5 Best Leg Workouts at Home (Exercises Using Light Weights)

Christiana Mikesch, CPT
Published by Christiana Mikesch, CPT | Senior Coach
Last updated: December 28, 2023
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Working out your legs is a great way to build strength and endurance, and you can do plenty of exercises right at home.

I sat down with several fitness trainers and colleagues at Total Shape to come up with the best leg exercises that don’t require going to the gym.

After our discussion, I compiled a list of favorites that use minimal equipment yet provide the most benefit.

Quick Summary

  • Some of the best leg workouts you can do at home include Goblet Squats, Pendulum Lunges, and Romanian Deadlifts.
  • Engage in leg exercises at home by incorporating weights, resistance bands, body weight, or a combination of these options.
  • As per a National Institute of Health study, a 10-week home exercise program enhanced strength and quality of life for hip fracture patients and sustained these benefits for at least 3 months post-completion.
  • As a fitness trainer, I have personally observed my clients consistently enhance their lower body stability and balance by incorporating the classic squat and high-quality supplements.

Best Leg Workouts to Do at Home

Doing leg and squat exercises at home using resistance bands

For the best leg workouts to do at home, I've categorized effective exercises into three types: Weighted Exercises (utilizing dumbbells, barbells, or kettlebells), Body Weight Exercises, and Resistance Band Exercises.

As a fitness trainer, organizing leg workouts into these categories serves as a helpful guide for individuals to select exercises that align with their preferences, fitness levels, and available equipment. This categorization makes leg training adaptable and simple for everyone.

Read More: Best Kettlebell Leg Exercises to Tone Your Lower Body

Leg Workout with Weights

Holding kettlebell for leg workouts

To avoid injuries, ensure that your weights are appropriate for your current fitness level. According to the National Institute of Health, consider increasing the weight as you progressively build muscle strength [1].

Here are a few examples:

1. Goblet Squat

Goblet squats are a comprehensive full-body exercise, targeting the quads, calves, glutes, core, and also involving the arms and grip strength due to the weight held.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-distance apart, toes angled outward.
  2. Hold a weight with both hands at chest level.
  3. Maintain a forward gaze while engaging your core.
  4. Inhale as you push your hips back and bend your knees until your hips are below parallel with your knees.
  5. Keep the weight close to your body throughout the entire movement.
  6. Shift your weight slightly toward your heels.
  7. At the lowest point of the squat, ensure your elbows are on the inside of each knee.
  8. Exhale as you rise, pressing through your heels, and return to the starting position.

2. Pendulum Lunges

A woman doing pendulum lunges exercise

This modified version of the traditional lunge targets your glutes, quads, and hamstrings. Start with lighter weights, gradually increasing as you become stronger and more accustomed to the exercise.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Step forward with your right foot into a classic lunge position, ensuring your right thigh is parallel to the floor and your body remains upright.
  2. Push off your right foot to move into a reverse lunge.
  3. Keep your right foot from touching the ground throughout the movement.
  4. Repeat for 30 seconds before switching to the left foot.

3. Romanian Deadlifts

Traditionally done with a barbell, although variations may involve the use of dumbbells or kettlebells.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, maintaining a slight bend in your knees.
  2. Bend forward at the hips and grasp the barbell with both hands, aligning them with your shoulders.
  3. While keeping your legs slightly bent, gaze downward and slightly forward to ensure your neck stays aligned with your back, preventing hyperextension.
  4. Squeeze your glutes, hamstrings, and core as you drive your feet into the ground, lifting your body to a fully upright position.
  5. Make sure to engage your glutes and lock your hips at the top of the movement.
  6. Lower the weight back down between your knees and toes, keeping your body parallel to the floor, your back flat, and your core engaged.
  7. Repeat the movement.

4. Step-ups

Step up exercises

To perform this leg day exercise targeting the glutes, hamstrings, and quads, you'll need a small step stool. Alternatively, you can use the bottom step of a staircase.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms at your sides.
  2. Place your left foot on the stool, ensuring your knee is bent at a 90-degree angle.
  3. Maintain an upright chest and keep your shoulders back, ensuring your upper body remains in a straight line.
  4. Push your body up using your left leg until it is fully extended, while keeping your right leg elevated.
  5. Pause briefly with your leg straight before returning to the starting position with controlled movement.
  6. Switch to the other leg and repeat, making sure to perform an equal number of repetitions for both legs.

5. Weighted Glute Bridges

To intensify the difficulty and extend the range of motion, you can perform the weighted glute bridge with your upper back supported on a bench.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Lie on your back with a barbell or kettlebell positioned over your hips.
  2. Keep your knees bent, with your feet planted on the floor and positioned close to your glutes.
  3. Hold the weight with your arms straight.
  4. Push through the floor with your heels and brace your core as you raise your hips as high as possible.
  5. Squeeze your glutes at the top and lower your hips back to the starting position under control.
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Bodyweight Workout

Jumping on a platform for bodyweight workout

Bodyweight leg exercises allow you to get a challenging and effective leg workout without equipment.

Here are a few examples:

1. Jump Squats

Jump squats are a powerful aerobic exercise that demands maximum muscle exertion in a brief timeframe, targeting the glutes, quads, hips, and hamstrings.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Begin with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Keep your back straight and core engaged.
  3. Lower your body down until your thighs parallel the floor while pushing your hips back.
  4. Explode up from the squat position and drive your arms upward, landing back in the starting position.
  5. Do not let the knees cave inwards during the exercise to ensure proper form.
  6. Repeat for desired reps.

“The squat is arguably the king of lower body exercises. When it comes to building stronger hips and legs, squat variations are must-have exercises in your workout program.”

- Tyler Read, Certified Personal Trainer

2. Reverse Lunges

Woman holding dumbbells doing lunges

Reverse lunges primarily target several muscle groups in the lower body, as well as engage the core for stability.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Stand tall with your feet shoulder-distance apart.
  2. Lunge backward as far as you can with your left leg, lowering your hips downward.
  3. Ensure your left knee almost touches the floor, while your right knee forms a 90-degree angle.
  4. From the lower lunge position, push back to the starting position using both legs simultaneously.
  5. Once you return to the starting position, repeat the exercise with your right leg.
  6. Alternate between legs, performing as many reps as possible according to your fitness level.

Also Read: How to Do Lateral Lunges

3. Single-leg Calf Raises

This exercise is a great way to isolate and strengthen the calf muscles.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Stand with your arms at your sides and feet shoulder-distance apart.
  2. Shift your weight onto one foot, raising your other leg off the ground slightly.
  3. Lean forward while maintaining a parallel position of your back to the ground.
  4. While holding this position, rise onto the ball of your foot by pushing through your heel.
  5. Keep the weight evenly distributed on both legs.
  6. Return to the starting position.
  7. Perform equal repetitions for both the left and right legs.

Workout with Resistance Bands

Lower leg workouts using resistance band

Resistance bands provide a cost-effective and convenient means to exercise the legs.

Here are a few examples:

1. Step-outs

Step-outs are an effective exercise that targets and works the quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteal muscles.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, inside a resistance band loop positioned just above the knees.
  2. Gently bend your knees, assuming a semi-squatted position.
  3. Push your knees slightly outward, engaging your core.
  4. Press your left foot into the floor as you shift your body to the right.
  5. Take a wide step with your right foot.
  6. With your stance now exceeding shoulder-width, bring your left foot toward your right until you return to the starting position.

2. Air Squats

Performing air squats on rooftop

Air squats target your thighs, hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes, helping you build muscle mass in these areas; additionally, due to the need for balance, they engage your core.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Place a resistance band around your thighs just above your knees, maintaining a shoulder-width stance.
  2. Ensure your feet stay flat on the floor throughout the exercise.
  3. Keep your core engaged.
  4. Bend at the hips and knees, lowering yourself until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  5. Hold this position for two seconds.
  6. Push through your heels to return to the starting position.
  7. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

3. Touchdown Jacks

Touchdown jacks provide a comprehensive full-body workout, engaging your legs, core, and arms.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Attach the resistance band around your ankles and stand tall with your feet positioned under your hips, toes pointed outwards.
  2. Brace your core and jump your feet beyond your shoulder distance.
  3. Simultaneously raise your arms above your head.
  4. Ensure you jump your feet out wide enough, stretching the band wide.
  5. Jump your feet back to the starting position while simultaneously lowering your arms down.
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Over the years, at-home leg exercises have contributed to developing stronger muscles and enhancing my clients' well-being, as supported by a study published by the National Institute of Health [2].

FAQs

What Exercise Builds Leg Muscles the Fastest?

The exercise that builds leg muscles the fastest is squats because they work almost all the muscles in your lower body, like quads, hip flexors, hip abductors, hamstrings, and glutes.

Should I Work Out My Legs Every Day?

You should not work out your legs every day. Muscles need time to recover between workouts to avoid injury and reap the most benefit from your sessions. You can have a leg day three times per week, with each session targeting different areas.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4215195/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2956597/
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About The Author

Christiana Mikesch, CPT
Senior Coach
Christiana Mikesch, CPT is a personal trainer and author with contributions to publications like the Chicago Tribune and Yahoo. She emphasizes a holistic approach to weight loss, combining an energy-fueling diet, goal-oriented workouts, and daily habits. Her approach avoids short-term goals and fosters a lifelong commitment to health and well-being.
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Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer
Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Holistic Nutrition from Clayton College of Natural Health and is the owner of Taylor Made Fitness. Her philosophy centers on cutting through the hype and misinformation surrounding dietary supplements, focusing instead on practical, science-backed strategies for health and weight loss.
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Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
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