Getting to the gym is hard enough as is, and the wait for equipment once you’re there makes it even worse. Fortunately, you can get a great workout without any dumbbells, barbells, or fancy machinery. Our Weight-Free Workouts series focuses on a different muscle group each time to show you how to build strength, even when you don’t have access to the gym. With these moves, any time can be workout time.
Most gym-goers know they shouldn’t skip leg day if they want to avoid developing skinny legs that look like they belong on a different body. Though aesthetics matter, the physical benefits are substantial as well. Taking the time to build your calves, quads, hamstrings, and glutes can boost your metabolism and help you shed fat. Strengthening the muscles in your legs can also improve your performance in other sports, reduce your risk of injury, and make running significantly easier.
Today’s topic is quadriceps, the four muscles that make up the front part of your upper leg. Though most guys look to lunges and squats with a heavy weight across their shoulders to strengthen their quads, this method can be hard on your back. Instead of risking an injury, try these five bodyweight exercises.
1. Bodyweight jump squat
Regular bodyweight squats are the best place for beginners to start because form is everything with this exercise. It doesn’t matter that you have loads on your barbell if your knees barely bend or your back is out of alignment. Still, you can only perform so many basic squats before you need to increase the intensity. This is the perfect opportunity to introduce jump squats.
For this move, you’ll start with your feet spaced shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. You can cross your arms in front of your chest or bend your elbows and tuck your hands behind your head, whichever feels most comfortable. Bend your knees and lower your body toward the ground until your knees are bent at 90-degree angles and your thighs are parallel to the floor. From this lowered position, jump straight up as high as you can, then land on slightly bent knees. You should immediately go into the next squat. Check out Muscle & Fitness to see a demonstration.
The benefits of jump squats are numerous. Adding the jump helps build power and also elevates your heart rate, which boost your cardiovascular fitness. Because you need to stop the momentum as you land and lower into the squat, your muscles will also have to work harder the same way they would if you were holding onto a barbell.
2. Fixed-place side lunge
Lunges are one of those standard strengthening moves that will never go out of style because they’re so good at working most of the muscles in your lower body, including your quads. Performing the same back to forward motion isn’t all that practical for functional activities and sports, which involve movement in more than one plane of motion. Incorporating some side lunges is a great way to get your body used to moving in a different way. As an added bonus, this move will also help you strengthen the adductor muscles that run along the insides of your thighs.
For this move, start with your feet spaced about double the width of your shoulders apart. You can cross your arms in front of your chest, or extend them straight in front of you. Shift your weight to your left side, and lunge until your left knee is directly over your left ankle and bent at about a 90-degree angle. Push straight back up to the starting position, and repeat. After completing your repetitions on the left leg, switch to the right. Head to Men’s Health to check out a video breaking down this move.
You may have seen side lunges that begin with your feet closer together and require you to step out to the side. Though this move can be effective, it’s hard to get the placement of your foot correct as you step out. Eliminating the step ensures you’ll be lunging the correct way every time.
3. Double leg butt kick
The double leg butt kick engages your quads as you push off as hard and fast as you can, which is fantastic for building explosive power. Brute strength is good for simply lifting heavy loads, but power is what’s really going to make you a more functional athlete. If you like to play an occasional game of tennis or basketball with friends, building power is going to be hugely beneficial.
Start in a standing position with your feet spaced shoulder-width apart and a bit of give in your knees. Bend your knees into just a slight squat, then jump with as much force and speed as you can. As your feet come off the ground, pull your heels up to touch your butt before landing with slightly bent knees. You can see a video illustrating this exercise at Bodybuilding.com.
4. Pistol squat
A squat variation that will significantly increase your effort, the pistol squat also helps you work on balance since you’ll only be working one leg at a time. If you’re not used to moves performed on a single leg, you may want to start with a modified squat that doesn’t go quite as low. As your balance and strength improve, you’ll gradually be able to lower yourself all the way down without falling over.
For pistol squats, stand on your left leg with your right foot hovering just above the ground. For the best balance, extend your arms out in front of you. Moving in a slow, controlled motion, slowly squat down. Extend your right leg out in front of you as you get closer to the ground, and end with your butt just about touching your left foot. Reverse the motion by using your quads to push straight back up to the starting position. Complete all your repetitions on the left side before switching legs. Go to Livestrong to see the move in action.
5. Warrior I
Often known as a way to improve flexibility, yoga is seriously underrated as an exercise to increase strength. The poses are essentially isometric holds, which many of us already incorporate in our routines. You can think of warrior I as a plank for your lower body because it involves the same focused effort and challenges multiple muscles at once. It’s particularly good for your quads, hamstrings, and glutes.
To get into this pose, start in a standing position with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Step your left leg about four feet forward as you reach your arms straight up with your palms facing in, then lift your gaze toward the ceiling. Turn your right foot so it points out to the side at a 45-degree angle, then bend your left leg to lower into a half lunge. You should work to square your hips as much as possible. Yoga Journal recommends holding the pose for at least 30 seconds before switching sides.