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7 Powerful Bodyweight Quad Exercises

Most people know that you can build muscle with weights and machines. Luckily there are also bodyweight exercises you can use to build stronger quads wherever you are.

For many of these quad exercises, you would benefit from having leg workout equipment like dumbbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, etc.

Even if you don’t have typical fitness “weights”, objects like a backpack with heavy things in it and a grocery bag can work great to do weighted quad exercises at home. This can in turn lead to more and faster quadricep muscle gain compared to the bodyweight versions.

That being said, you can definitely also do these quad exercises with just your body weight.

Keep in mind that like with any exercise there is always some risk. You may want to talk to your primary care provider before starting a new workout routine. In the case of quad exercises especially if you have a history of knee issues.

1. Lunges

Walking lunges are a great bodyweight quad exercise since each leg has to carry double the weight compared to usual. To do two walking lunges take the following steps:

  1. Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width.
  2. Take a big step forward so that you get into a position where both of your knees are at a 90-degree angle. Your front foot should be flat on the ground, your back foot should only touch the ground with the ball of the foot (front).
  3. Move your back foot forward and get into the same position as step 2 but with your other foot in the front.

To build the most leg muscle mass you want to do about 4 sets of 10-40 lunges depending on how advanced you are. Even if you don’t have any fitness equipment you can simply hold a heavy object in your hands or on your body to make lunges more challenging.

Besides your quads, lunges will also train your glutes, calves, hamstrings, and core muscles.

How to do walking lunges

2. Box jumps

For this next exercise, you need an elevated platform that is strong and stable enough to jump on. An example of a suited object is a good plyo box. To do a box jump take the following steps:

  1. Stand upright in front of the box with your feet at shoulder-width.
  2. Bend into about a quarter squat while you swing your arms back.
  3. Swing your arms to the front again and at the same time jump forward on top of the box. When landing you want to have your knees more or less at the quarter squat again. If you are squatted lower, this may be a sign the box is too high for your current jump level.

Make sure you pay attention to using the right technique to avoid any injuries. For box jumps it is also smart to start with a low height and build up from there. Being too optimistic about your capabilities can be especially punishing when doing box jumps.

The way you train your muscles influences what fitness component you improve. The compound leg exercises at a slower pace will train either muscle endurance or muscle strength. Box jumps can be a good alternative if you want to work on your muscle power fitness component.

If you do not have a suited elevated platform available you can also do jump squats. These are basically jumps in the air. This quad exercise variation can be hard on your knees and ankles.

3. Bulgarian split squats

For Bulgarian split squats you want a step, bench, chair, or any other stable object at about knee height. Once you have that, to do a Bulgarian split squat take the following steps:

  1. Stand in front of the stable object with your back towards it. Keep about half a leg distance between you and the box.
  2. Move one leg back and put the foot of this side on the object. The top of your foot should lean on the surface of the object.
  3. Slowly lower your hips by bending the knee of your stretched leg until your hip is at about the height of your knee of the previously stretched leg. Use your arms for balance if needed.
  4. Push yourself up again into the position of step 2.
  5. Repeat the same number of repetitions on the leg of the other side to keep your muscle distribution balanced.

The Bulgarian split squat looks similar to lunges but because one leg is raised, more weight rests on the other. This makes the Bulgarian split squat a great more challenging alternative to lunges and the other bodyweight quad exercises on this list.

How to do a Bulgarian split squat

4. Step-ups

For step-ups you will again need a stable object, this time strong enough to stand on. A plyo box, a stepper, and even some weight benches are examples of suited objects for step-ups. If you have one, to do step-up take the following steps:

  1. Stand upright in front of the object facing toward it with your feet at shoulder-width.
  2. Raise one foot and put it on the surface of the object. Make sure your sole is entirely on the surface.
  3. Raise your body by exerting pressure with the leg of the foot that is on the object.
  4. Put your second foot next to the other one.
  5. Step down with the first foot.
  6. Step down with the second foot.
  7. Do a repetition with the other foot first.

Step-ups can be a great bodyweight quad exercise on their own but like with most of these exercises, you can use external weights like a weighted vest, dumbbells, kettlebells, etc. to make step-ups a more challenging quad workout.

How to do a step-up

5. Pistol squats

For this next quad exercise most people need something to lean on for balance. To do a pistol squat take the following steps:

  1. Stand up straight with stretched legs. If you have a balance object stand right next to it with one hand on it and enough room for the rest of the exercise.
  2. Raise one foot off the ground. The best position to keep that foot off the ground throughout the exercise is by stretching the leg and pointing it forward.
  3. Slowly move your body towards the ground by folding your support leg. Mainly use the object for balance but if necessary you can also use it to lower and lift your body.
  4. How low you should go depends on different factors like knee health but ideally at your lowest point you want your hips to be at or lower than your knee height.
  5. Slowly push yourself up again.
  6. Do a number of repetitions and repeat with your other leg.

Pistol squats are likely the hardest quad exercise on this list. Both in terms of balance and how much weight rests on one leg.

One downside is that the required focus on balance distracts you from training your quads as much as possible. A lot of people also need to build up their quad strength first before considering pistol squats. That being said pistol squats are still a top bodyweight quad exercise choice.

6. Squats

Squats are one of the, if not the most, popular leg exercises, and for a good reason. They are a great compound exercise for building leg muscle. To do a squat take the following steps:

  1. Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width.
  2. Slowly lower your hips by bending your knees. How far depends on different factors like knee health but at your lowest point you want your hips to be at or lower than your knee height. You will likely have to bend forward for balance but keep your back in a straight line throughout the movement.
  3. Push yourself up again into starting position by stretching your legs.

Bodyweight squats can help beginners build quads. However, individuals more experienced with resistance training likely need extra weights to make squats challenging enough to build quads.

You can initially do bodyweight squats but you likely want to switch over soon to the other options on this list.

How to do a bodyweight squat

7. Wall sits

As the name implies, for wall sits you need a sturdy wall. Once you have that to do a wall sit take the following steps:

  1. Stand up straight with your back against the wall.
  2. Walk forward with your feet and slide down your back against the wall until you are able to sit against the wall with your hips and knees at a 90-degree angle.
  3. Hold that position for an extended period of time.

Wall sits are a type of isometric exercise. In simpler words, this means that you engage your muscles in a more static way, without moving a lot. On the other hand, you have isotonic exercises where you engage your muscles in a dynamic way, by moving.

Isotonic exercises are generally more useful for building muscle. That means that the other isotonic exercises on this list are likely better bodyweight quad exercises for building a lot of muscle.

One thing you can do to make wall sits more challenging is do them with one leg. Don’t forget to wall sit on your leg for a similar amount of time to avoid any muscle imbalances.

How to do a wall sit