4 key bodyweight exercises for your leg day that you might not know much about!
I hate leg exercises, personally. I don't know why so many people share my sentiment but it seems no one likes leg day (I do full body workouts so I don't have a leg day, but I still workout my legs).
These four exercises, however, are my holy grail. I'm not saying they'll make leg day fun, but I am saying they'll make you feel great by the end of your workout. Not only do these exercises actually work out all the leg muscles you need, but they feel like they do as well, giving you a sense of accomplishment by the end of the workout, so let's dive right in!
You know the bridge position from yoga? This is like that but without all the straining. In a glute-ham raise you put yourself in a bridge position, except your head and shoulders stay on the floor and you push your lower body off the floor with your legs. This exercise trains the glutes and hamstrings and (in my opinion!) is one of the best for really feeling the tension in the glutes (squats just weren't working the glutes for me as well as I wanted them to).
To make the exercise more challenging, switch to a one-legged version. Not only does this make for more tension in the glutes and hamstrings, but this also engages your core as you have to keep your balance while doing it. Benefits all around!
These really are a classic. They're like pushups you do with your legs. In an ideal world, they should target your quads, hamstrings, glutes, abs and lower back. The likelihood is you won't be feeling all these areas be engaged when you squat, as one or two of the muscles mentioned will be far more developed than the others, and you won't feel these as much as the less developed ones, over time they'll all catch up with each other and you'll have a much more efficient squat.
To make the squat easier, hold onto something like a table or a desk to take some of the weight off your legs as you perform the exercise (this is a great way to ease yourself into the technique if you're a beginner).
To make it harder (if you've hit a wall in your progress and squats have become too easy), you can weight the squat (we recommend holding a kettlebell or weight in your hands rather than a bar as it's more ergonomic), or even better you can do what is called a 'pistol squat', which is a squat performed on one leg (pictured at the top of the article). Not only will this really work your muscles well, it's amazing for core strength and balance. It's not easy though!
These are simple enough, stand straight and push off the floor with your calves, keep your body straight and balanced so that you're not using any other muscles to help. This is one of the best ways to engage your calves when you don't have access to a machine, and it's also very helpful for core balance.
A handy tip (that I wish someone had told me) for calf raises is to do them from a raised surface, like the stairs (provided you're holding on to the banister), with the ball of your foot on the raised surface but your heels hanging off. This increases the range of movement for the exercise, increasing the functionality and the tension in your muscles.
This exercise differs from the others listed above in that it's a static exercise. This means you simply hold yourself still and do not move through a range of motion. In the horse stance, you hold yourself in a squat position with your legs spread, feet out at 45 degrees to your front and your leg muscles under tension.
The most important thing to remember about this exercise is to make sure your knees never go beyond your ankles. If you allow your knees to bend so that they go further out than where you have positioned your ankles then you risk serious knee injuries.
This exercise is great for ending a workout where you need to squeeze out that extra bit of tension and really get the improvement you deserve, it works great to get you out of the workout mindset and allow your breathing to return to normal while still keeping your muscles under tension. It's important to incorporate static exercises into your training from time to time if you're training functionally.
These are my four go-to exercises for when i'm working out my legs. I very rarely dip out of this pool of techniques since together they work out every muscle between them. They should be your go to exercises when you think about functional leg training.