A Top Trainer Shares His Favorite Exercises to Build Bigger Legs Without Weights

·4-min read
Photo credit: Athlean-X - YouTube
Photo credit: Athlean-X - YouTube

Resistance bands shouldn't just be a last resort for your strength training plan. According to strength coach and Athlean-X founder Jeff Cavaliere C.S.C.S. you can use bands for a wide range of situations. A recent video begins with Hollywood great Sylvester Stallone talking about his love of bands.

"I used to work out a lot with weights, and the check comes doing that. Your joints start to hurt... it just happens," says Stallone. "Sometimes getting in that kind of shape can kill ya. But at my age, I found the hardest, toughest, most productive way (to build muscle) is training with bands."

But resistance bands aren't only useful for older guys with achey joints. Cavaliere is out to prove that training with resistance bands can be used to build muscle, too.

"We can take exercises that you're already doing right now, utilize bands and improve the ability of that exercise to stimulate muscle growth because we're introducing new stress at different points in the range of motion as we manipulate the strength curves," says Cavaliere.

Here are 11 exercises for your leg day training that he recommends to get your gains using resistance bands.

Resistance Band Exercises to Build Bigger Legs

Exercise 1: Banded Reverse Lunge
"Oftentimes, this exercise is performed incorrectly; we lunge forward against the resistance of the band. The problem with this however, is that the band will be assisting you on the way back to the top of the movement," says Cavaliere. Instead, he recommends reversing the movement instead. "You are not only protecting the knees, but you are also returning to the top of the range of motion against the resistance of the band," he continues. "This will provide greater stimulus of resistance on the quads."

Exercise 2: Banded Pistol Squat
You don't actively resist the band here, but the tool allows you to pull off an exercise you might not be able to do on your own. "We know that unilateral leg training is important to help reveal imbalances as well as demanding greater activation of the single side being worked," says Cavaliere. "The pistol squat is not an easy exercise to perform, but we can use the resistance band to help assist in the movement to reap the benefits of the exercise as we work our way up to performing them without assistance."

Exercise 3: Banded Bridge and Curl
"Simply wrap the band around your ankles, bring your heels in towards your butt, and then bridge," says Cavaliere. "This will light up the hamstrings and the glutes, helping to round out the growth of your legs. It fortifies you against injuries like hamstring and hip strains."

Exercise 4: Banded Step Through
This exercise hits the hamstrings and glutes at the same time. "Simply attach the resistance band to a pullup bar, step into the band, and drive your leg back into full extension," says Cavaliere.

Exercise 5: Bulgarian Split Squat
"The quads can be overloaded with bands by changing the strength curves of an exercise through their range of motion," says Cavaliere. "In this case, the Bulgarian split squat done with a band provides greatest resistance at the top of the movement when the knee is full extension." If you really want to push the envelope, you can include grab weights to double up on the resistance.

Exercise 6: TKE Split Squat Drop
This move is as an alternative to the standard leg extension because of its closed-chain nature (feet in contact with the ground throughout to stimulate the kinetic chain).

"Providing resistance against knee extension is another great way to build your legs using bands," says Cavaliere.

Exercise 7: Banded Leg Extension
Do this move if using a leg extension machine hurts your knees.

"This exercise is great for feeling that complete quad contraction and resistance against knee extension without having your feet leave the ground," says Cavaliere.

Exercise 8: Banded Frog Press
This move hits your hips, specifically your hip rotators. "Double up the band and wrap around your knees, bridging up and down, holding out isometrically against the band resistance, which creates overload," says Cavaliere.

Exercise 9: Single-Leg RDL
"This leg exercise will force you to move against the resistance of the band as you return to the top portion of the lift," says Cavaliere. "Less bend in the knee will lead to greater hamstring activation while the opposite is true for glute activation."

Exercise 10: Reverse Leg Press
"This exercise forces knee flexion against resistance, really activating the hamstrings and glutes," says Cavaliere. "Remember, getting big legs is not just about the quads, but you need to round out the posterior chain as well."

Exercise 11: Banded Step Up
"This is another case of manipulating the strength curves through the exercise’s range of motion to create a new stimulus in the muscles," says Cavaliere. "Remember, this new stimulus is key for promoting muscle growth when you are not used to training with resistance bands."

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