You might feel your heart pumping during a tough leg workout, but a lot of people ask:
Can cardio count as a leg workout too?
Here’s our quick answer…
Cardio can count as a leg workout depending on the exercises that you’re doing and the intention behind them. If you’re looking to build on your lower body endurance, then your leg workout can be counted as a cardio session. However, if you want to grow muscle, then it’s best to do specific strength workouts.
As such, it really depends on how you structure your leg workouts, and the overall goal of those training sessions. Let’s get into the details now.
When Does Cardio Count As A Leg Workout?
There are certain exercises that combine heart-pumping cardio movements that focus on the lower body, so it can definitely feel like a leg workout.
These exercises are:
- Pulsing squats
- Jumping squats
- Skater Hops
- Alternating jumping lunges
- Walking lunges
- Side lunges
These exercises will help you build upon your lower body stamina and muscular endurance as opposed to strength, and can be a great form of cardio.
This is especially the case if you perform these exercises within a circuit, where the intention is to perform them for a prescribed amount of time, such as incorporating them into your HIIT workouts.
These exercises mainly use your bodyweight without any additional weight or resistance, so due to the lighter weight of these movements, you need to do higher volume. Although, if you are more advanced, you can definitely incorporate some of these movements with weight.
If you want exact sets, reps, and exercise prescriptions, then be sure to download Fitbod and select the “Do HIIT style interval training” option.
From there, select your available equipment, the body part you want to train (legs), and your workouts will automatically be created for you.
In this article, we are going to go through each of these plyometric-based exercises so that you can perform them correctly to improve your leg stamina, endurance, as well as your cardio.
7 Lower Body Cardio Exercises For Leg Day
1. Pulsing Squats
Muscles worked: quads, glutes, hamstrings, core
- Stand up straight with your torso upright and feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your toes at a 45-degree angle.
- Bend at the hips and knees so you’re squatting down until your thighs are parallel to the ground or as low as you can go. You can hold your hands in a prayer position in front of your chest, fold them across each other or hold them out straight in front of you.
- Once you hit your depth, pulse up and down a few inches until you hit time or the number of reps to complete your set.
2. Jumping Squats
Muscles worked: glutes, quads, hips, hamstrings
- Keep your feet shoulder-distance apart, toes slightly out, torso upright.
- Engage your core as you bend at the hips, squatting down until you hit parallel or as low as you can go. Keep your chest up as you squat.
- When you’ve reached the bottom position, drive through your heels to straighten up. As you do so, jump off the ground.
- In the air, point your toes down towards the floor if you can.
- As you land, remember to bend your knees to absorb the impact and to lower yourself into the next rep of jumping squats.
Notes: While jumping squats are great to work your cardio while specifically focusing on your legs, it is a high-impact exercise. Bear in mind that it’ll be hard on your joints so if you have joint problems, particularly with your knees, then it’s best to try other forms of cardio/leg movements.
3. Skater Hops
Muscles worked: quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves
- Stand up tall with your feet together. Face forwards and engage your core.
- Lean your torso forward slightly. Take a large step to the side with one foot landing with your knees bent. You can swing your arms to keep your balance, but remember to brace to help with this as well. As you step, bring the resting foot behind you, toes pointed. Your bodyweight should have shifted over to your working leg. Try not to let the resting foot touch the ground at all, unless you need it for balance.
- Hold this position before taking a large step hop with your other leg (the one that was resting). As with the other foot, drag the resting foot behind you, letting your bodyweight settle on the single leg.
- Repeat by alternating legs.
4. Alternating Jump Lunges
Muscles worked: quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, hip flexors
- Stand with one leg in front of the other. Make sure both feet are of equal distance from your body as each other and that you are facing forward. Keep your chest up and bend at the knees so you’re lunging. Your front knee should make a 90-degree angle and your back knee should be close to the ground, but not touching it.
- Drive through both your feet to straighten up and in an explosive movement, jump in the air.
- When you’re midair, switch legs so that your back leg now becomes your front leg and vice versa.
- As you land, bend your knees, going straight into another lunge with alternate legs.
- Then, repeat.
Notes: Similarly to the jumping squats, alternating jump lunges are a high-impact exercise so proceed with caution. It’s best to skip this one if you have knee or other joint problems.
5. Walking Lunges
Muscles worked: quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves, core, hips
- Stand up tall on one end of the room. Look straight ahead and engage your core.
- Take a step forward with one leg. As your foot hits the ground, bend both knees so that you’re in a lunge.
- Stand back up, pushing through both feet. As you do so, bring the back leg forward, until it becomes the front leg.
- When your foot touches the ground, start getting into a lunge.
- Repeat, alternating legs as you walk to the other side of the room.
- Then, turn back and do it again.
6. Alternating Side Lunges
Muscles worked: quads, glutes
- Keep your feet together as you stand up straight. Look straight ahead and keep your arms by your side or clasped in front of you.
- Take a large step to the right with your right foot. Get into a lateral lunge by bending your right knee as your foot touches the ground. Shift your bodyweight to this side as you do so, keeping your left leg straight.
- Drive through the heel of your right foot to stand up tall again with your legs still in a wide stance.
- Then, lean over to the left side, bending at the left knee to go back into a side lunge with your other side.
- Stand back up again, re-centering yourself.
- Then, repeat, alternating with your left and right side.
7. Box Jumps With High Knees
Muscles worked: glutes, quads, calves, hamstrings
- Find a stable box that is at a height you can comfortably jump onto with both feet and stand behind it.
- Start doing high knees, bringing each knee up to your chest and alternating legs. Do this 10 times (5 high knees per side).
- After you finish your high knees, bring both legs back to the ground. Then, bend your knees slightly, swinging your arm behind you for leverage.
- Drive through your feet, springing up onto the box, landing both feet at the same time. Try to land lightly, bending your knees to absorb the impact.
- Stand up on the box by straightening your legs.
- Bring one foot back down to the ground and then the other.
- Begin your next rep, starting with the high knees.
Notes: For a beginner friendly version, omit the high knees and just do the box jumps.
These are just 7 cardio movements that can be added to your leg day. If you would like more ideas though, check out the FitBod app which will generate a customized training workout plan for you, based on your lower body goals.
Need a workout program? Get 3 free workouts on Fitbod right now.
When Does Cardio Not Count As A Leg Workout?
If you want to build muscle though, you need to focus on compound movements and do cardio on different days. Learn more about whether cardio can burn muscle in our other article.
This is because you won’t be providing your lower body with enough resistance or stimulus to break down the muscle fibers so that they can grow back bigger and stronger. While cardio is enough to improve upon your endurance and stamina, it’s not enough for muscle and strength growth.
As we said, in this case, you’re going to need to concentrate on compound movements. For your lower body focus, the squat and deadlift are two of the best ones that you can incorporate into your training routine. Not only that, but the type of training you do is going to change.
For example, lunges are multi-joint exercises that utilise more than one muscle group at a time, so why shouldn’t you do jumping lunges as a leg workout to grow muscle? It’s because you need higher weights and fewer reps to really get to your goal. Doing that with jumping lunges won’t do that for you and if you don’t do enough reps, it probably won’t even be enough to count as an intense cardio workout either.
In addition, you’ll be surprised by how taxing cardio can be on your lower body, so if you want to improve your size and strength, then keep cardio and your leg days on separate days. This way, you can have fresh muscles for your workout and won’t be held back by any lingering soreness or fatigue. If you can’t, then do one in the morning and one in the evening when you’ve had some time for rest and recovery.
Cardio can count as a leg day, depending on your lower body goals and the type of exercises that you do. If you’re aiming to increase your leg endurance as well as power, then incorporating these pylometric-based exercises into your cardio and/or leg day workout will help.
However, if your goal is to gain muscle size and strength, then it’s best to keep your cardio and leg day separate, and focus more on heavier, compound movements.
Other Leg Training Resources
- The Best Bulking Leg Workouts: 10 Must-do Exercises
- 3 Leg Workouts To Build Muscle Without Weights
- The 6 Best Back-friendly Leg Training Exercises
- Got A Big Upper Body & Small Legs? Here’s What To Do
- Outer Quad Exercises: 7 Must-do Exercises
About The Author
As a health and fitness writer, Emily combines her two passions—powerlifting and writing. With a creative writing degree under her belt, she spends her mornings lifting weights, her nights putting pen to paper, and eating too many snacks in between.