Calisthenics Leg Workout: Best Bodyweight Exercises To Build Muscle

Last updated on April 22nd, 2022 at 08:06 am

Bodyweight leg training refers to using your own body weight as resistance to build muscle. This means you perform these movements without any gym equipment. Building bigger legs with bodyweight is challenging, but it’s certainly not impossible. As a longtime gymless athlete, I’m a testament to that myself! 

In this article, I’ll show you how to get a calisthenics leg workout without the use of a gym. We will use different techniques, such as tempo training, unilateral movements, isometrics, and explosive movements to fatigue our muscles without external resistance. 

With that said, what are some of the advantages of bodyweight leg training? Let’s first take a look before we get into it. 

Bodyweight Leg Exercises

#1 – Pistol Squat

Ensure that you take the time to warm up to increase the range of motion in your lower body and decrease the risk of injury. Check out this pistol squat tutorial to learn the three progressions towards this movement. 

Targets: Glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps.

  1. Stand tall on one foot with your other foot in front and arms reached out ahead. 
  2. Inhale as you slowly lower down by bending your knee until it is at a 90 degrees angle. Go further down if your flexibility permits you. Keep your core tight and ensure that your heel does not come off the floor.
  3. Exhale as you drive through your heel and extend your return to return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat this movement for 5-10 reps on each leg.
  5. Regress to easier variations if this is hard for you. 

#2 – Jumping Lunges

This exercise will develop your unilateral strength and improve your explosive power. I have covered six different lunges variations in this comprehensive lunges tutorial. Check out the article to learn more!

Targets: Glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves.

  1. Begin in a split stance position with one leg in front and the other inline approximately 3-4 feet apart. Your hips are squared and facing forward.
  2. Lower down by bending your knees until they are at 90 degrees. Keep your core tight and ensure that your rear knee doesn’t touch the ground.
  3. Exhale as you extend your legs to jump in the air. Quickly switch the position of your feet while in mid-air so that your rear leg is now forward and the other is behind.
  4. Land softly by bending the knees and immediately jump up again.
  5. Repeat this for 10 reps. 

#3 – Bulgarian Split squats

This is the king of all unilateral leg exercises. The Bulgarian split squats force you to exert force from a single leg at a time which will isolate the muscle and correct imbalances. According to Men’s Health, this exercise is a core training stable that can help build leg and size in your legs.

Targets: Glutes, quadriceps.

  1. Stand tall in front of an elevated surface such as a chair or a plyometric box that is around knee height. 
  2. Place your right foot flat on the surface behind while your left foot is forward approximately 3-4 feet in front. Brace your core and keep your hips squared.
  3. Inhale as you lower down by bending your left know until your left thigh is parallel to the ground. Claps your hands together as you do this to help with balance. Ensure that your left heel is flat on the ground.
  4. Exhale as extend your leg and return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat this between 10 reps.

#4 – Box Jumps

Box jumps are great for building explosive strength and increasing the size of your quadriceps. I have covered four other variations of this exercise in this jump squat tutorial.

Targets: Glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves.

  1. Stand tall in front of a sturdy object such as a bench, chair, or plyometric box.
  2. Inhale as you descend into a squat by bending your knees until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Clasp your hands together as you do this.
  3. Exhale as you explosively jump up onto the box while slicing your hands downwards to help with the movement. 
  4. Land softly on the box, followed by jumping back down.
  5. Repeat this for 10 reps.

#5 – Elevated Hamstring Curls

Targets: Glutes, hamstrings, core

  1. Lie on your back with your heels on an elevated surface. Your knees should be in line with your hips and your hands are flat on the ground by your sides.
  2. Exhale as you drive through your heels into the ground to push your hips up. Brace your core.
  3. Inhale as you slowly return to the starting position. 
  4. Perform this for 12 reps

#6 – Reverse Lunges

This exercise is great for increasing your hip range of motion and developing an athletic lower body. Check out this lunges tutorial where I go further in detail about the correct techniques of this exercise and its variations.

Targets: Glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves.

  1. Stand tall with your feet together and arms down by your sides.
  2. Take a big step back and lower into a lunge until your knees are at 90 degrees. Don’t let your rear knee touch the ground. Keep your core tight and your torso upright.
  3. Return to the starting position followed by repeating on the opposite leg.
  4. Repeat this for 20 reps. 

#7 – Squat + 2 Pulses 

This exercise involves two partial reps at the bottom range of the squat. This will increase activation of the targeted muscles which can stimulate hypertrophy. You can apply this technique to other squat variations I have covered in this complete bodyweight squat tutorial.

Targets: Glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps.

  1. Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and hands down by your sides.
  2. Inhale as you descend into a squat until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
  3. Perform two small pulses at the bottom phase of the squat while keeping your core tight.
  4. Exhale as you extend your legs and return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat this for 10 reps.

#8 – Wall Sit

The wall sit is a squat isometric hold that is a quad burner. This is used for developing isometric strength in the quads, glutes, and calves. 

Targets: Glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves. 

  1. Start with your back against the wall with your feet about 2-3 feet from the wall.
  2. Brace your core and slowly slide your back down the wall until your knees are at 90 degrees.
  3. Slightly adjust your feet so that your knees are stacked on top of your ankles.
  4. Hold this position for 20 seconds.

#9 – Squat + Calf Raise

As the name may suggest, this exercise combines a squat with a calf raise. It is a great compound movement that tests your balance and coordination while giving your calves a good burn. In this calf raises tutorial, I show you four different variations to target your calves. 

Targets: Glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves. 

  1. Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and hands down by your sides.
  2. Inhale as you descend into a squat until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
  3. Exhale as you extend your legs and return to the starting position. Immediately raise your heels by pressing the balls of your feet into the ground. Squeeze your calves at the top position. 
  4. Repeat this for 15 reps.

#10 – Forward Lunges

The forward lunge is a unilateral exercise that increases your core stabilization. With proper form, it can be used to build strength and muscle using only your body weight. 

Targets: Glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves.

  1. Start standing with feet hip-width apart and hands down by your sides.
  2. Take a big step forward and bend your knees until they’re at 90 degrees angle while bringing your hands together in front of your body to help with balance.
  3. Drive through your front foot heel to push back up to the starting position.
  4. Repeat on the opposite leg.
  5. Perform this for 20 reps

HIIIT Leg Workout

Here is a program card for you to follow. It summarizes all the exercises that I’ve covered above. Work for the number of reps shown and you can progress or regress by changing the number of reps performed for each exercise. 

Bodyweight Leg Workout Benefits

Bodyweight hypertrophy training can improve your strength, endurance, speed, power, balance, coordination, and speed. This allows you to get into great shape without having to purchase expensive equipment or be in a gym environment that you don’t like!

Needing minimal equipment means that you can train anywhere and anytime. All you’ll need is a chair, which is ideal if you travel a lot.

Bodyweight exercises are generally easier on the joints as it puts less strain on your body, which can help with injury prevention. We might know a friend who injured themselves at the gym from squatting or deadlifting too heavily – It’s a no-no!

A 2019 study suggests that an 8-week bodyweight-based squat training has significantly decreased body fat percentage (4.2%), increased lean body mass (2.7%), muscle thickness (3.2%), and strength of knee extensors (16%), compared to control group.

The Takeaways: Build Big Legs With Calisthenics

Not far behind the barbell back squat is the classic bodyweight squat. This is a great way to train as you can do it anywhere and anytime. It will develop your lower back strength.

In fact, bodyweight leg workout levels you up more than you think. When you add pause or pulses somewhere, you’re creating more resistance without adding weight. If you’ve enjoyed this workout, I suggest you switch your workout to the upper body in your next session, check out my previous workouts:

Don’t forget to connect with me on Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube. Thank you for reading, and I’ll catch you in the next article! 

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