Leg strength and muscular development is a pillar of strength, power, and fitness training. Strong quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes help to increase running economy, sports performance, and quality of life (especially as we age). Strength training, while often requiring external loading and equipment such as barbells and dumbbells, can also be done using only bodyweight in certain instances where loading is not an option and.or early in a training career.
Therefore, in this article we set out to offer coaches and athletes some exercise suggestions and workout ideas on how to train the leg without weights and additional equipment, specifically:
- The Best Leg Exercises to Do Without Weights
- 3 Sample Leg Workouts to Do Without Weights
Note, that to build strength and muscle mass, bodyweight training may fall deficit for most advanced and serious goals. That said, a combination of resistance training and bodyweight exercise is suggested for optimal leg development.
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Best Leg Exercises to Do Without Weights
Below are five (5) of the best leg exercises/movements you can do without weights. While most of the exercise below are squat and/or lunging variations, it is important to understand the unique benefits and distinct differences between each variation and how they can be used within the same workouts to maximize muscle growth.
Note, that most of these exercises can be done with specific tempos to increase time under tension, muscle activation, and intensity.
Bodyweight Squats (Sumo, Cossack, Narrow Stance, Regular)
The bodyweight squat comes in a variety of variations, each offering differences in muscle worked, application to sport, and difficulty. Including these within workout programs can increase functional movement, leg growth, and muscle endurance.
Bulgarian Split Squats
The Bulgarian split squat is a unilateral lower body exercise than can be integrated to increase quadriceps and gluteal muscle activation, correct muscular imbalances, and increase movement patterning for running, sprinting, and sports.
Plyometric Jumps (Squats and Lunges)
Plyometric training, like tuck jumps and split squat jumps, are effective exercises for increasing power and explosiveness. Additionally, these ballistic bodyweight exercises can improve muscular activation and athleticism.
Glute Bridges and Hip Raises (Unilateral and Bilateral)
Glute bridges and hip raises are two glute and hamstring exercises that can be done to increase posterior chain muscle activation and enhance overall lower body strength and hypertrophy. Additionally, these exercises are key movement for targeting the hamstrings and glutes, two muscle groups that may be underdeveloped if only performing squats.
Pistol squats are an advanced unilateral squat variation that can increase unilateral strength and squat stability/coordination. It is imperative that athletes properly progress towards the pistol squat, as failure to exhibit necessary strength, mobility, and end range control can negatively impact knee and ankle health.
3 Sample Chest Workouts Without Weights
Below are three (3) leg workouts that can be done without weights and equipment. The key with most of these exercises is (1) increased overall training volumes/repetitions, (2) minimizing rest periods to maximize metabolic build-up and muscular fatigue, and (3) increase exercise variations to fully exhaust muscle groups.
“Keep on Lunging”
The easier a workout looks, the harder it typically is. This workout is all of 15 minutes, but watch out, because it is intense. The walking lunge is the mainstay of this workout, but if that wasn’t enough for your, we have added some burpees in there for some aerobic and mental capacity.
This workout should be done in an EMOM (every minute on the minute) fashion, meaning you will complete the below exercises and repetitions within the same minute frame, resting only as many seconds as you have left in that minute. Once the minute is up, it’s time for your next round.
- Every minute on the minute, perform:
- 5 burpees
- 15-20 bodyweight walking lunges
Fun fact, I did this workout while on vacation in Peru, outside in a dessert. This workout left me glutes and quads sore for, what felt like weeks.
Quads, Glutes, and Hamstrings Workout
This workout is the complete package, meaning that it targets all of the main muscle groups of the lower body (quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings). All exercise can be done without weights and equipment. That said, if you have a towel or extra shirt, you can really upgrade your hamstring training with the lying towel hamstring pull in. In the event you don’t, try to find a something that can anchor your feet for the Nordic hamstring curl.
- Tempo Bodyweight Squat – 4 sets of 15 repetitions, with a tempo of 2020 (2 seconds eccentric, 2 seconds concentric, 0 seconds in between each phase).
- Glute Bridge Hold – 4 sets of 60 seconds
- Bulgarian Split Squat Jump – 4 sets of 8 repetitions per leg
- Nordic Hamstring Curl / Lying Hamstring Towel Pull In – 4 sets of 6-8 repetitions
- Walking Lunge – 4 sets of 20-30 steps
- Single Leg Glute Bridge / Hip Raise – 4 sets of 8 repetitions per leg, 1 seconds hold at top of every repetition
Lower Body Mobility / Movement Workout
Some workout sessions are not for building strength or muscle mass, but rather to restore movement and mobility AFTER more strenuous workouts (like the ones above). Below is a two part lower body movement flow, that can be done to increase lower body movement, decrease muscle stiffness, and improve recovery.
- Perform the following flow two times through
- Squat Walk Outs w Reach x 10 repetitions (5/side)
- Squat Sit with Overhead Reaching x 1 minute
- Cossack Squat x 10 repetitions (5/side)
- Up Dog Down Dog x 10 repetitions
Once you have competed the above segment, it is time to do some dynamic movement to increase blood flow and improve recovery. The intent here is to move with integrity, increase range of motion, and minimize muscle fatigue and excessive heart rate responses. This should be done at a leisure pace.
- Perform the below circuit 2-3 total rounds, resting as needed
- Walking Lunge x 20 steps
- Jumping Jacks x 20 repetitions
- Lateral Shuffle x 20 yards (10 yards per direction)
- Plank x 1 minute
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