November 8, 2021
We’ve all heard exercise buffs and influencers extol the virtues of “leg day,” but does it have to be as intense as social media suggests? Do we need an expensive gym membership, vats of protein powder, or tons of equipment?
Good news: “leg day” can be done at home, quickly and efficiently, and without weights or bands. All you need is 15 minutes and some willpower.
Before starting your at-home leg workout, be sure you have enough space to spread out. It won’t hurt to put a yoga mat down, either. Set up a little station with a bottle of water, a towel (if you plan on getting really into it), and your computer or phone so that you can follow along with this tutorial as you work out. Finally, don’t forget to stretch before and after your workout.
It’s far more important to take care of yourself than try squeezing in a workout when you don’t have adequate time. If you’re ready to dive in, do a quick warm up to increase your heart rate with a couple of minutes of cardio. Easy at-home options include a few rounds of jumping jacks or high-knees.
Make sure you follow up your workout with a healthy, protein-packed snack or meal to help you recover and build muscle.
Plan your routine
The best leg workouts start with a plan. Create a circuit for yourself based on how much time to spend on each exercise or the number of repetitions (also called reps) that you want to complete.
If you want to keep your heart rate up, try doing an interval workout. Spend 30 seconds doing an exercise and 30 seconds resting, occasionally breaking up the intervals with some extra rest. If you’re focused on your strength, write a desired number of reps for each exercise, and rest between sets.
You can also do a hybrid method. For more intense movements like jump squats, you may want to limit yourself to 10 reps or 30 seconds per round if you’re just starting out. On lower impact movements like leg circles, you can likely squeeze in more reps or work for up to a minute.
Mix and match the exercises given below to write yourself a workout that fits your needs.
Mix and match
Not only does making a plan of mixed exercises help stave off boredom, it ensures that you’re not overworking one part of your legs. The result is a more complete and less painful and tiring workout.
Don’t overdo it, though. You want to avoid pulling muscles or otherwise hurting yourself. While feeling the burn is normal, it’s never a good idea to push your limits without getting advice from a professional trainer.
Squats are part of most easy leg workouts, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t effective. You will most definitely be feeling the burn after a round of them.
Start in a standing position with your back and upper body straight, and your feet about hip-width apart. Then, keeping your back straight, bend your legs at the knees and push your hips backward. Once you’ve lowered yourself to where your legs form a 90-degree angle, straighten up. Think about pushing the floor away with your heels as you return to a standing position. You may not feel anything after the first squat, but you certainly will after a dozen.
For a variation, you can try jump squats. These keep your heart rate up, which is great for burning calories, because they include a bit of cardio. At the bottom of each squat, think about pushing the floor away with your heels. Instead of standing straight, use this force to jump into the air. As you return to the ground, drop directly down into a squat position. You’ll get into a smooth rhythm after just a few reps. Try to land with your weight evenly distributed in both feet.
Another variation is the wall squat. You were probably traumatized by this exercise in high-school gym class, but only because it’s difficult and, in turn, effective. Hold a squat position with your back flat up against a wall, and try to maintain a 90-degree angle of the legs for as long as possible, without pushing yourself too far. If you start shaking, it’s probably time to take a break. (This exercise is done as an interval of 30-45 seconds instead of reps. You can repeat the interval after some rest, though, to increase the burn.)
Muscles targeted: gluteus muscles (butt), quadriceps (front of the thigh), hamstrings (back of the thigh), adductor (groin), hip flexors, calves.
Lunges are a versatile body-weight exercise that can be a bit tough on the knees but are excellent for targeting several leg muscles at once. They also stretch the legs, which can be a relief if you’re doing back-to-back reps of other exercises.
To perform a lunge, step out one of your feet in front of you and the other behind into a wide step. If you need help visualizing, your legs should look like open scissors, and your body should always remain facing forward. Then, bending at the knees, lower your body until the back knee almost touches the floor. Your front knee should be over your toes. Drive your front foot (especially your heel) into the floor, pushing the floor away to bring yourself back into your starting position. Your front leg should be doing most of the work; your back leg will help keep you stable.
You can do a round of lunges on just one side of the body before switching or you can alternate between each lunge, switching the front foot. This usually involves a bit of jumping from one to the other, so be careful of your knees. Regardless, it’s very important that you don’t just work one side of your body during a workout, so switch things up no matter what kind of lunge you decide to do.
For a variation that keeps you in motion, try a walking lunge. After each lunge, drive through the front foot to bring your back foot all the way to standing position, then take a step forward (bringing the back foot in front of you). Drop into a lunge. Once again, push through your front foot to bring yourself out of the lunge and back to standing. Since you’re moving forward, you may run out of space, so turn around if you encounter an obstacle.
Muscles targeted: gluteus maximus, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves.
This exercise is a staple in inner-thigh workouts. Lay down on your exercise mat and turn onto your side. Support your head with your hand. Take whichever leg is on top (if you’re turned to the left, this will be your right leg) and cross it over your body. Bend the knee of your top leg to create a triangle shape around the bottom leg. Then, lift the bottom leg off of the mat, point your toes, and start drawing circles with your leg. The top leg should keep you stable and held down so that the movement comes from your core and bottom leg, not your whole body.
Sounds easy, right? Think again. After several reps, you’ll begin to feel how intensely this toning exercise works your inner thigh. When you finish on one side, turn your body and repeat.
Muscles targeted: core, quads, hamstrings.
When you’re doing a circuit, having the opportunity to lie down on your mat can provide welcome relief, especially if you’re coming out of a round of intense jump squats. Don’t get too excited, though—this exercise is tough.
For this lower body exercise, lay on your back with your arms flat at your sides and your lower back against the mat. It helps to push your arms into the ground when you start moving. Bend your knees in front of you, placing your feet flat on the floor. Then, push your heels into the ground and lift your hips. Keep your core engaged and your body in a straight line. Don’t look in the mirror; keep your chin tucked against your body to keep your spine neutral. Your upper back should stay on or close to the ground as your lower body lifts up.
Take care when lowering your hips back down onto the floor. Since you have some momentum going, you’ll need to work with control so as not to slam your hips down into your mat. When you hold your muscles taut as you work, you feel the effects radiating out into other parts of your body, in this case, your arms and core.
Muscles targeted: glutes and abs (if you keep your body tight while working)
Intensify your workout
You can turn any body-weight workout up a notch by using dumbbells or resistance bands. Even lightweight dumbbells can add a challenge since, in this variation, there’s more to lift than just your body itself.
To turn the leg exercises described above into part of a dumbbell leg workout by picking up a weight whenever your hands are free. When squatting, you can hold a dumbbell to your chest, in between your legs, or underneath your chin (also known as a goblet squat). You can also hold a weight in each hand as you perform lunges. We recommend leaving dumbbells out of the equation when you’re doing exercises lying down.
Finally, if you don’t own dumbbells but want to add some weight to your exercises, try using canned food, heavy books, or full water bottles.
If you’re ready to work out and need some electrolytes, don’t waste your energy by running down to the corner. Order instead through Gopuff and receive your energy drink before you even finish rolling out your exercise mat.