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11 Best Bodyweight Leg Exercises, According to a Personal Trainer

Jun 01, 2023

With no weights required, you can do this workout anywhere

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Contrary to what you may think, you don’t need heavy weights to build leg strength. While a set of dumbbells can be a helpful tool while training, it’s also possible to strengthen your quads, calves, and hamstrings with bodyweight leg exercises.

I get it: When you’re a beginner, the gym can be an intimidating place. In your home, you have the ability to focus on just you and your workout—without feeling self-conscious or overwhelmed by your surroundings. Additionally, doing strength training exercises at home is more convenient.

Bodyweight leg exercises are also budget-friendly. Instead of shelling out money on dumbbells or other strength training tools, you can put that cash toward your next road race or ski trip.

When you’re away from home, it can be difficult to stick to your workout routine. Even if your hotel has a gym, it may lack the equipment you typically rely on. Bodyweight exercises help fill this gap. This type of workout can be done pretty much anywhere.

Whether you’re squeezing in some strength training between oceans dips or clocking your daily movement in your Airbnb, you only need your body to break a sweat.

If you’re a beginner or in the process of rebuilding your workout regimen after a break, bodyweight leg exercises can be a great way to build foundational strength before progressing to dumbbells. Instead of inadvertently injuring yourself by overloading your muscles with weights, you can dial in on the proper form and technique.

The number of sets and reps you should do of these bodyweight leg exercises will depend on your fitness level and training goals.Building muscle hypertrophy is more difficult when you’re just using your bodyweight, since you don’t have external resistance to overload your muscles. As a result, you’ll want to perform more reps than you would in a typical weighted set.

If you’re a beginner, you’ll likely see significant improvements in your muscle strength and muscle mass from bodyweight exercises. However, most studies suggest that experienced athletes may need to perform sets to failure or complete more than 15 reps per set if they are using a reduced weight load to see strength gains.

In this workout, beginners should start with two sets of the following movements, performing 8 to 10 reps per exercise. Advanced athletes should complete at least three sets with 15 or more reps per exercise.

Bodyweight squats are a foundational compound leg exercise that strengthen all of the major muscles in your lower body. They’re also a helpful building block, teaching you a primary movement pattern used in more advanced lower body workouts.

Jump squats are a plyometric exercise to build power and explosive strength in your glutes, quads, and calves. In addition to being a great full-body exercise, this movement will give you a small cardio workout by elevating your heart rate.

Commonly known as the Bulgarian split squat, this exercise is a great way to isolate the workload onto the quad and glute muscles in your front leg.

If you are doing this workout at home, you can use a coffee table, chair, or step to elevate your back foot. If you’re at a gym, use a weight bench.

The glute bridge is a great beginner-friendly bodyweight exercise. Initially, start with both feet on the ground at the same time. As you build strength, progress to a single-leg bridge by lifting one leg up straight into the air and pressing through one heel at a time.

While the glute bridge is a good beginner-friendly bodyweight leg exercise, more advanced athletes can progress to a single-leg hip thrust. Compared to the previous exercise, this isometric movement will create more of a challenge by loading all of your body weight onto one leg.

This exercise could be the key to building muscle. A 2019 study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that the hip thrust may be more effective than squats at strengthening your glutes.

Heel slides help build strength in your hamstrings, a critical muscle for climbing, running, and hiking. For this exercise, you’ll need to wear socks on a “slippery” surface, such as a tiled or hardwood floor. If you practice this movement at a gym, you can use sliding discs.

This simple movement is more effective than you think. A 2020 study published in Journal of Sports Science & Medicine found that step-ups are one of the best lower body strengthening exercises. At home, find a set of stairs or a sturdy chair to step onto. If you’re at the gym, use a plyometric box.

If you’re an advanced athlete, you can progress from low-impact step-ups to explosive box jumps. Instead of stepping up onto your box one leg at a time, jump up with both legs.

Instead of practicing calf raises in place, do them off of a step. This subtle change will increase the range of motion in your heels. It will also elongate the eccentric portion of the exercise, which builds muscle mass and strength more efficiently than the concentric contraction of the movement.

Curtsy lunges strengthen your gluteus medius and gluteus minimus, as well as the adductors in your inner thighs and your hip rotators. Like regular lunges, they also support your gluteus maximus, quads, hamstrings, and calves.

Balance and muscular engagement are key. Activate your abs and lower back muscles to find stability in this movement.

Commonly known as pistol squats, single-leg squats are a great advanced bodyweight leg exercise. This movement builds strength by overloading your leg muscles on the weight-bearing leg, which triggers muscle protein synthesis.

Because this is a unilateral exercise, it requires balance. Use your core and the muscles in your hips and ankles to find stability.

Amber SayerAmber SayerBritni BarberAmber SayerHayden Carpenter