Try The 30-Day Squat Challenge To Shed Fat And Build Functional Muscle

Reckon you could do 250 air squats? You could if you build up to it using our 30-day plan

If you really put your mind to it, the list of things you can achieve in a month is almost endless. You can get a working knowledge of a new language, or become proficient on the saxophone – or even go from a squat beginner to someone who can complete 250 in one go.

In general, 30-day challenges are a great way to work on your fitness, because they give you an achievable short-term goal to keep you focused. The motivation to lose weight or get fitter is obviously no bad thing, but without something clear and defined to work towards, it’s all too easy to skip a session or two then slide back into inactivity.

And of all the 30-day challenges you might try, a squat challenge is one of the best. That’s because the unweighted squat is a strong contender for the finest bodyweight exercise in town. It works almost every muscle in your lower body, hitting big muscle groups like the quads, hamstrings and glutes especially hard. The squat also improves your core strength by strengthening the muscles around your stomach and lower back, and if perchance you’re dreaming of owning a six-pack one day, firming up these other muscles with squats is an important first step towards helping the exterior abs shine.

The squat also builds functional strength by working your legs in a manner that’s typical of the way they are tested through everyday movements and sports. If you want more power and speed in your legs, and increased resistance to injury, you should be squatting regularly.

It’s a challenge with a lot of upside, basically, so get squatting. Below you’ll find pointers on how to squat with perfect form, plus the 30-day challenge itself. Go forth and squat, and we’ll see you in a month, when you have legs like pistons.

How To Squat

Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointing forward, chin up and core braced. Hold your arms out in front of you or by your sides – just don’t put your hands on your legs, whatever you do. Lower yourself until your thighs are parallel to the ground - the best way to describe it is like sitting down on an invisible chair. Go lower if you can – as long as it doesn’t hurt (and you can keep your balance) you’re OK. If you’re not sure if you’re going low enough, try squatting onto a box that’s slightly lower than knee height. Each time your glutes make contact with it, that’s a legitimate rep. Stand back up and repeat.

Once you’ve perfected your form, it’s time to take…

The 30-Day Squat Challenge

Perform the prescribed amount of air squats each day. Try to do them all in one set, but if you do need to take a breather, try not to pause again for at least ten more reps. It’ll be tough, it’ll burn, but you’ll have buns of almost literal steel by the end of it. 

| Day 1 | 50 | | Day 2 | 55 | | Day 3 | 60 | | Day 4 | Rest | | Day 5 | 70 | | Day 6 | 75 | | Day 7 | 80 | | Day 8 | Rest | | Day 9 | 100 | | Day 10 | 105 | | Day 11 | 110 | | Day 12 | Rest | | Day 13 | 130 | | Day 14 | 135 | | Day 15 | 140 | | Day 16 | Rest | | Day 17 | 150 | | Day 18 | 155 | | Day 19 | 160 | | Day 20 | Rest | | Day 21 | 180 | | Day 22 | 185 | | Day 23 | 190 | | Day 24 | Rest | | Day 25 | 220 | | Day 26 | 225 | | Day 27 | 230 | | Day 28 | Rest | | Day 29 | 240 | | Day 30 | 250 |

Once you’ve done the 30-day challenge, try to keep it up by squatting at least twice a week. To go to the next level, find yourself a squat rack and move on to our bodyweight back squat challenge on the next page.

Bodyweight Back Squat Challenge

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Coach

If you're in need of another squat-based test of mettle, may we suggest the bodyweight squat challenge? The rules are simple:

Weigh yourself in kilograms. That number is the weight you want to be lifting. Load your bodyweight onto the barbell, preferably with it already in a squat rack at shoulder height and with the safety pins in to catch the bar if you fail at the bottom of the lift. Unrack the bar, taking the weight on your shoulders and stepping back from the rack so you’re in the top position of the squat. Do as many full rep squats as possible, “resting” in the top position of the squat if as and when you need but without re-racking the bar at any point. Once you’ve hit your limit and you can’t manage any more reps, you can set the bar down or re-rack it.

Standing with the bar on your back while you recover between reps isn’t just allowed, it’s encouraged. Pace yourself between reps – a good rule of thumb is to take one deep breath between reps for the first ten or so, then more breaths as necessary as the reps pile up. If you’re strong, you could end up spending five minutes with the bar unracked. A respectable total? 20 reps. A phenomenal total? 50.

If you’re going to take a serious run at the magic 50, you need to get used to high-rep squats. In week one, do one 20-rep set. In week two, do two. In week three, do three. In week four: go for it.

To help you along the way, we’ve included plenty of form tips below.

Back Squat Form Tips

Look down

Slightly downwards, anyway. Some coaches will tell you to look up because the bar goes up, which is wrong. Focusing on a point on the ground a metre or so in front of you will help you to keep a neutral spine, decreasing your risk of injury.

Feet forward

Having a strong, stable base will allow you to lift a heavier bar more times. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart, but move them a little closer or wider if it’s more comfortable. Turning your feet excessively inwards or outwards increases the load on the knee joint and risks injury, so keep them neutral (pointing directly ahead).

Make a right angle

Maintain a straight back and a braced core, and keep your knees directly above your toes because moving past them places too much strain on the knee joints. Squat until your hip crease goes below the horizontal level of your knee - this is the standard for a ‘proper’ rep under the rules of most competitions.

Drive down

Drive back up with your legs, not your back, pushing your heels down into the floor to generate power. If you find your back angle changing – indicating that you’re lifting with your back – end the set.

Gut it out

The most important part of this challenge isn’t legs - it’s heart. Keep breathing, keep getting the reps out, and – as long as your form isn’t breaking – keep going.

Protect your neck

After a while you’ll develop harder skin where the barbell rests, but you can prevent that from happening if the idea of a neck callus doesn’t appeal. Put a towel over the top of your neck and rest the barbell on that. You can also wear gloves to stop your hands from getting callused. If you’re some kind of weirdo who doesn’t want the mitts of a lumberjack, that is. 

Written by Joel Snape for Coach and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

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