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What are the Different Options for Leg Exercises at Home?

By Shelby Miller
Updated May 17, 2024
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There is a wide variety of ways to perform leg exercises at home that strengthen and tone the lower body in the absence of gym equipment. Classified as bodyweight exercises, these movements depend upon one’s own body weight for resistance, although dumbbells or barbells may be added to increase difficulty. Muscles worked may include the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and inner and outer thighs, and each of the exercises, which include different kinds of squats and lunges, challenges more than one muscle group at a time. For optimum results, it is recommended to perform these leg exercises at home two to three times weekly, completing two to three sets of each movement and ten to 15 repetitions per movement.

Of the available leg exercises at home, squats are among the most effective. They can be performed in a number of ways, from a traditional hip-width stance, to a wide stance with toes turned out, to a single-legged stance. Difficulty may be increased by holding dumbbells at the sides, holding a bar across the upper back, increasing the number of repetitions, going more slowly, or adding a jump at the top of the movement. Squats are considered a quadriceps-dominant exercise, but they also challenge the glutes, hamstrings, and adductors, or inner thigh muscles.

To perform a traditional squat, one should stand with feet hip-width apart and fingers interlaced behind the head, elbows out. Keeping the chest lifted and looking straight ahead, one should push the hips backward, driving the weight into the heels, and slowly lower the hips behind the body until the thighs are nearly parallel to the floor. The heels should remain on the ground at all times, and the knees should not slide forward past the toes, collapse inward, or bow outward. After taking roughly three seconds to lower into the squat, one should push through the heels and stand back up, taking one to two seconds to return to the start position. Lastly, one should squeeze the glutes at the top so that the hips are pulled forward before lowering back down.

Lunges are another effective option for leg exercises at home. They may be performed in a stationary position, in which one simply lowers himself down and up, with a step forward, with a step backward, or as a forward-walking movement. Lunges work virtually all of the lower body muscles at the same time, and difficulty can be increased by incorporating the same techniques as with the squat exercise.

To perform a basic stationary lunge with no step, one should stand with feet hip-width apart and take a large step backward — this is the starting position. With weight mostly on the heel of the front foot and the back heel lifted off the ground, one should perform a three-second lowering movement by bending the back knee, dropping as low into the lunge as possible without leaning forward. The front knee should simply bend to 90 degrees, not slide forward past the toe. Pausing at the bottom, one should return to the start position in one to two seconds, holding onto a chair or wall for balance if necessary. For the forward lunge, one should take a large step forward, lower the back knee toward the floor, and push backward off the front foot to stand back up; for a backward lunge, one should step backward to perform the lunge, pushing forward to stand back up.

There are plenty of leg exercises at home that target the inner and outer thigh muscles, but an oft-recommended option is the side lunge. To perform the side lunge, one should stand with feet together and take a large step straight out to the side, keeping the feet parallel. Without twisting or leaning sideways, one should push the hips straight down and back with her weight over the foot that just stepped out, making sure the hips, knees, and ankles are vertically aligned, but the other leg will remain straight. She should then push back off the foot that just stepped to return to the start position and repeat in the other direction. Variations include holding weights, performing all of the repetitions on one leg before switching, and, for the more advanced, balancing on one foot between repetitions.

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Discussion Comments
By peetee — On Sep 24, 2013

Lunges and squats are my favorite leg exercises.

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