11 of the Best Bodyweight Leg Exercises

11 of the Best Bodyweight Leg Exercises

Want to get an effective leg workout at home, but don’t have any equipment? No sweat — if you’re ready to work out, you already have everything you need.

“Bodyweight exercises are a great way to build strength,” says Morgan Ford, RYT, ACE-certified CPT, and Openfit Live trainer. If you’re skeptical, she says, just look at the nearly-superhuman strength of gymnasts, who primarily train by moving their own body weight through different exercises.

Even better, bodyweight leg exercises can be adapted to any fitness level. If a particular exercise starts to feel easier as you get stronger, you can always make it more challenging by “trying different variations of movements, changing the tempo of your exercises, decreasing rest time, or increasing reps,” Ford says. Or increase your reps to “failure,” the point at which your legs scream for mercy and can do no more.

Here are 11 bodyweight leg exercises that can help strengthen every muscle in your legs.

Build strong, toned legs and a bomb bod with Sophia Rose’s bodyweight-only exercises on Openfit. Try her workouts here for free!

 

1. Sumo Squats

Muscles worked: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and inner thighs

  • Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Point your toes outward at a 45-degree angle.
  • In a controlled movement, push your butt out behind you and lower it as if you were going to sit in a chair until your upper thighs are parallel with the floor. Keep your upper body straight as you lower into the squat, and don’t let your knees drift past your toes.
  • Pause for a second before straightening your legs and returning to your starting stance.

 

2. Split Squats

Muscles worked: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves

  • From a standing position, take a long step forward as if you’re going to do a lunge. The heel of your back foot should be off the ground.
  • Keeping your torso upright, lower your body so your front leg is at or close to a 90-degree angle with the knee tracking directly above the ankle, and your back knee is almost touching the floor. If needed, you can rest your hands on the top of your forward leg for stability as you lower into the squat.
  • Press back up until your legs are straight.
  • Complete all squats on one leg before switching to the other side.

 

3. Single Leg Circles

Muscles worked: Quads and hamstrings

  • Lie flat on your back on a mat with your arms by your sides, palms on the floor.
  • Engage your core and bring your left leg straight up so that it forms a 90-degree angle with your body.
  • Keeping your core engaged, draw a half-circle with your left leg, swinging it up toward your right shoulder then down over your right leg.
  • Complete the circle by sweeping your left leg out to the left and back up to the starting position, extended up away from your body. Focus on keeping your pelvis and shoulders planted to the mat throughout this exercise.
  • Complete all circles with your left leg before switching to your right.

 

4. Offset Squats

Muscles worked: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Take a regular step forward with just your left leg.
  • Keeping the chest tall and both feet flat on the floor, in a controlled movement, push your butt out behind you and lower it as if you were going to sit in a chair until your upper thighs are parallel with the floor.
  • Pause for a second before straightening your legs back to standing. Keep your core tight and your torso straight through the entire movement.
  • Complete all your reps with the same foot forward before switching them.

 

5. Calf Raises

 

Muscles worked: Calves

  • Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Think about grabbing the floor with your toes as you raise your heels off the ground. Lightly rest your fingers on a surface (like a counter or the back of a chair) to help with stability if needed.
  • Hold this position for 3 to 5 seconds before slowly lowering your heels back to the ground.

 

6. Squats

Muscles worked: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Keeping your back flat and core braced, bend your knees, push your hips back, and lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor, as if you’re lowering yourself into a chair. Make sure not to hinge forward at the waist.
  • Pause, and then push yourself back up to the starting position.

Make it easier: Begin by standing about one foot in front of a chair, facing away from the chair, with feet shoulder-width apart. In a controlled movement, push your butt out behind you and lower it until your glutes are touching the chair. Briefly rest your weight on the chair, then engage your glutes to return to a standing position. “As you gradually increase your strength, step away from the chair for a full squat,” Ford says.

Make it harder: Once you have a proper squat down, Ford suggests slowing down the movement, so you lower yourself for three counts to challenge your legs.

 

7. Crossing Lunges

Muscles worked: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Keep your core engaged and your torso upright as you shift your weight onto your left foot and step your right foot slightly behind and to the left of your left foot.
  • Lower yourself in a controlled movement until your left thigh is parallel with the floor, your left knee is directly above the ankle, and your right knee is almost touching the ground.
  • Push through the center of your left foot and the ball of your right foot to straighten your legs, then return your right foot to its starting position.
  • Switch legs and repeat with the left leg.

Make it harder: As you push up from your squat, add a side kick to the end of the movement before returning your back leg to starting position.

 

8. Burpees

Muscles worked: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and shoulders

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and keep your knees loose.
  • In a fluid motion, squat down and place both hands on the ground in front of you, then hop both of your feet back so your body is in a push-up position with wrists directly underneath the shoulders. Keep your core engaged and your body in a straight line from head to heels.
  • Keeping your hands on the floor, hop your feet back to a crouching stance.
  • Using the power from this squat position, jump as high as you can as you swing your hands above your head.
  • Keep your knees soft as you land and return to the starting position.
  • Repeat for reps, and remember that controlling your movements through each rep is more important than speed for building strength.

 

9. Single-Leg Deadlift

Muscles worked: Hamstrings and glutes

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, your right arm extended down your side, and your left hand on your left hip (or up and out to the side for counterbalance).
  • Shift your weight into your left foot.
  • Raise your right leg straight behind you as your right hand travels down toward the ground. As your right leg comes up, think about pushing your behind out on the left side to activate that glute.
  • Try to remain as straight as possible from your head to the toes of your right foot.
  • In a controlled movement, return to your starting position.
  • Repeat all reps on one side before switching to the other.

 

10. Bottom Squat Slides

Muscles worked: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves

  • Stand with your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Bend your knees, push your hips back, and lower yourself into a deep squat position.
  • Shift your weight onto your right leg and slide your left leg out to the side until it’s straight with the toes facing forward.
  • Shift your weight onto your left foot by swinging your hips over to your left. You should now be in the same position as you were before, just with your right leg extended.
  • Slide your right foot closer to your body until it’s slightly wider than your hips. You should be back in your deep squat.
  • Engage your glutes and legs to return to a standing position.
  • Reverse this movement by squatting and sliding your right foot first instead of your left.

Make it easier: The deeper the squat, the harder this movement will be. If you’re starting out, lower into a squat where your thighs are parallel to the floor. As you get stronger, you can squat deeper.

 

11. Front Kicks

Muscles worked: Quads and glutes

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Squatting slightly, shift your weight onto your left leg and raise your right knee until your thigh is parallel with the floor.
  • Keeping your knee up and toe flexed, push with your foot straight and down in front of you until your right leg is straight.
  • Allow your right knee to bend and return your right foot to the floor, ending in a slight squat.
  • Repeat all reps with your right leg before switching to your left leg.

Make it harder: As you get stronger, straighten your leg higher off the ground as you kick.

About

Linnea Zielinski is a writer specializing in nutrition, wellness, food, and fitness. She was previously the site director at Eat This, Not That! and her work has appeared on MSN, The Huffington Post, Yahoo Health, Refinery29, and Serious Eats. She prefers weight lifting to cardio, swears by CBD massages and dry shampoo, and blogs about living a drama-free life in her spare time.