Best Leg Workouts for Women at Home and in the Gym
Are you bored doing the same workout routine every leg day? Or maybe you want to step up your game and get strong for a new sport you want to try, like rock climbing or water skiing. Either way, a tough leg workout is a great way to use your largest muscle groups and get your blood pumping.
Women tend to be stronger in their bottom half, so leg workouts for women are a great way to make sure you use your time wisely and get strong where it matters most.
We've collected the best options for bodyweight leg workouts for women. Use these at-home or at the gym. Mix and match from the different sections, depending on whether you just have 15 minutes or a full hour to do your thing.
Getting your muscles warm is actually more important for injury prevention and performance than static stretching. Stretching used to be the first thing you'd do before the hard part of a workout or activity, but the new wisdom is that stretching cold is a bad idea.
Rather, experts recommend warming up with a light jog or movement-based stretching like bodyweight lunges. For your leg workout warm-up at home, here are some of our favorite warm-up options. As with all exercises, listen to your body and only push yourself as far as it feels safe.
- Jumping jacks and bodyweight squats: Do a set of 15 jumping jacks, and then move right into 10 bodyweight squats. Start the squats with your feet hip-width apart, and make sure to push your butt out as you lower down. Keep your knees from going in front of your toes.
Alternate these two exercises for three sets You should be catching your breath when you squat and focusing on deep breaths during the jumping jacks.
- High knees and lunges: Do the same structure and number of reps and sets as above, starting with high knees. Stand in place, and kick your bent left leg up so that your thigh is parallel to your chest (we're going gentle right now, no need to touch your chest), then switch back and forth. Add a bounce to increase your heart rate.
One rep is one left and one right high knee. Do 15 reps before switching to alternating lunges. Take care that your front knee doesn't go in front of your toe. Do two total sets.
You can pair any two of your favorite leg exercises this way for a good leg warm-up. The above ones require very little space at home and no equipment.
If you're in the gym, you could:
- Cycle: Grab a stationary bike and set the timer for 10 minutes on a 3 or 4 intensity setting.
- Walk/jog/climb: Hop on a treadmill and start a medium-paced walk for about 3 minutes. Then, increase your speed to a light jog. Time it for one minute, then slow down and increase the incline so that you're starting to climb. Alternate jogging and climbing for a minute each for 8 to 10 minutes or until you break a sweat.
After warming up your legs, your body will be ready to start more intensive exercises.
Best At-Home Leg Workouts for Women
The exercises we’ll show you today will engage your whole leg. If you only do exercises that isolate individual muscles, you could get them out of balance and potentially hurt yourself.
This first set of moves can all be done at home with very little space or equipment requirements — they’re all bodyweight exercises. First, we’ll teach you the moves, then we’ll suggest a time-saving HIIT (High-intensity Interval Training) workout strategy.
Grab a bench or a sturdy chair (or coffee table — we won't tell) you can safely step on. Keep your back straight and your butt out to protect your lower back. Step up with one leg leading 10 times. Rest for 15 seconds, then repeat the process with the other leg leading.
Bulgarian Split Squats
Use that same bench, chair, or a hanging looped strap at the gym. Get about 2 feet away from it, and face away from the bench or strap. Lift your left leg backward and rest the top of your foot on the bench (or loop it through the strap). Bend your left knee at a 90-degree angle. Then, squat down with your right leg, ensuring that your knee doesn’t go over your toe. Use the same leg to do 10 reps on each leg to complete one set. Do three total sets, resting for 15 seconds in between.
There are a few ways to do this floor exercise. You can choose one per workout or do all of them. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. You can do easy bridges by bringing your hips into the air. Keep a straight back, tight core, glutes, inner thighs (adductors), outer thighs (abductors), and hamstrings. Hold for three seconds. Lower your butt down without touching the ground, then up again for another three seconds. Do this 10 times for one set. Complete three sets.
*Note: You can also make this exercise more challenging by turning it into single-leg bridges. Straighten one leg and lift it at a 45-degree angle as you do a bridge. Do 10 on each leg before switching.
You can do this exercise in short stints or as an isometric exercise. It just requires a wall you can push your back into.
Wall squats are exactly what they sound like: a squat against a wall. It's easiest to imagine that you're sitting in an invisible chair against the wall with your feet hip-width apart.
For isometrics, start with 30 seconds. Work on building up to one minute or longer as you get stronger and build muscle in your legs. For shorter reps, just hold the wall squat for 5 seconds, then release by standing up and move right into the next one. Do 10 to 15 of the shorter ones for one set.
This exercise opens your hip flexors and strengthens your abductors. From your hands and knees, lift your bent right knee outward (use your imagination based on the name!). Hold for 3 seconds, then slowly lower down. Lift the same leg 10-15 times for one set, then switch. Try to keep your body rigid and focused rather than letting your weight slink into the hip that stays still.
If you’re looking to save time and get your heartrate up faster with your targeted home workout for women, you can turn these exercises into a HIIT workout. It’s easiest to download a HIIT timer app on your phone, and set it to the intervals you like. If you’re just starting out with HIIT, try 30 seconds on, 15 seconds rest at 8 minutes. Then choose two exercises from above and do them in rounds, alternating between the two for the full 8-minute cycle.
The timer will tell you when to work and when to rest. Then take a longer rest, choose two more, and go again for another 8 minutes. By doing these strength-based workouts in a HIIT format, you’re turning your light strength training exercises into a full-body cardio workout — the ultimate leg workout for women on-the-go.
The awesome thing about being at home for leg day is that you can make a yummy smoothie afterwards to fuel all the muscles you just shredded. Boost your performance with Bright Whey or Glow-Getter Collagen in your post-workout smoothie.
Best Gym Leg Exercises for Women
Going to the gym on leg day means a lot more workout options. That being said, if you’re going to lift heavier weights, have a friend or a fellow gym-goer spot you for safety.
The gym is also a great place to test out basic equipment like resistance bands so you can decide which sizes you might want to buy for home use. By gradually increasing resistance, whether with bands, kettlebells, dumbbells, or machines, you’ll work your lower body harder than when doing bodyweight exercises. Both have their place, so let’s get into some of our favorite weighted resistance movements:
In both of these squats, spread your feet shoulder-width apart, turn your toes slightly outward, and keep your knees soft. If you’re in a rack for squats, again you’ll want a spotter. If you don’t have a spotter, stick with goblets. Choose one squat type per workout.
- Goblet squats: Choose a kettlebell with a weight that works for you and place it on the ground between your feet. Lift it to your chest and begin your squat. Do three sets of 10. If you go very heavy, do fewer reps. Take care of your lower back when you set the kettlebell back on the ground.
- Barbell squats: With an olympic barbell, add a weight that works for you, and step under to rest the bar across the back of your shoulders before lifting and squatting. Do three sets of 10 (or if you’re going very heavy, your reps can decrease).
In all three of these deadlifts, the starting position is the same — feet shoulder-width apart, toes slightly turned out, knees soft, the bar or the barbell in front of you. If you’ve never done a deadlift, ask for help before you add weight to make sure you’re doing the motion correctly. It’s an easy one to get wrong.
Choose one deadlift type per workout or shorten your sets to do more than one.
- Bar deadlifts: Plate your barbell to the weight that works for you, and step toward the bar. You’ll squat down to lift, but as you lift, keep your back straight, your shoulders back, and your rear back. Do two sets of 10. If you’re going very heavy, do fewer reps.
- Sumo deadlifts: This lift is the same as with the barbell, except you’re using a dumbbell, and the handle is perpendicular to the floor. You’ll lift the dumbell the same way as the barbell, adjusting your hands around a smaller barbell.
- Single-leg deadlifts: This exercise requires a kettlebell, and the motion is a bit different from the others. As you stand on your right foot, lift your left foot straight back, reaching with your left arm down to the kettlebell. Keeping your left leg and back totally straight and your right knee soft, you’ll lift the kettlebell with your left hand and stand up. That’s one rep. Do two sets of 10. This exercise is a total-body workout, requiring stabilizing muscles in your lower legs and core. You can also do this one at home without weights to master the movement and get your stabilizers engaged before adding weight.
You can do this exercise on two different machines at the gym. We recommend using the one where you lay on your belly face-down, rather than the one where you’re seated and curling your legs underneath you. The former allows you to use more of your glutes than the latter.
Leg day at the gym feels awesome. But you’ll want to refuel right when you’re finished for maximum muscle-building benefit. Before you leave your house, scoop your favorite protein powder into a blender bottle and toss it into your gym bag. As soon as you’re done with your workout, add water and start drinking during cool-down.
Best Leg Workouts for Women Who Want to Get Strong
Whether you’re getting your sweat on in your living room or at the gym, these leg workouts will help you step out of your comfort zone and get going on your fitness goals and new exciting activities.
Getting strong is hotter than ever, and these exercises and the right boosters will get you there. Take our quiz to find out which supplements will help you reach your fitness goals.