I have talked a lot about the importance of bodyweight training. You don’t need to join a gym to get a great body. I shared how to build a great back, chest, shoulders, biceps, triceps and core. I never wrote about lower body training without weights. The lower body consists of the lower back, glutes, quads, hamstrings and calf muscles. There are many other smaller muscle groups as well. Let’s focus on the big groups just to keep it simple for today. For upper body, we tend to think of Dips, Pull-ups, Push-ups, Handstands, Planks, Levers. and other exercises of that nature. People tend to struggle when it comes to lower body exercises without weights. The lower body can be a little tricky. because Exercises like bodyweight squats are way too easy for the majority of us. We need exercises that will work the fast twitch fibers. These have the greatest potential for growth. Below I will give you a list of the best lower body exercises that you could do without weights.
1. HILL SPRINTS
Please take a close look at sprinters legs. They’re strong, fast, muscular and defined. They may not look like Arnold or Jay Cutler’s legs, but who cares? Unless if you have serious issues with your body, you should be running. It has many benefits. One of the big reasons why is that they increase your testosterone levels. Springs work the fast twitch muscle fibers and they burn fat while building muscle. You just can’t go wrong with certain things. Sprints are a bang-for-your-buck exercise. There are many rumors out there that sprints will “burn your muscles away”. This can’t be any further from the truth. It also depends on how much you are running. If you do 1 or 2 sprinting sessions per week you won’t lose size or strength, in fact you will gain some. If you were running 4 hour marathons a few days per week, then I would be a bit worried.
The human body was not always doing leg presses, hack squats, leg extensions. These machines are actually pretty recent. Thousands of years ago, humans had to hunt and survive. Running was a part of daily existence to stay alive from other humans or wild animals. Always think about the primal ways of moving first. The basics will never let you down. Whenever you move your entire body at once, you activate many muscle fibers. As opposed to being in place and isolating on a machine. Sprints are a posterior chain dominant exercise. This means that they hit the hamstrings, glutes and lower back. They even hit the quads and calves to a certain degree. Why else are hill sprints effective for strength and muscle? They hit the fast twitch muscle fibers which have the greatest potential for growth. Studies show that hill sprints are actually safer than sprints on a flat surface. You can’t go as fast and it forces you to shorten your strides as well. Think of the hill sprint as the ring pull-up and the flat sprint as the pull-up on the straight bar. They’re harder, but easier on the joints.
I used to be “anti-sprinter” for a long time. Then I noticed that I was a missing out because I was trying to avoid running. Sprints are one of the best things that you can do for the health of your lungs as well. I wouldn’t do sprints for more than 30 seconds. When doing hill sprints keep the workouts and sets short and intense. Once a week is a great start. Make sure that you are doing them on an artificial surface like grass. Good running shoes are important and you should never sprint at 100%. Start off at 70% and work your way up.
2. BODYWEIGHT HAMSTRING CURL
This is another amazing exercise for the hamstrings done without weights. I. I’ve seen people who can do heavy Romanian deadlifts who can’t even do a single bodyweight hamstring curl. This exercise is kind of like a glute ham raise, but without the equipment. You will need is a soft surface to place your knees. A person to hold your feet or a stable place to place your feet under. You want to get good at back extensions before performing these. They aren’t the easiest exercise and are a lot of hard work. The power lifters use glute ham raises often. This will increase their squat and deadlift totals without destroying their lower backs.
3. SINGLE LEG HIP THRUST
These are an amazing exercise for working the glutes. Even better if you don’t have access to weights. All you need for this exercise is a couch, chair or a bench to support your upper back. These are great for high reps 15-20. you could do 3-5 second isometric holds at the top and bottom of each repetition. You can also keep constant tension no your glutes by not letting them touch the floor. Make your glutes go close to the floor without touching to feel it more in your glutes.
4. BULGARIAN SPLIT SQUATS + PISTOL SQUATS
Bulgarian split squats are great for working the quads and glutes. If you do them with a forward lean, then you will be bringing in more hamstrings. If you want to progress, then the progression after a few months would be the pistol squat. I recommend a few months since it takes time for your connective tissue to be able to handle the exercise. You have to work up to it.
5. SINGLE LEG CALF RAISES
Single leg calf raises are a great way to burn your calves and build size too. The calves seem to respond pretty well to high reps. Perform these anywhere from 20-50 reps and more or less depending on the trainee. Make sure that the calve is doing all the work here. You want to get a good stretch at the bottom. Raise to the top while pausing and squeezing for a quick second to get more blood into the muscle. If balance is a problem for you then you can hold something while you do these. These are good to do for pump work at the end of a workout. Especially if your calves are a lagging body part.
6. BACK EXTENSIONS (45 DEGREE AND HORIZONTAL)
Back extensions are a great way to work the lower back muscles. This will give you the Christmas tree look like Franco on the cover photo of the article. Prone cobras can be a good alternative as well.
Once the prone cobras get too easy, you can lie down on your stomach on a bench and have somebody hold your legs like in the picture below.
Once you are able to do 15-25 picture perfect reps, then you can progress into the single leg variation.
The important thing isn’t always the exercise, but the intensity used. It’s great to have these exercises in your toolbox. If you’re out of town, in a park, have no gym, but you have a hill with grass close by then you know that you can get a great workout in. On top of that, hill sprints are one of the best exercises you could do. I hope that you learned something from this article and remember that there are no excuses for being weak!