It’s probably fair to say that leg day is not your favorite workout of the week. From a vanity standpoint, there’s less to gain in a lower body workout (“Wow, that guy has amazing hamstrings!” said no one, ever.) From a performance perspective, your legs get more of a workout from everyday life (climbing stairs, walking the dog) than any other muscle group in your body, making a leg-specific workout feel a bit redundant. Is this really a workout men need to take on?
Yes, without question. Here’s why you should care: Some of the most powerful muscles you have reside in your lower half (including your gluteus maximus, the largest muscle in your body). The leaner and stronger those muscles are, the more calories your body will burn at rest. Plus, stronger leg muscles equal better stabilization, meaning when you perform cardio, core, and even arm exercises, you can do so with greater effectiveness and less risk of injury.
Leg workouts are fortunately ones you don’t really need a gym for. “With the right exercises, you can easily do a bodyweight workout in your house,” says Derek Holmes, a personal trainer in Chicago. “Some guys like it better than the gym — no one is rushing you off a machine and no one is going to give you weird looks if you’re experimenting with new moves, so you’re free to push yourself however hard you want.”
Still, there are some basics to a good leg workout you want to stick to, Holmes says. For starters, you’ll want to target four main muscle groups: Quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and glutes. (“Glutes are not technically leg muscles but you engage them in almost every leg movement you do, so you want to make them solid,” says Holmes.)
Second, legs are a case where more resistance truly equals more mass. If you’re trying to bulk up your quad muscles, you want to perform these moves with additional weight. A set of 25-pound dumbbells at home will come in handy, Holmes says. Water jugs, a bag of books, and other small, heavy home accessories that you have lying around will also suffice for those exercises where weight may be added. On the other hand, if you’re looking to go long and lean, extra reps with your own bodyweight are the way to go.
And finally, if you’re finding any of these moves too easy, make them harder by trying them on one leg (a single-leg squat, for instance) or adding explosive movement to get more muscle fibers firing (squat jumps).
Ready to feel the burn? This 30-minute at-home workout will cover all the sweet spots for an awesome leg day.
Works: Glutes, quads
How to: Stand about a foot away from a wall, back facing wall. Lean back until your entire back touches the wall, then bend your knees and slide your back down the wall until your are in a sitting position. You want your hips parallel to your knees, and knees directly over toes, so adjust your feet forward or backward accordingly.
How many: Hold 1-2 minutes
Works: Glutes, quads, calves
How to: Face a bench. Step up with your right foot; follow with your left foot. Step down with your right foot, followed by your left.
How many: 10 reps with right foot leading; 10 reps with left foot leading. 3 sets.
Bavarian Split Squats
Works: Glutes, quads, hamstrings
How to: Stand about two feet away from a bench or sturdy chair, back facing bench. Lift your right leg behind you and rest your toes on the bench (right knee softly bent). Bend your left leg, allowing right knee to drop toward the floor. Lower until left quad is parallel to floor (do not allow right knee to touch ground), then return to standing.
How many: 10 reps on each side. 3 sets.
Works: Glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves
How to: Stand at the end of a hallway or long room. Take a step forward with your right leg. Bend right knee, allowing left knee to drop toward the floor. Straighten and swing your left leg through to the front, shifting your weight forward and landing with a bent left knee. Bend left knee until quad is parallel to the floor, allowing right knee to drop.
How many: Keep walking for 60 seconds; rest for 30 seconds; go again for 60 seconds. Hold a heavy object in front of you or on either side for an extra challenge.
Works: Glutes, quads, calves
How to: Stand with feet just wider than hip width, toes slightly pointed out. Bend knees and drop your butt toward the floor until quads are parallel to the ground (keep your knees over your toes). Press through the balls of your feet, straighten legs, and explode up off the ground. Land with soft knees and return to the squat.
How many: 10 reps x 3 sets. Hold a heavy object in front of you for an extra challenge.
Works: Glutes, hamstrings
How to: Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat, arms by your sides. Exhale and raise your hips off the floor, keeping your shoulder blades pressed into the ground. Squeeze your glutes and lift your pelvis as high as you can. Hold for five counts then release.
How many: Continue for 60 seconds; relax for 30 seconds. Do 60 seconds more.
Single Leg Deadlifts
Works: Core, hamstrings, quads
How to: Hold a dumbbell or water jug in your right hand. Stand with feet together. Keeping your left knee soft, raise your right leg behind you as you hinge forward with your body, lowering your right hand toward the floor. Aim to create a flat parallel plane to the floor with your right leg and torso. Return to standing.
How many: 10 reps on each side. 3 sets.
Works: Quads, hamstrings
How to: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Lift your right leg straight in front of you as you bend your left knee and lower your hips toward the floor. Lower as far as you can while maintaining good form. Return to standing. (Note: If air squatting is too challenging, you can also place a chair behind you and squat until you are sitting on the chair.)
How many: 10 reps on each side. 2 sets.
Single-Leg Calf Raises
How to: Stand with feet together, facing the high back of a chair or a wall. Place your hands on the chair or wall for support. Shift your weight to your right side, lift your left foot slightly off the floor behind you, and rise up onto the toes of your right foot. Release your right heel back to the floor, then rise onto your right toes again.
How many: 30 seconds on each side. 2 sets.
Squat Jump Twists
Works: Glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, core
How to: Stand with feet just wider than hip width, toes slightly pointed out. Bend knees and drop your butt toward the floor until quads are parallel to the ground (keep knees over toes). Press through the balls of your feet, straighten legs, and explode up off the ground—twisting your body in the air so that your complete a half-turn to the right before landing. Land with soft knees and return to the squat. On your next squat jump, twist in the opposite direction.
How many: 60 seconds x 3 sets. Hold a heavy object in front of you for an extra challenge.
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