55 Best Bodyweight Leg Exercises That Build Strength & Muscle (Guaranteed Ripped Legs)

November 01, 2021

There is a tendency among beginner and aspiring calisthenics trainees to skip bodyweight leg exercises completely and focus exclusively on achieving upper body strength feats.

I used to be like that in the beginning too.

When I started training with calisthenics my biggest aspiration was to achieve the unbelievable calisthenics skills that I saw on Youtube.

Almost all of these skills were related to upper body strength. The few skills that were related to lower body strength (like pistols) didn’t seem as exciting. And, for this reason, I pushed leg training aside.

Other than neglecting my legs, everything was going really well. I had started to achieve some of the skills that I wanted and I was making good progress.

But one day, I decided to crank out some pistols and was shocked to realize I could only get a few. I actually needed to support myself on my left side when I was trying to go back up. It sucked.

That was a complete eye-opener for me.

And I used to think that I was in good physical shape back then…

After that day, I started to train my legs more than ever before.

Fortunately, you don’t need such an experience to start valuing leg strength and to understand that you can’t be truly fit if you have weak legs.

“But Todd is it really possible to develop strong and muscular legs with bodyweight exercises?”

The quick answer is yes and the aim of this post is to show you can develop your leg muscles using bodyweight leg exercises.

Before moving on, I would like to mention that this post is very similar to the “45 Bodyweight Exercises To Help You Build Strength And Definition”. I recommend you to take a look at that post because it has lots of helpful info that applies to leg exercises as well.

Also, if you’re looking to use these exercises in the context of a whole body program, make sure to check out my Bodyweight Physique Academy.

Bodyweight Leg Exercises: Weightlifting VS Calisthenics

Bodyweight Leg Exercises weights

If you have been following SOA for a while, you are probably going to know a dozen reasons why calisthenics is an awesome form of training and the many benefits it has over weight lifting.

So, in this section, I would like to focus just on the differences between calisthenics and weight lifting in regards to leg training.

Calisthenics leg training is very effective for endurance and conditioning. Concerning explosiveness and muscle mass, it is very similar to upper body calisthenics.

The big difference comes in maximal strength training.

Maximal Leg Strength And Calisthenics

This is one of the areas where weight lifting can be considered superior to calisthenics.

When training with heavy squats, all you have to do is to master the technique, and then you just increase the weight on the bar “infinitely”.

On the contrary, to move from a simple squat to a pistol you have to master a completely new movement and after that, you have limited options on how to make a pistol more difficult.

But don’t let this scare you away because calisthenics leg training comes with another advantage.

Building Resilient Legs

If you train seriously with calisthenics, you are going to build a pair of very resilient legs.

Just take a look at parkouristas.

These guys jump from roof to roof and from big heights and absorb a lot of impact with their legs. Yet, most of them don’t ever work out with weights.

This happens because as you are advancing with bodyweight leg exercises, you are moving through extreme ranges of motion and, as a result, your joints and ligaments become more supple and stronger.

What Are The Muscles In The Leg?

Before we dive into the exercises, let’s take a look at the basics of leg anatomy to get a sense of how the legs work.

The leg consists roughly of these muscles:

  • Hip Flexors – Lift your leg up
  • Glutes – Pull your leg back
  • Quads – Extend your leg
  • Hamstrings – Bend your leg
  • Calves & shin muscles – Flex and extend your ankle, respectively
  • Adductors & Abductors – Bring the legs to close and away from each other, respectively

Rotational movements use a combination of these muscle groups.

Of course, this is a very simplistic overview, but it’s enough to get you started.

If you are more interested in the anatomy of your leg, you can take a quick look at this site.

How To Warm Up For Bodyweight Leg Exercises

Bodyweight Leg Exercises

Warming up for your bodyweight leg workout is pretty straightforward.

In the beginning, do some light mobility work for 2-5 minutes.

You should perform exercises for all joints:

This is really important if you are going to train for an exercise like the shrimp squat, where you are going to move through extreme range of motion. You can skip the warm up part only after you have gotten very proficient with an exercise.

After the mobility work, I sometimes like to include 5 minutes of jump rope to get my heart rate up, but it’s not necessary.

The rest of your warm-up is going to depend largely on what you are going to train for in the following workout.

If you are going to train for strength or muscle mass, then practice some low rep sets (3-5) of easier progressions leading to the move you are going to practice with.

For example, if you are going to train with pistols, you can do 3 sets of 5 reps of partial pistols increasing gradually the range of motion with every set.

If you are going to train for explosiveness or conditioning, practice with a moderate rep (6-12) sets at a fast pace.

For example, you can do 2 sets of 8 reps of bodyweight squats at a fast pace.

55 Bodyweight Leg Exercises To Help You Build Strength & Muscle

Bodyweight Leg Exercises running

Below is a complete guide of bodyweight exercises for legs.

I divided the exercises based on which muscles they target more. This was very difficult for certain exercises since most of them target a lot of muscles simultaneously.

To help you choose which exercises are more appropriate for your current level, I divided the exercises based on their difficulty as well.

Lastly, there is a category for leg isometrics which is appropriate for every level.

Bodyweight Leg Exercises For The Quads

In this section, you are going to find the exercises that are quad dominant. In this category belong some of the most difficult bodyweight leg exercises.

Beginner

Forward Lunge

Side Lunge

Traditional Squat

Sumo Squat (Bodyweight)

Cossack Squat

Bear Squat

Hindu Squat

You can find more info on the Hindu Squat here.

Intermediate

Falling Tower

Bulgarian Split-Squat

Close Squats


I actually prefer to have my knees touching during the exercise, but either way, it is a good exercise.

Reverse Lunge

Advanced

Pistol Squat

Walking Pistol Squat

Shrimp Squat

Tuck Squat

Bodyweight Leg Exercises For The Hips

Here are bodyweight leg exercises for the hips flexors. Most of the exercises for the hips are also core exercises, so you may want to train your hips at your core training sessions.

I recommend that you practice bridging after you’ve trained your hips because tight hips might “ruin” your posture because the hips flexors can pull your pelvis forward.

This gives you an anterior rotation in the pelvis which can cause problems in your low back. Lastly, if you stretch your antagonist muscles (the hamstrings) prior to your workout, you are going to perform better.

Beginner

Lying Leg Raises

These exercises can be easily modified by bending your legs.

High Knees

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27zLSRdQzZA

Plank

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kiA9j-dR0oM

Intermediate

Hanging Knee Raises

Jack Knife Exercise

One-leg Plank

Advanced

Hanging Leg  Raises

Some great variations from Al in this video.

L-sit

Bodyweight Leg Exercises For The Hamstrings

In this category belong the hamstring dominant movements.

Since most of the advanced bodyweight exercises are quad dominant, I recommend that you focus a lot of your attention on this muscle group.

Beginner

One Leg Deadlifts

Hamstring Curl

Intermediate

One Leg Hamstring Curl

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDy_bnL1v04

Harop Curl Progression (Easier variations)

Advanced

Harop Curl

Bodyweight Leg Exercises For The Glutes

Almost all the exercises mentioned so far train the glutes pretty well.

For this reason, in this section, there are not going to be too many exercises for that specific muscle group.

Beginner

Bird Dog Exercise

Backward Reach

Hip Bridge

Elevated Hip Bridges

Intermediate

Single-Leg Hip Bridge

Elevated Single Leg Hip Bridge

Miscellaneous Bodyweight Leg Exercises

In the section, you are going to find various exercises that weren’t put in any of the above categories.

Beginner

Calf Raises

Adductor Leg Lift

Side Leg Raise

Intermediate

Single-Leg Calf Raise

Adductor Plank

Side Plank With Leg Raise

Isometric Bodyweight Exercises For Legs

Isometrics for legs can be a great addition to your workout.

There are 2 ways to implement leg isometrics into your routine.

You can practice static hold as a finisher to your strength workouts and you can practice short isometric sessions for strength training.

The exercises in this section aren’t going to be divided into difficulty levels. This is just a list to help you get introduced to isometrics.

Static Wall Squat

Warrior Pose

Horse Stance

One Leg Wall Sit

Plyometric Bodyweight Exercises For Legs

In this category, you are going to find exercises that help you develop explosiveness and speed in your lower body.

The difficulty levels start from intermediate because plyometric exercises require a solid foundation for safe practice.

Intermediate

Squat Jumps

The 180 Degree Spiderman Jump

Crazy Lunge

You can find more info about the crazy lunge here.

Tornado Jump Lunge

Sprinting

Advanced

Hill Sprinting

Box Jumps

Knee Jumps

You can progress even if you don’t have weights by increasing the height of the landing surface like in the last progressions of the video.

Depth Jumps

Explosive Pistol Squats

How To Train Your Legs

Since it is very difficult to isolate muscle groups with the advanced leg exercises, I recommend that you choose one advanced movement as your main goal and then train the rest muscle groups with easier exercises.

For example, if you choose pistol as your main goal, you should train for it following strength training parameters (low rep sets with big breaks), and afterward or in the next day you can train the rest muscle groups with beginner and intermediate variations.

If your goal is to build muscle, you can follow the same approach but instead of following strength training parameters, you are going to focus on building more volume with the progressions. Of course, with this way of training achieving skills is going to take a little longer.

For leg endurance and conditioning, I consider AMRAP type workouts to be the best option.

For explosiveness, you should choose 2 exercises to perform in every training session.

I recommend you to stick to these 2 exercises for 2-3 months so that you can track your progress.

You can train with 3-4 for sets of 8-12 reps. Speaking from experience, alternating between explosive and strength training workouts is really helpful.

How To Recover Faster From Bodyweight Leg Exercises

I really enjoy training hard. I also enjoy training a lot.

However, there is a limit to this… Namely overtraining.

During all the years that I have been training, I have searched for ways on how to train more frequently and with greater intensity.

The subject of recovery is very large, so here I am going to share with you some exercises and ways on how to recover faster from your leg training.

Cooling Down

This is the simplest thing you can do.

After your workout just perform a short mobility session for 5-10 minutes similar to the warm-up.

Also, you can perform various static stretches and target the muscle areas that feel sore.

Using foam rolling is great as well.

Some of the stretches that I like to perform are these:

Your cool down shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes (I usually spend about 5 minutes).

This is going to help release tension. If you are doing it right, you should feel really relaxed afterward.

Active Recovery Sessions

Because it is very hard to get a full stretching and foam rolling session after your workout (except if you have a lot of available time), I recommend that you have a planned active recovery day where you dedicate 30-60 minutes (or more) to stretching and foam rolling.

If you don’t have big chunks of time for something like that, you can split the recovery days into upper and lower body days.

This practice is really valuable.

You are going to be amazed at how much faster you are going to recover by using something like this.

This is the closest thing you can get to getting a professional massage.

Note: In the beginning, stretching and foam rolling might make you sore as well.

Don’t be afraid of this, it’s normal.

After a while, you are going to feel a lot better.

Here are some great articles on active recovery and stretching in general:

And Finally… The Training Plans

There are multiple training plans in regards to developing strong legs using bodyweight exercises. All of these plans are different depending on your goals.

In this section, I am going to make a summary of some of the best articles that I have found on the web and some of my own on how to develop stronger legs.

Bodyweight Workout Plans & Resources For Strength Gains

Bodyweight Workout Plans For Muscle And Definition

Bodyweight Workouts For Explosiveness

Bodyweight Workouts For Endurance And Conditioning

Most of the workouts, in this section, are bodyweight circuits that contain upper body exercises as well.

Other Helpful Resources For Calisthenics Leg Training

Some of the resources below are not exclusively dedicated to calisthenics leg training but you can find a lot of info that applies to leg training as well.

Conclusion

To return to the beginning question of this post:

“But Todd is it really possible to develop strong and muscular legs with calisthenics?”

I hope I answered this question fully and that you can now see the true value and potential of bodyweight exercises for leg training.

If you still have more questions that were left unanswered with this post, feel free to post them below.

I would love to help you out!

– Bodyweight Todd

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2 Comments
  1. Thomas Rohmer

    Wow this has to be one of the most through posts I’ve seen on bodyweight leg training, and putting the videos there for each exercise makes it really handy. I’ve never heard of the tuck squat before so I’ll definitely have to try that one out!

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Glad you enjoyed it Thomas!! Leg training is super fun and challenging. Report back on your Tuck Squat work. 🙂

      Reply
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