A Leg Workout For Beginners (Without Weights)

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leg exercises for beginners

The legs are the largest muscle group in the human body, and with good reason. Everything from walking, running, to standing up and sitting down involves the legs.

If you find yourself pushing with your arms or rocking forwards to get off the sofa, chances are you need to give those legs some attention.

Having a good leg workout provides numerous benefits including:

  • Assists with daily routines – even standing in a queue requires strong leg muscles.
  • Boosts weight loss – as there are so many muscles in the legs, working them out requires a lot of energy. Enjoying a leg workout means calories are burnt.
  • Improves cardio function – more than any other muscle group, exercising the legs increases heart rate.
  • Reduces back pain – many lower back issues are caused by the back muscles compensating for unconditioned quadriceps and hamstrings.
  • Improves appearance – whether on the beach, or simply getting the legs out in shorts or a skirt, toned legs look great.

This article includes an effective leg workout which targets all the main muscles. As a benefit, all the exercises are done with your own bodyweight. There is no additional equipment required.

The leg muscles

The legs contain around twenty individual muscles. The most important ones, and those that will be pushed the hardest in this workout, are:

Quadriceps Femoris

Often referred to as simply the ‘quads’, these muscles are some of the largest in the leg. They are found on the front of the thighs and are responsible for allowing the leg to extend at the knee.

Calf Muscles

These include the soleus and gastrocnemius muscles. They allow you to walk by providing the ‘push’ as you step forwards.


The inner thigh muscles which enable you to grip things between your legs.

Tibialis Anterior

A slim muscle which is located on the shin. It is used to help you move your foot and raise it upwards towards the shin bone.


Found on the back of the thigh, the hamstrings allow both the knees and hips to flex.

How to complete the leg workout?

As with all exercises, take it easy at first. This leg workout is designed with the beginner to intermediate home fitnessenthusiast in mind. If you find the repetitions stated are impossible, reduce them a little until you are comfortable. However, do not make it too easy.

By the end of each set you should be struggling to finish the last few repetitions. If you are completing them easily, you need to increase the number. Once you have found your limit, try and raise by at least one repetition per session.

This at-home workout is designed to be completed from start to finish—providing a complete leg program. However, if you are looking for workout that will push all the muscle groups, this article can help too. Choose one exercise for the legs (I would recommend squat jumps) and combine with other muscle specific exercises.

The at-home leg workout for beginners

In general, this leg workout should take around 60 minutes to complete from start to finish. This includes break periods.

Always start the workout with a little warm-up. I like to do a few standing toe touches to stretch the muscles, followed by a few minutes stationary jogging.

This workout should be completed twice a week if possible, but do not perform on consecutive days. The muscles need time to recover and rebuild from the previous session.

Side leg raise

A good exercise to start the workout. It stretches all the major muscles in the legs and is a nice gentle start to get the blood flowing. Side leg raises also have the added bonus of exercising the abdominals.

  1. Start by lying on your left hand side on the floor.
  2. Place your left elbow directly below your left shoulder for support. Your forearm should extend out in front of you, palm down.
  3. Position your right hand on the ground just in front of your abdomen.
  4. Your right leg should lay flat on top of the left leg, both perfectly straight.
  5. This is the starting position.
  6. Keeping the right leg in a full extension, raise upwards from the hip.
  7. Lift until your foot is level with your head.
  8. Hold for two seconds.
  9. Slowly lower your leg down to the starting position again. This should be in one controlled movement. Do not ‘drop’ the leg.
  10. That is one repetition complete.
  11. After 20 repetitions have been completed, turn onto your right-hand side and do the same exercise with your left leg a further 20 times.
  12. This concludes one set.
  13. Rest for three minutes.
  14. Do two more sets, with a three minute break.

Always ensure that your leg remains straight. Do not move your upper body, or try to swing the leg upwards by dropping your shoulders. Slow, controlled and steady movements increase the efficacy.


An exercise that is a favorite of P.T. instructors and military forces worldwide. It’s a great all-round leg exercise as it works the quads, hamstrings and both calf muscles.

  1. Stand from a standing position with feet a little more than shoulder width apart. Ideally they should be pointing out slightly.
  2. Bend at the hips and move into a squatting position. Pretend there is an imaginary chair that you are sitting on. Your thighs should be parallel to the floor.
  3. Lift your arms up straight in front of you as if you are reaching for something. You will find that your back naturally leans forward in order to create perfect balance.
  4. Palms should be face down.
  5. Look straight forwards, not at the floor.
  6. This is your starting position.
  7. Slowly push yourself upwards into an upright stance by driving power through your thighs and calf muscles.
  8. Arms should remain locked and straight. Do not swing them to lift your body.
  9. You should now be standing up with a straight back, arms outstretched.
  10. In a controlled movement, lower yourself back down again to the starting position.
  11. That is one repetition.
  12. Continue until 12 repetitions have been completed and take a three minute rest.
  13. Do two more sets of 12, ensuring a three minute break between each.

You should be able to complete the first set of 12 without any issues. Subsequent sets may become harder. If you fail to do three complete sets do not worry. Reduce the number of repetitions to eight or 10.

Conversely, if you find this exercise too easy, difficulty can be increased by wearing a weighted backpack.

Calf raise

One of the simplest exercises for the legs, but one of the most effective. This exercise pushes the calf muscles hard, and leads to clearly defined muscle tone in the back of the legs.

The beauty of this exercise lies in the fact you can do it at any time. Waiting for a train or queuing at the bank.

  1. Stand upright, feet together, arms by your sides.
  2. Look straight ahead.
  3. This is the starting position.
  4. Slowly push into the ground and raise your heels off the floor. This will push your entire body upwards—your only point of contact with the ground being the balls of your feet and your toes.
  5. At the uppermost position, hold for two seconds.
  6. Lower yourself down again so your heels are back on the ground. It is important that this is done slowly. The more time it takes, the more resistance you are putting on the calf muscles.
  7. That is one repetition.
  8. Do 12 repetitions then rest for three minutes.
  9. Complete two more sets of 12, resting between each for three minutes.

Even if you find this easy to begin with, I would recommend not pushing it past 12 repetitions unless you are used to exercising the calves. I recall starting on my exercise regime and going a little over the top on the calf exercises. The next day, walking was painful. Slowly build up over each session.

When you have been doing this exercise for a few sessions, you can increase intensity by holding dumbbells in the hands. If you do not have any, use rice bags or bottled water.

Squat jumps

While doing the calf raises, your quads have had time to recover from the squats. Now it is time to push them even harder with squat jumps.

  1. Start from a standing position. Your feet should be slightly wider than your hips. Angle them to point outwards a little.
  2. Flex at the hips to get into the squat.
  3. Ensure your thighs are parallel to the ground.
  4. Place fingers of both hands on the back of your head, elbows pointing outwards.
  5. If you wish you can interlock the fingers.
  6. Look straight forward.
  7. This is your starting position.
  8. Propel yourself up in the air as high as possible, straightening out your legs as shown in image ‘B’.
  9. Try to land on the balls of your feet and immediately lower yourself back into the squat position.
  10. That is one repetition.
  11. Complete a set of 12 repetitions and then rest for three minutes. After this break, do two more sets with a break in between.

You will really feel this exercise working the muscles. In addition to resistance training, this exercise also is a great aerobic activity.


One of my favorite leg exercises. It stretches the calves, hamstrings and quads and provides a good workout for the tibialis anterior.

  1. Start in an upright position, feet waist-width apart. Your back should be straight and look directly forwards.
  2. Place hands on hips. This helps with balance when going into the lunge itself.
  3. This is your starting position.
  4. With your right leg, take a large step forward.
  5. Lower your hips so that your right thigh is parallel to the ground. Your right knee should be directly over your ankle.
  6. Your left leg should be bent, with the knee close to, but not touching, the floor.
  7. Hold for two seconds.
  8. Push back into the starting position again and take a step back.
  9. Complete the same technique for the left leg.
  10. That is one repetition.
  11. Do three sets of 12 repetitions each, with a three minute break in between each set.

Movement on this exercise should be slow and deliberate. It is not a race. The more time you take the more benefit you will receive.

Side lunge

All the exercises so far have performed a forward and backward movement. The side lunge pushes the lateral movement of the leg muscles—giving strength to the adductors.

  1. Stand up straight. Feet should be beneath the hips.
  2. Look directly forward throughout this exercise.
  3. Make a fist with your hand and grasp with the other. Alternatively you can interlock fingers.
  4. Bend your arms at the elbows and hold the hands just below the chin.
  5. This is your starting position.
  6. Take a large step to the right, your left foot should remain planted to the floor.
  7. Bend at the hips into the side lunge, leaning slightly forwards. Try to get your right thigh into a position where it is parallel with the floor.
  8. Your left leg should be in full extension and perfectly straight.
  9. Hold for two seconds.
  10. Push back through the legs to power you back into the upright starting position again.
  11. Complete this same technique with your left leg.
  12. That is one repetition completed.
  13. Do 12 repetitions to finish your first set.
  14. After a three minute break, do two more sets with a break in the middle for three minutes.

Do not be afraid to take large steps. The larger the step, the more you are working those leg muscles.

Concluding the workout

Cooling down after this intense workout is essential if you want to be able to walk without pain in the following days.

I always do a couple of easy exercises. First, simply ‘march’ on the spot, lifting thighs until they are parallel with the floor, do this for about one minute. Secondly, give the legs a literal ‘shakedown’. Just shake each leg one by one, alternating after about thirty seconds. Do this four times.

Final Thoughts

With more muscles than any other group in the body, the legs demand and deserve attention.

Following this workout will improve strength, stability, help prevent back pain and make those legs look incredible. Don’t be one of those people who ‘miss leg day’. Stand out from the crowd with an impressive pair of pins.

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