You don’t need weights to build stronger legs — just these 6 bodyweight exercises

Woman in black workout clothes performing a side lunge on her left leg outdoors against a concrete background
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

When you think about the most effective leg exercises, you might naturally first consider heavyweight moves like barbell back squats and deadlifts. Those are undoubtedly great exercises, but you can get a great leg workout done without lifting any weights at all.

The six leg exercises below will help you do that. They have been put together into one lower-body routine by fitness trainer Kyle Knapp, and all of the exercises are ‘slow and low’. This means they involve doing low holds and working at a slow tempo to work your muscles, and maximize time under tension to produce the biggest benefits from your workout.

You don’t need to use any weights to benefit from these leg exercises, but Knapp says you can easily add in a weight to increase the challenge if you want to. An adjustable dumbbell would be a great option for this, because you can change the weight for each move quickly so it’s set at the right level.

What Are The Six Bodyweight Leg Exercises?

You can see the six moves being demonstrated by Knapp on his Instagram post, and it’s worth watching because the moves will be much more effective if done with perfect form. They are also not the most common exercises you’ll see being done at the gym, with Knapp adding little changes to classic moves, so check his form guide videos to do them correctly.

The six-move routine can be done as a standalone workout if you want to, or you can start adding them into your existing leg sessions to keep things interesting and challenge your muscles with slow, low moves. Knapp doesn’t give a suggested amount of reps or length of time for each move, but just 45-60 seconds on each will probably be enough to get your leg muscles quivering.

  • Low squat back tap
  • Lunge reach quad extension
  • Staggered calf raise hold
  • Low side squat slide and hold
  • Bear leg extension
  • Low bounce speed switch

The six moves target different areas of the lower body, with all the major muscle groups like the quads, hamstrings, calf muscles and glutes all getting some attention. Most of the moves involve staying low and moving slowly to challenge the muscles, and the low bounce speed switch is a plyometric exercise involving explosive movements.

These types of exercises allow you to build significant strength in your legs without needing the extra resistance provided by weights, although adding weights if you’re strong enough and have them available will help to increase the benefits of the moves. 

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Nick Harris-fry
Senior Writer

Nick Harris-fry is an experienced health and fitness journalist, writing professionally since 2012. He spent nine years working on the Coach magazine and website before moving to the fitness team at Tom’s Guide in 2024. Nick is a keen runner and also the founder of YouTube channel The Run Testers, which specialises in reviewing running shoes, watches, headphones and other gear.

Nick ran his first marathon in 2016 after six weeks of training for a magazine feature and subsequently became obsessed with the sport. He now has PBs of 2hr 27min for the marathon and 15min 30sec for 5K, and has run 13 marathons in total, as well as a 50-mile ultramarathon.

He runs 50-80 miles a week and races regularly with his club, which gives him a lot of opportunity to test out running gear: he has tested and reviewed hundreds of pairs of running shoes, as well as fitness trackers, running watches, sports headphones, treadmills, and all manner of other kit. Nick is also a qualified Run Leader in the UK.