that air squats are a functional movement with a “plethora of benefits,” even if you just use your bodyweight.
White agreed that squats are an essential move for overall fitness. “Squats are one of the most intense exercises you can do,” he said. “They work out the complete lower body for an intense metabolism boost.” He said that while air squats are a good place to start, you should move on to adding weights to keep boosting your metabolism and burning fat.
So, Do Air Squats Actually Burn Fat?
This answer is a little complicated since you can’t spot-target fat loss. If you’re looking to lose fat in your lower body, doing an endless number of squats alone won’t get you there. You need to lose weight overall to burn fat, and this is done by eating in a calorie deficit and working out. Ultimately, your genetic makeup determines where fat is lost on your body.
However, air squats can help get you there. White said air squats can help you burn fat, but they may not be as effective as other squats, such as squats with barbells or jump squat intervals. Janicola agreed.
“Air squats can and absolutely do burn fat and build lean muscle,” she told POPSUGAR. “If you’re new to weight training, the air squat is the perfect place to start to turn on those muscles and learn the right technique to get things going.” However, you can only do so many air squats for so long before you’ll eventually plateau, in which case you should add weight to burn fat, build muscle, and get stronger.
In short: yes, they burn fat, but you shouldn’t rely on them as an exercise that will burn leg fat and build your butt muscles. Combined with other strength-training moves, bodyweight exercises, and functional movement, they can help you shed fat and sculpt muscle. Just don’t expect that doing 100 air squats a day will magically transform your body (or your booty) — eventually, you’ll have to pick up some weights.