Skip the squat rack and leg press machine – you don’t need them. With just your own body weight and a few extra tools, there are a dozen leg exercises you can do from the comfort of your own home. Just grab a set of dumbbells, a stability ball, and a bottle of water to get started.
Before starting a new workout program, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about any contraindications you may have that could prevent you from performing certain exercises. For instance, if you have bad knees, your doctor may suggest that you avoid plyometric jumping exercises. Also, if you have any known illnesses, such as heart disease or diabetes, it’s important that you communicate with your doctor about your exercise program prior to getting started.
Squats are the king of leg exercises. Not only do they work all the muscles of your lower body, but you can perform them a million different ways to help keep your workouts interesting.
Pay close attention to form when performing your squats to help protect your lower back and knees. Choose one or two squat exercises and perform at least two sets of each exercise. While repetitions vary based on fitness level, complete roughly 10 to 15 repetitions per set so that the last one or two repetitions of every set feel difficult to complete.
1. Standard Squat
Once you’ve mastered the proper squat movement, feel free to add weight to the exercise with dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell.
- Stand with your knees hip-width apart, your toes angled outward slightly. You can either start with your arms at your side, or you can place your hands on your hips.
- Push your hips backward and bend your knees, lowering your body toward the floor. Keep your upper body steady and your chest pointing forward, rather than angled toward the ground. If you’d like, you can swing your arms up as you sit back to help maintain form.
- Squat down until your thighs are parallel to the ground, keeping your knees aligned with your toes. Reverse the movement and return to start.
2. Split Squat
The split squat is performed just like the standard squat. The difference is that one foot is balanced on a raised surface, such as a step or bench. I use a BOSU Ball to add an element of instability to the exercise.
After performing a set with one foot on the raised surface, be sure to perform a second set with your other foot on the raised surface.
3. Wall Squat
The wall squat is a static exercise you can perform practically anywhere. Do one at work or while you’re brushing your teeth. Hold each wall squat as long as you can, but aim for a minimum of 30 seconds per squat.
- Stand with your back against a wall and step your feet out so your heels are approximately one to two feet away from the wall.
- Bend your knees and slide your back down the wall until your knees and hips form 90-degree angles.
- Hold this position with your hands on your hips for at least 30 seconds.
4. Jumping Squat
The jumping squat is a more advanced plyometric movement. If you have knee, hip, or lower back problems, you should check with your doctor before attempting this exercise.
- Perform a standard squat, swinging your arms in front of your body as you lower your hips toward the floor.
- When you’re at the bottom of the squat, press through your heels and explode up into a jump as you swing your arms behind your body.
- Be sure to land on the balls of your feet with a slight bend in your knees and hips, immediately lowering yourself into another squat.
Plyometric movements are harder to perform than standard exercises, so aim to perform between 6 and 10 repetitions per set.
If squats are the king of leg exercises, then lunges are the queen. Like squats, they target your entire lower body and can be performed in a variety of ways. Pick one lunge exercise and perform two or three sets, each set to exhaustion.
5. Standing Lunge
The simplest lunge is the standing lunge – but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. You can perform the standing lunge by stepping forward or stepping backward from the starting position. Once you’ve mastered the form, feel free to add weight with dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, your hands on your hips.
- Step forward approximately three feet with one foot, planting your heel on the ground, allowing the heel of your back foot to come up off the floor.
- Bend both knees, lowering your back knee toward the floor while keeping your torso upright and straight.
- When your back knee comes close to touching the floor, reverse the movement and return to start.
- Repeat the lunge on the opposite side.
6. Walking Lunge
The walking lunge is performed the same way as the standard lunge, but instead of staying in one position, you continuously move forward, alternating lunges from one side to the other. The walking lunge challenges stability in addition to strength, so take your time and make sure you maintain proper form throughout the exercise.
Additional Leg Exercises
After performing a few sets of squats and lunges, move on to exercises that target specific muscle groups. Choose three or four exercises and perform at least two sets of each exercise.
7. Hamstring Curl on a Stability Ball
Target your hamstrings and core by performing a hamstring curl on a stability ball. If you don’t have a stability ball, you can perform this same exercise using a rolling chair or a swing in place of the ball.
- Lie on your back with a stability ball under your heels, your legs fully extended.
- Place your palms on the ground along your sides for extra stability.
- Lift your hips off the floor so that your body forms a straight line from heels to shoulder blades.
- Dig your heels into the ball and tighten your hamstrings and glutes. Then, bend your knees and use your hamstrings to pull the ball toward your body.
- When the ball reaches your buttocks, reverse the movement and extend your knees.
8. Calf Raises
Calf raises are easy to do wherever you are, targeting the muscles running along the back of your leg between your knee and heel. Perform them using both legs at once, or balance on one leg to make the exercise more difficult. Aim to do between 15 and 30 repetitions per set for a total of two to three sets.
- Stand next to a wall and place the palm of one hand lightly on the wall for balance.
- Press through your toes, lifting your heels off the ground as high as possible.
- Lower yourself back down, stopping just before your heels touch the ground. Continue performing additional calf raises. The last one or two calf raises of each set should be difficult to complete.
9. Dumbbell Deadlift
The deadlift is a compound exercise that targets your hamstrings and glutes. Keep a close watch on form to prevent injury to the lower back, keeping in mind that your hamstrings should be the primary target of the exercise, not your lower back.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent, with a dumbbell in each hand.
- Position your hands in front of your thighs, your palms facing toward your body.
- Keeping your upper body straight and your knees slightly bent, press your hips backward and lower your chest toward the floor, the dumbbells running down the front of your legs.
- When the dumbbells are positioned in front of your shins, tighten your hamstrings and glutes, using them to reverse the movement and pull your hips back to the starting position.
10. Lying Bridge
Work your glutes and hamstrings with this easy, do-anywhere exercise. Perform the exercise with both feet flat on the ground – or, if you’d prefer, lift one foot off the ground to isolate one side of your body. Perform between 15 and 30 repetitions per set.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground.
- Place your palms on the floor at your sides for balance.
- Squeeze your glutes and lift your hips off the floor until your body forms a straight line from knees to shoulder blades.
- Reverse the movement, lowering your hips toward the floor and stopping just before you touch the ground.
- Continue the exercise.
11. Quadruped Hip Extension
The quadruped hip extension is one of the best ways to isolate the glutes to get a killer bum. Perform at least one set on each side of your body, aiming for a minimum of 15 repetitions per set.
- Start on your hands and knees on the floor.
- Keeping your knee at a 90-degree angle, tighten your right glute and extend your hip, reaching your right heel toward the ceiling.
- Reverse the movement and return to start. Perform a full set before repeating on the opposite side.
When performing exercises, pay close attention to the difference between muscle soreness and outright pain. If you feel pain at any point, stop the exercise and try something else. If you still feel pain, discontinue your workout and talk to your doctor. Otherwise, get creative with fitness equipment to add variety to your workout. While gyms can be a great resource, there’s no need to buy a gym membership if you have the motivation to workout at home.
What other leg exercises can you suggest for home-based workouts?