The Best 20-Minute Bodyweight Legs Workout for Busy Guys

Leg Workout
 Evgeniy Kleymenov / EyeEm


We’ve all listened to the guy who bemoans his brutal leg workout—how his hour of squats, leg presses, and hamstring curls leaves him hobbling out of the gym and crippled with soreness for three days thereafter.

 

 

There’s a place for those workouts—if you’re into bodybuilding, masochism, or building quads that can only be appreciated in a pair of short shorts. But if you’re looking to train your legs for strength, power, and functional movement, there’s no need to torture yourself with a full-gym workout.

In a sedentary world where we spend much of our time sitting behind desks and steering wheels, the emphasis should be on opening up our tight hips and mimicking the movements of daily life in order to prevent injuries and long-term ailments. This way, you’ll create a stronger, more powerful lower body using just your bodyweight as resistance.

In this eight-move, 20-minute legs workout, you’ll get a two-set circuit. Give it a shot the next time you want to ease off the heavy weight, you’re in a time crunch, or you’re traveling.

Pete Williams is a NASM certified personal trainer and the author or co-author of a number of books on performance and training.

1. Knee Hug

Why it works: This simple move stretches the hamstring and glute of your front leg, as well as the hip flexor of your back leg. It’s an effective stretch at the front of a lower-body workout.

How to do it: Clasp your hands just below your right knee. Pull your knee to your chest while squeezing your left glute. Return to the start position and repeat on the left side. Continue alternating sides.

Prescription: 2×10 reps, each side

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2. Quadruped Rocking

Why it works: This move is a combination of two familiar yoga poses—cow and child’s pose—and provides a great stretch for the quads and hips.

How to do it: Get down on all fours and let your lower back sag. Push your hips back as far as you can, holding the lumbar arch. You should feel a stretch in and around the hips. Return to the starting position and repeat.

Prescription: 2×10 reps

3. Wall Sit

Why it works: Wall sits are one of the simplest, most deceptively challenging bodyweight exercises you can do. They quickly and effectively challenge your quads and hips.

How to do it: Stand a foot in front of a wall and sit down, back flat, as if you were sitting in an invisible chair.

Prescription: 2×30 seconds (or up to 2 minutes)

4. Inverted Hamstring

Why it works: This move forces you to fire (activate) your glutes. Practicing movements such as this should become habitual in your training and everyday life.

How to do it: Balance on your right foot, keeping your stomach tight and shoulders back and down. Bend at your waist with both hands out to your sides; imagine your body resembling something of an airplane. From here, extend your left leg back as you fire your left glute. Your shoulder and heel should move together, forming a straight line. Return to the start position and switch legs, performing a set of 10 on each side.

Prescription: 2×10 reps, each side

Lateral Lunge
Jay Sullivan

5. Lateral Lunge

Why it works: Lateral movement is important in sports and everyday life, but too often we ignore it when training. The lateral lunge hits the quads and glutes, but especially targets your hamstrings.

How to do it: Step out to the right, keeping your toes pointed straight ahead and feet flat. Squat down as low as possible only with your right leg, keeping your left leg straight. Hold for two seconds. Return to the starting position and repeat for all reps, then switch sides.

Prescription: 2×10 reps, each side

6. Lateral Bound

Why it works: This builds lateral power in your legs and challenges the hamstrings in a different way than traditional stretching exercises.

How to do it: Stand on your right leg, with your left foot off the ground. Squat slightly on your right leg and use your leg and glute to jump laterally (to the left). Land on the opposite leg, maintaining balance. Hold for three seconds. Repeat to the other side.

Prescription: 2×10 reps, each side

7. Split Squat

Why it works: Split squats build lower-body power by increasing balance and strength throughout your legs.

How to do it: Step out into a lunge with dumbbells at your sides. Lower your hips by squatting back and down. Without letting your back knee touch the floor, drive your weight back up with the front leg.

Prescription: 2×10 reps, each side

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James Michelfelder

8. Squat Jump

Why it works: This move works your hips, knees, and ankles but the key is using your glutes to generate power.

How to do it: Stand with feet just outside the shoulders and hands in front of you or behind your head. Squat, keeping your knees behind your toes, squeezing your glutes as you lower. After holding the bottom position for two seconds, jump vertically. Pull your toes to your shins in midair and land in the starting squat position, hold for three seconds and repeat for 10 reps. Be sure to land softly, with your hips back and down.

Prescription: 2×10 reps