The 15 Best Leg Strengthening Bodyweight Exercises
If you are looking for the best leg strengthening exercises to do with just your body weight, then this blog post is for you. We have put together a list of leg strengthening exercises for beginners and those who work out regularly, designed to help you become familiar and comfortable with the basic movements before you level up to more complex activities. We have also included four alternative exercises focused on strengthening your leg and knee muscles if you experience knee pain or have bad knees.
Let’s dive right in!
6 beginner leg strengthening exercises
With just these six leg strengthening exercises, you’ll be able to make a profound change in your leg (and glute) strength. Moreover, once you master these fundamental exercises to strengthen leg muscles at home, you’ll be able to add on other compound movements for fat-blasting, like total-body conditioning workouts that centre around the lower body.
1. The squat
The squat is more than just an Instagram trend — this foundational leg strengthening exercise targets the entire lower body starting from the glutes down to your quads, knees, shins, and even feet.
To do a proper squat:
- Stand with your legs hip or shoulder-width apart, and toes pointed straight out.
- Begin lowering your upper body while keeping your head straight up, chest upright and open wide, and sink into your hips.
- At the same time, drive your hips back as if you’re going to sit on a seat behind you. Your weight should go into your heels, both going down and up.
2. The lungeNext up in our list of upper leg strengthening exercises is the classic lunge. This exercise is much more versatile than most beginners think. In fact, you can adapt lunges to side lunges, forward lunges, reverse lunges, weighted walking lunges and even plyometric-style jump lunges. But before you get there, you’ll have to master the fundamentals.
Here’s how to do a basic lunge:
- Start in a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Then, step one leg forward (or backward) and aim to bend both knees to a 90-degree angle.
- Your hips will sink down, but your core and upper body should not be leaning forward.
- Instead, keep your chest and gaze as straight and upright as possible. Again, try to go as far as possible without compromising your form.
- Push through the heel to bring the leg that’s lunging back to starting position and repeat on the other side.
3. The deadlift
Like lunges, once you have learnt the proper form, you can perform several deadlift variations. The lack of explosive movement makes it one of the best leg strengthening exercises for bad knees. The barbell deadlift, sumo deadlift, banded deadlift, and kickstand deadlift are all worthy additions to any lower body workout.
- For the deadlift to be effective, form is essential. We recommended perfecting your form before adding dumbbells, barbells, or kettlebells.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and a slight bend in your knees.
- Hinge forward at the hips while keeping your spine as straight as possible. If you feel a curve, come up a bit more.
- Keep your shoulders pressed down and back (they tend to hike up to the ears), and keep your core tight.
- Do not change the bend in your knee — it should remain the same as in the starting position. Instead, push your glutes back, and you’ll feel a pull in the hamstrings. Hinge forward (and down) as much as you can until you feel a comfortable tightness in the hamstrings (without any twinges of pain).
4. The glute bridge
All you need for this leg strengthening exercise is to:
- Lie down on your back on a mat.
- Put your legs in a bent-knee position and place your feet flat on the floor. They should be equally aligned.
- Next, shimmy your feet shoulder-width apart until your knees are separated.
- Push down into your heels as you raise the hips off the ground. Once you get to the top, squeeze the glutes and engage your core. This prevents unnecessary pain from arching in the lower back.
- Keep your shins vertical as you lower down, rest the glutes, and repeat.
5. The fire hydrant
The fire hydrant makes it to our list of essential leg strengthening exercises because it targets a rarely-worked (but important) leg muscle — the adductors connected to your groin muscles.It’s also a fantastic leg strengthening exercise for bad knees. The gentle but targeted motion can be used as a warm-up before starting more dynamic exercises that recruit multiple muscle groups.
For the fire hydrant:
- Get on your hands and knees in a table-top position.
- Raise one leg to the side while keeping your knee bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Try to keep your hip as level as possible as you lift to really fire up that outer hip and glute.
6. The Bulgarian SplitThe Bulgarian split is a fantastic way to combine balance, core strength and muscles in
the lower body. It’s almost a form of an isometric exercise (like a plank) because you have to keep your quads, glutes and lower leg under constant tension.
Here’s how it works:
- Use a sturdy bench or chair that’s weighted down. Place the top of one foot on the bench behind and lunge out your other leg. Don’t go too far — as you lower, you should be able to keep your upper body straight.
- Lower your body as you’re in this stance until your rear knee is parallel to the floor and your front thigh is at a ninety-degree angle.
- Hold the position, then push up through the heel of the standing leg to come back up. Go slow because it’s easy to hurt the knee if you move too quickly.
4 leg strengthening exercises for bad knees
If you’re looking for leg exercises to strengthen bad knees or compensate for them, take note of these four leg strengthening exercises.
1. Banded lateral walk
Place a resistance band around your thighs as you do a shallow squat. Take a step to your right side and continue while maintaining constant tension against the bad. Walk back the same way.
2. The monster walk
The monster walk is the same as the banded lateral walk, but instead of the side-to-side walk, you’ll step out and in front of you in a diagonal pattern.
3. The donkey kick
The donkey kick is much like the fire hydrant. However, instead of lifting your leg to the side, you’ll flex your foot and kick it back and up. Again, keep your hips level and don’t open them too much.
4. Kneeling dumbbell glute liftOnce you master the donkey kick, upgrade it by tucking a weight in the fold of your knee. Then, do the same kickback motion as you would with a donkey kick — the added weight will shape the top of your hamstring nicely.
5 intermediate exercises to strengthen leg muscles at home
Once you’ve mastered these 6 foundational exercises, you can upgrade your workout and increase your leg strength with these intermediate moves. The experience you’ll build when doing these exercises to strengthen leg muscles at home can also level you up and get you ready for the regular use of leg machines.
1. Jump squats
Start in a squat position and jump up and straight. As you land, take a breath and repeat.
2. Sumo squats
Get into a sumo stance by standing with your feet much wider than shoulder-width. Your toes should point outward to the side (rather than straight). As you lower down, your upper body should remain upright and straight. Keep the knees behind the toes as you lower, then rise up again.
3. Stability ball knee tucks
You’ll need a stability ball for this one. Get your feet on the ball and get into a plank position. Bring your knees as close to your chest as possible when you pull in. Then, extend your knees and roll the ball away from you as you return back to a plank position.
4. Box jumps
As the name says, this leg strengthening exercise requires either a plyometric box or a solid feature around you. If you are using a workout box, start by having it on its short side until you feel strong enough to raise the height. Stand with your knees slightly bent and your feet shoulder-width apart. Spring forward as you would in a jump squat and land lightly on both feet, knees still bent. Step down and repeat.
5. Standing calf raises
Stand straight with your legs extended and the balls of your feet on a step or weight plate. Push your heels up as far as you can, squeezing your calves at the top, then lower down slowly.
Step up your leg and glute game using Gym and Fitness equipment
Building up your legs and glutes is one of the most important fitness goals you can set for yourself. Without strong legs, you’re more likely to experience knee pain, hip pain and stiffness, lumbar and sciatica issues, poor bone density and even weak ankles. If you’re ready to build a powerful base for your body’s overall wellbeing, browse Gym and Fitness collections to find the right equipment for your leg strengthening exercises at home.