9 Bodyweight Leg Exercises To Be A Better Athlete
Bodyweight leg exercises are often overlooked because their intensity is too low.
While we agree that it is difficult to build big legs using a bodyweight leg workout...
Size is not necessarily everything, and let us explain.
If you’re aiming for tree trunk legs, we recommend you to check this article.
However, if you’re interested in having what we call bamboo legs - that offer functionality for activities other than just lifting heavy weights, then keep reading.
Muscular legs and bodyweight fitness
This section is meant to help you understand if you should aim for legs as muscular as possible...
...or if you’re better off having athletic legs.
As always, it all boils down to your goals.
Exercising with your body weight is a great choice if you want an aesthetic upper body.
Thanks to the nature of these exercises, they are ideal if you want to maximize lean muscle mass building, and get a shredded body.
Why is that?
Calisthenics is mostly done with compound movements.
Compound movements are exercises that involve more than one join and primary muscle. For example, a pull-up vs. a biceps curl - the latter being an isolation exercise.
Compound exercises will burn more calories than any isolation exercise - i.e. you will get leaner with less regard for the diet.
However, when it comes to leg development, matters get a bit difficult.
- You’ve been using your legs since forever, on a daily basis
- Leg muscles are big and have to support your entire weight
- Your legs can support your body for hours at a time, with no rest
Therefore, you can understand why training using your weight alone won’t make much of a difference.
If you’re solely focused on having an aesthetic, proportionate body, a list of bodyweight leg exercises won’t help you out.
You will have to use external weight.
We will be discussing functionality from a bodyweight fitness standpoint only. We are not talking about it in sports that are highly leg-performance-specific, such as soccer, sprinting, etc.
If you are aiming to move towards advanced elements such as the planche muscular legs may be a disadvantage.
The more muscular your lower body is, the more it weighs.
Therefore, you need more strength in your upper body to compensate for the weight of your lower body.
Your performance may have to suffer as a byproduct of having big legs.
Hence, if you are interested in increasing your performance, we recommend you to train the lower body using your own weight.
Regardless of your goals, we do NOT recommend skipping leg training.
Bodyweight leg exercises
The intensity of all exercises presented below can be easily increased with the use of weights.
However, if you don’t have access to weights or choose not to use them try to increase the time under tension (tut) of each repetition.
Instead of performing the exercise fast or at a comfortable pace, try doing the negative part slowly.
For example, when you are doing a squat, lower over a period of three seconds.
The squat is the most popular lower body exercise.
It can be loaded heavily and comes with a ton of benefits.
One of the major benefits is the promotion of muscle-building throughout the whole body, not just your legs.
- Keep the chest up and don’t round the shoulders
- Hold the spine in a neutral position - don’t hyperextend it
- Don’t let the knees pass your toes - may result in knee pain
- Go down a bit below parallel, or A to G (ass to grass)
The squat is a complex movement that deserves its own article.
Therefore, we have written the complete guide to squatting.
Check it out for additional information regarding this exercise.
The lunge is another fundamental bodyweight leg exercise.
Just as with the squat, you can heavily load the lunge.
Additionally, the intensity can be changed by stepping onto an elevated surface, instead of the ground.
If you’re a beginner you can do the exercise in a stationary position (one leg in front of the other, then just go up and down), instead of stepping in a lunge.
- Only go up and down, not forward
- Keep the knee of the front leg right behind the toes
- Keep your chest up and look forward
As you progress with the exercise you can do stepping lunges instead of stationary.
Additionally, you can start increasing the intensity by doing the exercise slower or by elevating the surface on which the front leg will be placed.
For some reason, this exercise doesn’t nearly get the attention it deserves.
All you need to perform it is a surface that is knee-high or a bit higher, and you’re all set.
The higher the surface, the more intense the exercise.
A major advantage of the step up is the minimal risk of injury. Thanks to its mechanics, the step up is one of the most natural movements our body can perform.
- Only push with the working leg
- Keep the hips level throughout the entire movement (may be hard if the elevated surface is too high)
Once you can comfortably do step ups, you could try doing the reverse variation.
Instead of facing the elevated surface, you would stay with your back towards it.
Forward jumps are a great bodyweight leg exercise.
Actually, it’s pretty hard to do the exercise weighted, unless you are using ankle weights.
The forward jump will prove to build strength, muscular endurance, explosiveness and muscle mass through the muscles of the entire leg.
It’s an all-around exercise which should be included in most bodyweight leg workouts.
- Start as low as you can; we recommend on the bottom position of a squat
- Explosively jump as forward as possible
- Without resting, jump again for as many repetitions as you choose to
In the beginning, the exercise will be pretty difficult.
Your heart will start racing and your legs will be screaming with fatigue. However, as you keep on doing it, you will find it easier and more beneficial.
Once again, we have a jumping exercise making our list.
The thing about these exercises is that they build overall explosiveness, strength, and mass - so why wouldn’t we do them?
Vertical jumping is just a bit different than frog jumps.
Instead of jumping forward, as far as you can, you will jump as high as you can.
Even though it’s difficult at first, with time it will become easier and you will see an increase in your jumping strength.
- Start from a squat position, as low as you can
- Push through your legs, swinging your arms by your side and up for increased reach
If you find this exercise too easy you can increase the intensity by using weights or use it as warm up to increase your heart rate.
Box jumps are great for cardio and muscle building at the same time.
However, be ready for complete exhaustion - just as with most plyometric (explosive) exercises.
You can use any surface to perform the exercise.
We recommend you to do the exercise on a height that challenges you from the get-go but which is not too tall either.
As you keep doing the repetitions, fatigue will start building up and you may no longer be able to complete all of them if the surface is too tall.
- From a standing position bend your knees and send the hips and arms backward
- Jump towards the box by throwing your arms forward and simultaneously extending the hips, knees, and ankles
- Land in a soft squat to avoid hurting your joints
While plyometric exercises may feel annoying at times, performing them will bring lots of benefits to your musculature.
The glute bridge is a great exercise for your hamstrings and glutes.
The intensity can be increased by doing it unilaterally (one leg), on an elevated surface, or both.
- Push through your heels and use the hamstrings to lift the hips, rather than just using the abs to push them upward
- Keep a straight back; do not arch it
- Flex the glutes as you push up
For some people, the glute bridge won’t feel difficult at all.
If that’s you, place your feet on an elevated surface or perform the exercise using one of your legs instead of both.
The crab walk is an amazing functional exercise that can strengthen your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves.
While it seems easy, you may quickly find that it’s not.
Especially when you have to do it for an extended period of time.
- Hinge at the hips and slightly flex the knees
- Step to your side and drag the other foot
- Repeat for the designated amount of repetitions, time, or distance
If you find crab walks too easy, you can increase their difficulty through the use of external weight (dumbbell, weight vest, weight plate, etc.) or by flexing your knee more so you go lower.
The calf raise is, in our opinion, the most efficient exercise for calf muscle building.
A lot of people have issues with this region of their legs - meaning that they don’t seem to be building muscle mass.
For calf training, we recommend doing a high amount of repetitions per set - 15 to 20 - with a big time under tension in the top position.
- Stand on an elevated surface so your heels can go below your toes
- Push as hard as you can in the top position and hold the tension active for a few seconds
If you find the calf raise too easy, do it using one leg or add external weight to your body.
Most of these bodyweight leg exercises can also be performed using additional weight.
If your goals are based around looks, you may want to consider adding barbells for your leg training days.
However, if you are concerned with isometric skills such as the front lever or the planche, leg training using your weight only may be the ideal approach.
This way there will be less strain placed on your upper body when you are trying to hold those positions.
Lastly, regardless of what you choose, you should be fine as long as you are not skipping your leg training day.
Whether it’s weighted or bodyweight only.
Over to you.
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