Bodyweight Leg Workout (Get Strong & Sculpted Legs)

Christiana Mikesch, CPT
Published by Christiana Mikesch, CPT | Senior Coach
Last updated: November 29, 2023
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Enhancing your fitness regimen with an effective bodyweight leg workout can be a game changer for gaining lower body strength and toned legs.

During my decade-long career as a fitness professional, I have discovered some tried-and-true exercises that work your quads, hamstrings, calves, and glutes. Here I will discuss them and some variations for additional muscle challenges.

Let’s begin.

Quick Summary

  • Squats and lunges are two standard bodyweight moves for leg workouts.
  • Squat and lunge variations can accommodate different fitness levels.
  • You can have a designated leg day or incorporate leg exercises into a full-body workout.

Leg Exercises Using Just Your Body Weight

When you want to train your legs with only bodyweight exercises, you will use two primary movement patterns: squats and lunges.

Let’s take a closer look at each.


A woman performing bodyweight leg workout

The squat is the unrivaled king of lower-body exercises to build strength and stability in your hips and leg muscles. It also engages your core muscles.

Bodyweight squats offer different difficulty levels, making them accessible to people of all fitness levels.

Beginners can start with chair squats, while those more experienced can try standard or jump squats for an extra challenge.

Muscles Trained

When performing standard squats, you will be targeting the following muscles:

  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Abdominals
  • Calves

Standard Bodyweight Squat

A woman doing a standard bodyweight squat

Here’s how to do them:

  • Stand with feet about hip-width apart and toes slightly outward.
  • Shift weight back to your heels while tightening your core and keeping your chest up.
  • Lower yourself until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  • Keep your chest lifted and your feet flat on the floor.
  • Exhale as you push back up to a standing position.
  • Complete 12–15 reps.

Chair Squat

A chair squat is a good option for beginners to get used to a bodyweight squat’s feel and good form.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Position a chair about a foot behind you.
  • Stand with feet just wider than hip-width apart and toes slightly outward.
  • Lower as if to sit in the chair.
  • Generate tension in legs by pushing knees outward.
  • Lower until hips touch the chair, then push through feet to stand up.
  • Keep knees pointing in the same direction as toes throughout the range of motion.

Jump Squats

A woman doing jump squats outdoors

Also known as a squat jump, do this advanced variation only after mastering the proper form of the standard bodyweight squat.

Squat jumps are plyometric exercises involving explosive movement using your body weight.

They aim to take advantage of the stretch reflex in your muscles to boost your speed and strength [1].

Here’s how to do a jump squat:

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and slightly turned outward.
  • Move your hips backward, sit back, and lower until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  • Explosively drive through each foot to stand up, extending feet and pushing through toes to leave the ground.
  • Throw your arms upward as you jump off the ground.
  • Upon landing, squat down using the same technique
  • Land with soft knees.
  • Keep knees pointing in the same direction as toes throughout the range of motion.

“As a dynamic strength training exercise, squats require several muscles in your upper and lower body to work together simultaneously.”

- Sara Lindberg, BS, MEd


Two women doing lunges

The lunge is a fundamental lower-body movement pattern that enhances balance and stability.

It engages your core and glutes to a higher degree than squats, making it a versatile exercise to incorporate into bodyweight leg workouts [2].

From basic to advanced, lunge exercises offer an array of options. If you’re a beginner, perform standard bodyweight lunges first to develop coordination and strength.

Read More: How to Do Lateral Lunges

Muscles Trained

Lunges effectively work the following major muscle groups:

  • Gluteus Maximus
  • Hamstrings
  • Quads
  • Calves

Standard Bodyweight Forward Lunge

A woman doing a standard bodyweight forward lunge

Here’s how to do it:

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart.
  • Begin with your left leg and take a large step forward (roughly 2–3 times the distance of a standard walking step).
  • Lower body until right knee is just off the floor.
  • Push through your left foot and stand back up.
  • Complete all reps for one leg, then switch to the other leg.

Split Lunge

The split lunge is also called the Bulgarian split squat and involves elevating your rear foot on a surface, which puts more load on the front leg.

Here’s how to do them:

  • Stand lunge-distance in front of a chair, with feet hip-width apart.
  • Place one foot behind you on the chair.
  • Lower your hips by bringing your back knee toward the ground.
  • Continue until the top of the front thigh is parallel to the ground and the shin is perpendicular to the floor.
  • Push through the front foot, returning to the starting position.
  • Alternate legs for each repetition, or perform one side all the way through before switching.

Side Lunge

A woman doing side lunges

Here’s how to do them:

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Take a large lateral step with your right leg.
  • Bend the knee of your right leg, sit your hips back, and keep your left leg straight.
  • Put your hands in front of you for balance, and avoid letting your knee shoot past your toes.
  • Push through the heel of the lunging leg to stand up straight and return to the starting position.
  • Repeat on the other side.

“Lunges primarily work the gluteals, quadriceps, and hamstrings. These muscles lengthen during the eccentric phase as you lower to the ground, and they contract during the concentric phase to return your body to the starting position.”

- Travis Edwards, CPT, MPT

Learn More: Side Lunges Stretches

Additional Bodyweight Moves

A woman doing glute bridge exercise

Add the following exercises to complete a good bodyweight leg workout:

Glute Bridge

Here’s how to do it:

  • Lie on your back.
  • Begin with arms at your sides, knees bent, and feet flat.
  • Engage your glutes and abs as you lift your hips toward the ceiling.
  • Maintain a straight line from knees to hips and shoulders.
  • Squeeze glutes tightly while holding for 3–5 seconds.
  • Slowly lower hips to the floor while maintaining tension in the glutes and abs.
  • Keep glutes engaged the most; adjust feet position if hamstrings are engaged instead.


A woman doing step-up exercise in the gym

Step-ups are an effective cardio and strength-training exercise to add to your leg day.

Here’s how to do them:

  • Place a 6- to 12-inch step in front of you.
  • Stand with feet hip-width apart.
  • Move your right foot forward, placing it on the step.
  • Push off the right foot to stand up straight.
  • Lift your left knee until the thigh is parallel to the floor.
  • Keep your left knee elevated and left foot off the step.
  • Return the left foot, then the right foot, to the original position.
  • Immediately alternate sides or repeat on the same side for desired reps.

Do Anywhere Workout

A woman doing bodyweight leg workout at home

Here is a sample leg workout that uses just your body weight that you can do anywhere.

Perform 4–5 rounds with a brief 20-second rest between exercises:

  • Squats x 20 reps
  • Glute Bridge x 10 reps
  • Bulgarian Split Squat x 20 reps
  • Calf Raises x 20 reps
  • Jump squat x 15 reps


Do Legs Matter in Calisthenics?

Yes, legs matter in calisthenics because gaining lower body strength will give you the power required for more advanced and explosive moves.

Can Your Legs Be Skinny But Strong?

It isn’t likely your legs can be skinny and strong because muscle hypertrophy is limited if you do a lot of cardio exercise and strength training.


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