Lower body bodyweight exercises are really easy to do at home. And they’re perfect for getting in a strength workout that’s both functional and effective.
If you’re a home-workout warrior, we’ve got good news: you don’t necessarily need dumbbells, barbells, or any kind of gym equipment to sculpt and shape your body. We gathered some of the most effective lower-body exercises that will tone your thighs, lift your butt, and build strength in your lower back, all equipment-free: you just need your own body and the dedication to put it to work!
When leg day rolls around, it can be tempting to play it safe and stick to what you know. Squat, lunge, press, repeat. Bodyweight training is a popular and accessible method of improving your strength and conditioning with minimal to no equipment. But there are a ton of other moves out there that are equally beneficial and, arguably, way more fun. Plus, we all know that a workout routine is only as good as it is varied. To really challenge our bodies and bring about change, it’s imperative that we switch things up both in the gym and at home. (It’ll also help you avoid injuries, as well as the dreaded workout boredom.) So, if you’re in need of a little inspiration, we’re happy to oblige. Here are some lower body exercises you can try right now. When it comes to building stronger legs, bodyweight training offers you a variety of options to target the muscles in your lower body.
There are countless leg, hip, and glute exercises to choose from. But the best lower body exercises involve large movements and also challenge your stability and improve core strength. The top lower body exercises below can be performed together as a complete lower-body workout or incorporated into your total-body weight training routine.
Doing a regular lower body strength workout can help to shape your legs, hips, and butt by building lean muscle mass in those areas. You’ll strengthen muscles in the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.
Having a fit, strong lower body also helps you to move through your day with greater ease. It can even improve your performance during athletic activities like running and cycling or team sports like soccer or football.
Are Bodyweight Exercises Effective?
Bodyweight exercises are extremely effective at allowing you to build muscle as well as improve your fitness levels.
Some of the other benefits include:
• Improve speed and power – whether you’re a runner or simply want to improve your sprint PBs down at the gym, lower body exercises will help to increase your speed and power. And by strengthening your hamstrings and your glutes in particular, you can improve your explosivity. So, they’re great for overall performance.
• Injury prevention – as we mentioned above, weak hamstrings and glutes are a common problem. Lower body bodyweight exercises are functional, and you can isolate each side easily to avoid asymmetries. And by strengthening your lower body muscles in this way, you can avoid injury through strains.
• Convenient – when you’re not using much equipment to train, you have a lot more freedom in terms of when and where you work out. So, if you need to get some strengthening in but have a busy schedule or are travelling, these are perfect for fitting into your day.
• Great cardio – bodyweight exercises can be extremely challenging. For example, jumping squats, jumping lunges and lateral step-ups are all going to raise your heart rate as well as help you feel the burn.
Lunges are a popular strength training exercise among people wanting to strengthen, sculpt, and tone their bodies, while also improving overall fitness and enhancing athletic performance.
This resistance exercise is popular for its ability to strengthen your back, hips, and legs, while improving mobility and stability. Lunges are ideal for those wishing to get stronger and for current athletes, including runners and cyclists.
That’s right: We’re not falling in love with the stationary lunge too early. The walking variation is superior due to the fact that the trail leg can “step through” to the next rep. That trains the glutes more effectively and keeps the lift more dynamic in nature. On top of this, the knees take less stress forces due to less need to constantly start and stop or change direction. Start by learning basic lunge mechanics, which you can do right here.
When you practice glute bridges regularly you are targeting your glutes and your lower back muscles, those muscles that are meant to hold your body upright will be getting stronger.
Strengthening the glutes and erector spinae helps you keep your posture upright whether you’re standing or sitting throughout your day.
- Lie on your back, arms down by your sides. Bend your knees and plant your feet flat on the floor.
- Pull in through your navel to brace your core muscles and then squeeze your glutes to press your hips up so your body forms a straight line — no arching — from knees to shoulders.
- Keep your head on the floor and eyes focused on the ceiling.
- Hold the position for a beat, and then lower and lift, and repeat.
Side lunges help strengthen the gluteus maximus muscle, which is responsible for the shape of our buttocks, as well as the gluteus medius muscle, which is an important stabilizing muscle for the hip joint; This exercise helps to work out the adductor muscles.
The side lunge is a smart addition to your lower body strength workout because it forces you to work in the frontal plane of movement where your body moves laterally (side to side), engaging the muscles that stabilize the hips. Most lower body exercises only use movement in the sagittal (forward and back) or median plane (up and down).
To prepare for this exercise, stand tall with feet together. Be sure that you have several feet of space on your right and left sides.
- Take a big step, lunging to the right side with the right foot. The right knee will bend deeply to accommodate the lunge and the hips will drop back.
- Keep the left leg straight, foot firmly grounded on the floor. The upper body remains tall and the chest stays open.
- Pushing off the right foot, lift the body and bring yourself back to the starting position with feet together.
- Repeat on the left side by stepping the left foot out to the side.
- Do 10–12 repetitions, alternating sides.
To make the move easier: Take a smaller step and don’t lunge as deeply.
To make the move harder: Add weight by placing a kettlebell or dumbbell in your hands and holding it steady at chest level while you lunge from side to side.
Plié squats are great for targeting muscles in your legs and glutes that aren’t worked so hard in regular squats. As well as strengthening and firming, plié squats also challenge your balance and help improve your poise and stability.
- Stand with your feet wide, toes pointing out. Hold your hands comfortably in front of your chest.
- Bend your knees, lowering your hips so your thighs are almost parallel with the floor. Keep your weight back in your heels and your knees tracking in line with feet.
- Then rise back up, straightening the legs completely and squeezing the glutes at the top of the movement. This counts as one rep.
Squats are a functional exercise – ones that help your body perform real life activities – and are one of the best and most natural ways of toning your body.
Squat exercises can be done with or without weights. Either way will benefit you, and by adding weights will lead to improvements to overall muscle mass. However, if you do use weights be sure to squat correctly to avoid injury.
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Sit back and down as if you were sitting in an imaginary chair. Send your butt back while keeping your chest up and gaze forward.
- Lower down until your thighs are parallel to the floor, bringing your arms out in front of you for balance. Press your weight back into your heels making sure your knees don’t extend past your toes. If they do, widen your stance.
- Push through your heels to return to the starting position and repeat.
The clamshell exercise can specifically help to strengthen the gluteus medius, which lays on the outer edge of the buttocks and is responsible for stabilizing your pelvis. Clamshell exercises can help to balance the muscular effort between your inner and outer thighs and your pelvic floor.
- Lie on your right side with your feet and hips stacked, your knees bent 90 degrees, and your head resting on your right arm.
- Draw your knees in toward your body until your feet are in line with your butt. Place your left hand on your left hip to ensure it doesn’t tilt backward. This is your starting position.
- Keeping your abs engaged and your feet together, raise your left knee as high as you can while keeping your feet together and your right hip on the floor.
- Hold for 1 second, squeezing your glutes at the top of the move, before slowly lowering your left knee to the starting position.
- Perform equal reps on the other side.
Reverse Lunge and Kick
Even if you’re more of a lover than a fighter, practicing the reverse lunge to front kick can benefit you. This exercise challenges your balance and strengthens your quadriceps, as well as your glutes, calves, hip flexors and hamstrings
- Step back with your left foot, coming into a deep lunge and bending both knees to 90 degrees.
- Press the right heel into the ground as you push off with your left foot, kicking your left leg to touch your left toes to your right hand. This counts as one rep.
Good mornings are a great hip hinge alternative to deadlifts and hamstring curls. They’re hit the hamstrings and glutes, as well as help with spinal erector and scapular stabilization (lower and upper back). Start out with higher rep ranges on this one rather than loading up the bar with heavy weight. While it’s often demonstrated with the barbel, one of my favorite variations are banded good mornings. I would caution those with low back pain to be careful when performing good mornings and build up to them using exercises like dead bugs, glute bridges and bird dogs to stabilize the spine; then progress to using a pull up band to perform it.
Sure, the forward lunge seems like a simple exercise—you’re literally just putting one foot in front of the other. In truth, though, it’s a compound movement that requires so many muscles (big and small) to work together in order for you to keep your balance and work one side of your body in isolation of the other.
Because of this, forward lunges are a staple lower body exercise that’s great for beginners and advanced fitness levels, alike. It can be used to build strength and muscle using nothing but your own bodyweight or holding a pair of dumbbells for an added challenge once you get a hang of the move.
- Start standing with feet hip-width apart and hands by sides.
- Take a big step forward with right foot and bend at knee until both knees form 90 degree angles while bringing hands to clasp in front of body.
- Press down into right heel to push back to starting position. That’s one rep.
Single-Leg Bridge Lift
The single leg bridge is a great toning exercise for your abs and thighs and it also helps to lift and sculpt the buttocks. This exercise strengthens the core as well as the muscles of your back and helps to stabilize your spine.
- Lie on your back and place your hands on the floor for stability as you bend one leg and lift the other leg off the ground.
- Then, pressing your heel into the floor, lift your pelvis up, keeping your body in a stiff bridge position.
- Slowly lower your body to the floor and repeat. Switch legs to complete one rep.
If you want to build strong, stable, healthy, and athletic legs, the reverse lunge exercise is one of the absolute best exercises you can do. Not only is the traditional reverse slide lunge an excellent exercise, but there are also a few reverse lunge variations that you can use to further improve your body.
Although most people might consider the back squat and deadlift the most important exercises, single-leg exercises are crucial to have in your training program because we engage in so-many daily activities and sporting activities that require single-leg strength.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
- Step your right foot back into a reverse lunge until your leg forms a 90-degree angle. Make sure your front knee does not extend past your toes.
- Drive through the ball of your right foot and press up to return to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side.
Sure, a curtsy lunge may sound like a weird, medieval, princess-in-training exercise, but it’s actually one of the best exercises for toning your inner thighs. Yep, that hard-to-reach spot, along with your booty, are in for a real challenge (in the best kind of way) with this move.
How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, hands on your hips. Take a big step back with your right leg, crossing it behind your left. Bend your knees and lower your hips until your left thigh is nearly parallel to the floor. Keep your torso upright and your hips and shoulders as square as possible to the wall in front of you. Return to start. Then repeat on the other side. That’s one rep. (Alternatively, you could do all reps on the same side, before moving to the next.)
Jumping lunges are what we call a plyometric move – plyo for short. Yes, they’ll raise your heart rate quicker than you can say, ‘Ah my legs!’, but they’re more than just a cardio move.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Step back into a lunge with your right leg until your knee hovers just above the ground.
- Drive through your left foot to jump up as you bring your right knee in toward your chest. Land back down in a lunge and repeat.
Squat to Lunge
Why it rocks: The stability it takes to combine these two moves means extra credit for your core and a chance to work more of your butt muscles at once. Boom!
How to: Start standing with hands clasped in front of chest and feet under shoulders. Bend knees and sink hips to lower down into a squat, then press through heels to return to standing. Now, take a large step forward with left foot and bend at both knees to lower down until both legs form 90-degree angles. Return to start. That’s one rep. Perform 1o on each side, then continue on to your next move, resting as needed. After you’ve finished all of your exercises (three total), repeat the entire workout twice more for a total of three rounds.
Jump squats are the power-packed HIIT version of squats. They are also known as squat jumps. This exercise works on your glutes, lower abs, and leg muscles. Squat jumps and their variations help shed fat from the lower body, tone your butt and legs, and improve strength and balance
- Stand with your feet slightly more than hip-width apart. Bend your knees and squat down as if you were doing a regular body-weight squat. Bring your hands together in front of your chest.
- Engage your core and power through your feet as you jump up explosively. Straighten your legs as you jump high in the air, sending your arms down to your sides.
- When you land, lower your body down into a squat and repeat. Keep this motion smooth and swift, landing as lightly as possible.
What we see with squat pulses is a more isolated activation of the quadriceps muscles closer to the knee. The activation of these muscles is key for stabilization. We see a similar pattern when comparing the activation levels of the key muscles involved in a full-range chest press with pulses.
Why it rocks: Small-but-deadly pulses fatigue your muscles fast, so this move is a great way to burn out your legs at the end of a workout.
How to: Stand with feet hip-width distance apart, hands clasped in front of chest. Push hips back and bend knees to lower into a squat. This is your start position. Press through heels to lift seat up a few inches, then lower back down. That’s one rep. Perform 15 reps, then continue on to your next move, resting as needed. After you’ve finished all of your exercises (three total), repeat the entire workout twice more for a total of three rounds.
Being an unilateral leg exercise – a.k.a using one leg at a time – you will see plenty of results when it comes to your balance. Plus, an increase in the symmetry of your leg musculature. Working one leg at a time means your dominant side can’t take over compensate and do the heavy during exercises like a squat.
- Begin in a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms at your sides. Option to hold a dumbbell in each hand.
- Step up with your right foot, pressing through the heel to straighten your leg. Bring your left foot up to meet your right foot at the top.
- Bend your right knee and step down with your left foot. Bring your right foot down to meet your left foot on the ground. Repeat and switch sides.
The pop squat is an explosive bodyweight exercise that targets the lower-body muscles, including the quads, glutes, and hamstrings. It is similar to a jump squat, but alternates between a narrow and wide stance with each jump. It can be performed for time or reps in power training and is also effective in any fat-loss or athleticism-focused workout.
How to: Start in a squat with feet shoulder-width apart and arms bent, hands in front of chest. Fold forward to place palms flat on the floor in front of toes, then jump feet back into a high plank position, shoulders stacked over wrists. Reverse the movement to return to start. That’s one rep. Perform 10 reps on each side, then continue on to your next move, resting as needed. After you’ve finished all of your exercises (three total), repeat the entire workout twice more for a total of three rounds.
When you do them correctly, this simple move is sure to get your glutes and core working, fast. It’ll also fire up those hamstrings, plus require some effort from the triceps.
When you send your leg up, you’re offering your hip joint a nice extension stretch. If you sit a lot during the day, your hips are typically in flexion, which can lead to all sorts of low back and hip discomfort.
- Begin on all fours with your wrists stacked directly below your shoulders and hips stacked on top of your knees. Option to place one lightweight dumbbell in the crease of the back of your right knee until it’s securely positioned.
- Keeping your knee bent at a 90-degree angle, lift your right leg up and back as high as you can with your right foot kicking up toward the ceiling. Engage your core to keep your back from arching.
- Lower the leg by reversing the movement to return to the starting position and repeat.
This exercise isolates the quadriceps muscles of the front of your thighs. The wall sit is often used for gradually building pre-season leg strength for downhill skiing, ice hockey, track and field, running, and other activities. In sports such as running that mostly work the hamstrings, strengthening the quads helps keep your muscles balanced. The wall sit builds muscular endurance which delays fatigue and allows athletes to perform optimally for longer periods of time. The wall sit exercise should be used in combination with other quad strengthening exercises, such as the walking lunge or some basic plyometrics if sports conditioning is your goal.2 In daily life, strong quads are used for getting out of a chair and walking downhill or down stairs, which is why wall sits are also a beneficial exercise for non-athletes.
- Make sure your back is flat against the wall.
- Place your feet firmly on the ground, shoulder-width apart, and then about 2 feet out from the wall.
- Slide your back down the wall while keeping your core engaged and bending your legs until they’re in a 90-degree angle—or right angle, so that if someone wanted to sit on your lap, they could. (Although now probably isn’t the best time.) Your knees should be directly above your ankles, not jutting out in front of them.
- HOLD your position, while contracting your ab muscles.
- When you’re ready to wrap it up, take a few seconds to slowly come back to a standing position while leaning against the wall.
80 Squat Jump
Jump squats increase your explosive power, improve upper and lower body strength, and burn calories faster than regular squats. Explosive power gives you the ability to take off faster and move quicker, which athletes in football, tennis, and track and field strive for.
How to: Start in a squat position with butt back, thighs about parallel to floor, back flat, and arms bent with fists up at chin height. Push through feet and extend arms and legs to jump up off the ground while turning to land in a squat position facing the opposite direction. That’s one rep. Perform 10 reps, then continue on to your next move, resting as needed. After you’ve finished all of your exercises (three total), repeat the entire workout twice more for a total of three rounds.