When you think of leg day, do you just think of being in the gym and squatting weight?

Doing leg exercises at home, is a really easy way to start building leg strength, and doesn’t require lots of heavy lifting!

Starting with bodyweight exercises, you can make sure that you move well and master the techniques. You can then add weights and resistance bands to most of the moves to challenge you further.

A major function of the legs is to support the weight of your body with minimal energy expenditure. You have probably heard us use the phrase ‘move with ease’. This is what that means!

The second major function of the legs is to move you through space. This means walking!

There are a few major muscle groups in the legs.

The muscles around the glutes are predominately extensors, rotators and abductors of the hip joint.

However, as well as moving the thigh around the fixed pelvis, they also control the movement of the pelvis relative to the leg you are standing on whilst the other leg swings forwards. We touch on this area again in our glute exercises at home blog.

This is really important as it is an often forgotten about movement. When we are doing leg exercises, particularly single leg, we often focus on the moving leg. However, the static leg is just as important to get your glutes firing!

Next, who can forget the hip flexors!

How many times have you said, or someone around you said “you feel your hip flexors because they are tight”. Or “your hip flexors are tight because you sit a lot”?

Maybe they are actually weak…

The main muscle to flex the hip is actually ilipsoas (psoas major and iliacus). These do not come from the glute area or the thigh. They actually are attached to the back of the abdominal wall and move through the pelvis to attach to the top of the thigh bone!

So it’s not actually your quads!

The rest of the muscles in the thigh are split into three compartments which are divided by connective tissue.

In the anterior, or front compartment, you have muscles which mainly extend the knee. These include the quadriceps and sartorius.

Before you think we have forgotten…yes, one of the quads (rectus femoris) assists in flexing the thigh at the hip joint. However, please remember that ilipsoas is the most powerful hip flexor and is often overlooked!

In the posterior, or back compartment, you have muscles which work to extend the thigh at the hip joint and also bend the knee. These are the hamstrings!

These also work during rotation of the leg.

In the medial, or inner compartment, you have muscles which bring the thigh back towards your midline.

This includes the whole adductor group (longus, brevis, magnus), and 3 others (gracilis, pectineus and obturator externus).

These muscles bring the thigh back to the midline and also have other jobs which include rotation and flexion of the thigh.

Moving onto the lower leg there are loads of muscles which act to move your foot and knee! However, we won’t go into all of these here.

Everyone knows about the major calf muscle gastroc. But did you know there are actually 3 muscles which make up the calf, gastrocnemius, plantaris and soleus. The first two work to bend the knee and all point the foot.

You then have 4 deeper muscles which help to stabilise the knee and move the foot.

When we are doing leg exercises from home, it is really important to focus on the position of your feet for this reason! Depending on how you load your foot, will actually help activation of muscles further up the leg.

We are going to go into the muscles at the front of your shin. But whilst you are moving, try not to grip with your toes or pull up into the front of your shoes!

Hopefully, the major functions of the legs have not come as a surprise! If you look at the size of the legs and what they do, it makes total sense that having strong legs can make life so much easier!

From walking upstairs, lifting a heavy suitcase, running for the bus, or doing the sports you want, we need legs which are strong enough to carry you through.

The good news is that leg exercises do not need to be complicated and this is why there are so many you can do at home.

Check out our top leg exercises to do at home below. These train your muscles multi-directionally and also include some of those big compound moves which work lots of the muscles at the same time.

Remember to focus on form before adding lots of weight and if you have an acute injury or pain, always, check with us or your treating Physio to see whether these are appropriate. We are more than happy to give you some advice!

Leg workouts with weights

Anything around the home can be used as a weight for your leg exercises.

You can use wine bottles, a backpack filled with books or even casserole dishes!

Remember, anything that adds weight to your body counts as a weight. Obviously if you have kettlebells, bars or dumbbells at home then you can use these too!

The focus of all the leg exercises below are to strengthen not only your legs, but also work your core and back. They are all designed so you can do them at home with minimal space required!

We get asked all the time about lifting weights and if it will make you bulky.

The simple answer to this is no!

If you want to look ‘lean’, you need to build muscle mass. This means you need to add weight.

Some people naturally build muscle quicker than others. However, for most females, it takes a lot of heavy weight training to look bulky!

These exercises work all the big muscles in your legs, including your glutes, hamstrings, quads and calfs!

So, grab your weights, loose the fear, move any furniture you need and get those leg exercises done in your own home!!

1. Sumo squat with calf raises

A sumo squat with a calf raise is an all around great leg exercise and super easy to do at home!

The best part about it is it is a great exercise to work your hamstrings, glutes and quads, but also your calfs, particularly soleus!

Due to the wide stance, it will also help you open your hips and improve your range of movement.

To do this exercise, take your feet significantly wider than your shoulders.

Turn your feet outwards, roughly 10 and 2 on a clock and hold the weight by your chest.

Relax your glutes and sit your hips back and down until the back of your thighs are roughly parallel to the floor. Your spine should maintain its ‘neutral’ position.

Pause at the bottom and lift your heels off the floor. The angle of bend in your knee should stay the same. This means your whole body should move up and down.

Repeat 10x then pause.

Press into your heels and drive yourself up to standing. Make sure that you stand up straight to get your glutes working at the top.

Repeat the whole thing 10x.

You can modify this exercise really simply by taking out the weight. This way, it is suitable for pretty much anyone!

If you have an acute injury, make sure you talk to your treating clinician or  contact us for advice.

2. Squat to calf raise

Squat to calf raise is a great exercise if you are trying to get back into jumping. It is also an amazing non-impact exercise to do at home if you don’t want to annoy your neighbours!

Take your feet shoulder width apart and hold onto two weights.

Relax your glutes and sit back and down into your squat. Bring your hands to your shoulders at the same time in a bicep curl.

Pause at the bottom, then drive through your heels to come up to standing, continuing to push up onto your toes. Make sure that your knees are straight in your calf raise and bring your hands to your side.

Pause at the top, lower down with control, then repeat the whole movement 15x.

This is a great non-impact version of the typical squat jump. This makes it a great preparation exercise for impact.

A squat is a compound movement which means that it works most of the muscles in your body. By adding the weights, you make the exercise harder. The heavier the weights the harder the exercise. Consequently, you can take away the weight and do this body weight which means it is suitable for pretty much anyone!

It is also a more functional exercise as a squat is like sitting to stand. The calf raise is that part where you push off to walk off!

3. Single leg bridge

We love a single leg bridge!

This is a great hamstring exercise and really easy to do at home!

Lay on your back with your feet up on a sofa, chair or footstool.

The further away from the chair you are the harder you will find this on your hamstrings.

Make sure the balls of your feet are on the edge of the chair so that we can work both your hamstring and calf!

Hold the weight to your pelvis with both hands. As your arms are off the floor, you will be more unstable and so your abs will work harder. You may also feel more unstable.

Press into the ball of your feet, lift your heel and allow your hips to come off the floor. You should feel this in your glute, hamstring and calf. Pause at the top, making sure your shoulder blades remain on the floor and your neck is relaxed.

Exhale and come back down to the floor.

Repeat this 12-15x on each side.

This exercise is great for runners, anyone who does sport or if you like to walk a lot!

By working through the ball of your foot, not your toes, you will also strengthen your calf which will help your push off in walking and running.

The exercise is suitable for anyone. If you experience back pain during it, regress to the double leg version. If you are pregnant you can still do this exercise, but again you can regress to feet on the floor or double leg.

4. Lateral lunge transfers

The lateral lunge is great for your inner thigh.

To focus a little more on endurance, we are going to stay low and move between sides for a timed period. This means that you will also feel your quads, glutes and hamstrings work.

Take a big step to the side and turn your toes out slightly. Sink down into a lateral lunge. In this position, your knee should be pointing towards your second toe and your big toe should still be on the floor! The other leg should be straight.

Try to get low enough that the back of your thigh is parallel to the floor.

Exhale and drive through your heel to transfer your weight across to the other leg. Keep low to the floor rather than bobbing up to move across.

You should feel a stretch through the inner thigh of the straight leg. Pause in this position and then push off to move back to the other side.

Hold the weight to your chest and make sure you are using your back strength to keep you from bending forwards.

Repeat for 45 seconds.

This exercise is great for global lower limb strength and building up some endurance in your legs. It is also amazing for strength around your anti-gravity muscles. This makes it perfect for people with osteoporosis!

If you have acute pain, this is not for you. Instead, check with your treating physio or just ask us to see how it can be modified!

Leg workouts without weights

Leg workouts without weights are a great place to start if you haven’t exercised for a while.

Your legs have huge and powerful muscles which move you around all day. This means they are naturally stronger than your arms!

The best part about training legs is you can do it at home without any weights at all!

This makes it really accessible and if you are worried about not knowing what you are doing, you can do it in your own time and at your own speed!

In this next section we are going to show you 5 different exercises which hit all the major muscles in your legs and one we often forget about…your calf!

Exercising your legs without weights can be just as effective as with. Remember, how you train should be determined by your goals!

If you are a rugby player, then you will need to lift heavier weights to help with your power. However, you will also need to do lots of explosive work…Power is strength plus speed!

However, if you are training for general health, you really don’t have to go heavy. Instead, variety is key and this includes bodyweight exercises!

Most of the time, the exercise you keep up is the one which is most accessible! Not many of us have gyms in our homes so exercising your legs without weights is a great way of getting stronger and fitter!

If you do these and think they are too easy, you can always make them harder by adding weight or upping the repetitions.

Just remember, your form should not be sacrificed for the sake of adding weight!

5. Single leg bridge with rotation

Bridging is one of our favourite exercises.

However, single leg bridges are much more functional!

The twist with this exercise is literally that! One of your hamstrings works during rotation and you also have lots of other muscles around the pelvis which also control this. As a result, you need to rotate!

The great thing about this exercise is you should not feel it in your back. This is a leg exercise!

Start with your foot up on a chair, sofa or footstool. This gives us much more range of movement so will help strengthen you in this larger range.

You should be resting on the ball of your foot, not your toes, so that this also becomes a calf exercise!

As you press into the ball of your foot allow your heel to raise along with your bottom. When you are in a straight line, stay there and rotate the free leg over the other. Remember to let your pelvis move!

Bring it back and then reach it underneath the other leg. Again, allowing your pelvis to tip. Go over and under 4x each direction before lowering yourself down.

Repeat this 4x.

This exercise is not suitable for anyone in acute pain or if you are experiencing back problems. If you do feel this in your back, regress to the single leg bridge and build from there.

The advantages of this exercise is that it is much more functional than a double leg bridge! If you like sports, walking or running, being on the ball of your foot will also help you much more with your push off.

6. Reverse nordics and prep

Most of us have heard of Nordic hamstrings. This is the same but reversed so really loads up your quads and hip flexors!

Now, before you start saying “but my hip flexors are really tight so the last thing I want to do is work them!”, maybe your hip flexors are ‘tight’ because they are weak!

This is really common, particularly if you sit a lot!

This movement strengthens these muscles eccentrically. This means they get longer as they contract!

Obviously, it is not that simple and form on this one is key! We have also added some prep work in so that you really load well and understand the body position!

Start by kneeling on your heels. If you cannot get there, put a pillow on your feet and sit on that.

Keep your chest upright, press into your feet and hover your bottom off your heels. Hold for 3 seconds and then lower.

Repeat this 6x.

Next, press into your shins and let your hips lead you so that you go into high kneeling. Remember to keep your chest upright and not to lean forwards to help you up!

Sit down again normally and repeat 6x.

On the 7th, stay at the top in high kneeling.

This time, keep your body in a straight line and hinge backwards around your knees. Pause when you feel yourself start to extend in your spine and return to upright. This is a reverse Nordic!

Repeat 6x then pause at the top for the grand finale!

Hinge backwards at your knees. When your shoulders are over your heels, open your sit bones and sit back on your heels. It should feel like you are bringing your pelvis back underneath your shoulders.

At the bottom, press into your shins, stay upright and come back into high kneeling.

Repeat 6x to finish!

The most important thing about this exercise is not to lean forwards! If you are struggling with knowing if you are doing this, try it sideways onto a mirror. Otherwise, get someone to put their hand on your breast bone and stay away from it!

We love this exercise! It is amazing for strengthening the front of your legs and so easy to do at home! It is also a great one for posture as good posture is about knowing where you are in space!

If you are the person who always says your hip flexors are tight, or you are a runner, this is a great one to try!

Remember, it is also quite hard on your abdominals, particularly the 3rd and 4th variation. As a result, it is not suitable for anyone with acute pain or hernias.

7. Single leg calf raises

Easy I hear you all say!

A calf raise is an amazing calf exercise and so easy to do at home. It is also one of the most forgotten about areas and exercises!

One of the commonest things we see in the clinic is runners who can barely do 10!

If you have previously had ankle problems, lower back pain or tendon problems, see if you can do these!

You are aiming for 25 FULL RANGE! No cheating which means you have to lift all the way up. You can also do this over a step, however, if you live in a flat (like me), you can go from the floor.

This is not about balance so lightly hold onto something. You are aiming to go vertically up, rather than forwards and up!

Press into the big toe side of your foot and lift your heel off the floor. Keep your knee as straight as possible, pause at the top and slowly lower down with control.

Repeat this 25x on each leg.

If you are unsure if you are going forwards to go up, stand close to a wall and see if you can do it without headbutting it!

This exercise is amazing for anyone! However, if you are getting treated for an acute ankle problem please check or ask us first!

If you have had lower back issues definitely try this! The nerves which come from your lower back supply your foot and ankle. If you have had any compression here from a disc, then you can get some weakness in the calf.

Remember, if your balance is bad this will help, and you can always hold on with both arms!

8. McConnell squat

The McConnell squat is a serious winner if you are a runner, walker, love playing sports, or simply want another glute exercise!

The best part about this exercise is it is more functional! Not only are you standing so working against gravity, you are on one leg! Something we do all the time when we move around and walk!

Consequently, it can also be used as a great activation exercise before you do any type of activity!

To do this exercise, find a wall and stand sideways onto it.

Bend the elbow and knee which is closest to the wall and rest it against the wall. Your shin and forearm should now be touching the wall.

Make sure that your thighs are in line. Press into the wall with both the arm and leg and feel the standing leg glute switch on.

Keep pushing as much as possible and sit backwards into a small squat. Your shin should stay vertical.

Press into your heel and come all the way up into standing. If your leg is sliding down the wall you know that you are not pushing into it.

Repeat this 10-12x each leg.

This exercise is great for anyone looking for a functional exercise before they do any type of activity. However, it is hard! So is a great way of strengthening your glutes.

If you have any acute pain this is not for you but instead try a sumo squat or normal squat.

9. Scooter sweeps

Scooter sweeps are a variation on the traditional reformer exercise scooter!

However, this version focuses on the pelvis moving around the hips so you get loads of stability and strength in your standing leg and really target glute med!

Start upright and sit back into a small squat. Take all the weight into one leg and slide the other behind you. Take this leg behind and around your body so that your pelvis has to twist (almost like a curtsy).

Bring your leg back to centre by pulling your pelvis back around. Your leg should feel like it is being dragged with you.

Repeat this 10-15x.

Try to make sure your knee stays in line with your second toe and your big toe stays on the ground.

This is a great exercise for anyone who runs or does lots of single leg strengthening work. It will also challenge your balance which will help prevent falls!

This leg exercise also works all your antigravity muscles, perfect if you want to improve your posture or have osteoporosis!

Again, if you have acute pain, check with us first!

How can Complete Pilates help you with at home leg muscle building?

Leg strengthening exercises are so important to do and the best part is you can do them at home, with or without weights!

At Complete Pilates we believe that the best kind of exercise is the one you actually do! As much as we would love to think ourselves strong, it is definitely not that easy.

It is also really important to manage your expectations. It takes around 4 weeks to make an adaptation, although you should notice the change in 2-3 weeks.

To make real strength changes you have to stick at it for around 12 weeks! However, if you do not feel different after 4-6 weeks get in touch with us.

Remember that variety is key in anything, so change up what you are doing and make sure it is right for you.

If you have any injuries, long term problems, are postnatal or just have no idea where to start, the best place is with a 1:1. This will allow you to get an assessment and start moving towards your goals.

We can also direct you to which classes, or who, may be best for you.

Remember, at home leg exercises should not be complicated Make sure to include all the major muscle groups including hamstrings, glutes and calfs when choosing your exercises.

And importantly, don’t be scare of working those quads!

Education is key:

These blogs are designed to give information to everyone, however, it is important to remember that everyone is different! If you have not seen one of our therapists and have any questions about injuries, what you have read or whether this may be useful to you, please just ask.

At Complete Pilates we would advise you to always speak to your doctor, physiotherapist, or clinical Pilates instructor here at Complete Pilates if you are worried about starting a new exercise regime.
We are more than happy to help anyone and point you in the right direction. Our biggest belief is that education is key. The more you understand about your injury, illness and movement, the more you are likely to improve.