Looking to perform leg exercises at home but don’t have access to a barbell? Below I’ve outlined 44 lower body exercises that require minimal equipment.
The barbell is undoubtedly one of the most useful tools for building lower body strength. But if you’re training your legs at home and you don’t have access to a rack or a ton of weight, heavy squats and deadlifts are out of the question.
The good news is that there are still plenty of great home leg exercises and squat variations you can perform with little to no equipment (and a splash of creativity).
You’ll already find some great basic progressions in the Bodyweight Fitness RR, so I recommend checking that out if you haven’t already. In this post, I thought I’d list everything available, alongside some alternatives that you can incorporate into your at home leg workout.
I hope this is useful to you. Any questions, let me know in the comments section and I’ll get back to you if I can help.
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These basic squat progressions are a great bodyweight leg exercise to start with if you’re new to training or returning from a long layoff. The weighted versions are also suitable for more experienced trainees who have access to weights.
The deep squat is one of our primary positions. Spending time down there will help open up the hips and ankles, and generally provide more freedom of movement when you’re low to the ground. You can elevate your heels or use a support if required, gradually moving towards flat feet and an upright torso.
The box squat is a great way to scale the air squat. Squat down to a sturdy box or chair, gradually reducing the height over time. Begin with your feet at hips-width apart or slightly wider, with the feet forward or slightly out. Maintaining the arch in your feet by screwing them into the floor, you’re going to initiate the movement by hinging at the hips (sending the hips back) followed by bending at the knees. Pause for a second as you touch down on the box, then drive back up to an upright position.
Use the same cues as the box squat, but without using the box or chair as a support.
If you have access to a kettlebell, dumbbell or a backpack you can fill with heavy items, grasp it in front of you like a goblet and perform a squat. Keep the chest lifted. This front-squat esq position adds the extra challenge of maintaining an upright torso. Use a box to begin with if needed.
Remove the box and perform a full goblet squat.
A partner can be used to apply varying amounts of force onto your shoulders to increase the difficulty of the squat in the upwards or downwards phase of the movement – also known as accommodating resistance. This can range from light pressure on the shoulders, to a full piggyback position.
I thought I’d include a few of the more traditional squat variations as well. For the back squat, you can go low or high bar. Heavy sandbags, a weighted vest and backpack can all work as fairly decent at-home options, although the barbell is ideal. As with the other variations, send the hips back first and screw the feet into the floor throughout.
The front squat adds the extra challenge of maintaining an upright torso, so requires more thoracic mobility compared to the back squat. It’s also a little more quad dominant. Keep the chest lifted, elbows high and torso upright. Again, a barbell is ideal, but double kettlebells or dumbbells can work to a degree.
The overhead squat might be the ultimate test of ankle, hip, thoracic and shoulder mobility. It’s a great exercise to experiment with if you have access to a barbell or a couple of kettlebells. Heck, even a broomstick is enough to get started with. Try hard to maintain an upright torso, straight arms and ribs down.
The shrimp squat is a challenging bodyweight leg exercise that builds an excellent foundation of single leg strength for the pistol squat, as well as more advanced tricks like the dragon squat.
Begin by focussing on the negative portion (also known as the lowering phase or eccentric). To start, stand on one leg, ensuring the arch of the foot is lifted. Hinge back at the hips with the trailing leg trailing behind, knee bent. Controlling the descent, touch the rear shin to the floor. You can then stand up using assistance (a wall or partner) or via the air squat. If this is too challenging, you can shorten the range of motion using a pillow or block, or use assistance on the lowering phase.
Using a step or some blocks, perform a full shin shrimp with reduced range of motion. Allow the shin to gently touch down to the floor/block/step, then drive back up to standing on one leg.
For the shin shrimp, you’re going freely to lower the shin to the floor with control, and then drive up from the same position using only the standing leg. No blocks or steps.
For the full shrimp, we eliminate the shin touch entirely. So you’re going to slowly lower down to the knee on the back foot and drive up from there. Be careful to land as softly as possible with the knee. For an extra challenge you can keep the heel of the non standing leg in contact with your glutes.
Stand on an elevated surface – a step, bench, blocks – and perform the shrimp through an extended range of motion. As a general rule of thumb, increasing ROM makes a movement harder. It’s also a great way to improve mobility.
Add weight to your shrimp squat via a weighted vest or backpack. Dumbbells / kettlebells may also work, but be careful with your balance.
The pistol requires a high degree of ankle dorsiflexion and hip flexion. It’s a great unilateral squat alternative that you can do pretty much anywhere. Some people who find the shrimp squat a bit dodgy on the knees get on much better with the pistol.
The setup for the pistol squat is similar to the shrimp squat, but as opposed to having the non-standing leg trailing behind, it comes straight out in front of the body. Initiate the movement by hinging at the hips and sitting backwards, keeping the quads on the non-standing leg active to help it remain straight out in front of you. Lower with as much control as possible to the floor, then you can either go straight into an air squat to return to standing, or roll onto your back and pop back up into the air squat.
Many people find that getting out of the bottom position of the pistol is the most challenging part. Spending some time down there, alternating sides, can often help build the strength and stability required to overcome pistol plateaus.
Grab onto a railing or band and use as little support as possible to get through the full pistol squat. You’ll likely need the most support as you rise out of the bottom position, and less in the eccentric phase.
Gradually remove the assistance to progress to the full pistol squat, pausing in the bottom position to increase the difficulty.
A backpack or a weighted vest can be a great way to add load to the pistol squat to increase the difficulty.
Lunges are a great way to open up the hip flexors which often become shortened from prolonged sitting, which can have a knock on effect on posture. The cossack squat is also included in this section, an excellent frontal plane movement (and useful for developing the side splits).
From a neutral position with an upright torso, you’re going to step back with one leg and lower the hips back and down. Keep the core active and the glute on the rear leg engaged (to support the lower back). Gently lower the back knee to the floor or hover it an inch above, before driving back up to the starting position. You can perform a set on each side, or alternate sides for each repetition.
For many, the forward lunge presents more of a challenge than stepping backwards as it feels less stable. You’re essentially going to perform the same movement pattern, except you’ll step forward into the lunge as opposed to stepping back. It’s a great way to practice deceleration and rebounding – useful in various sporting scenarios.
The cossack squat is a frontal plane exercise, meaning we’re moving from side to side. It’s great for strengthening and lengthening the adductors and building the active flexibility needed for the side splits. Keeping the arch lifted, you’re going to shift your weight towards one side, straightening the opposite leg and coming up onto that heel. You may struggle to get down to the full bottom position at first – just work at whatever height is comfortable.
Clock lunges are a great way to introduce some variation in the planes of movement. You’re going to perform 5 lunge variations per side. If we take the right leg first, you’d lunge to the north, north east, east, south east, and south – trying to maintain a stable, upright position throughout.
All variations of these lunge patterns can be progressed by adding weight – either with the weights by your side, up in a front rack or goblet position, or in a backpack.
The split squat is similar in many ways to the lunge. I find the latter is more useful for building speed and power, whereas the split squat is a great strength builder (and excellent for developing the front splits). Each split squat has a different purpose.
Side note – for all variations of the split squat, the less vertical the shin angle, the more anterior dominant the movement becomes (using more of the quads). For most people, it’s okay for the front knee to track past the toes as long as there’s no pain or discomfort. The more vertical the shin angle, the more posterior focussed the movement becomes.
Raising the front foot onto a step or box allows you to work more into hip flexion on the front leg (how far you can bring the leg towards the chest) – opening up that front hamstring. Think of the split squat as a static lunge. Instead of returning to neutral, you stay in the split stance. Keep the core and rear glute engaged throughout, and try to keep the rear leg as straight as possible. Lower the hips down and forward.
Raising the rear foot onto a step or bench allows you to work more into the hip flexors on the rear leg, helping to improve hip extension (the ability to extend the leg behind the pelvis). The vertical shin angle makes it more posterior dominant.
For the full split squat, we remove the step or bench entirely, performing the movement on the floor. The increased shin angle makes this variation anterior/quad dominant.
Elevating both the front and rear foot increases the range of motion for the split squat considerably, resulting in greater activation of the posterior chain.
As with the lunges, you can increase the intensity of each split squat variation by adding weights.
The step-up is a useful movement patterns for activating the glutes, improving hip flexion and practicing safe knee mechanics when climbing stairs / walking up a steep incline.
The step-up is essentially a deep, one-legged squat variation. Place your front foot on a bench or step, feet hips width apart, and press down through that foot to come up to stand on the bench. Ensure the knee doesn’t collapse inwards as you step up. Lower back down to the floor with control. You can alternate sides or perform one set on each side. You can progress this by using a higher step or bench.
Coming onto the toes or even the top of the back foot means more weight into the front foot, making the step up considerably harder.
Holding dumbbells, wearing a backpack or weighted vest can all add load to the step up.
Increasing the height of the bench or step increases range of motion, typical making the step-up more challenging.
Power training isn’t all cleans and jerks. You can build plenty with your bodyweight or some moderate weight kettlebells. Ideally you would build some base strength with the other squat progressions before experimenting with plyo drills. I recommend keeping the rep count low (3-6) to reduce fatigue and practice maximum power output.
The jump squat is an excellent exercise for developing lower body power. Begin as you would with an air squat, but bring the arms behind your body. From the bottom position, explode upwards, throwing the arms overhead. Ideally perform these onto a box, then step down to reduce the landing force.
Start on a slightly elevated surface – a small step or box. Drop down to the floor, briefly landing in a stable stance, and rebound up into a jump squat. Ideally land that squat on another box, as opposed to back on the floor. We’re using the stretch-shortening cycle to maximize power output.
The broad jump is similar to the jump squat, but instead of aiming for height, you’re going for distance. It’s a great exercise to include in your toolkit for sprint-specific speed/power.
The jump lunge is great for building power in that athletic split-squat stance. Like the jump squat, you’re going to explode from the bottom position, reaching the arms up overhead. You can alternate sides or perform one set per side.
Isolating the calves isn’t something I do a whole lot in my own training, as they get plenty of stimulation from single leg work and barefoot running. But for some, improving calf strength or size may be something that supports their performance or aesthetic goals, so I thought I’d include a couple of variations.
From a neutral stance, raise up onto the balls of your feet, pausing at the top position before lowering with control. The tendency may be for the ankles to collapse in or out – try to remain stable.
Stand with the balls of your feet on the edge of a step, increasing the range of motion for the calf raise. This has the added bonus of helping you to improve ankle mobility through dorsiflexion.
Jump rope is a great way to strengthen the feet, practice safe landing mechanics, and build general springyness (super technical term). Try to keep the chest lifted, shoulder blades back and down, and glutes on (pelvis tucked under). Be mindful of your feet as you land, trying not to collapse in/out.
The following are not what I would include as primary progressions for increasing strength or building muscle, but they can be fun to play around with. Note – both the dragon squat and sissy squat require you to move into what could be considered ‘more extreme’ ranges of motion, so please proceed with caution. Full disclaimer – the full versions of both are not currently in my practice, so I suggest looking elsewhere for more in-depth tutorials!
A useful early dragon squat progression is to work on the shin or knee shrimp squat, but instead of placing the leg down in line with the hip, you touch down on the other side of the standing leg. You can start to use the arms and upper body as a counterbalance.
Standing on an elevated surface and letting the non-standing leg drop down towards the floor will allow you to get a little deeper into the dragon squat position. You can progress this by lowering the surface until you’re down to the floor.
If you have a history of knee injuries, be mindful with this one. From a deep squat, come up onto the balls of the feet and allow the knees to slowly come forward and down to the ground. If you want to take this further, you can progress to standing, lowering down to an elevated surface. Then gradually lower that elevation until you get to the floor (or so I’m told).
Lower body home exercises can be split into squat and hip-hinge variations. Although similar, there are typically a few differences between the two:
Just to clarify, this post is all about the squats.
My preference. I currently have access to a few dumbbells, so I’m working on split squats + single-leg deadlifts, whilst greasing the groove with dragon squat variations.
Complete beginner? Start with the squat progressions and/or the lunge progressions.
No equipment? I’d suggest working your way through the shrimp/pistol progressions, and then the nordic curls.
My preference is to opt for full-body workouts, picking one squat progression and one hinge progression and alternating each session.
If you have the recovery capacity or you’re training less frequently, you could do both in one session, or use 3-4 for a full home leg day workout.
I currently perform my power/plyometric work on separate days to my strength training, primarily using kettlebell swings and sprints.
Primary Exercises: I shoot for 5-8 comfortable reps before introducing the next progression or upping the weight. This may be slightly higher if your goals are hypertrophy (5-12), or you’re recovering from an injury (8-15). I gradually introduce the next progression / higher weight using 3-5 reps.
Accessory Work: If you’re looking to add extra volume to your training with something like a hip thrust or step up, I’d work in the 10-25 rep range.
Skills & tricks: My preference is 1-3 reps at a time with plenty of rest in between.
Number of sets will vary depending on the movement pattern, the phase of programming, and life. We’re typically looking at anywhere between 2-5 sets per session.
So there we have it – 44 squat progressions that you can play around with in your movement programming, at-home or in the gym.
Let me know if you have any questions down below.
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