It is very common to hear from most fitness enthusiasts that it is not possible to train your legs with just bodyweight exercises. The main reason being is that you will need to carry weights to stimulate your leg muscles to grow and get stronger. This may be true if you are an elite athlete that would require a double bodyweight squat to progress, but for mere mortals like us, doing Calisthenics leg exercises will be enough to keep our legs lean and strong.
As a general rule, you start doing bodyweight squats to strengthen the front of your legs in your Calisthenics training. You then gradually progress to split squats and side squats to strengthen it further. As for the back muscles of your thighs, shoulder bridges and hip hinges will be good options to start.
Here is a list of Calisthenics leg exercises which we teach on our Calisthenics Fundamentals class, that a beginner can start with.
How to do a bodyweight squat
The foundation of all leg exercises. One of the biggest mistakes that a fitness practitioner makes, including advanced practitioners, is that they start loading their squat with heavy plates on the barbell without really working on the basic bodyweight squat movement.
- Strengthen quads and buttocks muscles
- Stretch Hips, knees, and ankles
- Improve awareness in the spine
Stand with your feet around shoulder-width apart and feet pointing forward or diagonally outwards. Bend your knees until your all the way to the bottom of the squat. Your buttocks should only be a few inches away from the floor. Keep your upper body relatively upright throughout the movement with a slight lean to the front at the bottom. Push back up to the standing position.
As you go up and down the movement, make sure your knees are pointing in the same direction as your toes and not caving inside to avoid any additional strain in your knees.
If you are having a hard time keeping your body upright and you are falling backward as you are going down, most likely, your ankles are tight. You can do a quick fix by elevating your heels with a weight plate or books of the same height. The higher you elevate your heels, the easier it will be for you to stay upright and go lower.
How to do split squats
- Strengthen the quads, buttocks, hamstrings, and hip flexor muscles
- Stretch the quads
- Stretch the hip flexor muscles
- Improve balance
Start by placing one foot in front around 2 to 3 feet away from your back foot. Slowly bend your front leg and keep going down until you reach the bottom of the movement. Try to keep your back upright and your back leg almost straight with the back knee close to the floor. Push strongly with the front leg to go back up to repeat the movement. Change side only after you finish your planned repetition.
Here are a few things to take note of when you are at the bottom of the movement, as this will be a key ingredient to get all the benefits of doing split squats
- Push the front knee as far front as you can to stretch the front ankle
Keep your body upright and not leaning forward. And try to contract the buttocks of the back leg. You should feel a good stretch on the hip and front thigh area of the back leg as you do so.
How to do wide squats?
- Strengthen the quads, buttock, and inner thigh muscles
- Open up the hips
- Stretch the inner thigh muscles
Start standing with your legs wider than shoulder-width apart and feet pointing diagonally to the sides. The wider your stance is, the more stretch you will feel from the hips and inner thighs. Start somewhere comfortable where you can comfortably learn the exercise and progress from there.
Slowly go down to a squat position with your knees pointing outside and aiming to bring your hips at the same level as your knees. Make sure your knees are pointing in the same direction as your toes, and keep your body as upright as possible.
Come back up to your starting position and repeat. Aim to go lower with your squat, and hold at the bottom position for up to 30s on the last repetition.
To get stronger in the bottom position and to work more in opening your hips further, try pushing the knees to the side as far as you can. You can use your hands to assist this movement by pushing the inside of your knees. Repeat this movement for reps.
Here is my video in YouTube you can refer for the wide squats.
How to do Straddle Hip Hinges
- Stretch the hamstrings
- Strengthen the lower back muscles
- Strengthen the hamstrings
- Improve awareness of your back muscles
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and slowly bend down forward while keeping your entire spine straight. Make sure to move by hinging your hips and not rounding the spine. Slowly go back up to starting position to repeat the movement.
Aim on going down until your back is horizontal. If you are having a hard time going down without rounding your spine, try to bend your knees slightly. You can slowly straighten your knees over time as you get more flexible.
How to do shoulder bridge
- Strengthens your hamstrings
- Strengthens your buttocks
- Strengthen the back
- Stretch the front hip and thigh area
- Awareness in the spine.
Start with your back on the mat, with your knees bent and feet close to your buttocks. Lift your back off the floor, initiating the movement by pressing the feet downwards. Curl your spine from your tailbone as you lift upwards. This will lift your buttocks off the floor first, followed by your lower back, then middle back, and last will be your upper back. This will teach you to articulate the spine, which will benefit the individual joints between vertebrae. The shoulder bridge exercise can also be done with a straight back which will focus more on the buttocks muscles. But regardless of which version you're doing, make sure you tuck your tailbone and tighten up your butt muscles.
As you're lowering down, try to even focus more on articulating your spine. So, you lower your upper back first, followed by the middle back, lower back, and your tailbone should be the last to touch the floor.
Here's a short tutorial on how to do a shoulder bridge:
Can you do legs daily?
Yes, you can do legs daily as your legs can take more load regularly. Sprinkle your work week with some light intensity on some days and some medium to high intensity on other days. Just bear in mind that you may feel quite fatigued on some days, and you can always take a day off or two. If you don't have the luxury of working with your legs daily, a good frequency is to do it 2x per week.
How many reps do I need to do for each exercise?
Start with 10 repetitions, and you can work up to 30 reps of some of the movements. If you find that the exercise is too hard for you, start with around 10 repetitions or whatever you can manage, then slowly progress from there. Just make sure you don't compromise your form doing the movement when pushing into high reps.
Do I need to do all of the exercises?
Not necessarily. A good minimum combination to start is to select one movement that will work more on the hamstrings and pair it with a movement that will work more on the quads.
This will give you a balanced development in your lower body.