Ah, every bodybuilder’s favorite day: Leg day!
…Okay, maybe not.
Still, leg day is an integral piece to your workout routine puzzle. Without it, you develop only your upper body and become the butt of chicken leg jokes and “do you even lift” remarks.
And we don’t want that.
But did you know you can develop powerful, sleek legs with simple bodyweight exercises?
Yes, calisthenics are the perfect way to train your lower body to avoid building thick, unsightly legs and instead create complementary, strong legs to complete your elite physique.
In this comprehensive guide, I’ll give you the secret to why training legs with calisthenics gives you the best benefits, the specific exercises for each lower body part, and how to structure your workouts and schedule for that infamous leg day.
Let’s get started!
What Are the Benefits of Strong Legs Anyway?
Having powerful, compact legs are highly desired over the sadly-named chicken legs most bodybuilders and physique-chasers inevitably end up with.
Here are a list of benefits to having strong legs:
- More overall muscle: Heavy lower body lifts like squats and deadlifts in traditional lifting increases the levels of HGH and testosterone in the body. They release more of these natural growth hormones than any other lifts because of the sheer mass and amount of muscle.
- A symmetrical body: With properly trained legs, you look better and have overall symmetry. Not only will you have a highly defined lower body, but the added HGH and testosterone will carry over to your upper body muscle as well.
- Mental gains: I get it. Training legs is hard sometimes. You don’t ever want to do leg day, opting instead for awesome push-up variations or pull-ups. But, if you put in the time and effort and commit to training your legs, you’ll not only gain muscle everywhere on your body, you’ll grow your mental fortitude as well. Stronger legs = stronger mind.
- Back to basics: If you lag in lower body exercises, that poses a real threat to your overall wellbeing and even your upper body movements. Well-trained legs provide balance, power, and range of motion. This allows you to run a 5k, cycle up a mountain, or simply walk around your home and office. Training legs gives you the opportunity to do fun activities outside of the gym.
- Amazing calisthenics: Training legs with bodyweight exercises gives you a plethora of awesome movements to do at the gym and out in the real world. Pistol squats, shrimp squats, and lower back movements gives you the flexibility, strength, and explosiveness to do incredible things whenever you want.
These are only a few of the many benefits strong legs give you. Sleek, powerful legs are undoubtedly important for your complete physique.
Best Bodyweight Leg Exercises
Variations: Squat jumps, prisoner squats (hands behind head, elbows flared out), tuck jumps, split leg squats (one foot on bench), squat holds or pulses, wall sits, sissy squats (on toes, bringing weight back and bending knees to the floor).
Variations: Pistol squats, shrimp squats (holding elevated foot behind back, bringing knee to floor), elevated pistols or shrimps (on a box, going down further than normal).
Variations: Jumping lunges (altering legs every rep), reverse lunges (walking backwards), lunge with rear leg raise, lunge pulses, elevated lunges (front leg on an elevated platform for a deeper movement).
Variations: Rebound broad jumps (starting on elevated platform, jump once you hit the ground), two-way broad jump (start by hopping backwards, then broad jump).
Variations: Single leg glute bridge, glute bridge to sit-up, elevated feet glute bridge, feet and shoulder elevated glute bridge, straight leg glute bridge (put your feet into TRX bands or gymnastics rings), tabletop bridge (start with hands and feet on floor, bring body up to tabletop, go for repetitions).
Variations: Lateral or crossover step ups.
Variations: Leg curl on your back (one- or two-legged), deep range-of-motion leg curls.
Variations: Sliding towel pike, plank with leg raise.
Single Leg Deadlifts (Unweighted)
Variations: Two-legged deadlifts.
Side Lunges/Lateral Bounds
Variations: Lateral bounds, ice skaters (lateral bounds with a curtsy lunge).
Sliding Supine Leg Curls
Variations: On BOSU ball, towel, anything that can slide on the floor.
Variations: Single leg, toes in/toes out.
Variations: Knees-to-elbows mountain climbers, cross mountain climbers.
Variations: Double unders, criss-cross, backwards, skipping, any form of jumping rope.
Now that you have a wide selection of exercises to choose from, it’s time to develop your workout routine.
The wonderful thing about most of these movements is that they work multiple body parts, including most lower body muscles and your core.
Body squats target your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves if done properly.
So what does this mean for your actual training? It means you only have to choose a handful of leg exercises to get the benefits of stronger legs.
How Often Should You Train Legs?
Legs are similar to other body parts, where they need roughly 60-72 hours to fully recover from a previous leg workout.
What this translates to is a biweekly schedule for legs; two leg workouts between Sunday and Saturday is ideal, on nonconsecutive days.
For example, Tuesday and Friday or Monday and Thursday are good splits for leg workouts.
Structuring Leg Workouts
Your workouts should include one complex movement (preferably a squat variation), one quad-centric movement, one hamstring movement, and a calves exercise.
If you do four total movements, volume has to be a major factor.
Because you aren’t loading your legs with a ton of weight, like in traditional bodybuilding, the number of reps will increase.
So, rather than starting with your heaviest weight for a couple reps, you’ll be doing 3 or 4 sets of a bunch of reps, or failure.
Make sure rest is monitored as well; because you aren’t fatiguing your lower body like you would with barbells or dumbbells, your rest periods should be quick.
For mass, you need to do multiple sets, a ton of reps, using your full range of motion, and keep rest short.
When you’ve mastered the top movements – which isn’t hard if you remain with solely body weight – then you can continue to up your reps.
Once you get to about 30 reps per set of things like squats and deadlifts, reduce the rest periods.
Once you get to 30 seconds or quicker, you’ve effectively reached the top of non-weighted calisthenics. Consider adding weighted vests or dumbbells into your routine if you want to keep adding mass to your build.
Bodyweight Leg Workouts
- Stretch: Runners lunges, toe touches, leg pulls, calf stretches, etc.
- Sprints: 3×50-100 meters (this fatigues your central nervous system and is actually a really good leg exercise to build powerful muscle fast)
- Bodyweight squats: 4×15-20
- Pistol squats: 3×10-20
- Leg curls: 3×10-20
- Glute bridges: 3×10-20
- Single leg calf raises: 3×15-20 each
These are the best lower body movements. Squats are a given, but pistols develop your quads like none other; same goes for bodyweight leg curls and your hamstrings, and glute bridges for your gluteus maximus (another important muscle to think about on leg days).
Any calf raise is good, but single leg makes you focus on each calf individually. Sprints at the beginning work your entire legs and provides a cardio element to your workout.
- Stretch: See above.
- Sprints: 5×50-100 meters
- Tuck jumps or squat jumps (or a combo): 3×10-20
- Shrimp squats (elevated): 3×10-15 each
- Lateral raises or ice skaters: 3×15-20 each side
- Mountain climbers: 3×15-20 each side
- Jump rope: 5 minute freestyle
The optimal exercises for an athlete. Sprints are the best for training your speed and quickness. Tuck jumps are a given for explosive power. Shrimp squats on an elevated platform gives you added ROM and flexibility, with incredible quad strength. Ice skaters gives your hamstrings pop and pliability. Mountain climbers give your calves fast motion. Jumping rope at the end provides a last hit to your cardiovascular system and burns calories like none other.
For calisthenics power:
- Stretch: See above.
- Broad jumps: 3×10-15
- Pistol squats: 3×10-15 each
- Jumping lunges: 3×10-20 each side
- Inchworms: 3×5-10 full inchworms
- Lunge pulses: 3×20-50 each side
- Jump rope: 5 minute freestyle
This workout gives you the tools needed to be a calisthenics badass.
The broad jumps, pistol squats, and jumping lunges allows you to do anything from parkour to perhaps backflips or other cool advanced calisthenics movements.
Inchworms and lunge pulses give you that good, slow burn to break down muscle fibers, and the jump rope is there to tax your cardio.
You can take any of these templates and do with it what you want. Just make sure to:
- Up the reps;
- Keep rest periods short;
- Choose a handful of exercises you want to get better at and target different leg muscles;
- Choose both strength and cardio movements, to build a complete muscle.
Leg days are extremely important, even in the calisthenics world.
The benefits are insane: Balance, power, symmetry, help with your upper body movements, strength, and these exercises help you burn calories in the process.
Peruse our list of movements, how-to videos, and variations. Apply them to our leg workout templates.
And make sure your training regimen follows the section where we discuss how often and what types of movements you should include.
Focus on your goals, focus on the mind-muscle connection, and hit leg day hard. It’s half of your body – give it the respect it deserves.
Who knows? Maybe leg day will soon become your favorite workout day!