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10 Best Cardio Exercises To Build Lower-Body Strength

Boost strength in your lower body with five high-impact and five low-impact cardio exercises.

Engaging in regular cardio brings so much goodness to your body. It burns calories, keeps your heart strong, helps you get a handle on chronic conditions, boosts your mood, and even strengthens your body. If you're looking to soak up the benefits of this form of training, we have the best cardio exercises to build lower-body strength—and so much more.

Many people associate cardio with better heart health. While that's a huge part, there's a bigger picture to consider. "The muscles in your legs and glutes are some of the largest muscles in your body," explains Alissa Tucker, NASM-CPT and master trainer for AKT studios. "When we work these muscles … we inevitably elevate our heart rate because it takes a great deal of effort to work these muscle groups. Any time we elevate our heart rate, we improve our cardiovascular health by strengthening our heart and improving the efficiency at which our heart pumps oxygen-rich blood to the rest of our body."

Cardio workouts aren't limited to jumping movements. "While plyometric movements can be excellent at building lower-body strength while elevating the heart rate and improving stamina, there are also several low-impact options that might be more accessible for some people," Tucker explains. "[Low-impact exercises can] focus more on building endurance because you may be able to perform them for a longer duration at a slightly lower percentage of your max heart rate."

Now, let's explore Tucker's best cardio exercises for building lower-body strength. She outlines five high-impact exercises to increase heart rate and stamina and five low-impact moves to boost cardiovascular endurance.

5 high-impact, lower-body cardio exercises:

1. Squat Jumps

jump squat

"This move targets the glutes and quads while building power and spiking the heart rate," explains Tucker.

Start in a squat position, keeping your weight in your heels. Lower into a squat, and then jump up. Land in a squat. Raise your arms overhead as you jump. Complete three sets of 30 seconds each.

2. Squat Jacks

"This exercise targets the glutes, quads, and inner thighs while elevating the heart rate," Tucker tells us.

Start standing tall with your feet together. Jump your feet out, like you're doing a jumping jack, but lower into a squat. Feel free to reach one of your arms to the opposite foot to engage your core. Jump your feet back to the start position, and repeat, reaching to the other side.

Complete three sets of 30 seconds each.

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3. Switching Lunges

Switching lunges activates your quads and glutes while increasing power and your heart rate.

Start in a sagittal lunge. "Jump off of both feet, switching the legs in the air and landing on both feet with the other leg in front for your lunge," Tucker instructs. "Aim to jump from the bottom of your range of motion each time. This move targets the glutes and quads while building power and spiking the heart rate."

Aim for three sets of 30 seconds each.

4. Skater Jumps

illustration of speed skater exercise

The skater jump fires up your outer glutes while boosting balance and agility.

Start standing and balancing on your left foot. Lengthen your right leg to the side as you jump to your right. Land on your right foot. Repeat on the other side.

"There are many variations of this exercise, but I like to encourage clients to focus on traveling from side to side and then finding a balance on one foot as they land," says Tucker. "If needed, you can always tap the other toe down to help you stabilize."

Perform three sets of 30 seconds each.

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5. Box Jumps

box jumps plyometrics

Box jumps engage your quads and glutes. You'll need a workout bench or box. Make absolutely sure it's sturdy and won't slide.

"Begin standing on the floor behind the box, feet hip distance apart," instructs Tucker. "Bend the knees and jump up from both feet, landing on the box with both feet in a squat position. Make sure to strike the box with your heels, and don't let your heels hang off the edge of the box. From your squat on the box, either jump or step down and repeat."

Complete three sets of 30 seconds each.

5 low-impact, lower-body cardio exercises:

1. Knee Repeaters

Knee repeaters engage your hamstrings, glutes, and rectus abdominis.

"Begin in a staggered stance, front leg slightly bent and torso hinged forward at a 45-degree angle; arms extended overhead," Tucker instructs. "Exhale, draw the back knee into your chest as you pull the arms down, bending at the elbows. Then, return the leg back and repeat. Maintain the bend in the front knee and hinge in the body the whole time while keeping the weight in the front heel."

Complete 32 reps per side.

2. Walking Lunges

You can perform walking lunges with or without weights. Start standing with your feet together. Take a big step forward with your right foot, and bend your knees to descend into a lunge. Press off your left (back) foot to step into another lunge.

"Holding weights for this exercise will increase the cardio challenge, but you will get [your] heart rate up and work [your] glutes and quads without weights as well," says Tucker.

Perform eight to 12 lunges on each side.

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3. Box Step-ups

illustration of step-ups

"This exercise targets the same muscles as the box jump (glutes, quads) while taking out the jumping to keep it more gentle on the joints," Tucker tells us.

To perform box step-ups, you'll need a workout bench or box. Start standing behind the box or bench. Step onto the stable surface with your left foot, followed by your right foot. Step down with your left foot, then your right foot.

Complete 16 reps per side. Rest, and repeat one to two times.

4. Lateral Lunges

woman doing lateral lunges

Get ready to work your outer glutes, gluteus maximus, inner and outer thighs, and quads with lateral lunges.

You can perform this exercise holding weights or without them. "Begin standing, feet together. With the right leg, take a big step out to the side, bending deep into the right leg, sending the hips back, and keeping the legs parallel," instructs Tucker. "Step the feet together and repeat on the other side."

Complete 16 reps per side. Rest, and then repeat one to two times.

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5. Alternating Curtsy Lunge

The alternating curtsy lunge engages the inner and outer thighs and the glutes.

"Begin standing with [your] feet together," says Tucker. Take a big step out to the right with the right leg, cross the left leg behind while keeping the hips square, bend both knees, [and lower] the back knee down toward the floor (just hovering it off the floor)."

Complete 16 reps per side. Rest, and then repeat one to two times.

Alexa Mellardo
Alexa is the Mind + Body Deputy Editor of Eat This, Not That!, overseeing the M+B channel and delivering compelling fitness, wellness, and self-care topics to readers. Read more about Alexa
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