Forget lunges — this 4-move leg workout sculpts strong lower-body muscle

Woman exercising outdoors in the sunshine in a high plank position drawing her left knee towards right arm
(Image credit: Shutterstock images/ Jacob Lund)

This four-move leg workout is how I like to blow the cobwebs away on stale leg day programs. And you just need 16 minutes and minimal equipment to hit the major muscles in your lower body without aggravating the causes of knee pain

We know one-off workouts can torch your lower body, ramp up your heart rate, burn calories, and fire up your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and core muscles. But sculpting a strong and defined lower body is about long-term work rather than an overnight success. 

You’ll need to train consistently to see marked improvements in strength, power, muscle mass, and to notice sculpted leaner limbs. 

But the good news is you only need these four exercises and an unforgiving exercise format to hit next-level leg day shakes. I’ve designed just that. The best part? No lunges or jumping. Let’s keep it knee-friendly, shall we? 

Grab one of the best yoga mats and read on.  

16-minute four-move lower-body EMOM  

The beauty of this short and effective leg workout is that all the attention is on those large, powerful muscles that drive movement — your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and core muscles. That means you can strengthen the muscles around your knees, which could help combat pesky knee pain without aggravating them further with lunges or jumping. 

Use any weights you like, but I recommend a medium-heavy kettlebell or one of the best adjustable dumbbells and a heavy medicine ball. Each movement is functional (you can learn more about functional training and why we love it here) and comprises four compound exercises that target and strengthen multiple muscles and joints in one move. 

For the first exercise, I added more intensity by increasing the range of motion. The technique helps muscles to adapt and grow without more load or equipment, and it’s one of the 5 clever ways to build muscle without lifting heavier because you can contract more muscle fibers for longer.

Man against a concrete background holding a medicine ball above his head in an overhead squat

(Image credit: Getty images/ Maridav)

EMOM16 

Minute 1: 8-12 reps / Deficit weighted squat

Minute 2:  15 reps / Wall ball cleans

Minute 3: 50 seconds / Mountain climbers

Minute 4: 20 reps / Weighted frog squat

Complete the set number of reps in the first minute, then rest until the next minute begins, and so on, for four rounds.

In minute three, work for 50 seconds and rest for 10 seconds. You should always have 10 seconds to spare before hitting the next exercise but scale the reps and weights to your ability.

1. Deficit weighted squat

This exercise works your lower body through a fuller range of motion by elevating your feet to create a deficit on a box, a stack of plates, or benches. The wider stance also emphasizes your outer glutes — the gluteus medius. Check out the cues in the video and remember to adopt a sumo squat position with toes pointed out. Learn how to nail the move by checking out when I did 50 sumo squats every day for a week — here’s what happened.

How:

  • Stand with feet elevated in a sumo squat position
  • Hold a weight with both hands in front of you
  • Lower into a squat and touch the weight to the floor
  • Drive up to stand. 

2. Wall ball cleans

Cleans engage multiple muscle groups across the body, including your core, but if you don’t have a ball to hold, we cover kettlebell clean variations in the 5 best kettlebell exercises for beginners. Wall ball cleans help you develop grip and forearm strength and are a much easier variation to master. For some extra pushing power, try wall balls (I did 50 wall balls every day for a week, and here’s how to master them). Move fast to hit 15 reps and ramp up your heart rate.

How:

  • Start with your ball on the floor in front of you
  • Lower into a squat to pick up the ball
  • Shrug the ball upward
  • Catch in a low squat position, ball to chest
  • Drive up to stand.  

3. Mountain climbers

You can learn how to do mountain climbers here. If you struggle with hip flexibility, I recommend practicing Cossack squats to help open your hips and develop hip flexibility and lower back strength. The exercise will increase your heart rate and adds an element of cardio, hip flexor activation, and speed. 

How:

  • Start in a plank position
  • Drive your right knee toward your right elbow
  • As you replace your right leg, drive your left knee to your left elbow
  • Repeat.  

4. Frog squats

Frog squats require you to send your bum up and back from a low squat position in a see-saw motion to work your quads and hamstrings. It’s a slow burner, so you won’t need any weights to feel the move torching your legs. But if you do want to add weight, hold one in a goblet grip (in front of your chest) using both hands. 

How:

  • Start in a low squat position
  • Gently push your knees outward with both elbows and grip the weight in both hands
  • Send your hips up and back and lower your chest
  • Lower your bum back down.  

If 16 minutes of leg work isn't enough, check out more workouts below to tack onto the end for a well-rounded workout, and always remember to stretch before and after you exercise!

More from Tom’s Guide

Sam Hopes
Senior Staff Writer - Fitness

Sam Hopes is a level III fitness trainer, level II reiki practitioner, and senior fitness writer at Future PLC, the publisher of Tom's Guide. She is also about to undertake her Yoga For Athletes training course. Having trained to work with mind and body, Sam is a big advocate of using mindfulness techniques in sport and fitness, and their impact on performance. She’s also passionate about the fundamentals of training and building sustainable training methods.  When she's not writing up her experiences with the latest fitness tech and workouts, you’ll find her writing about nutrition, sleep, recovery, and wellness.