A friend of mine asked me, what's the best way to strengthen her legs and butt. I answered: "Just do regular squats". However she is not in good shape and is afraid of doing squats because she thinks that it may hurt her knees. However many studies and also many answers on this site suggest that the opposite is true: squats, if done correctly, are good for the knees and for many other things.

Now I am looking for a safe progression (very slowly inclining) to lead her to be able to do full bodyweight squats with perfect form in a few months.

I should add that she is very inflexible in her legs, I am not sure if this might be an issue when developing a good squat form.

So is there any slow progression (i.e. do this exercise the first week, do that exercise the second week...) which

  1. teaches her "automatically" to do squats in a perfect form at the end
  2. slowly increases difficulty such that her body adapts to it without problems
  3. it is "psychologically safe", i.e. that it takes away the fear about hurting the knees by doing squats.

4 Answers 4


Disclaimer: I am not a physical therapist or personal trainer, which may be what your friend needs.

I'd start with bodyweight squats, holding onto the two ends of a doorknob, or post-like object in front of them, as low as possible.

Do those frequently, increasing depth as much and as frequently as possible. Over time, rely on the post less and less: hold it lighter, or with only two fingers, then one finger, then keeping your hands next to it just in case, then giving up the post.

Keep increasing the depth until the butt touches the calves or heels.

Working on the best squat one can do, consistently and frequently, should be safe and productive.

This is the method described in T-Nation's Third World Squat article, which goes into more detail:

Once you can't drop any further, hang out for a while, slowly rocking side to side and up and down. This should free up a little bit more range of motion. Try to maintain this position for about one minute.

...continue working on the squat at least once daily. This frequency will help ensure steady progress. One minute of holding the position will begin to feel easier, and you can either lengthen the time, or begin adding more sets. Focus on dropping deeper into the squat each day, and bringing your spine more and more vertical. Physically placing your kneecaps into your armpits will help.


This thing:

Pilates Reformer

Pilates Reformer

Is just wonderful for people whose fitness level does not allow doing standard exercise movements with acceptable form.

To your 3 questions:

  1. After a few months with a good instructor, doing a squat with flawless form will feel like a perfectly ordinary movement. The hip fold, low ab stabilisation, and knee and ankle stabilisation that you need for a good deep squat are all trained.

  2. You can work at any level of resistance appropriate to your body. Learning to do low-resistance work properly can actually be really rewarding as it teaches you to be thinking conciously about what muscles are working in what movements.

  3. Being flat on your back makes it feel very secure, if there's ever any knee discomfort you can just relax and let the springs pull you back. Not like if you're attempting a body weight squat you weren't ready for and feel knee discomfort halfway up, where you either power through it or fall on your butt.

    Also, for particularly a female who's just getting started in fitness, going to a 'pilates class' may be far more comfortable than a regular gym. Everybody who is able should absolutely eventually do weighted compound body movements, but if you never even start because the gym is intimidating, there's no use talking about it.

Chief downsides: Classes with good instructors cost $$, and if you don't live in a major city there may not be any studios around that even have the equipment.

  • That thing looks pretty weird. Anyway, nice answer.
    – Baarn
    Oct 12, 2012 at 17:27

Do you know about Starting Strength ? It is a linear progression workout program which can help your friend achieve her goals. I have seen many people benefit rapidly from this program. I would like to add that your friend might benefit from complete body workout's using compound exercises. The program also includes Deadlifts, overhead press, bench press, and power cleans. You might want to avoid power cleans and pullups if your friend is heavy.

The program basically begins with an empty barbell to start with for Squats and adding 5-10 punds to it whenever the person feels comfortable. The exercises are done in 2x5 warmup + 3x5 normal sets.

The reason I mention this workout is because of the points 2,3 mentioned by you in your post. The difficulty level is easy to handle in the beginning and your body adapts to it very quickly as the volume of exercise is less. More so it is a psychologically help when you can measure your progress and actually see yourself getting stronger.

You might want to look at Videos of how the Mark Rippetoe teaches Squats, I am not sure if they are available online.

Good luck !!

  • No I don't know "Starting Strength". Do you have a link to it? However this seems to be to advanced for my purpose. My question is pointing to a lower level, i.e. progressions to master the perfect bodyweight squat. But thanks for the answer, if she reaches that level, your program with adding weights might be the way to go on...
    – Sarah
    Oct 12, 2012 at 12:04
  • The author of Starting Strength advocates starting with a leg press machine until someone builds up the strength and flexibility necessary for barbell squats. vimeo.com/22735485 Oct 12, 2012 at 14:22
  • yes, the program can get advanced but it really starts as a beginner. the site name is startingstrength.com but i suggest buying books from Mark. one more thing you get good at doing Squats by doing them so some leg soreness in the beginning will be there. As Dave mentions you could start with a leg press machine or starting without a Bar. the good news is that you build strength very quickly in as less as a week :-)
    – Geek
    Oct 12, 2012 at 15:20

There is a nice video on youtube called How to do the Asian squat. The video itself is a bit humorous but nonetheless, it shows the difference between the european squat - on your toes - and the asian one - keeping the whole feet on the ground.

It is strongly debated whether deep squatting is detrimental for the knees or not, the video basically states that this is the most natural form of squatting and humans have done it for ages.

After getting used to do some squats she might use the training plan two hundred squats. It is designed for people that have a beginner ability but targets for fast progression. Anyway you don't have to progress as fast as the plan suggest, tell her to take it slow and maybe repeat some weeks.

  • I might update in some hours again…
    – Baarn
    Oct 12, 2012 at 12:24
  • Thanks, but this program seems just to increase the reps.
    – Sarah
    Oct 12, 2012 at 12:32
  • True. See Daves answer, it is pretty much what I wanted to add. (at least the part about the supported squat)
    – Baarn
    Oct 12, 2012 at 14:29

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