Tone and tighten your lower body with these easy exercises that build leg strength.
When it comes to building leg strength, functional exercises are key to making a difference in your daily activities. They not only help you improve on activities you love like running, swimming, etc., but also make everyday movements, like getting in and out of your car, easier. Functional training replicates daily movements by moving your body in every plane of motion, as opposed to isolation exercises that can cause muscle imbalance (and increase your risk of injury).
We’ve put together the best bodyweight exercises to build functional leg strength. These easy moves will help you increase flexibility, improve posture, and reduce your chance of injury. The best part? You can do all of these exercises from the comfort of your home – no gym pass or fancy equipment required.
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Begin by standing with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width distance. Have your heels in and toes pointing out slightly. On an inhale, start to bend your knees and sit back like you are going to sit in a chair. Keep the chest lifted and the core engaged. Exhale to stand back up. See if you can keep the weight in your heels and drive through your heels when you come back up to stand. Repeat for 20 reps.
2. Double Bounce Sumo Squat
Start in a sumo squat position with your feet wider than hip-width and toes pointed out at 45° angles. Keeping the weight in your heels, bend your knees towards 90° to squat low. Bounce up to a half squat position, then back all the way down to your full squat. Exhale to stand up all the way to your starting position and squeeze your glutes. Repeat for 12 reps, counting each time you stand as one rep.
Exercise: Double Bounce Sumo Squat
3. Walking Lunges
Start by standing with your feet together and your hands on your hips. Inhale to take a big step out with your right foot, bend your knee towards 90°, hovering your left knee a couple of inches above the ground. Exhale to step your left foot to meet your right and stand up. This time, take a big step out with your left foot on an inhale. Bend your left knee towards 90° and hover your right knee a couple of inches above the ground. Exhale to step your right foot to meet your left.
Continue alternating for 10 lunges, then turn around and go the other way for 10 more. Make sure to keep your abs engaged and shoulders back for the entire exercise.
4. Lunge Hops
Start standing with your feet together and your elbows bent at your sides to 90° angles. Shift the weight into your right foot and with your left foot, take a giant step back so that that you land in a lunge on the right leg. Exhale to press through the right foot and jump up, bringing the left knee forward. Gently land back in your lunge. Repeat for 15 reps and then switch sides.
Tip: Look at one unmoving point and keep your core engaged to help stay balanced.
Exercise: Lunge Hops/Walking Lunges
5. Wall Sit
To begin, stand with your back against the wall and the feet hip-width distance. Walk your feet out about 1½ feet, then keeping your back on the wall, slide down into a squat position. Readjust your feet to make sure that you end up with a 90o bend in the knees, with the knees stacked above the ankles. Bend the elbows and place the hands behind the head. Keep your belly engaged and your torso upright. Hold this position for one minute.
6. Speed Skaters
Start with your weight on your right leg, bend your knee like you are going into a squat, and keeping the left leg straight, tap the left toes towards the floor behind you. Exhale and leap laterally to land on the left leg, bend your left knee into a squat and, keeping the right leg straight, tap the right toes to the floor behind you. Continue hopping side-to-side for 20 reps each side.
Begin by lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Place your hands down alongside your body, with your hands pressing into the mat. Walk your feet in towards your butt and keep them hip-width distance. Exhale to press through the feet and palms and lift your hips towards the ceiling. Inhale to slowly roll back down to the mat, one vertebrae at a time. Repeat for 15 reps.
8. Single Leg Bridge
Begin by lying on your back on a mat. Bend your knees so your feet are flat on the ground, hip-width distance apart, with your heels close in towards your glutes. Extend your left leg up towards the ceiling. Using the right leg, press into the heel to lift the hips up, creating a straight line from your knee to your shoulders. Squeeze your glutes at the top, then slowly lower the hips back down. Tap the hips to the floor and then repeat. Repeat for 15 repetitions and then switch sides.
Exercise: Single Leg Bridge
9. Round the World Kickbacks
Begin by kneeling down on all fours. Pull the navel in towards your spine to engage your core. Take your right leg and straighten it back behind you, tapping your toes to the floor. Lift your right leg parallel to the ground, keeping the toes pointed down, and sweep the leg out and around to the side (making a big half-circle). Bend your knee and lower it to meet your other leg. Repeat that for 10 reps and then switch legs.
Exercise: Round the World Kickbacks
10. Samurai Side-to-Side Lunges
Start by standing with your feet extra wide and with your toes pointing forward. Reach your arms out in front of you. Keeping the weight in your heels, slowly bend into your right leg, sitting your hips into a lunge and keeping the left leg straight. Exhale to stand back up. Now slowly bend into the left leg. Exhale to stand back up. Continue shifting side-to-side for 20 reps.
Exercise: Samurai Side-to-Side Lunges
11. Duck Waddle Squats
Begin in a low squat, getting down to least 90o and keeping the weight in your heels. Lean your body weight onto your right leg so that you can slightly lift your left foot and take a small step about 4 inches forward. Now shift your weight onto your left leg so you can take a small step forward with your right foot. Continue until you take 10 mini steps forward. Stand up, taking a 10-second break, then turn around and go back in the other direction for 10 more steps. Do this 4 times total for 40 reps.
Exercise: Duck Waddle Squats
12. Prone Heel Taps
Lie down on your belly to start. Rest your forehead on the backs of your hands and bend your knees to 90° angles. Flare your knees out to the sides and hover them above the ground, about an inch. Bring your heels together to touch, tapping them together. Open the heels again, then repeat for 15 reps. Do each movement slowly, exhaling each time you tap your heels. Make sure to keep your knees lifted at least one inch off the ground the entire time.
Exercise: Prone Heel Taps
13. Side Plank Leg Lifts
Start by lying on your side, leaning on your right forearm and placing your left hand on your hip. Flex your feet and stack your left foot on top of your right. Press down through the edge of your right foot and your forearm to lift your hips and torso off the ground into a side plank.
Keeping your side plank, exhale and lift your left leg in the air as high as you can without sinking your hips. Inhale to slowly lower your left leg back down, keeping your side plank position, squeezing your thighs and knees together. Continue lifting your left leg up and down for 8 reps, and then switch sides.
Exercise: Side Plank Leg Lifts
14. Superhero Lunge Takeoffs
Start in a semi-lunge position with your front knee at a 90° angle and lifting your back heel off the ground. Bring your opposite arm forward in a 90° position and your other arm back in a running position. Press into your front leg and lift the back knee forward, switching your arms at the same time. Lift all the way up onto your front toes before lowering back down to the starting lunge position. Repeat 5 reps on one side and then switch.
Exercise: Superhero Lunge Takeoffs
15. Low Lunge Kickbacks
Begin in a low runner’s lunge position on your right leg, with your fingertips on the floor in front of your toes. Keep your back straight and your gaze forward. Lean your weight forward so all the weight is on your right foot. Now kick your left leg up into the air, squeezing your glutes and thigh. Slowly lower back into your runner’s lunge position to tap the left toes to the floor. Repeat for 6 reps, then switch sides.
Exercise: Low Lunge Kickbacks
Start by standing with your feet together. Bend your knees and lower into a deep squat position to bring your hands down to the floor. Jump your legs back, lightly landing in a high plank position on your hands. Jump your feet back into your low squat position and jump up, reaching your hands overhead. Repeat for 10 reps.
Tip: To modify, take out the jump and just stand up.
Start kneeling down on a mat on both knees. Clasp your hands together at your chest and engage your core. Pick your right knee up and place your right foot on the mat, bending your knee at a 90° angle. Press into your right foot and pick your left knee up. Place your left foot on the mat, bending both knees at a 90° angle (you are now in a squat). Engage your core, shift your weight onto your left leg, and lower down to your right knee. Shift the weight to your right knee and lower your left knee down, ending up kneeling in the starting position on both knees. Repeat that 8 times with the right leg going up and down first, then switch sides for 8 reps with the left leg up and down first.
18. Single Leg Deadlifts
Start by standing with your feet together, placing your right hand on your hip and reaching your left hand out slightly in front of you. Shift the weight onto your right leg and straighten the left leg behind you. Tap the left toes to the floor. Squeeze the shoulder blades together and keep the core tight as you inhale and simultaneously begin to lower your chest and lift your left leg. Keep a micro bend in your right knee and your core engaged. Pause once your chest and leg are parallel the floor, reaching your left hand towards your right foot. You should feel a stretch through the right hamstrings, and then exhale and slowly stand back up to the starting position. Repeat for 12 reps on this side and then switch sides.
Exercise: Single Leg Deadlifts
19. Squat Thrusters
Start by standing in a squat position with your hands in front of your chest. Make sure to keep the weight in your heels, sticking your booty back. Lean forward on your toes and place your hands on the ground, shoulder-width distance. Lean the weight onto your hands and inhale to jump back into a high plank position. Keep your core and glutes engaged as you exhale to jump your feet back into the squat position, lifting your chest back up. Repeat for 8 reps.
Exercise: Squat Thrusters
20. Downward Dog with Leg Raises
Begin on your hands and knees in a tabletop position. Tuck your toes, press into your hands, and lift your hips towards the ceiling. Lift your right leg high towards the ceiling, squeezing your glutes at the top, and slowly lower the leg back down to tap the toes to the floor. Repeat lifting and lowering the same leg for 14 repetitions, and then switch sides.
Exercise: Downward Dog with Leg Raises
21. Curtsy Lunges
Begin standing with your feet together and hands in front of your chest. Inhale and with your right leg, take a big step back to “curtsy” behind your left leg, bending your knee towards 90o. Keep your core engaged as your hover the right knee about an inch above the ground. Press into your left foot on an exhale to stand back up to start. Next, inhale and step your left foot back to “curtsy” behind your right leg. Press into your right foot and stand back up to the starting position. Continue alternating side-to-side for 12 reps each.
Exercise: Curtsy Lunges
(Your Next Workout: Dirty Dozen Bodyweight Workout)