The quadriceps might just be the most difficult muscle to build at home with no or limited access to training equipment. After all, there’s only so much you can do to create a consistent overload that’ll result in progressive muscle growth and strength.
However, with enough volume, technique modification, and intensity, it’s possible to maintain and even build new muscle. And if you want an impressive lower body, muscular quads are non-negotiable. So, try these 13 quadriceps exercises at home, with no equipment necessary.
- Quads anatomy
- 13 best quadriceps exercises you can do at home
The quadriceps or quads are located on the anterior of the upper leg. It consists of four muscles (hence the name) which include the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius.
All four muscles act to extend the knee while only the rectus femoris inserts and functions at the hip. The quads also play a big role in walking, proper posture, and the maintenance of patellar stability.
When developed, the quads contribute to the bulk of the upper leg and total lower body strength.
13 best quadriceps exercises you can do at home
The following exercises range from simple to challenging in no particular order (although, we’ve specified their level of difficulty). Some exercises certainly aren’t for everyone (also noted for ones that apply). But we think most people can benefit from them beyond just maintaining and building muscle/strength.
Many of the exercises below are unilateral (affecting one side), which means they’re good for identifying and correcting imbalances. Not to mention, if your goal is athletics, you should be doing these movements even if you had all the equipment in the world. (1)
Also, if you’re recovering from injuries or rehab, then you may be doing some of these exercises already.
Alright, let’s get to it…
1. Single-leg squat
First up is a superior exercise (single-leg squat) that is a must if your goal is to maximize leg development using only your bodyweight. It allows for much more overload than a basic, two-legged squat. And it does require balance if you choose to not do an assisted variation. This is totally fine and optimal for improving balance and stabilization.
However, if you don’t want to have to worry about balancing, then you can lightly grip a sturdy object for assistance. This is also better for being able to squat through the heel (better for the knees) since you can place your working leg out a little further forward if you hold onto something.
To do it:
- Keep your body straight and core tight.
- Squat down with one leg until your upper leg is parallel or slightly lower while lifting the other leg in front of you.
Lightly grip a door frame or something similar to help you better balance yourself. But don’t pull up as you don’t want to use your upper body. You can also use a TRX, rope, or something similar by wrapping it around something high (e.g. tree branch, door) for balance.
2. Levitation squat
The levitation squat is a variation of the single-leg squat. Except, it’s much easier to balance without having to hold onto anything. Therefore, it’s also much better for improving unilateral development, balance, and stabilization.
To do it:
- While standing, bend one leg and maintain your balance by holding your arms out.
- Squat down until your bent knee reaches a few inches from the ground or it touches.
- Stand back up and repeat for reps then switch to the other leg, alternating for sets.
3. Bulgarian split squat
The Bulgarian split squat is a great movement for isolating one leg. It’s also one of the single-leg exercises we recommend loading up with extra weight when/if and if you do have access to free weights. We also suggest practicing this exercise with no extra weight at first since it requires balance.
If you have a hard time balancing at first, have something next to you for light assistance.
- Stand facing away from a chair, bench, or any similar platform/object.
- Place the top of one foot on the object and move the other leg out a few feet in front of you but try to keep your shin vertical.
- Squat down until your upper leg is parallel or slightly below and then drive back up through your heel.
- Complete your reps and then repeat with the other leg.
4. Jump squat
The jump squat is perfect for building lower body explosiveness and power. If you participate in athletic activities, then then this is a movement that’ll greatly benefit you.
To do it:
- Squat down to parallel or just above while bringing your arms down by your sides.
- Explode through your midfoot and leap into the air while bringing your arms up.
- Landly softly by bending your knees to absorb the impact.
The lunge is probably the most optimal single-leg lower body exercise that allows you to maintain balance while doing it. That’s because both feet are on the floor. It develops the entire leg and is especially effective for training the glutes or butt.
There are so many great variations of the lunge and this is the most basic.
To do it:
- Stand with feet about shoulder-width distance apart.
- Step forward with one leg until it’s bent at a 90-degree angle or slightly lower.
- Drive up through your heel until you’re back in the starting position and repeat with the other leg.
- Alternate legs until you’ve completed the desired number of reps.
6. Rear lunge
The rear lunge is an ideal variation that’s better on the knees than the basic variation above. That’s because it better allows you to keep your shins vertical. But don’t worry, it still works the same muscles.
To do it:
- With feet together, step one leg back behind your body and bend the front leg at a 90-degree angle or slightly lower. Keep your shin vertical.
- Push up through the heel of the front leg back into the starting position and repeat with the other leg.
7. Lateral lunge
We do a lot of exercises that work on the anterior (front) and posterior (back) of the body. But if you’re not doing a type of lateral movement then you’re not training to be well-rounded and developed. Imbalances lead to energy leaks and we’re not able to execute certain movements at the highest possible level.
- Stand with your feet together.
- Step out wide and to the side (laterally) and squat down with that leg keeping your shin as vertical as possible. Keep the weight back on your back.
- Return to the starting position and then repeat with the other leg.
It truly doesn’t get much easier than the step-up. It’s kind of like a squat variation so you work the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and even core. It’s also a very good exercise for those with less than perfect knees because you can step up with a vertical shin. Therefore, you won’t have as much force at the knee if done properly.
To do it:
- Stand in front of an object/platform that is a few feet high.
- Step up onto the end of the platform and use your quads to drive your foot through and lift your body up. Make sure your knee doesn’t move far forward over your foot.
- Step down and repeat with the other leg.
9. Bodyweight leg extension
Don’t have a leg extension machine? That’s not a problem for most people. This variation involves using your upper body as the resistance while your thighs work to extend. This exercise is not for everyone due to the stress at the knee and you might want to use it sparingly either way.
To do it:
- Sit on the floor in a tall kneeling position (lower legs on the floor).
- Lean your torso back and then use your quads to push yourself back into the starting position.
We recommend warming up your knees with some bodyweight squats before doing these. Also, you can lean back only halfway to prevent too much stress on the knees. You may have to experiment a little with this movement to get it just right.
10. Cossack squat
An interesting leg variation, the Cossack squat is similar to a lateral lunge but there are definitely some differences. It’s a very good option for getting a nice, full range of motion in the squat position. But since there’s some additional technique to this movement, we recommend reading our Cossack squat guide below…
Read: Cossack squat exercise guide
11. Skater Jump
You can probably visualize a skater’s technique as they move. Well, the skater jump is going to look very similar because, well, that’s where it gets the name. There is some impact with this exercise so make sure your ankles are in good shape before doing it.
To do it:
- Hinge forward slightly at the hips.
- Jump side to side, squatting down during each jump, and bring the other leg behind the landing foot.
Take small steps if you’re new to this exercise. Perfect the jump before taking bigger leaps for the safety of your knees and ankles.
12. Single-leg squat to box
This variation is similar to the basic single-leg squat. Except, you’ll sit on a platform/object about the height of a box or chair. It’s a really effective exercise for building concentric quad strength and it makes the exercise more challenging which means… more overload/more muscle growth potential.
To do it:
- With your core tight and torso straight, lift the non-working leg and squat down until you’re seated. Place your arms out in front of you for optimal balance and assistance.
- Drive through your midfoot until standing.
- Complete your ideal number of reps then repeat with the other leg.
13. Sissy squat
The sissy squat is very effective for overloading the quads. The only possible drawback is that it can be rather tough on the knees similar to the leg extension. You can do this exercise by holding onto something or freestanding.
To do it:
- Hold onto something high for support or do it freestanding.
- Tighten your core and keep your body straight with feet about shoulder-width.
- Bend your knees and lean back then push your feet through the floor to return to the starting position.
Beginners should avoid bending too deep to ensure optimal knee health. Start with half of the typical range of motion and then gradually increase. Warm-up by doing some light cardio and bodyweight squat before doing these.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is it possible to build big legs using bodyweight only?
You can build lots of muscle in your legs from just bodyweight exercises alone. However, there comes a point when the resistance is not enough to support continued hypertrophy and maximal development.
You can certainly be creative and utilize different techniques to create additional overload though. But it honestly depends on how “big” we’re talking here.
What are the most effective bodyweight quad exercises?
Your best options will be those that utilize one leg at a time and ones that are difficult for you to complete a repetition of, due to having to overcome a relatively challenging load.
So, any exercise that is difficult for you and when performed in a proper manner is going to be the most effective.
A few examples include:
- Single-leg squats
- Lateral lunge
- Bodyweight leg extension
- Single-leg squat to box
- Sissy squat
- Cossack squat
Are bodyweight leg exercises safer than weighted exercises?
There may always be the chance that bodyweight exercises pose less of an injury risk simply because using a lot of additional weight is not natural on the joints and muscles.
However, bodyweight-only exercises offer something that weighted exercises do not and the fact that these movements are very important for overall development means they need to be treated with caution as well.
Sometimes people think just because bodyweight exercises don’t require weights, they can do a lot at first. This simply isn’t true and can lead to injury from overuse and improper form.
Start small and gradually increase your movement. This will ensure you have a better chance at remaining injury-free.
Will it take longer to build muscular legs using bodyweight exercises?
This depends on your experience level, intensity, volume, and exercise selection. If you’ve reached a more advanced level in your training, then most likely bodyweight exercises will result in slower progress.
This is because you’re not able to apply as much overload which is essential for growth at the fastest rate possible.
That’s quite the list of superior quad exercises don’t you think? If you’re not already doing these movements on leg days then you have plenty of great options here. Just make sure to warm-up properly and don’t too much, too fast.
Start small even if you’re used to training hard on leg day at the gym because bodyweight movements offer something unique. Therefore, you should treat them as such. If you progress with these movements, add some weight by loading up a bag, pack or anything else that’ll make these exercises more challenging.
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