When it comes to workouts, sometimes you need a twofer: strength training and cardio, all in one. This bodyweight legs workout checks both boxes—it’ll challenge the muscles in your lower body while making you break a sweat.
The best part? You can do it in less than 20 minutes. This workout is a great option for strength and cardio because of both the exercises it includes and its setup, ACE-certified personal trainer Sivan Fagan, founder of Strong with Sivan in Baltimore, Maryland, tells SELF. The exercises work the large muscles in your lower body, like your glutes, quads, and hamstrings—and some have the added challenge of explosive components (like jumps or hops),too. You’ll be performing them in supersets, or back-to-back moves with no rest, which will further trigger that cardio component.
“Any exercise that uses large muscle groups and that you do repetitively will increase your heart rate, and you will get a cardiovascular benefit,” she says. Plus, three of the four exercises in this bodyweight legs workout are single-leg moves. These tend to feel way more intense than bilateral moves, especially when we’re talking about bodyweight versions, says Fagan.
Now, you certainly don’t need to sweat to get in a good workout—in fact, if you’re looking specifically to build muscle or get stronger, workouts with longer rest will be your better choice—but if you have a limited amount of time and want to fit in some strengthening and cardio, this is a great way to do it, Fagan says. Plus, some people just really love sweating during their exercise. And the best exercise is the one you want to do, right?
Quick note: This workout is pretty darn hard. It’s best saved for exercisers who are already familiar with the moves and have the strength and experience to execute the traditional version of each with good form first. For instance, since this workout includes jump squats, you should be able to crank out a clean set of regular bodyweight squats before giving this explosive variation a try. Because it is high impact, due to the jumping, it’s also not going to be the best choice for those with hip, knee, or ankle issues. (In that case, you might want to try this no-jumping cardio workout.)
Ready for a challenge to both your muscles and your endurance? Here’s how to get started.
What you need: An exercise mat for comfort and a short box or chair for the Bulgarian split squat.
- Jump squat
- Bulgarian split squat
- Lateral lunge to single-leg hop
- Single-leg glute bridge
- For superset 1, perform the jump squat for 35 seconds and the Bulgarian split squat for 35 seconds on each side. Rest for 1 minute. Complete 3–4 rounds.
- For superset 2, perform each exercise for 35 seconds on each side. Rest for 1 minute. Complete 3–4 rounds.
Demoing the moves are Crystal Williams (GIF 1), a group fitness instructor and trainer who teaches at residential and commercial gyms across New York City; Cookie Janee, (GIFs 2 and 4), a background investigator and security forces specialist in the Air Force Reserve; and Denise Harris (GIF 3), a NASM-certified personal trainer and Pilates instructor based in New York City.
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, toes slightly turned out, hands in front of your chest.
- Engage your core and keep your chest lifted and back flat as you shift your weight into your heels, push your hips back, and bend your knees to lower into a squat.
- Jump as high as you can, swinging your arms down by your sides for momentum. Keep your back straight and chest lifted.
- Land with soft knees. This is 1 rep. Complete for 35 seconds.
Bulgarian Split Squat
In a staggered stance, prop your right foot on a sturdy box, step, or chair. You can flatten your foot so that your shoelaces are lying face down or, if that hurts your ankle, go onto your toes.
Brace your core and bend both knees to lower your body into a split squat until your front quad is parallel to the ground. Make sure to keep your core tight, spine straight, and shoulders back (not hunched up or rounded forward).
Push through the heel of your left leg as you straighten that knee and return to standing. This is 1 rep.
Perform for 35 seconds, then switch legs.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your core engaged. Take a big step to the right side with your right foot and immediately bend your right knee, send your hips back, and sink into a lateral lunge, keeping your left leg straight.
Push off your right foot, and as you bring your right foot back to the starting position, push off your left foot and hop up, without placing your right foot on the floor. Your hop may only be a few inches off the floor—that’s okay.
Land lightly on your left foot and immediately lean into another lateral lunge on the right side. This is 1 rep. You should be able to gain a little momentum with this movement that will help with balance.
Continue for 35 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
Single-Leg Glute Bridge
- Lie on the floor faceup with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hands at your sides. Engage your core to press your low back against the floor.
- From this position, lift your right foot off the floor and extend your leg.
- Push off your left foot, engage your core, and squeeze your glutes as you lift your hips and do a glute bridge.
- Slowly lower your hips back to the floor. That’s 1 rep.
- Continue for 35 seconds, then repeat on the other side.