If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that we don’t need a gym to keep fit. That’s especially true when it comes to training your lower body.
While the squat rack and leg press machine may be effective tools for any legs workout at the gym, the number one method for strengthening your lower body – or any body part – is learning how to master working against your own bodyweight. It won’t be easy either, as these tough-as-nails bodyweight leg exercises show.
With that in mind, we challenged strength and conditioning coach Tom Eastham, founder of Minimal Fitness, to devise a lower-body bodyweight workout that could be done anywhere, any time and for any ability.
How To Do This Lower-Body Bodyweight Workout
To keep your mind stimulated and muscles engaged, Eastham’s workout is broken down into three sections.
The first focuses on mobility, targeting the muscle groups you’re about to work. The second will develop strength by extending the time your muscles are kept under tension. The final section is a 10-minute AMRAP finisher that will give you a score to beat next time. Eastham suggests following this template with other exercises to keep your workouts varied when all you have is your bodyweight.
Tempo training replicates the effect of adding extra load. Essentially, you slow down parts of the exercise, increasing the time your muscles spend under tension to make it harder. Energy system development simply means mixing up short, hard aerobic efforts with longer, slower ones.
“Add some mobility work and skill development, such as handstands, jumping or skipping, and you’ve got the hallmarks of a progressive and very functional training plan,” Eastham says.
Section 1: Mobility
Complete one set of each exercise for the prescribed time or number of reps.
1 Jog on the spot
Sets 1 Time 3-5min
Gradually warm your muscles up and quicken your pulse.
Sets 1 Reps 10
On all fours, gently round your spine by tucking your coccyx under your pelvis and dropping your head to look at your navel. Then reverse the movement to gently arch your back and bring your head up. That’s one rep. Continue, exhaling as you round your spine and inhaling as you arch.
3 Lying thoracic rotation
Sets 1 Reps 10
Lie on your back with your arms extended to the sides, feet flat on the floor and knees bent. Slowly move your knees from side to side, which causes lateral rotation of your spine.
Sets 1 Reps 10
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Engage your core and drive your hips up to activate your glutes. Slowly lower to tap the floor with your glutes, and then repeat.
5 Alternating cossack squat
Sets 1 Reps 10 each side
Stand with your feet double shoulder-width apart. Keep your body upright as you bend your right knee to lower, moving your torso to the right and keeping your other leg straight. Ease into this hamstring stretch cautiously. Push back up through your right foot. Alternate sides with each rep.
Sets 1 Time 45sec
Support your weight on your forearms and toes, with your body straight and core engaged.
Widen your feet to make it easier, or keep them together to make it harder.
Section 2: Strength
This part of the workout consists of two supersets. Perform exercise 1A for the prescribed
reps, then immediately move on to the reps of exercise 1B. Once complete, rest for 60 seconds, then return to 1A, repeating that sequence for a total of four times. Repeat the same format for exercises 2A and 2B, for three sets in total. Note the slow tempo for exercises 1A and 2A.
Sets 4 Reps 10 each side Rest 0sec
Stand on one foot with the other resting on an elevated platform, like a chair or sofa, behind you. Ensure there is plenty of space between your back and front foot so you can lower into a deep lunge. Keeping your chest up throughout, bend your front knee to slowly lower your back knee towards the floor. Take three seconds to lower, then drive up powerfully. Complete all the reps on one side, then switch legs.
Sets 4 Reps 10 Rest 60sec
Stand with your feet together, hinge at your hips and put your hands on the floor in front of you. Walk your hands forwards as far as you can without your hips collapsing, then walk your feet towards your hands.
Sets 3 Reps 10 each side Rest 0sec
Stand with a slight bend in your knees and your weight over your right foot. Hinge at your hips and bring your left arm across your body to tap the floor in front of your right foot, raising your left leg behind you as a counterbalance. Reaching across your body will exaggerate the stretch in your hamstring. Focus on taking three seconds to complete the lowering part of the move. Reverse the move to return to standing. Do all your reps on one side, then switch.
Sets 3 Reps 30 Rest 60sec
Start in the top press-up position, with hands directly below your shoulders and your weight shifted forwards and your hips up. Bring one knee towards your hands and then the other, continuing to alternate at a quick tempo. As you tire your hips will start to rise so
concentrate on maintaining the strong start position.
Section 3: AMRAP Cardio Finisher
You have 10 minutes to complete as many rounds as possible (AMRAP) of this three-move circuit. “Move at a pace that allows for repeatable efforts,” Eastham says. “You should be able to hold a conversation throughout.”
In other words, don’t go flat out. Set a steady pace and maintain it to the finish line. Record the number of rounds you complete and aim to beat it next time.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes slightly turned out. Keep your heels on the floor and your knees wide as you lower into a squat so your thighs are parallel to the floor, then drive back up to standing. Try to keep your chest up throughout. If you’re tipping too far forwards, try interlocking your hands behind your head to help you to stay upright.
Sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet together on the floor. Rotate your torso and tap the floor on one side with your fingers, then rotate your torso to touch the floor on the other side. Let your eyes follow your hands as you move from side to side and move with control, focusing on using your abs and oblique muscles. To make it harder, raise your feet off the floor.
Last but certainly not least, challenge yourself to complete each burpee with flawless form. From standing, hinge at the hips to place your hands on the floor. Jump or step your
feet backwards until you’re at the top of a press-up, then jump or step your feet forwards again to your hands. Jump up and clap your hands behind your head to ensure full extension through your body. Land softly with a slight bend in your knees and go straight into the next rep.
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Sam Rider is an experienced freelance journalist, specialising in health, fitness and wellness. For over a decade he's reported on Olympic Games, CrossFit Games and World Cups, and quizzed luminaries of elite sport, nutrition and strength and conditioning. Sam is also a REPS level 3 qualified personal trainer, online coach and founder of Your Daily Fix. Sam is also Coach’s designated reviewer of massage guns and fitness mirrors.