Can you build leg strength without weights? I put this Pilates routine to the test to find out

I swapped barbells for a bodyweight workout that targets the glutes, hips and hamstrings—here’s what happened

Woman performs side leg lift exercise at home. She is lying on her side on a black exercise mat, propping her torso up on a forearm, with her top leg lifted and extended. She is wearing white trainers, black athletic leggings and a yellow short-sleeved top.
(Image credit: Prostock-Studio / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

I'm a sucker for weights workouts, especially for building strength in my lower body. However, I've recently adding Pilates to my routine to improve my muscular endurance, posture and coordination. I know Pilates is also a fantastic way to strengthen the core.

Given that I'm usually squatting and deadlifting, I was curious to see if a Pilates routine could strengthen my legs, too.

Pilates instructor Saskia Longley recently shared a four-move workout on Instagram that targets the glutes (muscles around the buttocks), hamstrings and hip flexors.

I decided to put the routine to the test and find out how it compares to training with weights.

How to do Saskia Longley's lower-body Pilates workout

You don't need any equipment for this routine, just a yoga mat if you'd prefer to use one to support your knees. Check out our tried-and-tested guide to the best yoga mats if you're thinking of buying one.

Longley recommends completing 10 reps of each exercise and I did three rounds.

My experience swapping weights workouts for a Pilates routine

One benefit of this routine compared with my usual workouts is that I can do it from home with no equipment, so it's great for days when I'm feeling tired and I don't want to go to the gym.

Even without equipment, the workout made the muscles in my legs work hard. My glutes were burning during the shoulder bridge and I felt my glute medius, the notoriously difficult-to-target muscles located at the sides of the hips, switch on during the clams.

Another thing I liked about this routine is that my core was consistently engaged and braced. Some of the movements in this routine, such as the kneeling side stretch and the toe taps, isolated my obliques and lower back, maximizing strength gains.

My only concern would be how to make it more challenging when I repeated it. It would be difficult to add weight beyond ankle weights and progressively overload the workout, which may limit its ability to help me increase muscle mass compared with lifting weights.

Despite this, I think it would still be a useful addition to support my weights workouts. My glutes are an area of weakness, which I notice during compound lifts, so a workout like this could strengthen them, minimize any imbalances and prevent injury.

This routine is also a great starting point for people new to strength training, and they could then progress to something like this dumbbell leg workout.

Alice Porter
Freelancer Writer

Alice Porter is a freelance journalist covering lifestyle topics including health, fitness and wellness. She is particularly interested in women's health, strength training and fitness trends and writes for publications including Stylist Magazine, Refinery29, The Independent and Glamour Magazine. Like many other people, Alice's personal interest in combining HIIT training with strength work quickly turned into a CrossFit obsession and she trains at a box in south London. When she's not throwing weights around or attempting handstand push-ups, you can probably find her on long walks in nature, buried in a book or hopping on a flight to just about anywhere it will take her.