When you think about leg day, you probably imagine jacked dudes grunting at the squat rack. But you can actually get a killer lower-body workout without weights, machines, or even hours at the gym.
“Bodyweight exercises can most definitely be effective at building strength in the lower body,” says Diana Mitrea, personal trainer and cofounder of Stronger With Time in New York City. The trick? Make sure to incorporate single-leg moves. “Isolating and working with your full body weight on one leg is a very good way to still bring a lot of resistance to the movement with limited to no equipment. These moves really challenge the leg as it's not used to holding the full load of the body," Mitrea says.
Another way to ensure your lower-body workouts are extra efficient is to actually work the muscles you want to work. Mitrea says that despite the booty-building craze, most people don’t actually know how to fully activate their glutes when they’re working out. “It’s easy for your quads to take over many lower-body movements if you're not thinking about squeezing the right muscle,” she says. “I constantly urge people to think about squeezing their butt more than they're comfortable with!” When it comes to lower-body work, compound moves are your friends.
With all this in mind, we asked Mitrea to develop a quick and effective lower-body workout —we’re talking just seven minutes. It’s based on this scientific method, which was tested in this recent study. You won’t need much for the routine, just a chair and your own body weight.
How to use this list: You will need a sturdy chair with a flat seat for this workout. Perform each exercise below in order at a high-intensity effort for 30 seconds. Rest for 5 seconds between each exercise to reset. This circuit can be repeated 2 to 3 times if desired.
1. High Knees With Arms Overhead
Stand tall with feet hip width. Extend arms overhead, keeping biceps close to your ears. Engage core and use lower abs to lift and lower one knee at a time as if running in place. Bring knees to same height as hips, thighs parallel to floor, and try not to lean back. Stay on balls of feet and alternate legs as quickly as possible.
2. Sideways Bear Crawl
Start on all fours with hands under shoulders, knees under hips and bent to 90 degrees. Tuck toes and lift knees to hover two inches off the ground. Press through hands to keep shoulders out of ears. Keeping core tight, move right arm and right foot to the right for 5 steps and then repeat to the left for 5 steps.
3. Single-Leg Pistol Squat (Right Leg)
Start by standing in front of chair with feet hip width. Shift weight to right leg and extend left leg out in front of you. Keeping core engaged and chest lifted, send hips back to lower seat to chair. Tap butt to seat, then press through right heel to stand back up. For an extra challenge, remove the chair and try to lower butt about three inches from floor, keeping left leg lifted.
4. Single-Leg Pistol Squat (Left Leg)
Start by standing in front of chair with feet hip width. Shift weight to left leg and extend right leg out in front of you. Keeping core engaged and chest lifted, send hips back to lower butt to chair. Tap butt to seat, then press through left heel to stand back up. For an extra challenge, remove the chair and try to lower butt about three inches from floor, keeping right leg lifted.
5. Shoulder Tap
Start in high plank position, wrists under shoulders, feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Engage core and butt for stability. Tap left hand to right shoulder, then place back on mat. Resist the urge to let hips twist or dip; keep them square to mat. Repeat by tapping right hand to left shoulder and continue to alternate.
6. Side Lunge (Right Side)
Stand with feet just wider than hip-width apart. Take a big step to the right with right foot as you hinge at hips to send butt back. Bend right knee and keep left leg straight. Shift all body weight to the right side as you squat back while keeping chest lifted. Push off with right leg to return to standing, then repeat.
7. Side Lunge (Left Side)
Stand with feet just wider than hip-width apart. Take a big step to the left with left foot as you hinge at hips to send butt back. Bend left knee and keep right leg straight. Shift all body weight to the left side as you squat back while keeping chest lifted. Push off with left leg to return to standing, then repeat.
8. Hip Bridge
Lie faceup with knees bent and feet shoulder-width apart. Feet should be about 4 inches from butt. Press into heels to raise hips straight up off the ground, engaging glutes and bracing your core. Lower down slowly, creating your own resistance.
9. Squat Thrust
Start standing, then forward fold to place hands on floor. Jump feet out to a plank position (shoulders over wrists, core engaged). Jump your feet back to hands and stand tall. Continue to repeat.
10. Line Jump
Draw an imaginary line down the middle of the floor. Keeping your feet together, jump side to side over the line as quickly as possible. Land lightly on your feet with every jump.
11. Split Squat (Right Leg)
Start facing away from chair with feet about two feet away. Reach left leg backward and rest toes on edge of seat. With core engaged and back tall, bend right knee to lower body until right thigh is about parallel to floor and right shin forms a parallel line with back. Press into right heel and squeeze glutes to drive back up to starting position.
12. Split Squat (Left Leg)
Start facing away from chair with feet about two feet away. Reach right leg backward and rest toes on edge of seat. With core engaged and back tall, bend left knee to lower body until left thigh is about parallel to floor and left shin forms a parallel line with back. Press into left heel and squeeze glutes to drive back up to starting position.