It is entirely possible to build some considerable leg strength and muscle mass with absolutely no material. Although you will probably never be able to equal the efficiency of a barbell squat, you can still get very far with just your bodyweight. Read on for some of the best leg workouts at home that you can do.
First of all, how you approach these workouts depends on your goals; do you want to put on some leg mass? Do you want to develop raw leg strength and power? Or are you just looking to build functional strength in everyday movement patterns?
Depending on what you want to work towards, you will find different workouts for different goals further down in this article. Almost all of the exercises that will follow are exclusively bodyweight and need no material from the exception of one or two movements which may require the use of a chair or something to anchor your feet under.
The two different training styles we will go over are as follows:
- Circuit style training – best for endurance, some hypertrophy and strength
Execute exercises back to back with limited rest as a circuit and rest after the complete cycle of exercises has been done. Repeat for two or three more cycles.
- Regular bodybuilding type routine – Best for hypertrophy and strength, some endurance
Exercises are performed for a given number of sets and repetitions, with a set resting time between each set and exercise.
You can use the exercises that follow for these two different training styles.
Lunges are a viable alternative to the squat and will give you great results when done properly. They are also great at building functional strength. Make sure to use proper form and avoid any sort of excessive forward lean, or knee/ankle caving.
Two of the best mass building lunge variations are the regular walking lunge and the Bulgarian split lunge. Play around with both to see which ones work the best for you.
To add further difficulty to this exercise you could consider using something like a weight vest, or even making your very own sandbag ( they cost very little to put together and you have lots of freedom in terms of weight adjustment ).
Now this one is fantastic for building explosive power in your legs, all the while building dense, muscular legs. The intensity with jump squats can be played with; orientate them towards burning more calories by taking out the rest time between each rep and just violently dishing out rep after rep without taking time to reset yourself between each repetition, or use them towards building more muscle by including paused and isometric holds within the exercise.
You can develop further explosiveness by loading the movement with a kettle bell or weight vest.
If you are looking for ultimate functional strength development, this is a great exercise. This is also a rather challenging movement, even if you can squat well over your bodyweight for reps; you may still not be able to do a single pistol squat. Doing these will allow you to improve your flexibility, balance and overall body control.
If you can’t yet do a full pistol squat; do the movement with partial reps on a chair, whilst slowly working on going down further every session. If you are not flexible enough to hold the other leg out in front of you whilst you are doing the squat, stand on a slightly elevated platform
The main problem for most people with this movement might not stem from a lack of strength but rather one of balance and ankle flexibility. Perform some light ankle stretches before practicing pistol squats, and hold yourself on to a vertical surface or object whilst you go through the range of motion, if you need to.
One of the only bodyweight exercises you will find that effectively isolates the quadriceps. There is a lot of controversy around this movement as one that is damaging for your knees, but the reality is that this is a perfectly safe exercise to perform IF you already have some strength and size in your legs.
This movement isn’t for beginners. If you feel pain around your knees, you most likely have weaknesses in one or several of the quadriceps’s muscles.
Start with assisted sissy squats, then once you are confident enough with your form, you may move on to unassisted sissy squats, and finally, feet elevated sissy squats.
Nordic hamstring curl
Also known as a Russian leg curls and glute ham curls, this exercise will make your legs tremble and should provide you with a surprisingly hard challenge if you have never done them before. They will also give you muscle aches for a few days (the good kind).
When you first do these, you want to work either with eccentrics, or, you can also reduce the amount of bending at the hips and thus reduce the difficulty, making you able to do the concentric portion as well.
When you want to make a given Nordic hamstring curl progression harder, place your hands by your head. This will further extend the lever arm, just as if you were adding more weight. When placing your hands by your head is too easy, you can also fully extend you arms in front of you and make the movement even harder.
By the time you are strong enough to perform full, hip extended, Nordic hamstring curls, you will have a powerful set of hamstrings.
Single leg hip extensions
A great glute builder, hip extensions are an effective bodyweight exercise and can be rendered more difficult through turning the exercise into a unilateral movement. When you run out of resistance and one legged hip extensions prove far too easy for you, you can progress by placing a weight on your lap, or using a resistance band.
Arguably the best calve builder in the wide arsenal of bodyweight calve exercises. These will do wonders for your calves and should be performed in high volume. I recommend placing your feet on an elevated surface so that you can really get a full range of motion and stretch at the bottom.
Once again, you will probably get the best results here by doing them one leg at a time. Remember to pause at the bottom of the movement to eliminate the stretch reflex of the powerful Achilles’ tendon.
Along with the Bulgarian split squats, they are a very popular quad building exercise and should provide you with an intense quad burn when performed after larger compound exercises. Use an elevated surface such as a chair to do this exercise.
Best leg workouts at home – The workout routines
Now that we have gone over the different exercises you can perform to develop your legs at home with limited material, how would these look when integrated into one complete workout routine ?
Home Leg Workout Routine 1 – bodybuilding style
Exercise 1: Jump squats – 3 sets of 5 repetitions
Exercise 2: Lunges/Pistol squats – 3 sets of 12 repetitions
Exercise 3: Step ups – 3 sets 12 repetitions
Exercise 4: One legged hip extension – 3 sets of 10 repetitions
Exercise 5: Nordic hamstring curl – 3 sets of 5 to 8 repetitions
Exercise 6: One legged calve raises – 6 sets of 15
Home Leg Workout Routine 2 – circuit training style
To turn it into a circuit, just follow the same exercises in the same order, but do them back to back with limited rest between each exercise. Once you have completed 1 cycle, repeat 2 or 3 additional times.