Laura Flynn Endres
The 16 Best Leg Exercises for Home Workouts
After a warm-up, I start almost every client's workout with a squat variation. And usually, it's a pretty standard and safe variation like bodyweight squats or goblet squats.
Mostly, because I believe squats are THE best leg exercise, end of story.
I train my clients in their homes, where we don't usually have access to barbells or squat racks, so we do body weight variations and also use dumbbells, kettlebells, and even TRX bands to enhance our squats.
But they're not the only leg exercise you should include in your workout routine. To build strong, balanced, shapely and powerful legs, you'll want to work your quadriceps, hamstrings, inner and outer thighs, calves, and glutes.
Here is my list of the 16 best leg exercises you should be doing in your home workouts!
You need to get up out of chairs and off the toilet, so you've gotta do squats. There are many great squat variations, but my favorites are:
and Jump Squats:
For beginners and people with balance or knee problems, I include chair squats. For clients who can handle more challenging variations, I might assign bulgarian split squats, pistol squats, or have them do a squat + jump squat pyramid! (Those are especially evil.)
Lunges are excellent for building strength and muscle endurance in your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, but they also require balance and that makes them harder and more beneficial!
My go-to lunge variation is the Reverse Lunge. They're more knee-friendly than the typical forward lunge variation you typically see people doing. In fact, I almost never have my clients do forward lunges! I find most people don't take a big enough forward step, can't control the landing, and end up doing more harm than good.
Another favorite is the Stationary Lunge. These are a level up from reverse lunges and are a true test of strength, so we might start with only 5-8 reps.
I might have clients do these first without holding weights, and instead, they'll assume a split stance near a chair or wall for help with balance and lower their back knee to a yoga block or pillow, both for accountability in depth and to cushion their knee should they land too hard. Take a wide enough stance that your knees are at a 90 degree bend at the bottom, and take care to press equally through both feet.
To build power, make it plyometric. The jump lunges you usually see are too hard for most of my clients, and that simply invites poor form and puts them at higher risk for injury. Even in my demo video for jump lunges, I'm adding an extra pulse in every rep to slow down the move and make it safer for myself!
A better variation that's still wickedly hard is the Power Lunge, where you drive your knee up to power a jump on the supporting leg.
Reverse Power Lunges:
You pick things up from the floor, so you need to deadlift. Deadlifts are a hip hinge movement, and one of my main goals as a trainer is to help my clients develop the proper form and muscular strength to do it easily and with less risk of injury.
In fact, in an effort to keep our training practical, sometimes we use household items like a grocery bag filled with dumbbells or a heavy box to practice this exercise!
Deadlifts are important because we don't use good form to pick things up. We often lean to one side and hinge down on mostly one leg to grab something off the floor, usually without much thought to whether or not we should or might hurt ourselves. Stories of back injuries are usually not impressive and go along the lines of, "I bent down to pick up some towels off the floor and next thing I know...."
But if we practice this move, we'll build the muscle strength to support the movement, and train our muscle memory to automatically use proper form because of repetitive practice.
The B-stance deadlift allows you to use one foot as a kickstand for balance, like this:
A harder variation would be to let the non-supporting leg hinge up behind you, like this:
Strong, shapely glutes are all the fashion these days! And, strong glutes are a game-changer for keeping your hips and knees tracking properly. Glutes get weak from too much sitting, so let's fix that!
These are the best exercises for building glutes.
Safe for everyone, these are assigned to every client.
To make these harder, you can place your feet on a step or stability ball, press up and pulse a few times in the top position, or press up and hold. FIRE!
Then, go next level with single-leg hip bridges.
Single-Leg Hip Bridge:
Do your weaker side first for as many reps as you can; then match that number with the other leg!
Hip thrusts are another fantastic exercise. Set up by sitting on the floor very close to a bench or coffee table or couch. When you press up, you'll want to be sure your knees are at about a 90 degree bend and your shoulder blades are on the bench. Be sure it isn't only your head on the bench - that will put strain on your neck.
Also, make sure whatever piece of furniture you're using for equipment won't move. Using a chair, like I am in the video below, isn't ideal, but I pressed it against the wood burning stove so it wouldn't slide. Using my couch would be better - it won't move and the soft surface is more comfortable!
If you want to reeeeeally challenge your glutes, try Side Hip Raises. These work your gluteus medius, the smallest of the three glute muscles. This muscle aids in balance, gait form, and stabilizing the hips.
This one is an evil little effer, so don't be surprised if you can't do very many at first.
Side Hip Raises:
I HATE WORKING CALVES. (Sorry for yelling.)
At track practice in high school, I would whine about doing the required 200 reps of calf raises more than 60 minutes of running drills. That's how much I hate them.
But fine, they're important, blah blah blah, so I do them.
If you really want to cry - er, I mean get a challenge - do single-leg calf raises!
INNER & OUTER THIGH MUSCLES
Officially called Adductor and Abductor muscles, these play a supporting role but are important nonetheless. Add them to the accessory and maintenance portion of your workouts.
Inner Thigh Leg Lifts:
To work outer thighs, everyone is familiar with the traditional side leg lifts while lying on your side. Those are great. But if you want to work both legs a bit more, add standing side kicks!
Standing Side Kicks:
For dozens more leg exercises, check out my Lower Body Exercise Playlist on YouTube!
You don't need to do all 16 leg exercises in a single workout. Choose one or two from each section, and do them for 4-8 weeks, noting how you are able to add reps, increase the difficulty, and so. Then, change it up and choose different variations for your next 4-8 week cycle. That's what I do with my clients! And we keep good notes so we can look back and see how far they've come!
Plus, they start saying things like, "I picked up and moved 50 bricks in the garage and it wasn't even that hard!" and that's my favorite testimonial of all.
I have three options for working with you!
Play my Game! This is the most affordable option, and also the most fun!
Join my Online Zoom Group! Group workouts, twice a week, beginner-intermediate level.
Train with Me! I usually have space for one or two more private clients.