22 Best Leg Exercises You Can Do at Home

Unlock the transformative power of leg workouts! Discover how strengthening your lower body enhances fitness, mobility, and overall well-being.

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by
Sarah Zimmer, PT, DPT
— Signos
PT, DPT
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
May 20, 2024
April 16, 2024
— Updated:
April 16, 2024

Table of Contents

Strong, toned legs are not just a cosmetic asset; they are the foundation of a healthy, functional body. Scientific research consistently finds support for the significance of leg exercises in promoting overall fitness and well-being. Studies reveal that regular leg workouts enhance muscular strength and endurance while also contributing to better balance, coordination, and bone density. In addition, engaging in exercises targeting the lower body muscles has been associated with improved cardiovascular health and reduced risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.1 

Researchers are ultimately proving leg strength to be a significant indicator of mortality in adults.2 With a large collection of exercises available, from lunges to squats to calf raises, it's evident that prioritizing leg workouts offers a multitude of benefits that extend far beyond aesthetics. Check out the long list of exercises below—some with equipment and some without—that anyone can try at home or at the gym today. 

Whether you're a fitness enthusiast seeking to optimize your training routine or a newcomer embarking on a journey to better health, this comprehensive guide promises insights and practical tips to elevate your leg workouts to new heights and optimal levels of health.

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What Are the Benefits of Leg Workouts?

The term “leg workouts” or “leg day” encompasses a wide variety of exercises, including bodyweight and resistance-based exercises, functional movements, and dynamic yoga poses that will leave your thighs burning. You can incorporate compound motions like burpees or kettlebell swings or target individual muscle groups with exercises like calf raises or leg extensions. It's important to remember that fitness can happen anywhere—indoors, outdoors, at the gym, or at home—and equipment is not always necessary to increase your fitness and stay healthy through strength training

Leg exercises without equipment offer a multitude of benefits that make them an accessible and effective option for individuals of all fitness levels. Simple movements such as squats, lunges, and calf raises can be seamlessly integrated into daily routines to promote functional strength, which is crucial for everyday activities like walking, climbing stairs, getting up from the floor, and lifting objects. Current research finds functional fitness also enhances athletic performance, muscle power, balance, and coordination and reduces the risk of falls and injuries among older adults.3, 4, 5 

Lastly, the versatility of bodyweight leg exercises allows for endless variations and progressions, neverending challenges, and options for modifications to maintain safety and reduce injury risk. Whether aiming to build muscle, increase metabolism, or simply improve overall mobility, leg workouts without equipment offer a convenient and efficient means to achieve lasting health and wellness benefits.

15 Best Leg Exercises to Try at Home With No Equipment

This section is your ultimate guide to the best bodyweight leg exercises for anyone at any current fitness level, including beginners. Each exercise targets various muscles of the lower body (e.g., the hamstrings, quads, and glutes) while also engaging the stabilizing muscles to improve balance and coordination. Give these no-equipment leg exercises a try, starting with just 1 to 2 sets of 10 repetitions of each exercise and progressing to 3 to 4 sets of 15-20 reps, doing no more than 6 to 8 exercises total in one workout.

  1. Jump Squats: Begin in a squat position, then explosively jump upward, extending your legs fully before landing softly back into a squat. 
  2. Frog Squat: Begin in a deep squat position with feet wider than shoulder-width apart and toes pointing outwards. Lower your body toward the ground, keeping the chest up and heels down, then return to the starting position.
  3. Cossack Squat: Stand with feet wider than shoulder-width apart, lower your body to one side, bending the knee while keeping the other leg straight, then push back up to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
  4. Hamstring Walkout: Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, lift your hips upward like a glute bridge. Hold the top position with hips stable, and slowly step your feet away from you until your knees are near straight. Then, slowly step your feet back towards your hips, still keeping your hips elevated from the floor. Once your feet are back to the starting position, lower your hips down to the floor and rest. 
  5. Donkey Kick: Begin on all fours with hands under shoulders and knees under hips; lift one leg upward, driving the heel toward the ceiling while keeping the knee bent, then lower back down. 
  6. Single-Leg Deadlifts: Stand on one leg while hinging at the hips to lower your torso toward the floor, extending the non-standing leg behind you for balance, then return to the starting position. 
  7. Step-Ups: Find a sturdy elevated surface such as a chair or step, step onto it with one foot, driving through the heel to lift your body up, then step back down. Alternate legs for each repetition. 
  8. Side Lunge: Step out to the side with one leg, bending the knee while keeping the other leg straight, then push off the bent leg to return to the starting position. 
  9. Glute Bridge: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift your hips upward, squeezing your glutes at the top, and then lower back down. 
  10. Wall Sits: Lean against a wall with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle, holding the position for as long as possible (start with 30-60 seconds). If you have knee pain, lower your body to a 45-degree angle in the knees to reduce pain and pressure. If you want to make this exercise more difficult, loop a resistance band above your knees and hold the tension throughout the exercise.
  11. Calf Raise: Stand with feet hip-width apart, rise onto the balls of your feet, lift your heels as high as possible, and then lower back down. For an extra challenge, try this on one leg or on the edge of a step.
  12. Pistol Squat: Stand on one leg, extend the other leg forward, then lower your body into a squat position while keeping the extended leg off the ground, then push back up to the starting position. 
  13. Bulgarian Split Squat: Stand a few feet in front of a bench or chair, place one foot behind you on the elevated surface, lower your body until the front thigh is parallel to the ground, then push back up to the starting position.
  14. Reverse to Forward Lunge: Step backward with your right leg, lowering your body until both knees are bent at 90-degree angles, then push off the right foot to return to the starting position. Then, step your right leg forward and lower your body until both knees are bent at 90-degree angles. Continue to step the right foot forward and backward into lunge positions, creating a pendulum over the left leg.  
  15. Lateral Lunge With A Twist: Step out to the side with one leg, bending the knee while keeping the other leg straight, rotate your torso towards the bent knee, then return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.

Leg Workouts at Home With Dumbbells

For those looking for the next level of leg training, incorporating dumbbells or added resistance will help amplify the intensity and effectiveness of your lower body workouts. By adding resistance to traditional bodyweight exercises or incorporating unique movements specifically designed for dumbbells, you can enhance muscle growth, strength, and endurance while also improving balance and stability. All of these exercises can also be completed with a barbell if desired.

Start with 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 10 repetitions, allowing for at least 1 minute of rest between sets and exercises. 

  1. Goblet Squats: Hold a dumbbell vertically close to your chest, with both hands cupping the top of the weight. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, toes slightly turned out. Lower your body by bending your knees while keeping your back straight until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Push through your feet to return to the starting position.
  2. Romanian Deadlifts: Hold a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing your body, with arms extended downward in front of your thighs. Stand with feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Hinge at the hips, lowering the dumbbells toward the floor while keeping your back straight and chest lifted. Lower the weights until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, then squeeze your glutes to return to a standing position, thrusting your hips forward at the top.
  3. Plié Squats: Hold a dumbbell with both hands vertically in front of your chest. Stand with feet wider than shoulder-width apart and your toes turned out at a 45-degree angle. Lower your body by bending your knees while keeping your back straight, ensuring your thighs are parallel to the ground. Push through your heels to return to the starting position, engaging your inner thighs and glutes.
  4. Weighted Hip Bridges: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, holding a dumbbell on your hips. Press through your heels, lifting your hips toward the ceiling until your body forms a straight line from shoulders to knees. Squeeze your glutes at the top, then slowly lower your hips back to the starting position.
  5. Reverse Dumbbell Lunge: Hold a dumbbell in each hand at your sides, palms facing your body. Stand tall with feet together. Take a large step backward with one leg, lowering your body until both knees are bent at 90-degree angles. Push through the front heel to return to the starting position, then repeat on the other leg.
  6. Step Ups: Hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms extended down by your sides. Stand in front of a sturdy, elevated surface such as a bench or step. Place one foot onto the elevated surface, ensuring the entire foot is firmly planted. Press through the heel of the elevated foot to lift your body up onto the surface, bringing the opposite knee up toward your chest. Step back down with control, lowering the opposite foot back to the ground.
  7. Pendulum Lunges: Stand tall and hold a dumbbell in each hand at your sides, palms facing your body. Take a large step forward with one leg, lowering your body until both knees are bent at 90-degree angles. Push through the front heel to return to the starting position, then immediately take a large step backward with the same leg, bending both knees into a reverse lunge. Push through the front heel to return to the starting position, then repeat on the other leg.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn More: </strong><a href="anaerobic-exercise">14 Health Benefits of Anaerobic Exercise</a>.</p>

The Importance of Mixing Your Leg Exercises

A man stretching in the living room.

Mixing up leg exercises is crucial for several reasons. When you consistently perform the same exercises, your body becomes accustomed to the movements, leading to diminished gains over time. Introducing variety keeps your muscles guessing and forces them to adapt, leading to continued growth and strength development. Additionally, mixing up leg exercises helps prevent overuse injuries and unnecessary imbalances by distributing stress and strain across different muscle groups and joints. 

Moreover, incorporating diverse exercises enhances overall functional fitness by improving flexibility, mobility, and coordination. Therefore, regularly varying your leg exercises not only keeps your workouts engaging and enjoyable but also maximizes your fitness results and promotes long-term health and well-being. 

If you are a beginner and looking for guidance, enlist the help of a personal trainer to ensure you are maintaining proper form throughout your workout.

Learn More About How to Improve Blood Sugar Health With Signos’ Expert Advice

If you have more questions on improving your health, fitness, and nutrition, seek the expert advice of the Signos continuous glucose monitor and Signos team. A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) can give you the insights to make smarter nutrition and exercise choices. The Signos app provides a unique, personalized program to help you lose weight and reach your health goals. Take this quiz to see if Signos is a good fit for you and reach your goals faster than ever before.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Also Read: </strong><a href="exercises-to-improve-posture">13 Exercises to Improve Your Posture Today</a>.</p>

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References

  1. Nyberg, L. A., Hellénius, M. L., Wändell, P., Kowalski, J., & Sundberg, C. J. (2013). Maximal step-up height as a simple and relevant health indicator: a study of leg muscle strength and the associations to age, anthropometric variables, aerobic fitness and physical function. British journal of sports medicine, 47(15), 992-997.
  2. Volaklis, K. A., Halle, M., & Meisinger, C. (2015). Muscular strength as a strong predictor of mortality: a narrative review. European journal of internal medicine, 26(5), 303-310.
  3. Toebes, M. J., Hoozemans, M. J., Furrer, R., Dekker, J., & van Dieën, J. H. (2015). Associations between measures of gait stability, leg strength and fear of falling. Gait & posture, 41(1), 76-80.
  4. Simpkins, C., & Yang, F. (2022). Muscle power is more important than strength in preventing falls in community-dwelling older adults. Journal of biomechanics, 134, 111018.
  5. Wang, X., Soh, K. G., Samsudin, S., Deng, N., Liu, X., Zhao, Y., & Akbar, S. (2023). Effects of high-intensity functional training on physical fitness and sport-specific performance among the athletes: A systematic review with meta-analysis. Plos one, 18(12), e0295531.

About the author

Sarah is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, graduating from the University of Wisconsin Madison in 2017.

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