Training the legs with a bench is not any different than without a bench. However, having a bench does offer you some new exercise choices to work into your program.
Many of the same exercises you do without a bench can be done with a bench, or slightly modified to use the bench to expand or limit ranges of motion, or to offer some additional balance support.
The 9 best leg exercises to do with a bench are:
- Step Up
- Step Down
- Bulgarian Split Squat
- Bench Squat
- Single Leg Squat to Bench
- Hip Thrust
- Single Leg Hip Thrust
- Bench Supported Single Leg Romanian Deadlift
- Box Jump
In this article we will discuss nine of the best lower body leg exercises you can do with a bench, and how you can use them in your lower body workout planning.
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Can Doing Leg Workouts With A Bench Be Effective?
Leg workouts can be effective with a bench. Having a bench gives you more flexibility and options when selecting exercises, which could improve the effectiveness and individualization of your workouts.
Training your lower body with a bench allows you to do more unilateral exercises like step ups, step downs, and Bulgrian split squats, and can also help you perform difficult unilateral movements with heavy loads, which otherwise may be limited by your balance.
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What Do Bench Leg Workouts Target?
Bench leg workouts target the same muscle groups any leg workout targets.
Having a bench does not inherently change your workouts, or the effectiveness of them, however they can offer you some more exercise options to choose from that may help you expand your movements library.
Generally speaking, lower body leg workouts target:
- Quadriceps: These are knee extensors, which are used in movements like deep squats, lunges, step ups, split squats.
- Hamstrings: These are hip extensions and knee flexors, which are used in movements like Romanian deadlifts and leg curls.
- Glutes: The glues are hip extensors, and are used in many of the same movements as the ones listed above. That said, hip thrusts are good isolation exercises. To develop the glutes, a combination of the exercise above and hip thrusts is a good starting point.
If you are looking for lower body workouts that build muscle and strength, try out these sample workouts.
9 Leg Exercise to Do With a Bench
1. Step Up
To perform the step up, first make sure your bench is stable and is not going to move, fall, or wobble when you step up onto it. Most benches should be able to support your weight, just make sure it is enough to study enough.
When performing a step up, you want to plant your full foot in the center of the bench, and make sure no part of your foot is hanging off the end or is too much to one side, as this can cause the bench to topple.
With one foot planted on top of the bench, slightly lean your chest over the front thigh, and stand up, pushing through the toes, midfoot, and heel. Your heel should not lift as you step up (heel on the foot that’s on the bench).
Your other leg should be relaxed, and land on top of the bench when fully standing up. To go down, either perform a step down (next exercise) or slowly step down with control.
- The step up is a unilateral leg exercise that can help build knee extension strength and glute strength.
- This is a fairly simple exercise in that most levels and ages can perform it, as it is a natural movement pattern (like doing stairs). The height of the step up can be manipulated, as can adding additional loading to the movement.
- This is a easy unilateral exercise for most people starting off, so it can be used as a entry level exercise to prepare them for more complex movements, like step downs and split squats
- This can be done incorrectly, with some people jumping off the back leg to assist in the movement. Make sure this does not happen, or it will minimize the amount of loading on the lead leg (the goal of the exercise).
- This can lead to knee pain if the individual does not keep the heel down and make sure that the leg stepping up engages the glute, which can be done by keeping the heel down and not letting the hip of the leg stepping up rotate forwards.
Make sure that the leg on the bench is planted firmly on top and centered. Once you have done that, push through the full foot, and keep the heel down at all times.
2. Step Down
The step down is the eccentric phase of the step up, which can be done by itself or done on the tail end of the step up.
To do just the step down, you step up, or use the other leg to give you a boost up, then you consciously and purposely slow down the step down movement, controlling the lowering phase, getting as low as you can before you lose control.
- This helps to build eccentric strength in the lower body, and is a great way to overload the muscle.
- You can increase knee and hip stability with this movement, as most people are not good at lowering themselves slowly.
- You can adjust the difficulty of this by lowering yourself slower and lower, and expand the range of motion and control as you progress.
- This is a great exercise to regress a pistol squat, and build up the necessary balance and strength to perform a position squat (it is more challenging than a single leg step down when done at similar depths).
- This can be very challenging, and many beginners have poor eccentric control or cannot hold slow lowering positions very long. You don’t need to go to the ground every rep, in fact work in a range that you can control, and every workout try to expand it until you are in a deep single leg squat.
Start by stepping down only a few inches, holding that position, and standing back up, without ever touching the ground with the other leg. The goal is to lower yourself, and stand back up without touching the ground. Over time, you will be able to go lower and lower.
Looking for more leg workout ideas? Adding a resistance band to your home gym or gym bag unlocks these effective resistance training leg exercises!
3. Bulgarian Split Squat
The Bulgairan split squat is a split squat with the back leg on the bench. By placing the back leg on the bench, you are increasing the loading demands on the lead leg, increasing hip and knee stability, and also getting a deep hip strength on the back hip flexor and quads.
With the back leg resting on the bench, descend into a split squat or lunge. The deeper you go, the more you’ll get out of this movement.
Make sure your hips do not rotate. Often, the back leg will be tight and pull that hip backwards, so make sure to keep the hip of the lead leg pulled back, forcing the glute to engage.
- This unilateral exercise can be trained hard and with heavy loads. It has the ability to create serious strength and muscle gains in all level lifters as well.
- Training unilaterally can be a great way to correct muscle imbalances and weakness, and also increase overall strength in situations when you cannot bilaterally squat (maybe you don’t have a squat stand).
- This is a challenging exercise, and often is restricted by tight hips and quads. If the lifter is experiencing these things, a simple couch stretch is a great way to stretch the hip and quads and prepare for this exercise.
- This can be a very demanding exercise on the lower body, and due to that can be difficult, and leave people very sore afterwards. This is also what makes it such a powerful exercise for muscle growth and movement purposes, but it may be too intense for some starting out.
Keep the heel down in the lead leg, and pay attention to any rotation of the pelvis. Often, the back leg and hip will be tight, which will cause the hips to rotate.
4. Bench Squat
The bench squat is often referred to as a box squat, and is essentially a bilateral squat (both legs on the ground) to a target, in this case a bench. By squatting to a bench, you can provide a lifter with a limited range of motion for squatting.
To do this, stand in front of the bench, and squat down until you are seated on the bench. It is important to not drop on to the bench, but rather to sit softly, as if someone was going to pull the bench out from underneath you.
Remember, it is a target to sit to, not a supportive bench to hold your weight at the bottom. The goal would be then to be able to squat to lower benches or targets, and then remove the target all together and squat without any assistance.
- This can be used to help improve squat stability and balance in beginners.
- It can also be used to help increase squat strength in the concentric phase, in limited ranges (however deep you are squatting).
- This can be used to isolate a specific range of motion, such as in strength sticking point training or when recovering from injury.
- This bench squat has its benefits, however many lifters will use this as their main squatting exercise. The issue with this is that it limits the range of motion in which you can squat. Often, injuries happen in ranges of motion in which you are not trained or have never been in, so the idea for injury prevention is to increase the range of motion in which you can squat, and then train it, always exploring deeper ranges.
If you are going to use this and are not injured, I recommend you also make sure or uncover some full range of motion squatting movements, such as the Bulgrian split squat.
Training partial ranges of motion can be helpful, but it also limits the overall benefit of full range of motion training on injury prevention, muscle growth, and strength.
5. Single Leg Squat to Bench
To perform the single leg squat to the bench, stand on one leg in front of the bench, like you would a bench squat. While on one leg, slowly lower yourself, softly touching the bench with the hips, then standing back up.
Be careful not to lower yourself and lose control. Make sure that you have control of the body throughout all ranges, and stand up with one leg.
- This is a regressed version of a pistol squat and is a good way to build single leg strength off a target. This can also be helpful for individuals of all levels to gain unilateral leg strength in limited ranges of motion.
- Can improve knee and hip stability in limited ranges, and be a building block for movements like step downs.
- This is often done incorrectly, and many people will drop quickly to the box, or have to use momentum to stand up. If this is the case, try using the controlled step down or slow bench squats as well to improve unilateral strength and balance.
Train this slowly, and really focus on the eccentric phase.
6. Hip Thrust
The hip thrust is a gluteus maximus exercise that can be done to increase glute strength and hypertrophy, without needing to load the hamstrings for lower back. If you are having trouble with your back during lower back training try out these back friendly leg exercises.
To do this, place your upper back on a bench (either running perpendicular or parallel to the bench), with your feet planted on the ground. Start your hips up (fully extended), making sure to contract the glutes. The knees should be bent at roughly 90 degrees.
In the top position, be sure to keep your ribs pulled into your body to minimize lumbar extension.
Then, lower the hips a few inches (8-12 inches), keeping the ribs down into the body, and then raise them back up.
- This is a great way to isolate the glutes and build serious muscle mass and strength, without needing to load the spine or hamstrings.
- This isolation exercise can be done with all levels to address glute weakness, or to emphasize more glute development, without adding extra loading to the back.
- This can be done improperly, mainly when lifters use their lower back to extend the hips. Often, you can start someone on the floor to help educate them on how to not extend their lumbar spine as they raise their hips.
When you are extending the hips, make sure to lift her hips while keeping the ribs pulled into the body. Do not let the ribcage flare outwards (expansion). This also goes for the eccentric phase.
7. Single Leg Hip Thrust
This is a single leg version of the hip thrust, which is done exactly like the standard hip thrust, just with one leg.
To do this, get set up in the same way as the hip thrust. When you plant your feet, just use one leg as your base leg, with the other one lifted off the floor. The lifted leg doesn’t need to be anywhere special, just off the floor.
Lower your hips and extend them in the same way you would the hip thrust, making sure to keep the fibs down as you extend the hips.
- This is a unilateral glute strengthening exercise that can be performed to develop one glute at a time. If you find one flute is less active or developed as the other, try using this in hour training.
- The only con here is that it can be difficult, and some lifters may be better off performing single leg hip lifts from the ground, and building strength and muscle mass in the fuller range of motion. As they progress, they can then choose this more strenuous variation.
This can be a challenging exercise even for skilled lifters, especially with loading. Be sure to keep the ribs down as you extend the hips, and don’t shy away from full hip extension.
8. Bench Supported Single Leg Romanian Deadlift
The single leg Romanian deadlift is an excellent hamstring and glute unilateral exercise, however adding the bench to the equation provides lifers who may struggle with balancing an opponent to gain more muscle.
Without the bench, the single leg RDL is a great movement, however it can be limited by balance of the lifter. If the goal is to develop balance, then do it without the bench, or at least use the bench support as a training wheel and progress away from it.
But, if you’re using the single leg RDL as a mass and strength buying exercise, and can’t perform enough volume and loading due to poor balance, try the bench support variation.
All you do is stand parallel to the body , and take one hand and place it on the bench to use as a support.
- The bench takes away some of the balance demands, which can be great if balance is a limiting factor when lifting heavy or training the muscles to failure.
- The bench allows unbalanced lifters the ability to devote more awareness and basic stability with loading, to the progressively wean himself off the bench balance support.
- The bench support can be seen as a crutch to some lifters of coaches, however if the goal is to gain muscle and mass, over complexity can stand in the way (too much balance needed). If balance is 100% the goal, then the bench may undermine that. But, then again, if you want balance then train your sport movement, and use strengthening exercises to strengthen the muscles in a more stable environment.
When doing this, make sure the hips do not rotate as you go downwards. Often, the leg that is lifted off the ground will rotate backwards, bringin the hip with it. Do not let that happen.
9. Box Jump
The box jump is done by standing in front of a box or stale surface, and jumping up onto it. You can do this with SOME benches, as long as they are sturdy, will not topple over, and can support your weight and the force of you landing on it.
If you have a bench that does all that and you are skilled with jumping, or at least can do bodyweight jumps and high impact exercises, then you could add these to your training.
- This is a high impact exercise, and can be a great way to build in plyometric leg training, which can improve power and fast twitch muscle fibers.
- The box jump, in this case it’s jumping out a bench, can help develop athleticism.
- This can be a risky exercise for beginners or those who are not skilled enough to do jumps. Often, it is best to do bodyweight jumps and learn to land softly on the ground before jumping to an elevated target.
You don’t need a super high bench or box to jump on. When you jump, it is about how high your hips get above the ground, so focus on that. If you jump 3 feet in the air, and land on a 12in bench, that’s just as good as jumping 3 feet in the aii and landing on a 29in box.
2 Sample Leg Workouts to do with a Bench
Here are two sample leg workouts with a bench that you can do to build muscle and strength.
The first one is great for beginners or lifers who are looking to improve overall leg strength and integrate unilateral movements.
The second one is a more advanced workout, and is great for also adding in more power and athletic training.
Leg Workout With Bench – Workout #1 (Beginner)
- Step Down: 4 sets of 6-8 reps, with a 3 sec lowering phase
- Hip Thrust: 4 sets of 15-20 reps, short rest periods of only 20-30 seconds between sets
- Bulgarians Split Squat: 4 sets of 8-12 reps
- Bench Supported Single Leg Romanian Deadlift: 4 sets of 8-12 reps
- Step Ups: 10 minutes of Continuous Step Ups
Leg Workout With Bench – Workout 2 (Advanced)
- Single Leg Hip Thrust: 4 sets of 10 reps, with a 3 second isometric pause at the top of every rep
- Cossack Squat: 4 sets of 8-10 reps
- Bulgarian Split Squat: 4 sets of 8-12 reps, with heavy weight
- Box Jump: 4 sets of 5 reps, supersetted with Bulgarian Split Squats
- Bench Supported Single Leg Romanian Deadlift: 4 sets of 8-12 reps
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About The Author
Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.