bodyweight leg exercises

26 Bodyweight Leg Exercises for Muscle, Strength & Explosive Power

December 06, 2020

Your lower body is made up of some of the largest muscles in your entire body. Because of this, you might think that weights are needed to train them properly. The truth is, you can get a great leg workout in with bodyweight exercises alone. You just have to know what bodyweight leg exercises to do and how much volume to give your workout. If you take a thorough approach, you will be able to train your legs effectively, allowing them to get progressively stronger, bigger, and more ripped.

Now, of course, you won’t build huge Mr-Olympia-legs with bodyweight exercises, like you potentially could with heavy weights, but you can build lean muscle mass and explosive power, or in other words, athletically strong and fit legs.

So, whether you are unable to access to free weights or you simply prefer training with a safer approach, and no matter if you are a beginner or more advanced trainee, this post has all the bodyweight leg exercises you should know. The leg exercises without weights that we are sharing here will target your glutes, hips, quads, hamstrings, and calves. These are bodyweight exercises for legs that even military and pro athletes employ.

PS. we will also teach you how to put together a well-rounded effective bodyweight leg workout using the exercises!

leg exercises without weights

Note: The bodyweight leg exercises in this post range from beginner to advanced. However, even advanced trainees will find “beginner” exercises effective if the volume of the sets are adequate and the workout is structured properly. And for beginners, you can always work your way up to more difficult bodyweight leg exercises. As such, this post is for people of all fitness levels. If you follow our instructions, we promise your legs will be sore the next day! 

There is no excuse to skip leg day, especially if you are traveling or stuck at home! 

Before we get into the exercises, let’s go over the anatomy of the legs so you know exactly what muscles you are targeting when we go through each exercise. This will help you with your mind-muscle connection. 

LEG MUSCLE ANATOMY

leg exercises muscles worked

For the purpose of this post, we are including the hips and glutes, as you likely want to target those muscles during a leg workout. So, the following covers the lower body anatomy.

The major muscle groups of your lower body are the calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, hips, and glutes. 

While we are going to be using names of the muscle groups as a whole when discussing the muscles targeted in each bodyweight leg exercise, let’s go over the muscles that make up each of the muscle groups. Just to get a better understanding. 

For the leg muscles (quads, hamstrings, and calves), the majority are what we call “long muscles”. They stretch a great distance comparing to other muscles of our body. When they contract and relax, they enable movement of skeletal bones, which is what powers your movement. Then, there are also smaller muscles, which are there to aid larger muscles, stabilize and rotate joints, and optimize other fine-tuned movements.

leg muscle anatomy

Quadriceps

The quads are make up the strongest and leanest muscles you have in your body. They are a group of four muscles located at the front of your thighs. 

The quads function to extend the legs straight at the knee joint and stabilize the knee. The four muscles work in conjunction to help you stand, walk, run and move around.

Four muscles of the quads:

  • Vastus lateralis (outside of the thigh and largest of all quadriceps).
  • Vastus medialis (the teardrop-shaped muscle of the inner thigh that runs from your inner thigh to your inner knee).
  • Vastus intermedius (the deepest quadricep muscle that runs between your laterals and medialis).
  • Rectus femoris (attaches to your kneecap and is at the center of your thigh above your vests intermedius).

Hamstrings

The hamstrings are made up of three muscles at the back of the thigh. Together, they act on both the knee and hip.  They function to extend your leg behind your body and to bend your knee. You use your hamstrings everyday for walking, running and jumping.

Three muscles of the hamstrings:

  • Biceps femurs (long muscle that flexes the knee. It extends from the thigh area to the fibula near the knee).
  • Semimembranosus (a long muscle that extends from the pelvis to the tibia. It extends the thigh, rotates the tibia and flexes the knee).
  • Semitendinosus (runs from the pelvis top the knee and it also helps extend the thigh and flexes the knee).

Calves

The calves make up the muscles of your lower extremity (above the ankle to the knee). The calf is made up of of three muscles (although some people only have two).

Calf muscles are vital in the movement of the ankle, foot and toes. It is the most worked muscle of your body as you use it every time you stand up and walk. Because of this, it can also be one of the hardest to train effectively.

Three muscles of the calves:

  • Gastrocnemius (largest muscle of the calves, connecting all the way to the heel. It flexes and extends the foot, ankle and knee).
  • Soleus (extends from the back of the knee to the heel and is crucial for walking and standing).
  • Plantaris (this is a small, think muscle that 10 percent of people don’t even have, which is fine as the gastrocnemius muscle supersedes its purpose).

Achilles Tendon

While you can’t strengthen the achilles tendon, keeping them healthy will make you stronger. To do this, you should strengthen your calf muscles and make sure you have good mobility, as that reduces stress on your Achilles heel. A healthy Achilles heel is crucial running, jumping and other physical activities.

Glutes

The glutes are made up of three muscles, the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius, and the gluteus minimus.

The gluteus maximus is the largest, hence the name. It is the muscle that gives you the shape of your butt and it functions to keep you upright when sitting or standing, as well as generating force from the lower body.

The gluteus medius is in-between the gluteus maximus and gluteus minimus. It helps with rotation of the leg and stabilization of the pelvis. 

The gluteus minimus is the smallest and deepest glute muscle. Its role is to rotate the lower limbs and stabilize the pelvis when we move. 

Note: The glutes as a whole play an important role in core and spinal stability.

Hips

Your hips work with your glutes, quads and hamstrings. It is your body’s largest weight bearing group. 

The main muscles to think about for the hips are the adductor group and the hip flexors (iliopsoas group). These muscles are responsible for extension, flexion and rotation. They are stabilizer and movers.

We won’t go in-depth on hip anatomy here as that deserves its own article. However, many of the exercises in this post will target your hip muscles. And, if you want bodyweight exercises specifically for your hip flexors and psoas muscle, we have already done an entire feature on that - 19 psoas muscle exercises to strengthen your hip flexors.

On the whole, all of the muscles above should be worked if you want powerful, strong legs. The bodyweight leg exercises below will take care of that for you. Keep note of the muscles targeted as we go through each exercise. 

best bodyweight only leg exercises

Do Bodyweight Leg Exercises Work?

Absolutely. With bodyweight leg exercises, you can target your glutes, hips, quads, hamstring and calves, both the fast and slow-twitch muscle fibers, which will allow you to become stronger and more explosive, as well as more stable, durable, balanced, and overall, more athletic.

Furthermore, bodyweight exercises for your legs will help you burn a ton of calories because the movements are compound and often times explosive.

Note: Even if you workout with weights, it’s smart to throw in some bodyweight leg exercises as it will hit your leg muscles in a different way. If you want explosive power and all around strong legs, you need to do bodyweight leg exercises and plyometrics.

Can you build leg muscle with bodyweight only exercises?

Yes, you most definitely can build muscle with bodyweight leg exercises. You just need to follow progressive overload principles, such as increasing reps, decreasing rest time, switching up the exercises with different variations, and implementing different workout protocols like drop sets. If you continually make your leg workouts harder, which is what progressive overload is all about, then you will be able to build muscle. 

For beginners, building leg muscle with bodyweight exercises will not be difficult. After all, your body alone has a lot of resistance! 

For those who are well-versed in weightlifting, you will have to get more creative if you want to build some serious muscle with bodyweight leg workouts. The good thing is, you are experienced at building muscle, so you will be able to employ the same principles to bodyweight-only workouts.

Finally, for those who simply want to supplement their weightlifting, bodyweight exercises are a fantastic way to change things up and challenge your legs in new ways, which is vital for building muscle and improving your performance. Explosive bodyweight leg exercises and unilateral movements will be super effective even for the strongest weightlifters out there. 

how to make bodyweight leg exercises harder

Progressive Overload for Hypertrophy and Strength

The basic concept of progressive overload is that you make your workouts harder and harder with time.

If you do the same thing each week, your workouts will get easier and easier, and your muscles will not need to continue adapting.

Some progressive overload techniques that you can use are:

  • Increase reps
  • Decrease rest
  • Variations or progressions
  • Increase volume of workout (do more exercises or sets)
  • Change workout protocols (drop sets, circuits, pyramids, etc.)

With progressive overload, your muscles will continue to have stimulus that requires them to progressively adapt. You don’t necessarily have to increase each and every week, but as soon as something becomes easier, you need to increase the difficulty. 

So, to give you a clear example of progressive overload, look at this timeline:

Week 1: 10 reps x 3 sets (30 seconds rest)
Week 2: 12 reps x 3 sets (30 seconds rest)
Week 3: 15 reps x 3 sets (30 seconds rest)
Week 4: 15 reps x 3 sets (20 seconds rest)
Week 5: 15 reps x 3 sets (20 seconds rest) *couldn’t improve this week, it happens*
Week 6: 15 reps x 4 sets (20 seconds rest)

After week 6, maybe you want to change the exercises up. You can also add more exercises to increase the volume of your workout and drop the reps back down to accommodate for the added volume and then work your way back up. There are so many ways to go about progressive overload, but one thing to remember is, your workouts should always be as hard as the last. If they get easier, you are not improving. Push yourself and you will build muscle and muscular strength.

Note: For building muscle, switching things up (such as the order of exercises, the workout protocol, etc.) each week or every two weeks, is essential, as you want to shock your muscles as much as possible. Furthermore, for building muscle, you need a lot of time under tension, so do higher reps and more volume in your workout. 

are bodyweight leg exercises effective

How to increase resistance with bodyweight leg exercises?

Don’t think you only have to use your bodyweight. Even if you don’t have dumbbells, kettlebells or a barbell, you still have “weights” all around you. 

A rock, a backpack filled with books, gallon water jugs and any other object can be implemented into your leg workouts, especially a buddy (get on my shoulders!).

The more awkward, the better, as it will help you build coordination and stability as well! When you lift a body or an object in the real world, it’s typically not evenly weighted like a barbell. So, why not train to be ready for the real world, which is by no means is perfectly balanced.

The great thing is, most of the exercises we are about to run through can be used with things like backpacks filled with books or water jugs in your hands, so you don’t need to learn anything new, you just need to pick it up and do the same exercises you are about to see.

26 BODYWEIGHT LEG EXERCISES

Ok, now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s get into the bodyweight leg exercises (finally!). After, we will discuss bodyweight leg workouts.

There is a good mix of standard hypertrophy & strength exercises, as well as plyometrics and isometrics with the bodyweight leg exercises below. 

Benefits: The below leg exercises without weights will help you build explosive power, strength, muscle, endurance, and balance & coordination.

Muscles targeted: Together, these bodyweight leg exercises will target your glutes, hips, hamstrings, quads, and calves.


Leg Exercises without Weights (Timestamps) 

  1. Squat (2:33)
  2. Sumo Squat (2:48)
  3. Split Squat (3:09)
  4. Curtsy Lunge (3:29)
  5. Front Lunge (3:54)
  6. Reverse Lunge (4:17)
  7. Hindu Squat (4:40)
  8. Bulgarian Split Squat (5:09)
  9. Box Jump (5:32)
  10. One Leg Box Jump (5:55)
  11. Jump Squat (6:10)
  12. Jumping Lunges (6:27)
  13. Lateral Lunge (6:48)
  14. Plie Calf Raise (7:12)
  15. Calf Raises (7:41)
  16. Calf Jumps (8:12)
  17. Skaters (8:26)
  18. Glute Bridge (8:41)
  19. Glute Bridge with March (9:06)
  20. Supine Walk-Outs (9:24)
  21. Hip Abduction (9:52)
  22. Hip Extension (10:07)
  23. Single Leg Hip Thrust (10:35)
  24. Elevated Hip Thrust (10:51)
  25. Hip Hinge (11:06)
  26. In-and-Out Squat Jump (11:22)

Bodyweight Leg Exercises with Pictures

1. Squat

bodyweight squat

Good for: Beginners to Advanced

Primary muscles worked: Quads, Glutes

Secondary muscles worked: Hamstrings, Hip Adductors, Calves, and Core

2. Sumo Squat

bodyweight leg exercises for glutes

Good for: Beginners to Advanced

Primary muscles worked: Inner Thigh (Quads & Hamstrings), Glutes

Secondary muscles worked: Hip Flexors, Calves, and Core

3. Split Squat 

bodyweight lunges

Good for: Beginners to Advanced

Primary muscles worked: Glutes, Hamstrings, Quads

Secondary muscles worked: Hip Adductors, Calves 

4. Curtsy Lunge 

bodyweight leg exercises for quads

Good for: Beginners to Advanced

Primary muscles worked: Quads, Glutes, Calves

Secondary muscles worked: Hamstrings, Hips, Core

5. Front Lunge 

beginner bodyweight leg exercises

Good for: Beginners to Advanced

Primary muscles worked: Quads, Glutes

Secondary muscles worked: Hamstrings, Calves, Core

6. Reverse Lunge

bodyweight leg exercises for beginners

Good for: Beginners to Advanced

Primary muscles worked: Hamstrings, Glutes

Secondary muscles worked: Quads, Calves, Core

7. Hindu Squat

how to do hindu squats

Good for: Beginners to Advanced

Primary muscles worked: Glutes, Quads, Calves

Secondary muscles worked: Hamstrings, Hip Flexors 

8. Bulgarian Split Squat 

bodyweight leg exercises no weights

Good for: Intermediate to Advanced

Primary muscles worked: Quads, Glutes

Secondary muscles worked: Hamstrings, Hip Adductors, Calves

9. Box Jumps (Plyometric)

plyometric leg exercises

Good for: Intermediate to Advanced

Primary muscles worked: Quads, Glutes, Hamstrings, Calves

Secondary muscles worked: Hips, Core

10. One Leg Box Jumps (Plyometric)

bodyweight explosive leg exercises

Good for: Advanced

Primary muscles worked: Quads, Glutes, Hamstrings, Calves

Secondary muscles worked: Hips, Core

11. Jump Squat (Plyometric)

squat jumps

Good for: Beginner to Advanced

Primary muscles worked: Quads, Glutes, Hamstrings, Calves

Secondary muscles worked: Hips, Low back, Core

12. Jumping Lunges (Plyometric) 

jumping bodyweight leg exercises

Good for: Intermediate to Advanced

Primary muscles worked: Quads, Glutes, Hamstrings, Calves, Hip Flexors

Secondary muscles worked: Hips, Core 

13. Lateral Lunge

bodyweight leg exercises for quadriceps

Good for: Intermediate to Advanced

Primary muscles worked: Quadriceps, Hip Adductors, Glutes

Secondary muscles worked: Hamstrings, Hip Abductors

14. Plie Calf Raise 

bodyweight exercises for calves

Good for: Beginner to Advanced

Primary muscles worked: Calves

Secondary muscles worked: Glutes, Inner Thigh (isometric) 

15. Calf Raise

bodyweight calf exercises

Good for: Beginner to Advanced

Primary muscles worked: Calves

16. Calf Jumps

bodyweight calf exercises

Good for: Beginner to Advanced

Primary muscles worked: Calves

17. Skaters (Plyometrics)

are bodyweight leg exercises good

Good for: Intermediate to Advanced

Primary muscles worked: Quads, Glutes

Secondary muscles worked: Hamstrings, Calves, Hips, Core

18. Glute Bridge 

bodyweight glute exercises

Good for: Beginner to Advanced

Primary muscles worked: Glutes, Hamstrings

Secondary muscles worked: Core, Hips 

19. Glute Bridge with March

bodyweight booty exercises

Good for: Beginner to Advanced

Primary muscles worked: Glutes, Hamstrings

Secondary muscles worked: Core, Hips

20. Supine Walk-Outs 

bodyweight hamstring exercises

Good for: Intermediate to Advanced

Primary muscles worked: Hamstrings, Glutes

Secondary muscles worked: Core, Hips

21. Hip Abduction 

bodyweight hip exercises

Good for: Beginner to Advanced

Primary muscles worked: Hip Abductors, Glutes 

Related: 10 Best Hip Abductor Exercises

22. Hip Extension 

bodyweight exercises for legs

Good for: Beginner to Advanced

Primary muscles worked: Hamstrings, Glutes

Secondary muscles worked: Core

23. Single Leg Hip Thrust 

bodyweight exercises for butt

Good for: Intermediate to Advanced

Primary muscles worked: Glutes

Secondary muscles worked: Hamstrings, Hip Flexors (as well as calves, quads, and low back to a lesser degree)

24. Elevated Hip Thrust 

how to workout legs without weights

Good for: Intermediate to Advanced

Primary muscles worked: Glutes, Hamstrings, Hip Flexors

Secondary muscles worked: Calves, Quads, and Low Back to a lesser degree

25. Hip Hinge (aka Single Leg Deadlift) 

how to do hamstring exercises without weights

Good for: Beginner to Advanced

Primary muscles worked: Hamstrings, Glutes

Secondary muscles worked: Hips, Calves

Great for balance too!

26. In-and-Out Squat Jump

best exercises for legs without weights

Good for: Beginner to Advanced

Primary muscles worked: Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes, Calves, Hip Abductors

Beginners can try them all! 

While some of these exercises are labeled as more advanced, even beginners can give them a go as they are all relatively safe. Just be careful of the one leg box jumps as you don’t want to smash your shins or fall. 

Moreover, intermediate to advanced trainees can find use in all of these as well. Just adjust the workout to suit your fitness capacity! 

Related: 9 Variations of Resistance Band Squats

BODYWEIGHT LEG WORKOUTS 

what are the best bodyweight leg exercises

EXAMPLE OF A LEG WORKOUT FOR BEGINNERS:

 4-5 rounds (20-30 seconds rest in-between each exercise):
- Squats x 20 reps
- Glute Bridge x 10 reps (3-5 second pause at top)
- Curtsy Lunge x 20 reps (10 each side)
- Calf Raises x 20 reps
- Split Squat x 15 reps (each side) 

EXAMPLE OF A SAMPLE LEG WORKOUT FOR MORE ADVANCED TRAINEES: 

1. 3 rounds (no rest between exercises):
- Squat Jumps x 20 reps
- Elevated Hip Thrusts x 15 reps
- Jumping Lunges x 20 reps (10 each side)
- Hip Hinge x 15 reps (each side) 

Rest 1-2 mins

2. 3 rounds (no rest between exercises):
- In and Out Squat Jumps x 20 reps
- Box Jumps x 15 reps
- Supine Walk-Outs x 8-10
- Skaters x 20 reps (10 to each side) 

Rest 1-2 mins 

3. Hindu Squats x 100 reps 

EXAMPLE OF AN EXPLOSIVE BODYWEIGHT LEG WORKOUT (PLYOMETRIC WORKOUT):

  1. Box Jumps: 4 sets x 8 reps (highest possible jumps)
  2. One Leg Box Jumps: 3 sets x 3-5 reps (each side)
  3. Lunge Jumps: 3 sets x 10 reps (each side - jump as high as possible)
  4. Squat Jumps: 3 sets x 10 reps (jump as high as possible)
  5. Skaters: 3 sets x 12 reps (6 reps each side, jump as far to the left and right as possible)
  6. Calf Jumps: 3 sets x 10 reps (jump as high as possible)

bodyweight leg workouts

BODYWEIGHT LEG WORKOUT PROTOCOLS 

There are so many ways to structure your bodyweight leg workouts. You can always keep things fresh or switch up your routine every month or two. Some of our favorite workout protocols for legs are: 

AMRAP: Choose 4-6 exercises that target all areas of your lower body (primary muscles) and do as many rounds as possible in 20-30 minutes 

CIRCUITS: Set up circuits with 3-4 bodyweight leg exercises. You could do groups that target the same primary muscles or have one exercise for each main group (i.e. exercise 1 quads, exercise 2 hamstrings, exercise 3 glutes and exercise 4 calves).

SETS X REPS: Traditional style of sets x reps. Complete one exercise then move onto the next. Be sure to throw in some supersets too! 

LADDERS: Throw in some ascending and descending ladders. For example, squat jumps x 10 reps & hip hinge x 1 reps, squat jumps x 9 reps & hip hinge x 2 reps, and continue, only resting if needed, until you do 1 squat jump and 10 hip hinges.

WARM-UP FOR LEG WORKOUTS WITHOUT WEIGHTS

leg workouts at home

Don’t forget to warm up before your bodyweight workouts. Just because it is bodyweight doesn’t mean you shouldn’t warm up!

This is a good warm up you can do. It’s dynamic, so no static stretching. Only dynamic stretches with bodyweight movements. 

  1. Monster Walk x 5 reps each side
  2. Standing Knee to Chest x 5 reps each side
  3. Lunge with Rotation x 5 reps each side
  4. Leg Cradle x 5 reps each side
  5. Toe Touch x 5 reps each side
  6. Internal Hip Rotation x 5 reps each side
  7. External Hip Rotation x 5 reps each side
  8. Lateral Lunge x 5 reps each side
  9. Knee Circles x 5 circles in both directions on each side
  10. Squat Stretch x 5 reps (hold bottom position for a few seconds, come back up and repeat for 5 reps.

Learn more about dynamic warm ups

leg exercises at home

WHEN TO DO BODYWEIGHT LEG EXERCISES? 

You can create an entire leg workout using bodyweight exercises only. Like the examples we gave you above. Conversely, you can throw in bodyweight leg exercises with a weightlifting routine. Do bodyweight exercises as supersets with weights or do explosive work using plyometrics after or before you do big lifts.

For beginners, if you are doing full body workouts, throw in a 2-3 bodyweight leg exercises each full body workout. Be sure to hit your quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves and hips each week. You could do all of them in one workout or you could do posterior bodyweight leg exercises one day and anterior the next. 

"HOW OFTEN SHOULD I TRAIN LEGS?"

You should do leg workouts at least once a week. If you are in really good shape and you are only doing bodyweight workouts, you could even do as many as three leg workouts per week, spaced out evenly. All in all, if your legs are not sore, you can train them.

In regards to full body workout routines, you should be hitting leg exercises each workout. So if you do 4 full body workouts per week, you will train legs 4 times. Just be sure not to overtrain. If you are sore, then take a rest day, stretch, or do some cardio or yoga.

how to train legs at home

IMPORTANCE OF STRONG LEGS

Your legs make up half of your body! As you can imagine, it is super important to keep them strong and functioning well. Strong legs will help you in all areas of life. Strengthening your legs will improve your balance, coordination, running, and any other powerful movement, as force is generated from your legs when you move. What’s more, strengthening your legs will help you build muscle and increase injury resilience. And finally, another great thing about leg strength workouts is you will burn a ton of calories, which will help with weight management. Bodyweight leg workouts are made up entirely of compound movements, and as we all know, compound movements are key for not only building muscle, but losing fat and maintaining a healthy metabolism as well. 

To top it all off, research shows that training legs is the best way to release more testosterone. So, if you want a better upper body, you need a strong lower body too...yes, lower body training improves upper body training!

Have questions about bodyweight leg exercises and workouts? Feel free to contact us or leave a comment below! We look forward to hearing from you. 

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