Training your legs is important, but polarizing. Some guys get so caught up in the “don’t skip leg day” hype that they forget (or they never learn) that not every lower body split doesn’t necessarily look the same. Doing leg exercises at home is probably a lot easier than you realize. You don’t need a leg press machine or a stair climber or a squat bar to fire up those lower-body muscles. All you need is your bodyweight, maybe a chair, and the motivation to put some burn in your quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and inner thighs. When the gym’s not an option, don’t let lack of equipment or space deter you from getting a great leg workout. It’s not always possible to get to the gym, work commitments, family life, the weather, we all get those days from time to time. This leg and glute workout can also be done just about anywhere, since you don’t need any equipment for it. Though if you have some weights to hand, or good substitutes like cans of beans or a fully-loaded backpack, then you can easily incorporate these to increase the challenge. Don’t forget warm up first, however!
Benefits of doing leg exercises
Leg exercises can help you to achieve a range of fitness goals, from increasing your metabolism to building muscle and burning fat.
Strengthening your lower body can build muscle and help to improve performance when running, jumping, twisting or kicking. When your lower body is strong you are also more resilient to injury.
If one of your goals is to build muscle, training your legs can also increase the production of the hormones that promote building lean muscle mass.
Training the large muscles of the legs at higher intensities can trigger the EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) effect, this is sometimes referred to as the ‘afterburn effect’. After you finish your workout, your body continues to burn energy at a higher rate than your resting metabolic rate.
Most leg exercises when performed correctly also engage and strengthen your core. A strong core is important in all aspects of life and is very beneficial for performing well in the gym as well as many other physical activities. Strengthening the glutes, hip flexors and core can also help to prevent lower back pain.
A good old squat is the go-to stretch to really get those thighs and glutes working hard. Squats can be difficult at first as sometimes you naturally want to bend your knees. If you are sitting on a chair, lean forward, lift yourself up slightly, and remove the chair so the weight is on your heels. There’s your squat position!
How-to: Holding the weight or object in front of your chest, stand with feet just outside hip width. Drive hips back and then down, as if sitting in a chair. Keep chest up and focus on your hips breaking below your knee crease. Push into heels, squeeze glutes (your booty!), and stand back up.
Muscles targeted: Quads and glutes
This is a variation on a static lunge exercise that you can do if you have more space. Walking lunges strengthen the leg muscles, core and hips. Walking lunges can help to loosen the hip flexors which get tight when sitting and also activates the glutes specifically.
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.
- Hinge forward at your hips and sit your butt back into a squat. Bend your knees until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
- Jump up into the air as high as you can and straighten out your legs. Swing your arms down by your sides for momentum, and keep your back straight and chest lifted.
- Land back on the floor with soft knees. Go directly into another squat.
Banded Lateral Walk
How to: Place a mini resistance band a few inches above ankles, and stand with feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Maintaining a tight core, step left foot out to the side, followed by right. That’s one rep. Do three or four sets of 10 to 12 reps per side, then rest for 30 to 60 seconds and continue onto your next move. (Remember: You’re doing seven or eight total.)
Why it rocks: This move warms up your glutes and hits your often-overlooked glute medius muscles.
Step-ups are a great way to work on your knee stabilization. Using a lower box makes the exercise easier.
Muscles worked: Quads, hips, hamstrings, calves, core
- Find a box, step, or some other solid surface that’s about knee-high.
- Put one foot on the object and step up, aiming to keep your knee aligned with your ankle and not letting it collapse inward.
- When you step up, focus on driving through your heel and keep a tall posture as you push your opposite knee upward until it’s at the same height as your hip.
- Step back down and step up again with your opposite foot. Continue alternating throughout your set.
Single leg Romanian deadlift
This exercise targets your glutes and hamstrings and helps to improve your balance. Unilateral exercises like this one can help to improve neuromuscular control and reduce any imbalances between your left and right sides.
How-to: Standing tall with feet under hips, hold weights by your sides in both hands (or hold onto the handle of a broom or mop like a barbell).
Bend knees slightly, and then hinge at your hips. Keeping core engaged, drive hips back until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Squeeze glutes and return to standing.
Muscles targeted: Hamstrings, glutes, core, and upper back
High Knee Toe Taps
- Stand facing a bench or box (or a chair if that’s all you have), hands on hips or by your sides.
- Tap your left foot on the bench, then swap legs and tap your right foot, quickly alternating sides.
- Keep your back straight and chest lifted the entire time.
How to: Holding two kettlebells or dumbbells, stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes pointed out. Position weights in front of thighs, palms facing in. Keeping knees slightly bent, press hips back as you hinge at the waist and lower the weights toward the floor. Squeeze glutes to return to standing. That’s one rep. Do three or four sets of 10 to 12 reps, then rest for 30 to 60 seconds and continue onto your next move. (Remember: You’re doing seven or eight total.)
Why it rocks: This deadlift variation really targets your glutes, hamstrings, and back.
Lateral Lunge (Side Lunge)
Along with your quads, the lateral lunge also helps strengthen your inner thigh.
Muscles worked: Quads, inner thigh, hamstrings, glutes
- Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms in front of you for balance.
- Take a big step to the right, bending your right knee as you squat down.
- Squat down as far as is comfortable or until your thigh is parallel with the ground.
- Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
Calf raises help to increase ankle strength and stability and can help to prepare your body for plyometric exercises like box jumps. Calf raises are most effective when done slowly — try to hold at the top of the movement for one or two seconds!
Weighted Hip Bridges
How-to: Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. You should be able to touch your heels with your fingertips. Hold a dumbbell, kettlebell, or other item in front of your hips.
Brace core, squeeze glutes, push into heels, and lift your hips until shoulders, hips, and knees are in a line. Slowly lower your hips back to the floor.
Muscles targeted: Glutes, hamstrings, hip adductors, core, and obliques
Lateral Lunge with Balance
How to: Stand with feet hip-width apart, hands at sides. Take a big step to the right, then push hips back, bending right knee and lowering until right knee is bent to 90 degrees. Push back to an upright position, lifting knee and pulling it into chest with arms. That’s one rep. Do three or four sets of 10 to 12 reps on each side, then rest for 30 to 60 seconds and continue onto your next move. (Remember: You’re doing seven or eight total.)
Why it rocks: Most workouts focus on forward-and-backward movements, but lateral (side-to-side) movements are important for well-rounded fitness.
Single-leg Squat (Pistol Squat)
The pistol squat is a challenging squat variation that requires strength, mobility, and balance. If you can’t get into a full squat position, you can put a chair behind you to limit how far down you go.
It’s best to only try this exercise if you’ve already mastered the bodyweight squat and want a more challenging variation.
Muscles worked: Quads, glutes, core, inner thigh
- Stand tall with your feet together and arms in front of you.
- Lift one foot off the floor, and keep it in front of your body with your leg straight.
- Squat down on your opposite leg until your thigh is parallel to the floor.
- Return to the starting position and repeat with the other leg.
Banded Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
How-to: Start with left foot planted on the floor. Hold one end of the band in right hand and place the band under your left foot.
Hinging at your hips, with a slight bend in left knee, push right foot back. Focus on keeping hips and shoulders in line with back heel. Flex your back ankle and press your heel toward the wall behind you. Squeeze glutes and drive right leg forward to return to the starting position.
Muscles targeted: Glutes, hamstrings, hips, and core
Single-Leg Glute Brides
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Lift your right leg and straighten out your knee. Keep your thighs parallel to each other. Point your toe toward the ceiling.
- Push through your heels to lift your hips up while squeezing your glutes. Try to create one diagonal line from your shoulders to your knees.
- Pause for one to two seconds, then lower back down.
- Repeat with the opposite leg.
How to: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, and cross hands in front of chest. Slowly sit hips back and down into a half squat position. Keeping hips stable, lower right knee down to the ground, followed by left. Bring right foot forward, followed by left, and return to half-squat position. That’s one rep. Do three or four sets of 10 to 12 reps on each side, then rest for 30 to 60 seconds and continue onto your next move. (Remember: You’re doing seven or eight total.)
Why it rocks: This fun exercise is guaranteed to burn out your quads and glutes.
How-to: Stand tall, with the band right below your knees. Drive knees out like you’re doing a jumping jack into a squat, placing feet outside hips. Push your hips back and touch the floor with left hand.
Jump your feet back in and repeat the movement, touching the floor with right hand. Repeat until reps are complete.
Muscles targeted: Core, glutes, and calves
Mini Band Kickback
How to: Get on hands and knees. Put one end of mini band around right foot and position the other end on left thigh, just above knee. While keeping abs tight, contract glutes to slowly kick right leg back until it’s straight. At full extension, squeeze glutes for a second. Slowly bring it back down. That’s one rep. Do three or four sets of 10 to 12 reps on each side, then rest for 30 to 60 seconds and continue onto your next move. (Remember: You’re doing seven or eight total.)
Why it rocks: Another isolation glute move, banded kick backs also require you to engage your core.
Recovery Leg Exercises
Hip flexor and quad stretch
Hip flexor and quad stretchThis stretch helps to release tight quads and stretches your hip flexors. You can intensify the stretch by contracting your glute muscle — aim to hold the stretch for 30 seconds during your cool down.
This stretch releases tight hamstrings and also stretches your calves. It’s a good stretch to use during an active recovery session or when you can lie down to stretch. You can intensify the stretch by looping a towel or a yoga strap around your foot and holding it.
Whether you’re using weighted objects, your body weight, or a resistance band, these exercise routines can help build strength and endurance in your legs. For optimal leg gains, try to incorporate all three types of training into your weekly routine.
Strengthening and toning your quads can help improve the stability of your knee, reduce your risk of knee injuries, improve your athletic performance, and make everyday movements easier to do.
Many quad exercises can be done at home, without any special equipment. Start slowly, and as you gain strength and the exercises become easier, increase the number of reps or sets you perform.
If you haven’t exercised before, or have an injury or chronic health condition, be sure to check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.