How to tone and strengthen your legs at home
Whether you want to lose weight or develop your physique, it is important to train the legs as much as your upper body.
If your aim is to lose weight, building lean muscle mass will boost your calorie burning - the more muscle you have, the more your body naturally burns calories even while you're sleeping!
And if you want to develop your physique, building leg muscles - the largest muscles in the body - releases testosterone which boosts muscle building in other areas of the body.
The problem with leg training is that our legs are already relatively strong because you already work them a lot - to sit, walk around and stand. And so in order to train them to any meaningful degree, you will need equipment such as a leg press machine or squat rack and free weights, either option being quite expensive!
The purpose of this article, therefore, is to give you some guidance into the best way of working the legs at home - and on a budget.
Are you trying to lose weight or build muscle?
When working the legs at home and on a budget, my number one choice of leg exercise is the Bulgarian Squat (also called the Bulgarian Split Squat). As you will see from the video below, you train one leg at a time with the rear leg being raised.
I highly recommend adding this exercise to your training routine for the following reasons:
- even without any additional weight, it works the legs enough for beginners
- you can increase the amount of weight going through your legs without having to buy so much equipment
- unlike other leg exercises, you don't need a spotter so can "go heavy" in relative safety - if you can't return to the standing position, just put down the dumbbells!
- the focus on individual legs means you can't rely on the strength of one leg over the other to perform the exercise
- it improves your balance much more than normal (back) squats
- because of the angles of the upper legs, lower legs and feet, it's great for developing strength for running
- like more popular squats, you will still work the glutes and quads.
After doing Bulgarian Squats, I'd recommend using the same load that you were holding before and doing Sumo Squats (Plié Squats) to further help with developing the legs. By "the same load" I mean that if you are using 10kg dumbbells, hold one of the 10kg dumbbells as per the video below.
Sumo Squats work the muscles slightly differently - the focus is more on the inner thigh - but it will also work the glutes and quads.
Sets and Reps
My personal recommendation is to firstly get a feel for each of the exercises with relatively light weights eg 5kg.
Once you're happy with the correct form, choose dumbbells that are heavy enough to mean you can only do 3 sets of 6 reps. By this, I mean that you do 1 set of 6 repetitions of a movement, one after the other, then stop for a break of 2-3 minutes. Then perform the second set before having another rest and performing the final set of 6 repetitions. Your final 1-2 repetitions should be a struggle.
You will find that every couple of weeks, you are able to increase the weight of the dumbbells you choose.
- Training the legs is important whether your goal is to lose weight or build muscle
- Bulgarian Squats is a great way of training them at home
- Bulgarian Squats and Sumo Squats require less equipment
- Make these squats a regular part of your weekly training routine