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6 Body-Weight Exercises For Strong & Toned Legs

May 25, 2014

Despite what most people think, hitting the squat rack or the leg machines at the gym isn't the only way to get strong, powerful legs. In fact, one of the best ways to build muscle, gain strength and get the strong, sculpted legs you've always wanted is to use nothing but your own body-weight.

Every one of these exercises can be done completely equipment-free, making them the ultimate excuse-free exercises!

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Here are 6 body-weight exercises for super strong legs:

1. Air squats

Not only will squats give you a strong, bulletproof lower body and make you look good (whether you’re a girl or a guy), they’ll also improve your overall athleticism and make you a more well rounded athlete. And although weighted squats certainly have their purpose, you should never discount the awesomeness of the simple body-weight squat.

To do one, stand with your feet hip-width apart with your toes pointed slightly outward with your arms hanging loose by your side. Engage your core muscles and pull back your shoulders as you bend your knees and push your butt and your hips out and down behind you as if you were sitting into a chair.

Keep your weight on your heels, then come down until your thighs are below parallel to the ground, or as far down as you can get them. Eventually, you’ll want to work up to getting your butt all the way to the back of your calves, but if you’re not strong enough or flexible enough yet, don’t worry — you’ll get there with practice.

2. Jump lunges.

Not only will jump lunges help you build stronger, muscular legs, they'll also help with coordination and get your heart rate pumping, making them one of the best body-weight leg exercises you can do.

To start, get into a lunge position with one leg bent forward in a 90 degree angle and the other bent behind you. Jump up explosively with your back leg, switch positions in the air and land with the opposite leg forward. Although at first you should focus on form and make sure you don’t fall over from lack of balance, eventually you should try and do these as quickly as possible.

3. Walking lunges

Like jump lunges, walking lunges will make your legs burn using no equipment at all. Try these the next time you go to your local outdoor track instead of jogging!

To do them, start in a lunge position with your knees touching or almost touching the floor (if you’re doing these on a hard surface like concrete, please don’t smash your knees into the ground!).

Without pausing, alternate legs, bringing your opposite leg forward into a lunge position. Think about keeping your chest up and shoulders pulled back while you continue alternating legs and moving forward.

4. Squat jumps

Squat jumps will not only get you a super strong lower body, they'll get your heart pumping quickly as well! They're an awesome addition to HIIT workouts or even as a standalone exercise to get a quick leg burn.

To do a squat jump, stand straight up, then squat down until your knees are at about a 90 degree angle or lower. Make sure to keep your shoulders pulled back, your chest out and core tight.

When you reach the bottom of the squat, immediately jump up explosively, straightening your legs as you do so and get enough power so that you jump off of the ground. You’ll land immediately back in the squat position before doing it all over again.

5. Side lunges

Side lunges are a great leg-strengthening exercise that will work slightly different muscles than your basic front to back lunges, as well as start to prepare your legs for doing pistols (one-legged squats).

To start, stand with your legs wider than hip-width apart so that you’re in a standing, straddle position. Lean toward your left leg, bending down as far as possible, with your eventual goal to be to get your hamstring (back of your leg) to hit your calf. Squeeze your butt as you stand halfway up in a squat position, then lean toward the right leg. If you’re having trouble balancing with this exercise, hold onto a sturdy surface in front of you or use a band to get you used to the movement.

6. Pistols (one-legged squats)

Pistols are a pretty advanced exercise, so if you can't do them at first, don't get discouraged! They're an awesome goal to have to work up to, and are the ultimate body-weight exercise for super strong legs.

When you're starting out doing pistols, try holding on to a sturdy surface then stand on one leg with your free leg held straight out in front. Push your hips back and sit down as far as you can so that your butt is almost touching the ground. Once you hit the bottom position, raise yourself back up to standing.

If you're having difficultly holding your free leg high enough so that it doesn't hit the floor, you can start by doing these while standing on a bench or other sturdy elevated surface to make them a little bit easier. Eventually, you'll want to work up to doing pistols without holding onto anything at all!

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Krista Stryker, NSCA-CPT
Krista Stryker, NSCA-CPT
Certified Personal Trainer

Krista Stryker, NSCA-CPT is the author of The 12-Minute Athlete: Get Fitter, Faster, and Stronger Using HIIT and Your Bodyweight and a leading expert on high intensity interval training (HIIT) and bodyweight fitness. She currently lives in Venice, California, and is a certified personal trainer through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

From trying her first push up in college, to teaching herself to do pull ups and handstands, Krista is living proof of her philosophy that everybody is an athlete. She has helped tens of thousands of people to unlock their full athletic potential through her 12 Minute Athlete HIIT Workouts app and 12 Minute Athlete blog. You can find her @12minuteathlete on all social platforms.