Build strong Legs with these Bodyweight Leg Exercises
Barbell squats are obviously the king of leg exercises, but you don't necessarily have to do them in order to build strong functional legs. These 9 exercises are the best bodyweight leg exercises you can do for building functional muscle, strength, mobility, and overall athleticism.
Make sure to check out the video tutorial at the end of this post to learn how to do these bodyweight leg exercises correctly. We also challenge you to incorporate the leg circuit below in your workout this week.
9 of the Best Bodyweight Leg Exercises for Building Muscle, Strength, and Mobility
Bodyweight Leg Exercise #1: Pistol Squats
Pistol Squats are probably the best bodyweight leg exercise you can do. However, it is probably the most difficult also.
Pistols Squats are incredible for building single leg strength, balance, and for working the smaller stability muscles of the leg. They are also one of the best leg exercises for improving hip and pelvic mobility.
Tip: Progress up to full pistols slowly. Begin by practicing the exercise while holding a suspension device or a door handle.
Bodyweight Leg Exercise #2: Airborne Lunge
The Airborne Lunge is similar to the Pistol Squat, except that you float your inactive leg behind you instead of in front of you.
Like the Pistol Squat, the Airborne Lunge is great for building balance, stability, and overall strength. Airborne Lunges place more stress on the quadriceps and glutes, which is why you really can't rely on just the Pistol Squat.
Bodyweight Leg Exercise #3: Cossack Squats
The Cossack Squat is great for improving the mobility and range of motion of the hips. It is also one of the few bodyweight leg exercises that stretches the groin and inner thigh.
The Cossack Squat kind of looks like a variation of the Ukrainian Shumka dance move without all the jumping and shouting of "hey".
Like the Pistol Squat, the Cossack Squat is a skill that needs to be progressed overtime. Begin training this exercise by holding suspension handles or by supporting the body with your hands on the floor.
BODYWEIGHT Leg EXERCISE #4: Kneeling Jumps
Kneeling Jumps are one of the best bodyweight leg exercises for building explosiveness in the legs. It is important to keep the explosive system of the legs healthy, as it's a skill that will certainly be lost if you don't use it.
Kneeling Jumps are performed by starting on both knees and then jumping to a squat position. We love Kneeling Jumps because they can be used as a great cardio finisher at the end of your workout to really gas the legs and the lungs.
If you can't perform Kneeling Jumps, regular jumping squats are also a great option.
Want to learn more about Bodyweight Training. Read our other articles here
Bodyweight Leg Exercise #5: Bulgarian Split Squats
Bulgarian Split Squats are most often performed with the rear leg elevated on a bench or other platform, though beginners can start with the top of their foot flat on the ground.
Bulgarian Split Squats are a great bodyweight leg exercise for building strong quadricep and glute muscles. They also help open up the hip flexors to improve range of motion.
Tip: Super-set squats with isometric Bulgarian Split Squats for an incredible burn. Perform a set of regular squats and then try to hold the bottom position of the split squat for 30 seconds to a minute on both legs.
YOUR LEGS WILL BE SCREAMING!
Bodyweight Leg Exercise #6: Swamp Lunge
Swamp Lunges are a great bodyweight leg exercise for working in a diagonal plane of motion and for building rotational strength while in a lunge position. The dynamic nature of the movement makes it a great exercise for athletes, as it builds coordination, strength, and endurance.
Swamp Lunges are performed just like regular walking lunges, except that instead of lunging straight forward, you raise your knee up high, then extend your leg out at a 45 degree angle and lunge out to the side.
To make the move harder you can add twists or martial arts movements like punches and palm strikes to increase the level of full body coordination (demonstrated in the video).
Bodyweight Leg Exercise #7: Lateral Walking Lunge
Lateral Walking Lunges look similar to the Cossack Squat, except that you do not go as deep. Lateral Walking Lunges are great for stretching out the groin and for training to build off-balance leg strength.
Most people only train the front to back or up and down planes of motion, so lateral walking lunges are great for challenging the brain to work through an unfamiliar pattern.
Bodyweight Leg Exercise #8: Isometric Handle Pulls aka Isometric Hinge
Isometric Handle Pulls are essentially an isometric deadlift that literally stimulates the entire body. The best way to perform this exercise is with a rope or chain.
When performing this exercise you simply stand on a rope with the handle between the legs. Then squatting down to grab the handle, you stand up holding the rope to restrict your ability to fully extend. Pull as hard as possible for 10 seconds and then rest.
Watch the video and you'll see how it works your entire body. The description does not do it justice. In the video coach Jim looks like his head is going to explode...literally.
Bodyweight Leg Exercise #9: Isometric Squats or Wall Sits
Wall sits and isometric squats are probably the bodyweight leg exercise folks are most familiar with.
When performing this exercise you can hold the bottom of an air squat or sit with your back up against the wall. Regardless of which version you choose, the goal is to hold the contracted position of the squat for as long as possible.
Tip: Keep the legs at 90 degrees and press into the floor, corkscrewing your knees and ankles outward. This will dramatically increase the contraction and place the stress on the muscles, not your knees and ankle joints.
Conclusion: These are 9 of the best bodyweight leg exercises you can do for building muscle, strength, and mobility. As mentioned above, the best part about bodyweight leg exercises is that they can easily be modified to change the way they challenge the leg.
Bodyweight leg exercises also do not put any excess pressure on the spine, hips, or knees, making them much better for those interested in training for the long haul. Watch the tutorial below and then give some of these a try this week.
Bodyweight Leg Exercise Workout Circuit
The following bodyweight leg workout focuses on building leg strength, endurance, and hip mobility by focusing on single leg movements. The workout is designed to be used as a finisher at the end of your workout or as a stand alone leg workout.
Instructions: Complete as many rounds as possible of the following bodyweight leg circuit as you can in 5 minutes. Rest as much as you need to between exercises and rounds.
- Pistol Squats - 5 Reps Each Leg
- Airborne Lunge - 10 Reps Each Leg
- Bulgarian Split Squats - 5 Reps Each Leg