‘Do not skip leg days!’ The universal advice reverberates in gyms and fitness circles for a reason. Although the exercises tend to be strenuous and tough, strengthening the leg muscles is important, as it provides the foundation to perform any physical activity efficiently – be it strength training routines, sports or normal day-to-day activities. For a leg workout, one need not have a gym membership, heavy weights or any other equipment; it can be done at home using some effective bodyweight exercises.
“Legs are the foundation of the body,” says Kishan Thapa, a senior fitness trainer from Ahmedabad. “Strengthening the leg muscles not only helps avoid injuries, but also helps rectify postural issues. It is important not just for those who are into strength training but for every individual who performs simple activities like brisk walking daily.”
Thapa, however, recommends caution for elderly people and those with knee injuries. “Older adults and those with knee problems should seek medical approval from the doctor before starting any leg workout at home, especially if it is done unsupervised,” he says. “They can start the different exercises with lower intensity or reps — something like two sets of 15 reps each, where the repetitions and sets can be increased over time.”
However, the muscles need rest as well, and spacing out the workout sessions is important. “Leg workouts are not supposed to be done every day and should be attempted once or at the most twice a week,” says Thapa. “The counts should not exceed 20, and the sets should not be more than three. It is not necessary to do all types of leg exercises. If done properly, four exercises are enough to build strength in the legs.”
Leg workouts that can be performed at home
Some common exercises for strengthening the leg muscles that can be done at home include:
1. Bodyweight squats
Stand straight, keeping the legs hip-length apart. If needed, they can be aligned slightly outside the hips. Slowly lower the body to a 90-degree angle from the knee by keeping the back straight and shoulders erect, with the toes pointing forward. Once the form and technique are mastered, you can include weights (like a 5 kg dumbbell or a kettlebell) while doing the exercise.
2. Goblet squats
This full-body workout should be done after warming up properly. It targets multiple muscle groups, including the quadriceps, glutes and calves, along with the core and arm muscles. You should incorporate this exercise into your routine only after mastering the regular squat form. In addition, you can include weights as well.
Stand by keeping your legs a bit wider than your hips, with the toes pointing outward. Hold a dumbbell or a kettlebell close to the chest with both hands throughout the exercise. Lower the hips below knee level, keeping the back straight. Press through your heels and return to the starting position.
3. Sumo squats
This exercise targets multiple muscle groups, including the inner thigh muscles, glutes, hamstrings, calves and quadriceps.
Stand with the feet a few inches wider than the hips, with the toes pointing outward. Now, lower the body while keeping the knees pointed outward while going down. The back and neck should be kept straight, and the head should face forward during the exercise. Weights can also be used while doing sumo squats, such as a dumbbell or kettlebell held with both hands at the center of the body.
4. Squat jumps
Squat jumps provide benefits of both cardio and strengthening exercises. However, it should not be attempted by beginners and must be performed only after warming up.
Stand by keeping the feet at shoulder width, with the knees slightly bent. Lower the body to a full squat position. While coming up, propel the body upwards a few inches off the floor, with the legs fully extended. Upon landing, one should return to the squat position.
5. Duck walk
Start with a full squat position. Raise the heels and balance the body on the toes before walking forward. Cover the length of the room (15–25 meters maximum). Take a break and repeat the exercise. A maximum of three sets is recommended.
Lunges are a popular compound exercise that targets the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and calves.
Stand with the legs hip-width apart. Take one step forward and then bend the legs to 90 degrees. Return to the original position and repeat the same with the other leg. The advanced version of this exercise includes doing it with weights and performing walking lunges.
7. Romanian deadlift (stiff leg deadlift)
Romanian deadlifts activate the posterior thigh muscles and can also be done with dumbbells.
Stand by keeping the legs hip-length apart. Hold the dumbbells in both hands and lower them down to the shin bone. The dumbbells should be held just outside the shin bone, and there should not be any arch in the back. While lifting, a stretch should be felt in the hamstrings.
Step-ups are one of the most effective leg workouts or conditioning exercises that target all the muscles in the region.
This exercise can be done on the stairs at home. One should climb a step and then return to the starting position, repeating the same movement in a single set. Beginners should start at a slow tempo, and the intensity can be increased over time once the muscles get accustomed to the movement and loading. In addition, the leg used to climb the stairs should be alternated with each set.
9. Standing calf raises
Besides strengthening the calf muscles, this exercise can also help improve ankle stability and overall balance.
Stand upright by keeping the feet hip-width apart, with the toes pointing forward. Raise the heels and lower them back to the starting position. Repeat the movement multiple times.