To walk, run, climb, or jump you need a strong set of legs and glutes to hold you steady and propel you forward. That’s why it’s so important to train your lower body—and you don’t need equipment to do it.
”When you train the legs using only bodyweight against gravity, you have a greater sense of your own proprioception and you’re less likely to get injured.” Plus, you shouldn’t jump right into weights if it’s your first time doing strength exercises. Start with bodyweight-only to build a firm base, then work your way up to grabbing dumbbells or a barbell.
Another payoff to bodyweight-only exercises is that you can easily scale them up or down and focus on different training goals. “Beginners can shorten the range of motion on moves like squats,” McFaden explains, as this will help them hone in on form. “And, for more advanced athletes, you can play with things like turning a basic squat into a plyometric squat just by jumping—this will increase your power.” You can also do reps of 20 or more, or go for five sets or more to help improve your endurance.
Aaptiv Trainer Ackeem Emmons likes lower body exercises best because they recruit the most muscles. “[These moves] improve upper body lifts, strengthen your lower body, and burn the most calories,” he says. “Our legs are the biggest and strongest muscles on our bodies.”
Here’s Ackeem’s favorite exercises to build legs:
To top it off, you can obviously do bodyweight lower body exercises anywhere! That means you can squeeze in a little sweat while you’re traveling or simply hanging around your living room. So, to help you improve on your strength, endurance, balance, and power—no matter where you are—try these eight top exercises, recommended by McFaden and Emmons.
To build strength in your butt and your hamstrings, without adding stress to the joints, do this move, says McFaden.
Start by lying on your back, knees bent, and feet planted on the floor. Push off your heels as you drive your hips toward the ceiling, engaging through the glutes and hamstrings.
The perfect exercise to work on balance and target your entire lower body, this move takes the typical lunge in a forward motion.
Start by standing. Step one foot forward, dropping down to a 90-degree bend in both knees. Push off the heel of your front foot to step up. As you bring your back leg forward, place it down in front of your other leg. Then, drop down to a 90-degree bend in both knees. Continue stepping forward, as you hit a lunge with each step.
Work your backside and your inner thighs in one move.
Start by standing, feet wider than your hips, and toes pointed slightly outward. Drop your hips down, keeping your chest up, until your hips come just below your knees. If this range of motion is too much for you, don’t drop your hips as low. Press off your heels to stand.
A killer way to work on balance, this will fire up the stabilizing muscles of your standing leg.
Start by standing on your right leg, with a slight bend in the knee. Lift your left leg back behind you, keeping it straight, thinking about pressing your heel to the back of the room. At the same time, move your chest forward toward the floor. You should move like a saw, as your left leg comes up, your chest goes down. Keep your core engaged, as you drive off your right standing foot to come back up.
Kneeling Jump Squat
An advanced version of your classic bodyweight squat, you’ll burn more calories by turning on your aerobic system—and getting your heart pumping with this exercise.
Start on your knees, placed hip-width apart. Draw both arms back and use the momentum of your arms to jump up into a squat position. Step one foot back down at a time to return to the kneeling position and repeat. Can’t jump up? Take it one step at a time.
Another exercise that uses your explosive power, focus on spending more time in the air, and less time on the ground with this move. “This is a progressive exercise that I enjoy because it develops power, coordination, and really gets your heart rate up,” says Emmons.
Stand in a lunge position, with your right foot forward and left foot back. Lower down into a lunge, bending both knees 90 degrees. Drive off your front heel as you jump up, switching feet mid-air. Land softly back down into a lunge on the other side and continue alternating.
Plyo Single-Leg Deadlift
You should feel this exercise in your hamstrings and glutes—you’ll be working on balance and explosiveness.
Stand on your right leg, with a slight bend in the knee. Bend forward at the hips, sending your left leg to the back and chest toward the ground. Aim to get your chest and left leg parallel to the floor. In one quick movement, swing the arms forward, stand upright, and jump up off the floor, pushing off your right toes. Land softly back down on the right leg.
“I like this movement because you can measure your progress over time,” says Emmons. Once you get comfortable with one height, bump it up to a higher step. “Plus, you stimulate all of the muscles in your legs—and it’s a lot of fun.” He suggests practicing this on a soft, solid surface.
Start standing with feet a little wider than hip-width apart. Lower into a deep squat, weight in heels. Drive the arms back as you descend, then quickly drive your arms forward as you jump up, driving your knees to your chest. Jump up onto the box, landing softly with bent knees. Step back down and repeat.
Work these no-equipment lower body moves into your weekly Aaptiv routine or next time you’re on the road for a leg and glute boost.