The pandemic has forced people to get creative with exercise. People who weren’t regular gym-goers began to embrace exercise as an outlet to manage pandemic-related anxiety. And those who were regular gym-goers had to figure out how to continue their workouts at home, with limited equipment options.
As gyms are beginning to open again, many people are still hesitant to return to spaces with large groups of people.
If you’re feeling this way or just want to get in a great lower body exercise at home, here are 12 ways to do just that.
Bodyweight training, or calisthenics, is one of the easiest ways to get in a quick and efficient workout that’s challenging and builds strength. Try these movements for a terrific leg-burning workout.
To increase the difficulty, add a weight where indicated. To incorporate this workout into your daily household tasks, substitute weights for household items like a full laundry basket, chair, or gallon of water.
Squats are one of the most universal movements a human performs. They target almost all of the muscles in the legs and trunk.
- Bodyweight squats. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your hips and knees to lower your body as if sitting down into a chair. When your thighs are parallel to the ground (or lower if you can tolerate it), squeeze your thighs and buttocks and return to a standing position.
- Goblet squat. Hold a kettlebell or dumbbell with both hands at chest level. Place your feet wider than shoulder-width apart. Squat down so that your thighs are parallel to the floor. Keep your trunk straight and upright, and keep the weight at chest height.
This movement varies from the squat in terms of the muscles it emphasizes. The squat tends to work the glutes, quads, and calves, while the deadlift tends to focus more on the glutes and hamstrings.
- Traditional deadlifts. Start in a bent knee and hip position. Keep your back straight and look straight ahead to keep your neck in line with your trunk. Reach down to grasp a weight, such as a barbell, kettlebell, or box. Your hips should be lower than your shoulders when you prepare to lift the weight. Keeping your spine neutral, squeeze your shoulder blades like you’re slightly pinching them. Then, contract your glutes as you lift the weight toward hip height.
- Bodyweight single-leg deadlifts. Stand with both feet together. Shift your weight onto one foot and hinge at the hips, lowering your hands toward the floor. Reach the unweighted leg back and off of the floor, keeping it in line with your torso. It’s OK to slightly bend the knee of your standing leg. Squeeze your glutes and drive your hips forward to return to the starting position. This exercise requires good hamstring flexibility. If your hamstrings are tight, only lower to the point of feeling a moderate stretch.
This exercise incorporates lateral movement, which is not present in many exercises. Begin by standing with your feet together. Step out to the side as far as you can with your foot pointing in the same direction you’re facing or slightly turned out.
Bend the knee of the leg that stepped out to lower your body until your outside thigh is parallel to the floor. Push back hard to standing and bring your feet together.
To increase the difficulty of this lunge, grasp a weight with both hands at hip level. Alternatively, hold it at chest level.
Bridge with resisted heel slide
This movement is best performed in socks or with one foot on a towel on a low friction floor such as wood. Lie on your back with your knees bent and one foot on a towel. Raise your buttocks into the air so your knees, hips, and shoulders form a straight line.
Then push your heel down into the floor as you slide your foot out, straightening your knee as much as possible. Keep pushing down as you slide your heel back toward your buttocks. Begin with a light press and increase as you can tolerate.
To increase the difficulty, perform this movement with a weight supported on your trunk just below your belly button.
Stand with your feet close together. Keeping your knees straight, rise up on the balls of your feet. Hold for 1 second, then slowly lower back down to the ground. To increase the difficulty, perform the heel raise on a stair or step. This allows you to lower your heels below your toes.
Another way to increase the difficulty is to perform the heel raise as above on 1 foot. Remember to keep your hips level.
To increase the challenge for the two-legged heel raise, hold weight in both hands. It’s not advised to use weight if performing this exercise on a step greater than 2 inches (5 cm) high due to the risk of falling.
To increase the difficulty of the single-leg heel raise, grasp a weight in the hand on the same side as the leg performing the raise.
Stand tall. Lightly hold the back of a chair or the kitchen counter. Keeping your hips in line with your heels, raise the balls of your feet off of the ground. Hold for 1 second, then lower your foot back to the ground. Repeat.
To increase the challenge, perform it as a single-leg exercise.
Cycling is an excellent lower body workout and takes you back to being a kid again. The type of bike doesn’t matter. You can make the workout as easy or as difficult as you’d like.
To increase the difficulty level, you can move to a high gear for increased resistance.
Sprinting involves running at top speed for a short period of time. Each sprint effort can be followed by a low effort for a recovery phase. This workout not only challenges the legs tremendously but also the heart and lungs.
Start by warming up. Go for a light jog or brisk walk for 10 minutes to increase your body temperature and prepare your muscles.
Pick a distance (such as 100 yards) or time (such as 10–30 seconds). During a sprint interval, run at a high intensity for the desired distance or time. After you complete that round, jog or walk at a slow pace to recover. Completely recover before your next effort.
Not ready to sprint? Try speed walking or fast jogging.
Climbing a ladder requires enough lower body strength to lift your body from one step to the next. You can use your arms as much or as little as needed. The higher the ladder, the better the workout.
While stairs may not be accessible in every home, there’s usually a step, stool, or curb close by. If you have a staircase, you can perform sets of ascending and descending it. To add variety, attempt stepping up every other step or adding weight to carry (think a laundry basket or a baby in an ergonomic carrier, etc.)
Another option is to use a single step. Stand on the step facing down, as if you were descending the stairs. Perform a step down with control. However, at the bottom, lightly touch your heel and then push up to return to the starting position. This exercise is excellent for strengthening the quadriceps.
Gardening is a great exercise to connect with the earth. It usually involves slower movements but can incorporate heavy lifting. For example, picking up a heavy bag of mulch from the ground to standing involves a deadlift-type motion.
In addition, picking weeds involves the same type of motion as the deadlift. Also, transitioning from kneeling to standing after sitting on the ground requires strength. Its movement pattern is similar to that of a lunge.
Multiple lower body strength and conditioning exercises can be done at home, and most can be done with relatively little equipment. They can be adjusted by adding weight or using household items to add weight. It takes creativity, but with a little bit of improvisation, you can achieve great results.