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Effective Lower Body Exercises Using Only Your Body Weight

Author:

Dr. Mike Esco has a Ph.D. in exercise physiology and has over 20 years of experience in the health and fitness industry.

Body weight exercises are great. They can easily be performed anywhere since they require no equipment. They are very effective for building strength and toning muscles if performed with the correct technique.

In this article, I have provided detailed descriptions of ten lower body strength exercises. I have also included YouTube videos showing you a demonstration of the correct technique for each exercise. Please note, I had no input on the creation of these videos as they were made by someone else.

Squats

Squats are excellent exercises for the lower body and remain the top choice for many lifters for defining the thighs, hips, and buttocks. The exercise can be performed virtually anywhere. Resistance can be applied in the form of dumbbells or barbells. Since the focus of this article is directed primarily toward home-based strength training, the performance of the squat will be described by using only the body.


Body Weight-Only Squat (Air Squat)

  1. Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart with feet very slightly angled out. Your arms can be placed out in front of you, straight down by your side, or with your elbows flexed and hands placed on your hips (my preference). Whichever position you choose with your arms, try to keep them in the position during the entire exercise, unless you bring them in front of you to control balance. Make sure your abdominals are isometrically contracted and your back is in a neutral position throughout the exercise.
  2. Before you begin to lower your body to the floor, make sure your feet are firmly pressing against the ground and without moving your feet “twist” the foot slightly to the outside, this will activate your glutes (butt) right before you squat. Lower your body toward the floor by flexing your knees and hips and pushing your buttocks back. Make sure the weight of your body is supported by your heels and not toes (you should feel most of the weight on the outside edges of your foot and heel). Do not allow your knees to go forward over your toes. As you descend, keep your chest up and shoulders back. Your eyes should be focused on a point in front of you to keep your head in a natural position.
  3. Come to a point to where your knees are bent approximately 90 degrees and parallel to the floor. Again, your chest should be up and shoulders back, with your head straight forward.
  4. Following a brief pause, (do not relax, keep tight), slowly stand back up to the starting position.

NOTE: Your knees should not wobble during your squat, try to keep them in the same position.

Body Weight Squats Demonstration

Isometric Wall Squats

  1. Gently lean your lower back against a wall. Your feet should be placed flat on the floor about 12 inches in front of you and hip width with your toes pointing forward. Important: This position of the lower body will make sure that your knees will not extend past your toes during the exercise. Keep your chest up, shoulders back, and abdominals isometrically contracted during the entire movement. Your arms can be placed out in front of you, straight down by your side, or with your elbows flexed and hands placed on your hips. Whichever position you choose with your arms, try to keep them in the position during the entire exercise.
  2. Keeping your chest up, lower your body down toward the floor by flexing your knees and hips. The buttocks should drop straight down, remaining under you as you descend. Your weight should be supported by your heels and not the front of your foot. As your body is lowered, your back should slide down the wall. Stop lowering your body when your thighs are parallel to the floor. You can stop sooner if you feel reaching “parallel” is too challenging.
  3. When you reach the bottom portion of the movement, hold the position for a period of time (while making sure all the working muscles remain engaged), such as 30 seconds. As you increase your level of fitness, the period of time can be extended to 1-2 minutes.

Isometric Wall Squats

Single-Leg Isometric Wall Squats

  1. Gently lean your lower back against a wall. Your feet should be placed flat on the floor about 12 inches in front of you and hip width with your toes pointing forward. Important: This position of the lower body will make sure that your knees will not extend past your toes during the exercise. Keep your chest up, shoulders back, and abdominals isometrically contracted during the entire movement. Your arms can be placed out in front of you, straight down by your side, or with your elbows flexed and hands placed on your hips. Whichever position you choose with your arms, try to keep them in the position during the entire exercise.
  2. Keeping your chest up, lower your body down toward the floor by flexing your knees and hips. The buttocks should drop straight down, remaining under you as you descend. Your weight should be supported by your heels and not the front of your foot. As your body is lowered, your back should slide down the wall. Stop lowering your body when your thighs are parallel to the floor. You can stop sooner if you feel reaching “parallel” is too challenging. Once in this position, lift one foot off of the ground by bringing the knee upward. This is the starting position
  3. Hold the position for a period of time, such as 30 seconds. As you increase your level of fitness, the period of time can be extended to 1-2 minutes.
  4. When the desired time has been achieved, slowly place the elevated foot on the ground and repeat on the opposite side.
  5. When finished on both sides, place both feet on the ground and slowly push your body away from the floor by extending your knees and hips, sliding your back up the wall until you reach the starting position.

Single Leg Isometric Wall Squats Demonstration

Alternating Lunges

  1. Stand with your hands on your hips (my preference), out in front of you, down by your sides, or clasped behind the neck. Keep your abdominals isometrically activated during this movement.
  2. Lunge forward with your (right or left) leg. Land on your heel then place your entire foot flat on the floor with the toes pointing forward. Lower your body by flexing the knee and hip of the front leg. The knee and hip of the back leg can also slightly flex, but the bulk of your weight should be supported by the front leg. The knee of the front leg should never go past the toes. Lower your body until the back knee is almost in contact with the floor, but does not touch. Your torso should be upright during the descent (do not lean forward). If you become too unstable, try staying a little higher in the lunge.
  3. Following a brief pause, extend the knee and hip of the front leg. Return to the standing position and bring both feet side-by-side.
  4. Perform the lunge with the opposite leg.
  5. Repeat by alternating each leg until you achieve the desired repetitions.

Alternating Lunges Demonstration

Front Foot Stationary Lunges

  1. Stand with your hands on your sides, out in front of you, down by your sides, or clasped behind the neck. Keep your abdominals isometrically activated.
  2. Lunge forward with your (right or left) leg. Land on your heel then place your entire foot flat on the floor with the toes pointing forward.
  3. Lower your body by flexing the knee and hip of the front leg. The knee and hip of the back leg can also slightly flex, but the bulk of your weight should be supported by the front leg. The knee of the front leg should never go past the toes. Lower your body until the back knee is almost in contact with the floor. If you become too unstable, try staying a little higher in the lunge. Your torso should be upright during the descent and you should not lean forward.
  4. Following a brief pause, extend the knee and hip of the front leg, but leave your front and back foot in the same position. Your feet should remain in the same spot until you’ve completed the number of repetitions in the set.
  5. Repeat with the same leg forward until the desired number of repetitions have been completed.
  6. Swap legs.

Front Foot Stationary Lunges Demonstration

Door Knob Squats

  1. Stand and face the narrow edge of an opened door. Extend your arms forward and grasp a knob on each side of the doorknob (one in each hand). Walk your feet forward to the point of each foot being directly underneath the doorknob. Your legs should be hip-width apart. If you feel uneasy in this position, place a chair underneath your bottom.
  2. Slowly lower your body down until your knees are at a 90 degree angle and your thighs are parallel to the floor. Your bottom should be directly underneath your upper body. Do not allow your knees to go past your toes. If you have a chair underneath you, your bottom should barely touch it. Keep your abdominals isometrically contracted.
  3. Exhale and extend your knees and hips to raise your body to stand. This is the original, starting position.
  4. Repeat until you achieve the desired number of repetitions.

Door Knob Squats Demonstration

Squat Jumps

  1. Stand tall with your feet hip width apart and arms by your side.
  2. Lower your body toward the floor by flexing your knees and hips and pushing your buttocks back. Make sure the weight of your body is supported by your heels. Do not allow your knees to go over your toes. As you descend, keep your chest up and shoulders back.
  3. Squat down to a point where your knees are bent approximately 90 degrees and parallel to the floor.
  4. Following a brief pause, quickly stand back up allowing your feet to “jump” off the ground.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Squat Jumps Demonstration

Lying Hip Raises

  1. Lay flat on the floor with your arms extended out to your sides. Bend your knees about 90 degrees and place your feet flat on the floor at hip-width. You should be able to touch your feet with the tips of your fingers. Raise your lower back and bottom from the floor just slightly . This is your starting position.
  2. Slowly lift your back from the floor by extending and straightening your hips(You should feel this in your glutes and hamstrings). Make sure your abdominals are isometrically contracted. Your thighs and lower back should form a straight line.
  3. Slowly lower to the starting position. At the lower portion of the movement, do not allow your bottom to touch the floor.
  4. Repeat for the recommended amount of repetitions.

Lying Hip Raises Demonstration

Lying Hip Raises With Feet Elevated

  1. Start with the heels of your feet on an elevated surface, such as a chair. Your toes should be pointed straight up. Bend your knees and hips at near 90 degree angles. Extend your arms out to the sides and place your hands flat on the floor to stabilize and support your upper body. Raise your lower back and bottom off of the floor just a few inches. Your shoulders should be firmly on the floor, do not allow pressure on the neck.
  2. Slowly lift your back from the floor by extending and straightening your hips, but keep your knees bent. Make sure your abdominals are isometrically contracted. Your thighs and lower back should form a straight line.
  3. Slowly lower to the starting position by bending your hips. At the lower portion of the movement, do not allow your bottom to touch the floor.
  4. Repeat for desired repetitions.

NOTE: Increasing the intensity of this exercise can be accomplished in two ways. First, the arms can be folded across your chest. This will decrease the support from your upper body and add an even greater challenge to stability. Second, you could perform the exercise with only one leg on the elevated surface while the other leg remains in the air. The active leg will work nearly twice as hard. Be sure to swap to make sure the same number of repetitions is achieved on each leg.

Lying Hip Raises With Feet Elevated Demonstration

Step Ups

  1. Start by placing your right foot in the middle of an elevated, stable surface such as a chair or a bench. The elevated surface should be high enough to allow an approximately 90-degree angle in your knee.
  2. Keeping your right foot still, straighten your right knee to stand on the bench. Your right leg should be straight. Your left leg can either touch the surface next to your right foot (beginner) or remain in the air by keeping your left knee bent (more advanced).
  3. Slowly lower your body toward the ground by bending your right knee as you lower.
  4. Place your left foot on the ground, but keep your right foot on the elevated surface.
  5. Repeat.
  6. Once you complete all of your repetitions, swap to the left foot.

Step Ups Demonstration

Structuring an Effective Workout

For an effective lower body workout, I recommend picking four exercises and performing 2-3 sets of each. You should perform the workout 2 to 3 non-consecutive days per week, such as Monday and Thursday, or Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. That way, you will allow at least a day of rest between each workout. On the other days that you aren't targeting your lower body, you can do strengthening exercises for your upper body.

Below are three example routines.

Lower Body Workout Example 1

ExerciseSetsRepetitionsRest Intervals

Body Weight Squat

3

15

1 minute

Lying Hip Raises

3

15

1 minute

Body Weight Squat Jumps

3

5-15

1 minute

Alternating Lunges

3

15 on each leg

1 minute

Lower Body Workout Example 2

Front Foot Stationary Lunges

3

10-15 on each leg

1 minute

Isometric Wall Squats

3

30-60 seconds

1 minute

Feet Elevated Hip Raises

3

10-20

1 minute

Step Ups

3

10-15 on each leg

1 minute

Lower Body Workout Example 3

ExerciseSetsRepetitionsRest Interval

Squat

3

15

1 minute

Isometric Wall Squat

3

30-60 seconds

1 minute

Hip Raises

3

15

1 minute

Doorway Squat

3

15

1 minute

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Mike Esco

Comments

Mike Esco (author) from Alabama on June 03, 2018:

Hi Derrick,

I know exactly what you mean!

Derrick Bennett on June 03, 2018:

My lower body gives me the most trouble

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