Leg day- Gotta love it, right?
We know what you’re thinking and we’re not going to sugar coat it- Working on your lower body can be a pain in the ass, literally and figuratively.
However, doing so is extremely important. The glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings make up a majority of your body and play a vital role in your functional fitness.
While machines provide large weights to exercise these muscles and put on mass, calisthenics exercises allow you to safely execute natural movement patterns that mimic everyday activities while improving technique, balance, and mobility (and put on mass at the same time).
Before working out, don’t forget to warm-up for five-to-ten minutes and get some blood flowing into your muscles; this will maximize the effectiveness of your training. Jogging in place, jumping jacks, and skipping rope are simple yet effective warm-up exercises.
We need to tackle your whole regimen. With a proper plan you avoid things like overtraining, injuries, fatigue and joint problems that may hinder your progress. When you set out on your workout, always remember to stick to these 4 pillars:
- Warm up
- Main exercises
- Cool down
We’ll do a deep dive into every section, though if you have a set of gymnastics rings at home, here’s a highly recommended routine by Gravity Based Training:
Starting with Leg Calisthenics- Warm-up/Stretching
You cannot start your workout without a proper warm up.
Cold and shrunk muscle fibres don’t support effective training session – they are not flexible and your energy supplies are in “dormant” mode. A light or moderate cardio “wakes them up”, so they are 100% ready to start. Anything that makes the blood moving would make it.
Personally, I’d recommend jogging/running at a slow pace for 10-15 minutes.
This will oxygenate your muscles and get your muscles ready to pump that ATP in mitochondria. You could do jumping jacks as well, but you would fatigue your calves and thighs before the main part of the workout what is not recommended.
Now that we are feeling warmed up, we should prepare our target muscle groups to the exercise. That’s when stretching comes in. It’s CRUCIAL to stretch your muscles diligently. Why? Flexible muscles will enable us to perform a whole range of motion and prevent us from pulling the muscle. Below is a list of the most common leg stretching exercises:
- Front/side leg swings
- Standing/seated/hurdler hamstring stretch
- Standing/kneeling hip flexors
- Glute kickbacks
- Bridge and reach
- Side plank
- Standing/seated calf stretch
- Heel drop stretch
- Butterfly stretch
While stretching, we should also pay attention to our joints – ankles, knees and hips. If our technique will be on point, they should serve us without any problems. Clock-wise and anticlockwise circles would do, but I’d recommend some additional exercises presented below:
- Ankle mobilizer
- Ankle inversion/eversion
- Ankle plantar/dorsi flexion
- Knee bends
- Pigeon stretch
- Lateral lunges
- Hip windshield wiper
- Standing/lying hip rotations
Starting with Leg Calisthenics- Exercises
Now we move on to the main part of our workout – exercises.
You might think an Air Squat would be your first move, but it’s better to start with a Hip Hinge that trains you to bend at the hips instead of the lower back, which is essential to performing squats properly.
You can enlist the help of a broomstick (or any other lightweight rod, like a thin PVC pipe) as a guide to determine proper execution, but it’s unnecessary. While an Air Squat requires you to bend your knees at least 90°, the Hip Hinge is more focused on pushing the hips back and keeping the back straight with only a slight bend in the knees (45° or less).
The video below should give you an idea of how this movement looks:
Once you’re familiar with pushing your hips back and keeping your back straight, you can work on an Air Squat; first squat down until your thighs are parallel with the floor, then progress to squatting all the way down to the floor for a full range-of-motion.
Progressing Past the Basics
Uni-lateral (one-sided) moves are great for loading your legs with more weight, since they can really take a beating, but you’ll want to take some progressive steps to develop balance and strength before some of the more difficult exercises.
Split Squats are a great place to start (especially for people with knee problems, since each leg only takes about 60% of your bodyweight), while you should also look into Lunges and Step-Ups as a beginner.
Athleanx, considers the split squats, with the back leg raised “hungarian style”, the “single greatest leg exercise” in calisthenics:
Proper technique is king, so make sure you keep your knees stacked above your heels and take things easy as you learn your body’s limits.
Step-ups are also a neat move that will work on your harmstrings:
Finally lunges, which are sometimes confused with split squads, are also a great exercise. Learn the difference between the two below:
To add some fuel to the fire, plyometric exercises (also known as “jump training”) are a great way to push you to your limits with intense, explosive bursts; by taking an Air Squat or Lunge and jumping in between repetitions, you will add a cardio component to the workout and burn calories faster.
Finally, despite also working on the abs, hanging leg raises are also a great exercise for hip strength and mobility:
This exercises requires that you have a pull up or parallel bar at home, but these aren’t hard or expensive to buy/build, and they should be a part of your calisthenics arsenal, as well as resistance bands, weight bels, and other cheap accessories.
Having mastered the basic and moderate leg exercises, it’s time to move on the long-hailed king of bodyweight leg exercises: The Pistol Squat. This exercise is almost akin to the muscle up, but for the lower body, as it is the goal of many beginner calisthencis practitioners.
The Pistol Squat requires amazing strength, balance, and mobility, from your hips and quads through your knees and down to your ankles; performing a full set of this move with perfect technique is an impressive feat of strength.
While it’s not easy to master the Pistol Squat there are still plenty of other leg exercises which will challenge you thoroughly while developing your legs along the way.
Here is a demonstration of the exercise:
More Exercises and Variations
Having already covered the basics, you may need some specific exercises to help progress you on your path.
Fortunately, there are tons of exercises (as well as simple modifications or variations, which multiplies the possibilities):
- Lateral/Side Lunges,
- Wall Sits,
- Lunge Holds, (Single-Leg)
- Bodyweight Deadlifts,
- Shrimp Squats, and
- Calf Raises (don’t forget your calves, they’re vital to your fitness).
Leg Workouts by Difficulty
Calisthenics leg workout for beginners
This workout pretty much is the basis of our development. It’s essential that we master the simplest movements that will later pay off with stable and fast progress. We should start with 1-2 sessions a week, gradually increasing the number to 3-4 sessions maximum. I’d recommend to stay with 3 sessions. We do 3-5 sets of the exercises listed below:
- Standard squats (20 repetitions)
- Bridge (20 repetitions)
- Lunges (20 repetitions)
- Wall-sit (1 minute)
- Calf rises (20 repetitions)
We increase the number of sets only when we are not tired and our form is still maintained. When 20 repetitions is not enough for us, we can increase it to 30. Later on when we are feeling comfortable with the exercises, we can apply some variations like narrow/wide stance squat, one-legged bridge, jumping lunges, one-legged wall-sit or one leg calf rises. We should rest 1 minute between the sets.
Calisthenics leg workout for intermediates
The intermediate level still contains basic exercises, but they are more developed to introduce bigger impact and new stimuli to our muscles.
- Shrimp squats (5 repetitions a leg)
- Bulgarian split squats (5 repetitions a leg)
- One-legged bridge (5 repetitions a leg)
- Hover lunge (5 repetitions a leg)
- One-legged ankle hops (10 repetitions a leg)
When we move on to intermediate level, we should bear in mind that your progress may be slower than in previous exercises, so you shouldn’t get discouraged. Take your time and master the form, starting with 2-3 sets, 10 repetitions per exercise. Once you will be strong enough, you can increase this number to 3-4 sets and 10-15 repetitions. That should make it possible for you to move on to advanced level.
Calisthenics leg workout for advanced
This workout should make you a real calisthenics professional when it comes to leg workout. Don’t rush with the progress and if you cannot make the full range of movement, try to do them with a wall or rope support, whatever might serve the purpose.
- Pistol squats (5 repetitions a leg)
- Elevated shrimp squats (5 repetitions a leg)
- One-legged wall-sit (max)
- Russian hamstring curl (5 repetitions)
- Elevated One-legged calf rise (5 repetitions a leg)
Advanced level is very straining for muscles and joints, as you perform it mainly one-legged. Bear in mind that you should not perform it more than twice a week. If you prefer to do the legs though, you may do one advanced session and two intermediate sessions. You should start with 2 sets and 10 repetitions per exercise, making it the maximum of 4 sets and 20 repetitions.
Simple principals to challenge yourself with these exercises are: move your legs closer or further apart, use one leg instead of two, hold the most challenging position of an exercise, elevate one or both of your legs to increase the range-of-motion, or add in a jump between repetitions.
The last element of the workout is the cool down. As your muscles are still in fire, you should make use of it and stretch a little bit more. That way you invest your time for the future training sessions, where your range of movement should improve significantly. Use the exercises for stretching mentioned in the warm up. I’d also recommend to walk off the muscles, a short walk or a jog would do. That way you help your organism to flush out from muscles the by-products of your exercise (e.g. lactic acid that make you sore the next day).
We hope this guide has helped you improve your calisthenics workout routine and as always, if you’re unclear about any exercises or want more tips, feel free to comment below.
Chris is an experienced Calisthenics practitioner focused on isometric exercises and street workout. He founded thehybridathlete.com in 2017, which was subsequently acquired by theyhybridathlete.com
He is based in Portland and has been working out using solely his own body weight and bars for the past 6 years.