The Eight Best Bodyweight Exercises for Legs

The Eight Best Bodyweight Exercises for Legs

Some guys pride themselves on leg days. They never stop talking about how they squatted, lunged and pressed their way through 90 minutes of hell that left them hobbling for three days, a small price to pay for massive quads, glutes, and calves.

There’s a place for such leg workouts, of course. But if you’re looking for a change-of-pace leg day or just a standalone workout for when you can’t make it to the gym, consider a bodyweight routine. Think of it not as a way to build huge muscles but rather to counteract the effects of days spent sitting while making your lower body more functional and resistant to injury. Not only that, one recent study suggests that bodyweight exercise is more effective than running for cardio training.

With that in mind, here are eight of the best bodyweight exercises for legs.

Downward Dog

What it does: One of yoga’s signature moves is great for working the shoulders and back but is underrated for the hamstrings and glutes.

How to do it: From your hands and knees, move your hands out from under your shoulders so your arms are extended at roughly a 45-degree angle. Tuck your toes under your feet. As you exhale, straighten your legs and lift your butt and midsection toward the ceiling. Your knees are slightly bent and you’re up on your toes. Now drop your head between your arms, straightening your arms and legs, pushing back on your feet. Press your heels into the floor – or as far as you can go. Hold for two seconds.

How many? 2 sets of 10 reps with 30 seconds rest between sets.

Knee Hugs

What it does: This simple move stretches the hamstring and glute of your front leg as well as the hip flexor or your back leg.

How to do it: Lift your right knee to your chest and grab below the knee with your hands. Pull your right knee to your chest while squeezing your left glute. Return to the starting position and repeat on the left side. Continue alternating sides.

How many? 2 sets of 10 reps per side with 30 seconds rest between sets.

Handwalks

What it does: This move not only lengthens your hamstrings and lower-back muscles, it also builds stability in your shoulders and core.

How to do it: Start with legs straight and hands on the floor. Keeping the legs straight, walk your hands out. Then walk your feet back up to your hands, keeping your legs straight. Take baby steps using only the ankles. Avoid using the hips, knees, and quads.

How many? 2 sets of 10 reps with 30 seconds rest between sets.

Quadruped Rocking

What it does: This move is a combination of two familiar yoga poses: cow and child’s pose and provides a great stretch for the quads and hips.

How to do it: Get down on all fours and let the lower back sag. Push your hips back as far as you can, holding the lumbar arch. You should feel a stretch in and around the hips. Return to the starting position and repeat.

How many? 2 sets of 10 reps with 30 seconds rest between sets.

Lunge Elbow to Instep

What it does: Prominent trainer Mark Verstegen dubbed this the “world’s greatest stretch” twenty years ago with good reason. The full-body move works your groin, hip flexors, glutes, and especially hamstrings.

How to do it: Start by stepping forward into a lunge with your left foot. Place your right forearm to the ground and your left elbow to the inside of your left foot and hold the stretch for two seconds. Then place your left hand outside of your foot and push your hips up, pointing your front toes up. Return to standing position and repeat by stepping out with your right foot. Continue alternating sides.

How many? 2 sets of 10 reps (per side) with 30 seconds rest between sets.

Inverted Hamstring

What it does: This not only works your hamstrings and glutes but tests your balance and core strength.

How to do it:  Balance on your right foot, keeping tummy tight and shoulders back and down. Bend at the waist with both hands out to the sides and extend your left leg back as you fire the left glute. Your shoulder and heel should move together, forming a straight line. Return to starting position and switch legs.

How many? 2 sets of 10 reps (per side) with 30 seconds rest between sets.

Single-Leg Standing Calf Raise

What it does: This variation of a signature calf move is more explosive while improving ankle flexibility.

How to do it: Stand on one foot on a stair with your standing foot hanging over the stair. Slowly lower your heel while keeping your knee straight. Extend your ankle forcefully as high as your ankle flexibility will allow. Do a set of 10 on each side.

How many? 2 sets of 10 reps (per side) with 30 seconds rest between sets.

Box Jumps

What it does: This teaches you to store and release power, especially from your quads.

How to do it: Stand on two legs facing a short box. Load your hips and arms back and down and jump onto the box, holding a stable landing position for two seconds. Step off the box and repeat.

How many? 2 sets of 10 with 30 seconds rest between sets.

For more news and updates, follow Generation Iron on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Pete Williams is a NASM-CPT and the author or co-author of several fitness books, including Core Performance and Every Day is Game Day. His work has appeared in publications such as Men’s Health, Men’s Journal, and USA Today.

SHARE
Pete Williams
Pete Williams is a NASM-CPT and the author or co-author of several fitness books, including Core Performance and Every Day is Game Day. His work has appeared in multiple publications such as Men’s Health, Men’s Journal, and USA Today.