Try This Expert-Approved Bodyweight Leg Workout
Sport & Activity
Two certified personal trainers share their three favourite moves to include in your next bodyweight leg workout.
Beyond helping to crush a variety of sports and workouts, building strong leg muscles can provide support—literally—for a range of daily activities, too.
"Strong legs help you with everyday activities like walking, running and climbing stairs", said NASM-certified personal trainer Brittany Noelle. They also create an excellent foundation for full-body strength, help with self-defence and make moving heavy objects easier, she said. That's why it's important to add leg workouts to your fitness routine. And finding the right bodyweight leg workout isn't hard to do, especially when you have support from professionals.
The benefits of bodyweight leg workouts? There are many. According to Sarah Bradford, a NASM-certified personal trainer, pre- and post-natal exercise specialist, and core and pelvic floor rehabilitation specialist, bodyweight leg workouts help improve stability and control, enhance athletic performance, improve functional movement patterns, increase joint strength and, of course, build strength in the legs, glutes, core and even the pelvic floor.
Bradford also noted that the glutes, quads (front of the thighs) and hamstrings (back of the thighs) in the legs are the largest muscle groups in the body. And increased muscle mass helps burn more calories (even at rest), increases overall metabolic rate and promotes healthier body weight.
Here, Noelle and Bradford share their top three bodyweight leg workouts that you can do in your own home.
3 Moves To Add To Your Bodyweight Leg Workout
Noelle and Bradford both said that no bodyweight leg workout is complete without squats. And for good reason: squats are an effective way to work the glutes and thighs. "At the bottom of the squat, the glutes, quads and hamstrings are at their most lengthened point in the movement, which means that more force is being exerted on the joints of the knees and hips, resulting in the muscles that control those joints—quads and glutes—needing to work harder in order to resist that force", Bradford said. With repetition, these muscles get stronger and more powerful.
Here's how to do them, according to Noelle and Bradford:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
- Inhale as you lower yourself into an almost 90-degree angle as if you're about to sit on a chair. Keep your core engaged and your chest high as you squat. (Imagine you're trying to balance a book on your head.)
- Exhale as you drive through your heel and return to the starting position. Squeeze your glutes at the top.
- Repeat for three sets of 15 to 20 squats each for the full effect.
If you feel the squat in your knees or lower back instead of your glutes, check your form. The bottom of your ribcage should be aligned with the top of your pelvis, which brings your spine into a neutral position, Bradford said. Keep your heels on the ground the entire time as well.
(Related: How To Find Squat-Proof Leggings)
Both trainers agree that reverse lunges are another key move to include in your bodyweight leg workout at home.
"Since they are a single-leg exercise, meaning you are training your legs independently of one another—unlike squats where you are training them together evenly—lunges challenge your stabiliser muscles and help to improve stability, coordination, balance, and even out muscular imbalances", Bradford said.
Noelle added that you'll feel the burn mostly in your quads and glutes, and a little in your hamstrings and calves. Follow this step-by-step on how to do a reverse lunge according to Noelle and Bradford:
- Begin with your feet about hip-width apart.
- Step back into a lunge position, creating a 90-degree angle with your front and back legs. Your back knee should be aligned with your back hip and your front knee stacked over your ankle. "Imagine you are on train tracks rather than a tightrope", Bradford said. "This will give you more stability".
- Hover your back knee above the ground at a comfortable height and hold this position for a second while keeping your chest up.
- Return to the starting position.
- Repeat for three sets of 10–15 reverse lunges on each side or alternate legs with each rep.
"Step-ups call on the hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings, quads and core, and are a great way to improve strength, stability, control, even out muscle imbalances and make some solid glute gains", Bradford said.
To perform step-ups, follow these instructions outlined by trainers:
- Find a stable surface such as a box, step or bench that you can step on with your full weight, about the height of your knee. Or, opt for something lower for a modified version and work your way up to something higher for more of a challenge.
- Begin with your feet hip-width apart.
- Step onto the box (or step or bench) with one foot creating a 90-degree angle from your hip to your knee to your ankle.
- Exhale as you step all the way up.
- Slowly lower back down. Then switch sides.
- Repeat for three sets of 10 reps on each leg.
One last tip: the tempo for the step-ups should be performed at a moderate pace, Noelle said. "So about three seconds to get into the final position and three seconds to return to the starting position. The core should remain activated for all movements. Stop if any pain or discomfort is felt", she said.
Words by Jessica Estrada