9 Underrated Leg Exercises You Can Do Without Equipment (Plus A Home Leg Workout)

David Rosales
Written By: David Rosales
January 25th, 2021
Updated: May 25th, 2021
Categories: Articles Training
3.6K Reads
Man in black shorts and black tank top doing lateral lunges.
Think you can't have a great leg day from home with just your bodyweight? Think again! Check out these 9 underrated leg exercises that require no equipment.

One of the challenges with home workouts, especially for advanced lifters, is gathering enough exercises to create a program that can actually challenge you the way training in a gym does. While it can be a challenge, even advanced lifters can continue to make progress without heavy weights or any external weight at all.

A basic tenant of why exercise works in the first place is that when we do something our body hasn’t seen before, it has to adapt. When we lift more weight, do more reps, or run faster, it forces the body to respond to the changes and come back more prepared next time. Weight training and adding weight is only a tool to spur adaptation. But, it’s not the only option in our arsenal. You can add more sets or reps, you can lengthen the time of each rep, you can shorten the rest, or you can throw in new exercises altogether.

When you’re training without access to equipment, you can still continue to get results by performing exercises you’ve never done before. Because they’ll be new for your body they’ll hit your muscles in a slightly different way than any exercise you’ve done before. You won’t need heavy weights to get a training effect and adaptation response. Once you get to a certain level in fitness, novelty and variation are some of the secrets to sustained and continual progress. This home leg workout is built on this principle of adaptation and progress: as long as you throw novelty at your body, it will have to continue to adapt.

9 Leg Exercises You Can Do Without Equipment

Here are the nine exercises with explanations, followed by the complete workout with sets, reps, and progressions for six weeks.

Jumping Lunges

A lot of the time people who train for an enhanced physique forget about exercises that look like “athletic performance” exercises. In reality, a lot of plyometric and athletic performance exercises also have benefits for your physique.

For starters, there’s the metabolic benefit. An explosive exercise like jumping lunges will also double as cardio.

But let’s go beyond this basic assessment. Plyometric exercises might also be exactly what you need to enact a hypertrophic response. A review of eight studies showed that plyometrics exercises, like jumps, produced hypertrophic results over the short-term (less than 12 weeks).1 While the mechanism for why this is the case isn’t clear and more evidence is needed, explosive plyometrics will at the least help preserve muscle, and at their best be as effective as a heavy weights training exercise.

So, an explosive exercise will be the type of novel stimulus that could spawn new progress. Because an explosive exercise is most valuable if you can do it, well, explosively, reps on jumping lunges will be kept to only 4 per side.

Front Foot Elevated Split Squat

The front foot elevated split squat is the younger sibling of the popular and revered rear-foot elevated split squat, or Bulgarian split squat.

Overlooked it shan't be for much longer.

The FFE split squat, as the name implies, requires you to elevate your front leg. You can grab a short stool, put your front leg on the first step of a staircase, or stack two sturdy weight plates. From here, you do the split squat.

This exercise provides a novel stimulus in a few ways. When you go until your back knee hits the ground, the amount of hip flexion in your front leg exceeds 90 degrees. This puts your quad muscle in a more shortened position than it’s used to. Shortening the quad in this position will spur adaptation even without weight, especially if you normally stick to conventional leg exercises.

How deep you should go in your squat is perennially controversial. A deeper squat provides more range of motion but can often pose problems in an exercise like a back squat or front squat because of mobility restrictions. It’s much safer to get a similar range of motion — and quadriceps recruitment — with this one-leg squat variation. You’ll get the range of motion benefits of a deep squat without the potential for back pain or other issues.

You can treat this exercise like a more typical leg exercise in terms of reps and tempo, although if you have no weight, high reps on this will be killer.

The second advantage of this exercise is the stretch you get in your back hip flexor. I’ve even included this exercise in programs as part of a comprehensive warm-up. You can simultaneously train a new range of motion while improving your hip mobility at the same time.

Single-Leg Squat to Bench

True single-leg exercises like this variation have several benefits over two-leg exercises. One is the actual recruitment of muscles will vary slightly. A single-leg stance requires the “stabilizer” muscles to turn on in order to keep the leg in a solid position. In this case, that will include the side glutes (gluteus medius and minimus) and the groins (adductors).

Single leg exercises also have the obvious benefit that you don’t need as much (or often any) weight to make them difficult. That’s definitely the case with the single-leg squat to bench. But again, if this is easy you can add reps or slow down the tempo or find some weights you can do it with.

With this exercise, as with all box squat variations, there’s the question of whether to “sit down” all the way or just tap the bench. While both options have some merits, generally I think tapping is more effective, especially if you don’t have a coach watching you. That’s because if you let people sit down, they’ll often just “plop” to the bottom and thus, not build the eccentric strength it takes to sit down slowly.

Lateral Lunge

The lateral lunge is another unilateral leg exercise that’s going to hit the muscles in a slightly different way. Whereas most exercises we do in the gym focus on forward and backward (sagittal plane) movement, the lateral lunge trains the side to side (frontal plane). For muscles like the quadriceps, it’s going to force them to contract and push force is a different direction, giving a new stimulus to the muscles.

Lateral lunges also attack a common problem for serious lifters and desk warriors alike: tight groins. The groins are like the hamstrings of the frontal plane, and full range of motion in the groins is crucial for safe and effective side to side lower body movement. If you’re used to moving exclusively through the sagittal plane, this might be the wake-up call that your groins need some work.

Feet-Elevated Hip Lift

You can do this with one or two legs. For the first few weeks, you can start with two legs then progress to one, making this exercise already have an easy built-in progression.

The concept behind this exercise is simple: most people’s hamstring training neglect to target the hamstrings in their most shortened position. The hamstrings actually have two main functions: they flex the knee (the obvious one) and also extend the hip (often overlooked). It’s a vital hip extensor, but it’s rarely trained as such other than as a byproduct of deadlifts or traditional glute bridges.

Placing your feet up on a bench shifts the emphasis from your glutes to your hamstrings, where you’ll be targeting them in their most contracted position.

An important key to making this exercise work is to keep your core engaged as you lift up so that your back doesn’t arch. If your back arches, that means your back is performing the hip extension motion that you want your hamstrings to do.

Slider Leg Curl

The slider leg curl riffs off of the same idea as the feet-elevated hip lift. But, this one is more difficult because you train to maintain hip extension as you move through knee flexion. So you start by going up into a glute bridge (core engaged again) and then straighten and flex your knees.

This is hard enough on its own, but you can add to the challenge by going with the one leg variation. The difficulty will depend on the friction of the surface you’re using. A slider on nice turf will be much easier than an old towel on a bumpy hardwood floor. So keep that in mind.

Single-Leg Stiff Leg Deadlift

The single-leg stiff leg deadlift will have single-leg benefits like the 1-leg squat to bench. But this exercise targets your posterior chain, your glutes, and hamstrings. Often people who can normally deadlift quite a lot of weight will be initially humbled by these because balance is their limiting factor. If you have trouble balancing on one leg and mimicking a deadlift motion, then it’s something you should probably focus on for a few weeks.

Once you do get the balance down, often bodyweight will be more challenging than you initially expect. Focus on your mind-muscle connection while performing this movement. You should feel a strong glute/hamstring contraction with each rep.

Mini-Band Backward Walk

This exercise will focus on your side glutes (gluteus medius and gluteus minimus), which are another often overlooked muscle group.

While we hit the frontal plane with lateral lunges, this exercise will require you to resist rotation in the transverse (rotational) plane. So, not only have we hit all of the often overlooked leg muscles, we've also included all of the different planes of motion in which those muscles move.

You reach back in a 45-degree angle with your leg, focusing on moving from the hip. Then step back and switch legs. Like the other hamstring exercises, keep your core engaged so the extension doesn’t come from your low back

Donkey Calf Raises

A lot of people don’t train calves at all, and if they do, they probably just do the same two exercises: standing calf raises and seated calf raises. While those are both great exercises for the calves, as we’ve talked about, novelty is essential for continual progress.

Donkey raises target your calves in their most lengthened position, specifically where your soleus (one of the main calf muscles) is most stretched. Again, in the interest of novelty, we’re talking about hitting muscles at angles where they’re not used to the stimulus. You can progress the Donkey calf raise by going to one-leg.

A Complete Home Leg Workout

The workout contains nine exercises. Do this workout in place of your normal leg day in your program. It requires no equipment. However, if you have any weight, it will be useful for some exercises. For one exercise, a mini resistance band is ideal but not totally necessary.

You can do this workout weekly (or twice a week, if you train legs twice per week) for ideally four weeks, but up to six weeks. After six weeks, your body will adapt to the new exercises, and you’ll need a new stimulus to continue to make progress. If you’re back in the gym by then, that new stimulus could come in the form of weight.

Related: How to Change Your Workout Program for Non-Stop Gains

In between supersets, go right from one exercise to the next, resting about 1 minute in between rounds. After finishing a superset rest 1-2 minutes before moving on to the next one.

Week 1

Exercise Sets Reps
A1) Jumping Lunges 3 4
A2) Single-Leg Stiff Leg Deadlift 3 8
B1) Front Foot Elevated Split Squat 3 20
B2) Feet-Elevated Hip Lift 3 12
C1) Slider Leg Curl 3 6
C2) Single-Leg Squat to Bench 3 8
D1) Lateral Lunge 3 8
D2) Mini-Band Backward Walk 3 8
E) Donkey Calf Raises 3 Max (up to 50)

Week 2

Exercise Sets Reps
A1) Jumping Lunges 3 4
A2) Single-Leg Stiff Leg Deadlift 3 10
B1) Front Foot Elevated Split Squat 3 25
B2) Feet-Elevated Hip Lift 3 15
C1) Slider Leg Curl 3 8
C2) Single-Leg Squat to Bench 3 10
D1) Lateral Lunge 3 10
D2) Mini-Band Backward Walk 3 10
E) Donkey Calf Raises 3 Max (up to 50)

Week 3

Exercise Sets Reps
A1) Jumping Lunges 3 4
A2) Single-Leg Stiff Leg Deadlift 3 12
B1) Front Foot Elevated Split Squat 3 20 (4 sec on the way down)
B2) Feet-Elevated Hip Lift 3 20
C1) Slider Leg Curl 3 10
C2) Single-Leg Squat to Bench 3 12
D1) Lateral Lunge 3 12
D2) Mini-Band Backward Walk 3 12
E) Donkey Calf Raises 3 Max w/ 3 sec pause at top

Week 4

Exercise Sets Reps
A1) Jumping Lunges 3 4
A2) Single-Leg Stiff Leg Deadlift 3 8 (1 sec pause at top)
B1) Front Foot Elevated Split Squat 3 25 (4 sec on the way down)
B2) Single-Leg Feet-Elevated Hip Lift 3 12 each leg
C1) Slider Leg Curl 3 12
C2) Single-Leg Squat to Bench 3 8 (4 sec on the way down)
D1) Lateral Lunge 3 8 (3 sec pause at bottom)
D2) Mini-Band Backward Walk 3 8 (3 sec pause)
E) Donkey Calf Raises 3 Max w/ 3 sec pause at top

Week 5

Exercise Sets Reps
A1) Jumping Lunges 3 4
A2) Single-Leg Stiff Leg Deadlift 3 10 (1 sec pause at top)
B1) Front Foot Elevated Split Squat 3 20 (3 sec on the way down)
B2) Single-Leg Feet-Elevated Hip Lift 3 15 each leg
C1) Single-Leg Slider Leg Curl 3 6 each leg
C2) Single-Leg Squat to Bench 3 10 (4 sec on the way down)
D1) Lateral Lunge 3 10 (3 sec pause at bottom)
D2) Mini-Band Backward Walk 3 10 (3 sec pause)
E) Single-Leg Donkey Calf Raises 3 Max each leg

Week 6

Exercise Sets Reps
A1) Jumping Lunges 3 4
A2) Single-Leg Stiff Leg Deadlift 3 12 (1 sec pause at top)
B1) Front Foot Elevated Split Squat 3 25 (3 sec on the way down)
B2) Single-Leg Feet-Elevated Hip Lift 3 20 each leg
C1) Single-Leg Slider Leg Curl 3 8 each leg
C2) Single-Leg Squat to Bench 3 12 (4 sec on the way down)
D1) Lateral Lunge 3 12 (3 sec pause at bottom)
D2) Mini-Band Backward Walk 3 12 (3 sec pause)
E) Single-Leg Donkey Calf Raises 3 Max each leg

For more from David, head over to Roman Fitness Systems.

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