If you're looking for a workout that builds muscle and torches fat at the same time, look no further than a well-programmed leg routine. “Your legs are half of your body and they are made up of the largest muscle groups in the entire body, which means you will burn more calories and get that metabolism burning for hours post workout,” says Ethan Marine, Body Architect Anatomy at 1220, who created this routine. You don't even have to hit the gym to hit every single muscle in your lower body. There are great bodyweight exercises that will do the trick, targeting your glutes, quads, calves, hamstrings, both the fast and slow twitch muscle fibers, hip stabilizers, and more. These 10, Marine says, are the best of the best. Work them into your regular leg workout. Or, do them as a bodyweight condition circuit. If you choose to do the circuit, do 3-5 sets of 20 reps per exercise.
"The squat is considered the best exercise to build strong legs and a firm butt," says Marine. "The main muscles worked are quads, glutes, and core."
How to: When squatting, stand with feet either hip width or shoulder width apart, then drive the hips back as if you were going to sit down on a seat behind you. As the hips drive back, allow the knees to bend until you reach your desired depth. It's important to keep the shins vertical at the bottom of the squat to keep the knees from passing the toes. This means that the depth will vary from person to person depending on their anatomy, mobility, and lower body strength. When your knees begin to shift forward, that is your end range.
"While squats are great, the Jump squat will greatly increase the intensity of the exercise," says Marine. "This plyometric exercise will hit the "fast twitch" muscle fibers in the legs and spike the heart rate which will burn more calories and fat."
How to: Simply drive the hips back as you would for the squat, then add an explosive jump straight up, landing softly and quietly. Your landing position should look exactly like your starting position.
*Pictured with dumbbells—no need to use them for this bodyweight circuit.
"In a lunge position your hips are literally split in half which will require a great deal of stability," explains Marine. "The main muscles involved are the glutes, quads, and hamstrings, while the stabilizers in the hips also play an important role in this exercise."
How to: From a standing position, step one leg backwards and bend both knees to a 90 degree angle. It's wise to pause in this position to make sure your form is correct. Make sure the shin on your front leg is vertical and the knee is not passing the toe. Also be aware of your posture, and make sure your torso is tall and vertical, as many people have a tendency to hinge or lean forward. When you're ready to switch legs, drive the heal of the front foot down in the the ground and stand up to your original position.
"In the same way we can add a jump to a squat, we can add a jump to a lunge," says Marine. "This is considered and advanced exercise, so make sure you have mastered the lunge before you add any plyometric movements to it. This will target the same muscle groups, but again focusing more on the fast twitch muscle fibers (fat burners) and spiking the heart rate."
How to: Begin just like you did in the standard lunge. Once you reach the bottom of the lunge, jump up in the air as you switch your legs and land with the opposite leg in front. Always land like a ninja! (Soft and quiet.)
*Pictured with dumbbells—no need to use them for this bodyweight circuit.
This is the lateral variation of the linear lunge discussed before. "The main muscles at work here, which include the glutes (medius), quads, and hips (abductors), will be targeted a bit differently now that you are moving in a lateral plane rather than linear," says Marine. "It's important to have exercises in your program that move through all planes of movement, especially the legs, because our bodies move in all different directions on a daily basis, and it's not functional to train only in vertical or linear movements patterns."
How to: From a standing position, step one leg out to the side and imagine sitting into a squat on this leg, while the stationary leg straightens into full extension at the bottom of your lunge. Return to your original position and switch sides.
*Pictured with barbell, but no need to use any weight in this bodyweight routine.
"This variation of the squat will require much more hip and groin activation from muscle groups like the adductors, as well as the quads and glutes," says Marine.
How to: Stand with your feet wider than shoulder width apart with toes turned out slightly (like a sumo wrestler). While maintaining upright posture, allow the hips to drop down towards the heels and the knees to drive out. It's still important to keep the knees behind the toes and the shins vertical at the bottom of your squat. To stand up, push the heels down and out (like you are trying to rip the floor apart) and push your hips forward to a fully extended position.
"This is an exclusively posterior chain exercise that is perfect for anyone who cannot squat or lunge due to various injuries," says Marine. "This exercise targets the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back."
How to: Start by lying down on the floor on your back with a bent knee position and your feet flat on the ground about shoulder width apart. Push the heels down into the ground while raising the hips off the ground. At the top, squeeze the glutes and keep the abdominals tight to prevent arching in the lower back. Make sure the shins are vertical, then lower your hips back down to their original position.
*Pictured here with Swiss Ball, but no need to use it for this bodyweight circuit. Instead, you can use socks or a towel on a slick floor.
"This exercise hit all the same muscle groups as the glute bridge, however, this will place significantly more stress on the hamstrings with the additional flexion and extension of the knee," says Marine.
How to: Starting in the same position, using something slippery under your feet (socks or a towel on a slick floor) hold hips off the ground & extend the legs, then pull from the heels back under the body.
"The main muscles at work here are the abductors and the glutes (medius)," says Marine. "I like to use this primarily as a mobility/warm-up exercise before I do any standing multi-joint exercises."
How to: In a table top position (on hands and knees) raise one leg to the side keeping your knee at 90 degrees (at this point you will realize why it's called a fire hydrant), then lower the leg back down to it's original position.
*Pictured with dumbbells, but no need to use them in this bodyweight routine.
"The step up is one of the most effective low risk exercises you can do for your lower body, and it's so simple," says Marine. "I always like to incorporate a single leg (unilateral) movement into my program to promote balance in the body and legs as well as stability. Antigravity movements like the step-up are a great way to strengthen the legs and burn more calories."
How to: Simply place one foot on an elevated platform, like a bench, and push your leading foot down as you stand straight up. Avoid leaning forward or hinging at the hip. This is an amazing exercise for both glutes and quads!