Woman in living room wearing athletic clothing in a starting squat position.

Your legs feature some of the largest and most essential muscles on your body. Building strength in these muscles can help maintain healthy joints and bones while also releasing essential hormones that can help balance overall tonality.

In addition to working these vital muscles, many of these leg exercises also work your abs, back, and hip muscles giving you the full lower body workout you’re looking for.

Before you get started, check out our Beginners Guide To At Home Workouts for tips on setting up your at-home workout space. We also recommend taking a moment to familiarize yourself with your leg muscles.

Leg Muscles

The muscle groups of the leg are split into three major groups: The quadriceps, the hamstrings, and the calf muscles. 

The quadricep sits on the front, or anterior, of the thigh and is made of four smaller, but still very large, muscles: The rectus femoris , which connects to both the hip and the knee; The vastus lateralis , the largest of the four muscles which runs down the outside of the thigh; The vastus medialis , or the teardrop muscle, on the front interior; And the vastus intermedius , which runs between the vastus lateralis and the vastus medialis underneath the rectus femoris.

On the back of the leg, the hamstring muscles are the major group and are made up of the biceps femoris , which runs down the back of the thigh from the glutes to the outside edge of the knee; The semitendinosus , which runs alongside the biceps femoris on the interior of the leg; And the semimembranosus . There is also the abductor magnus which sits above the semimembranosus on the high interior of the thigh. 

Moving downward, the muscles of the lower leg consist of two main sets of muscles: the gastrocnemius , what most would refer to as their calf muscle, and the soleus muscles , which sit on either side of the Achilles tendon in order to stabilize the ankle.

While technically not leg muscles, a description of muscles worked in a full leg workout wouldn’t be complete without the glutes. The main glute muscle is the gluteus maximus , which makes up most of your buttocks covering and protecting your sit bones. The gluteus medius sits above the gluteus maximus connecting the hips to the leg.

No Equipment Leg Exercises

These bodyweight-only exercises make it easy to fit in a full leg workout at home, the office, or virtually anywhere.

Before engaging in any exercise, be sure to fuel your body for the task, stretch, and warm up to improve mobility and avoid injury. For more, check out our article The Expert Guide To Pre-Workout For Beginners.

Once you’re warmed up and ready to go, follow this workout to get a full leg and lower body workout with no equipment needed.

Bodyweight Squat

Woman in squat position.

Bodyweight squats are a great exercise to work all of the muscles of the legs as well as the glutes and other hip muscles.

This exercise is all about form and control. You want to pay specific attention to your stance so that you are driving through your heels and keeping your knees from flaring out or floating over your toes.

If you’re not sure what to do with your arms, you can either incorporate them into your movement by bringing them from resting at your sides to clasped in front of you with elbows bent or keep your hands clasped in front of you throughout. 

  1. Place your feet just wide of hip-width apart in a traditional squat position with your toes pointing out just enough to keep your knees from falling inward.
  2. Shift your weight into the heels of your feet as you drive your hips back and down, bending your knees and keeping your head up and your chest elevated. 
  3. Push down through the heels while keeping your knees slightly flared out in line with your toes as you stand and squeezing your glutes to drive your tailbone forward. 
  4. Repeat for 15-30 reps.
  5. Repeat for 3 sets.

 

Squat Jumps

Woman doing squat jumps in front of a couch.

Squat jumps target your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and hips while also raising your heart rate for some cardiovascular exercise.

Just as with bodyweight squats, jump squats require good form to perform safely. If you have hip, knee, or ankle issues or an injury, this might be a good one to skip until you’re recovered or have built up more stability around trouble joints with more static exercises. 

  1. Stand in a traditional squat position with your arms at your sides. 
  2. Send your hips back and down as you bend your knees until your thighs are parallel to the ground making sure to keep your back straight and your head and chest up. Bend your elbows and bring your hands together in front of you.
  3. Drive through the balls of your feet as you straighten your legs and jump as high as you safely can while swinging your arms back and down for momentum. 
  4. Keep your knees soft as you land back on the ground and return to the starting squat position. 
  5. Repeat for 12-20 reps.
  6. Repeat for 3 sets.

 

Side Leg Raises

Woman on a yoga mat doing a side leg raise and a cat on a couch nearby

Side leg raises work the vital muscles of the hip including the gluteus medius and hip abductors.

You can use this exercise as a break in the middle of the rest of your leg workout or save it for the end when you move to the floor for cooldown stretching. While you can do side leg raises standing, we recommend doing the exercise on the ground to ensure proper form.

  1. Lie on your side with your legs stacked and straight out so your body makes a straight line. You can either lie flat or use your forearm to prop up your torso. You can place your other hand on your hip or let it fall in front of you.
  2. Keep your top leg straight as you raise it up as high as you can, hinging from the hip, and be careful not to drive through your back. 
  3. Maintain control as you lower your leg back to the ground.
  4. Repeat for 12-20 reps.
  5. Switch from your left leg to the right or vice versa and repeat for another 12-20 reps.
  6. Repeat for 3 sets.

 

Forward to Reverse Lunges

Man doing a forward lunge on a yoga mat in his living room.

Switching between forward and reverse lunges helps you hit all of your leg muscles with forward lunges working your quads and reverse lunges working your hamstrings and glutes. Both styles of lunge also help build the muscles around the ankle resulting in greater stability and a reduced risk of injury.

Speaking of injury, you might be tempted to move through lunges at a quick pace, but it is important to move through the motions with care to ensure that you are planting your feet properly with each lunge to avoid rolling an ankle or overextending your knee to one side.

  1. Set your feet hip-width apart with your back straight and your core engaged. You can place your hands on your hips, hold them clasped in front of you, or let them rest at your sides. 
  2. Extend one leg forward so that both legs are bent at 90-degree angles as you sink into the lunge.
  3. Drive through your front foot as you straighten and bring your leg back to the starting position.
  4. Extend the same leg back behind you as you bend your legs to make a 90-degree angle once more.
  5. Once again, drive through your front foot and bring your leg back to the start as you straighten.
  6. Switch to your other leg and repeat the motions.
  7. Repeat for 12-20 reps alternating legs.
  8. Repeat for 3 sets.

 

Good Mornings

Good mornings mimic the motion of the sun salutation used in yoga practices and function as sort of an unweighted deadlift working the hamstrings and glutes as well as your back and abs. 

  1. Place your feet hip-width apart as you root your feet down and bring your arms up so that your hands are resting on the back of your head.
  2. Keeping your back and legs straight, hinge from the hips, and slowly bend forward engaging your core until your torso is parallel to the ground. 
  3. Slowly return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for 15-30 reps.
  5. Repeat for 3 sets.

 

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