When most people hear “leg day,” they immediately think of heavy weights and exercise machines. There’s no doubt that a heavily loaded barbell or weight machine can build strong, muscular legs. Yet that doesn’t mean you have to skip working your legs entirely when you’re away from the gym. With a mix of unilateral exercises and plyometrics, you can build your legs using nothing but your own bodyweight.
Here are seven bodyweight exercises for strong and powerful legs:
1. Squat Into Tuck Jumps
Combining two awesome bodyweight exercises, the squat into tuck jump makes for a challenging and dynamic plyometric exercise.
- Stand with your feet hip width apart.
- Squat down as low as you can (aim for a deep squat).
- Stand up explosively, jumping your knees towards your chest as you do so.
As you get more comfortable with the exercise, focus on speed to accelerate your heart rate and get your legs feeling like they’re on fire.
2. Deep Side Lunges
The side lunge is an underused movement. Most people avoid it, or if they do it, they tend to cut the lunge short. The full exercise takes both leg strength and flexibility, and is a great way to work on both at once.
- Stand with your legs wider than hip width apart so that you’re in a wide standing straddle position. The longer your legs, the wider your stance will need to be.
- Lean toward your left leg, bending down as far as possible. Your eventual goal should be to get the back of your leg to hit your calf, but don’t stress too much if you’re not there yet.
- Squeeze your butt as you stand back up into the starting position, then lean toward the right leg.
Focus on keeping your torso upright and core tight the entire time. If you have trouble balancing, hold onto a sturdy surface to help you get used to the movement. To make side lunges more difficult, hold any sort of weight (even a heavy backpack works) or sit back on the ground as you lunge before using your leg strength to push you back up.
3. Pistol Squats
At first try, even the most experienced gym-goer will most likely experience difficulties with the pistol squat. Not only do you need strong legs to be able to do them, but you also need flexibility to lower down into the full squat, as well as balance and control to keep yourself from falling over. Just like anything else, when you practice consistently and work on your weaknesses, pistols will become less and less elusive.
- Stand on one leg, with the other leg straight in front of you.
- Lower yourself down on one leg as if you’re sitting in a chair.
- Focus on going down as far as possible, working toward getting the back of your leg touching your calf muscle.
- Stand up and repeat on the other side.
As a regression, perform negatives to increase your strength, work on your balance, and get used to the movement. If flexibility is your issue, try pistols on an elevated surface such as a box or a bench to make them slightly easier. If you’re getting good at them, do pistols on an unstable surface or hold a heavy weight at your chest to increase the challenge.
4. Jump Lunges
Not only do jump lunges take a good amount of leg strength and conditioning to perform, they also require a fair amount of balance and coordination. The result is an incredibly efficient unilateral exercise you can do anywhere.
- Get into a lunge position with one leg bent forward in a ninety degree angle and the other bent behind you.
- Jump up explosively with your back leg, switch positions in the air and land with the opposite leg forward.
Although at first you should focus on form and make sure you don’t fall over, eventually you should do these as quickly as possible for maximum conditioning and leg burning effect.
5. Squat Jumps
Squat jumps turn regular bodyweight squats into a much more challenging exercise by adding a plyometric element. They build strength while getting your heart rate up fast.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Lower yourself into a squat position with your thighs parallel to the floor.
- Jump up as explosively as you can, land in a squat position, and repeat.
Focus on speed with these and aim to squat around parallel rather than going into a full deep squat.
6. Long Jumps
This staple of track athletes will leave your legs feeling super tired. Long jumps will build a strong, muscular lower body and core. Try doing 3 sets of 10-20 or do as many as possible in thirty seconds and feel your legs burn.
- Squat down until you reach a ninety degree angle.
- Jump forward as far as you can.
- Repeat immediately for maximum effect.
If you don’t have a lot of space to jump, you can always do a couple of jumps, turn around, then jump back the way you came from.
7. 180 Degree Switch Jumps
180 degree switch jumps are a fun, dynamic variation on the classic squat jump that will make your quads burn in no time.
- Start in a squat position with your arms by your sides.
- Jump up as high as you can, pulling your arms up and rotating 180 degrees mid-air.
- Land back in a squat position, lowering your arms as you do so.
- Repeat going as fast as you can.
Work hard, be consistent, and don’t be afraid to incorporate new exercises into your training. The only way you’ll grow as an athlete is to get rid of your excuses and keep pushing yourself to new limits.