Friends don’t let friends skip leg day, or so the popular meme says. However, most leg day workouts involve things like squats, deadlifts, hamstring curls, and leg presses – all of which require equipment and various weights to perform.
That’s no problem if you have access and the time to get to a well-equipped gym, but that’s not always practical or possible. For example, you might be on vacation or too busy and unable to find a couple of hours spare to travel and train.
The good news is that you don’t need a large selection of workout equipment or a pile of weights to get a good leg workout. In fact, your body weight is all you really need.
In this article, we share a challenging and effective calisthenic leg workout, so you can train your lower body anywhere and anytime.
- What is Calisthenics?
- The Benefits and Advantages of Calisthenics
- Calisthenics Disadvantages and Drawbacks
- The Best Calisthenic Leg Workout – Overview
- The Best Calisthenic Leg Workout – Exercise Instructions
- Calisthenic Leg Workout – FAQs
- Wrapping Up
What is Calisthenics?
The term “calisthenics” comes from the Greek words for beauty (kállos) and strength (sthenos). It is a form of training that relies on using body weight for resistance and is also known as bodyweight training.
Popular calisthenic exercises include push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, unweighted squats and lunges, and gymnastic and functional movements, including rope climbing and handstands.
Calisthenics has always been popular but has become even more so since COVID forced many gyms to close, as most exercises require no equipment and can be performed at home. Bodyweight training is widely used in the military and by amateur and professional athletes, especially martial artists.
You can use calisthenics to achieve almost any fitness goal, including muscle building, gaining strength, fat burning, improving endurance, and increasing general fitness. There are exercises to suit all experience levels, from raw beginners to very advanced.
The Benefits and Advantages of Calisthenics
Many people are skeptical that something as simple as calisthenics can provide a comprehensive workout. Let’s put those fears to rest by examining the benefits and advantages of calisthenic training!
While you may need some way to do pull-ups or dips, most calisthenics exercises involve no specialist equipment. As such, you are free to work out almost anywhere and anytime. You can do calisthenics at home, in your garden, at a local park or playground, or in your hotel room.
Also, because you can do calisthenics anywhere you have enough space to move, you won’t have to waste time traveling to the gym to work out. A 45-minute calisthenic training session will only take 45 minutes, and not the couple of hours that traveling to and from a gym so often takes.
Lack of time and facilities can be a real barrier to exercise participation, but with calisthenics, these barriers are removed.
With no gym fees to pay and no training equipment to buy, calisthenics training is very easy on your pocket. In fact, you don’t need to spend a single cent to start working out with your body weight.
If you train at home, you don’t even need to buy specialist workout clothes – any old T-shirt and loose-fitting pants will suffice.
That said, a few relatively cheap items can add a lot to your calisthenic training, such as pull-up and dip bars, exercise mats, gymnastic rings, and parallettes. However, these tools are optional extras and not essentials.
While some calisthenic exercises are extremely tough, others are more straightforward and easy on your joints. Calisthenic exercises often mirror everyday activities, so they’re easy to learn, and many will already be familiar to you, as things like push-ups, jump jacks, sit-ups, and squats are often part of high school physical education classes.
Most calisthenic exercises can be modified to suit not only your fitness but your height, weight, and limb length. For example, you can move your hands or feet in or outward to make your chosen exercise as comfortable as possible. Try doing that with leg extensions or the pec deck!
This all adds up to a workout that is usually very joint-friendly. Providing you don’t try to progress too quickly, calisthenic training does not typically lead to injuries.
Improve athleticism and functionality
With no machines to guide your movements or support your body, calisthenic training is not only good for your muscles but your nervous system too. Doing calisthenic exercises will improve your balance, mobility, coordination, proprioception, athleticism, and functional fitness and strength.
In other words, the fitness you develop through calisthenics will transfer seamlessly to your life outside of training.
This helps explain why calisthenics is so popular with sportspeople and the military – it improves real-world fitness, so you’ll not only look in shape but will actually BE in shape, too.
Contrary to what you might think, calisthenics can be adapted to meet almost any training goal, from fat burning to muscle building to improving your general health and well-being. It all comes down to your choice of exercises and how they’re programmed and performed.
For example, you could superset (perform in pairs) high-rep push-ups and squat jumps to get a great fat-burning cardio workout. Alternatively, you could do low-rep pull-ups and single-leg pistol squats to build muscle mass and strength.
So, whatever you are training for, you can probably achieve it with calisthenics.
Calisthenics Disadvantages and Drawbacks
While calisthenics training is mostly safe and effective, there are a couple of disadvantages and drawbacks to consider, too. These include:
Difficulty isolating muscles
Bodybuilders use single-joint or isolation exercises to target individual muscles and maximize hypertrophy or growth. This is usually not possible with calisthenic training. In contrast, most calisthenic exercises are compound or multi-joint and train several muscles at once.
While compound exercises are excellent for building strength and burning calories, some lifters enjoy doing isolation exercises, using them to target individual muscles, such as the biceps, triceps, or deltoids.
For this reason, some people like to combine compound calisthenic exercises with resistance band or isometric isolation exercises.
Limited progression options
While you can progress some calisthenic exercises by modifying them to make them more challenging, the primary source of progression is doing more reps. That’s okay when you’re starting out, but as you get fitter and stronger, you may find yourself doing 50, 80, or even 100 reps of some calisthenic exercises. This can be time-consuming and boring.
In contrast, with conventional strength training, you can simply up the weight to maintain your progress.
Your body weight may be a limiting factor
Some calisthenic exercises may be too hard or even impossible if you are heavy and/or a beginner. For example, push-ups and pull-ups can be especially challenging for larger people.
This is usually less of an issue with conventional strength training, where the load can be modified more easily.
It could be too convenient
Convenience can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it means you can work out anywhere and anytime. However, this can also create a lack of urgency, meaning you put your workout off until later, and may even skip it entirely. “I’ll do it later” can quickly turn into “I’ll do it tomorrow,” and, as the saying goes, tomorrow never comes.
One way around this is to plan your workouts in advance and have a set time to train, e.g., on rising or before dinner. Working out on the same days and at the same time makes it easier to be consistent.
The Best Calisthenic Leg Workout – Overview
The following workout is designed to be performed as part of a split routine, where you train different muscles on different days, for example:
|Legs||Upper body||Rest/cardio||Legs||Upper body||Rest/cardio||
However, before starting any strenuous training, you should prepare your muscles and joints with some light cardio followed by dynamic mobility and flexibility exercises. Warming up will make your workout more comfortable and effective and could also help reduce your risk of injury.
Five to ten minutes is all you need, so don’t be tempted to skip this critical step. While not warming up may save you a few minutes, it could cost you months of lost progress if you pick up an otherwise avoidable injury.
All warmed up and ready to go? Good to hear! Here’s your calisthenic leg workout:
|1||Reverse Nordic||2-4||Take each set to within 1-3 reps of failure.||60-90 seconds|
|2||Bulgarian split squat (1½ reps)||2-4||60-90 seconds|
|3||Glute bridge walkout||2-4||60-90 seconds|
|4||Single-leg Romanian deadlift||2-4||60-90 seconds|
|5a||Wall squat hold||2-4||N/A|
|5b||Squat jump||60-90 seconds|
|6||Single-leg calf raise||2-4||60-90 seconds|
Exercises 5a and 5b are to be performed as a superset. Do the first exercise (wall squat hold), followed immediately by squat jumps. Rest a moment and repeat the pairing for the required number of sets.
The Best Calisthenic Leg Workout – Exercise Instructions
There are two ways to perform most exercises – the right way and the wrong way. The right way is safe and effective, while the wrong way is more likely to cause injuries and probably won’t produce such good results.
Follow these step-by-step instructions to ensure you do all the exercises in this workout correctly.
1. Reverse Nordic
Muscles targeted: Quadriceps, hip flexors, core.
People who train in a gym can do leg extensions to target their quadriceps. Calisthenic practitioners don’t have this option, but that doesn’t mean you can’t hammer your quads and strengthen your thighs. Think of reverse Nordics as natural leg extensions – no equipment required!
- Kneel on the floor with your toes pointed and the tops of your feet pressed into the floor. Your thighs and torso should be vertical. Brace your core.
- Without bending your hips, lean backward and try to touch your calves with your hamstrings.
- Drive your feet into the floor and push yourself back into the starting position.
- Continue for the desired number of reps.
- Kneel on a folded gym mat or foam pad for comfort.
- Only lean back as far as is comfortable. Increase your range of motion as you get stronger.
- Use a resistance band for assistance if necessary:
2. Bulgarian split squat (1½ reps)
Muscles targeted: Quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, hip abductors, hip adductors.
After hitting your quads hard with reverse Nordics, it’s time to work them in conjunction with your other lower body muscles with Bulgarian or rear foot elevated split squats. However, to compensate for the lack of external load, you’ll do this exercise using 1½-rep style.
- Stand with your back to a knee-high step or bench. Bend one leg and place the top of your foot on your platform. Hop forward and into a split stance.
- Keeping your torso relatively upright, bend your legs and lower your rear knee down to within an inch of the floor.
- Extend your leg and come halfway up.
- Lower your knee back down to the floor, and then come all the way up.
- That’s one rep – keep going!
- Continue for the desired number of reps, and then switch legs.
- Do this exercise next to a wall and use it for balance if required.
- Place a folded exercise mat under your rear knee for comfort.
- Lean forward slightly to increase glute and hamstring engagement.
3. Glute bridge walkout
Muscles targeted: Hamstrings, gluteus maximus, core.
With no leg curl machine to use, you may be wondering how you’re going to train your hamstrings. Well, wonder no more – this exercise is the answer! Glute bridge walkouts are a low back-friendly posterior chain exercise that will fry your hamstrings in double-quick time.
- Lie on your back with your legs bent and feet flat. Press your lower back into the floor and brace your core.
- Lift your hips up toward the ceiling.
- Without touching your butt to the floor, walk your feet out and away until your legs are straight.
- Walk your feet back in and repeat.
- Keep your core braced and hips up throughout.
- Alternate your leading leg rep by rep.
- Tale small steps to keep your muscles under tension for longer.
4. Single-leg Romanian deadlift
Muscles targeted: Hamstrings, gluteus maximus, core.
Now your hammies are warmed up and ready to go, it’s time to work them a little harder with single-leg Romanian deadlifts. This exercise will also enhance your balance and mobility, making it a very functional calisthenics move.
- Stand with your feet together. Shift your weight over onto one leg and brace your core. Bend your supporting knee slightly for balance.
- Hinging from your hips, lean forward and reach down the front of your leg to the floor.
- Extend your other leg out behind you as a counterbalance.
- Stand up straight and repeat.
- Continue for the desired number of reps, and then switch legs.
- Take care not to round your lower back, as doing so could lead to injury.
- Do this exercise next to a wall and use it for balance if required.
- You can also do this exercise with your non-working foot still on the floor, i.e., a B-stance or kickstand Romanian deadlift.
5a. Wall squat hold
Muscles targeted: Quadriceps, gluteus maximus, hamstrings.
Wall squat holds are an isometric lower body exercise. This means your muscles generate force without producing any movement. Don’t let the static nature of this exercise put you off – it’s still a very challenging way to work your quads, glutes, and hamstrings.
- Stand with your back to a smooth wall. Lean against the wall so your feet are about 24 inches from the baseboard.
- Slide down the wall until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Push your lower back into the wall as hard as possible.
- Maintain maximal muscle tension for as long as you can.
- Descend below parallel to really hit your quads hard.
- Take care not to hold your breath.
- Do not rest your hands on your legs – keep them out of the way to ensure you can’t cheat and make this exercise easier.
5b. Jump squat
Muscles targeted: Quadriceps, gluteus maximus, hamstrings, gastrocnemius, soleus.
Doing squat jumps immediately after wall squats will set your legs on fire! However, this devilish exercise combo will also build muscle strength, size, and power without having to use a squat rack, leg press machine, or any weights. It’s low-tech but ultra-high-effect!
- Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, toes turned slightly outward.
- Bend your legs and squat down until your thighs are roughly parallel to the floor.
- Stand up quickly and leap into the air as high as possible.
- Land on slightly bent knees to absorb the impact and repeat.
- Use your arms for added momentum.
- End your set when your jump height starts to decrease.
- Stand on a mat for a more cushioned landing.
6. Single-leg calf raise
Muscles targeted: Gastrocnemius, soleus.
No calf machine? No problem! You can get a great lower leg exercise with only your body and a sturdy step to stand on. Your calves are a small but often visible muscle group, so it’s important not to neglect them.
- Stand on a step so the ball of one foot is on the edge. Cross your other foot behind your supporting ankle.
- Keeping your leg straight, lower your heel down toward the floor and get a good stretch in your calf.
- Push up onto your tiptoes and repeat.
- Switch legs and do the same number of reps on the other leg.
- Pause at the top and bottom of each rep to make this exercise more challenging.
- Use your hands for balance as required.
- Keep your glutes engaged and your core braced throughout.
Calisthenic Leg Workout – FAQs
Do you have a question about this workout or calisthenic training in general? No problem, because we’ve got the answers!
1. How many times a week should I do this workout?
While you could do this workout just once a week, you’ll get better results if you do it twice, e.g., Monday and Thursday. This provides a good balance between work and rest/recovery.
You could do it three times, but that’ll probably be too much for most people, especially if you push the sets close to failure. Remember to perform it in conjunction with a similar number of upper-body workouts.
2. What does “take each set to within 1-3 reps of failure” mean?
It’s almost impossible to tell you how many reps to do as your body weight and fitness will directly affect your performance and capabilities. So, rather than provide you with a rep range that’s too high or too low, you should simply do as many reps as you can in good form, be that 10, 20, or 30.
Just keep going until your muscles feel good and tired. Strive to do more reps as you get fitter and stronger, but never sacrifice good form for a couple more reps.
3. Is this a cutting or a bulking leg workout?
Your workout doesn’t really determine whether you are cutting or bulking. Instead, it’s your diet. To cut (lose fat), you need to have a dietary calorie deficit which forces your body to burn fat for fuel. A 500-calorie deficit will usually result in losing one pound per week.
In contrast, you need a calorie surplus to build muscle and gain weight. 500 extra calories a day should result in a one-pound weight gain per week.
So, adjust your diet according to your goals, and don’t worry too much about changing your workout for cutting or bulking.
4. Can I change any of the exercises?
Sure you can! However, make sure you use similar exercises that work the same muscle groups as those listed. For example, if you want to replace squat jumps, do something like jumping lunges, which involve all the same muscles. Stay true to the spirit of the program, and you won’t go wrong.
However, avoid swapping out an exercise just because you find it hard. It’s those challenging exercises that invariably produce the best results.
5. Is this workout suitable for beginners?
While a beginner could do this workout, it’s probably a little too challenging for most. It’s pretty long and contains some demanding movements that may be beyond the abilities of less experienced exercisers.
Do a basic calisthenic program for a few months, and then return to this plan when you feel you’re ready. Even then, just do a couple of sets of each exercise and stop before reaching failure. Doing too much too soon will undoubtedly cause severe delayed onset muscle soreness and could even lead to injury.
So, start slowly and build up gradually – getting in shape is a marathon, not a sprint!
More on Calisthenics:
- The 11 Best FREE Calisthenics Programs
- Best Calisthenics Triceps Exercises
- The 12 Best Calisthenics Biceps Exercises and Workout
- Hardcore Calisthenics Arm Workout To Build Muscle Mass and Strength
- Calisthenic Shoulder Exercises and Workout
- A Routine for Daily Calisthenics Training
- Weighted Calisthenics Best Exercises and Workouts
- Calisthenics Back Workout for Size and Strength
- Savage Calisthenics Abs Workouts For Beast Gains (All Levels)
- Calisthenics Workout Plan: A Beginner’s Guide
While exercises like squats, leg presses, and deadlifts are undoubtedly effective, they’re not always practical or convenient. Going to the gym can take time many people don’t have, and gym memberships can be expensive. You COULD set up a home gym, but not everyone has the space or the budget to do so.
The good news is that you can develop a strong, muscular, well-conditioned lower body with calisthenic exercises and workouts. Using nothing except your body weight, you can train anywhere and anytime, and it won’t cost you a cent.
So, there really is no reason to skip leg day ever again. Do the workout in this article a couple of times a week to develop a lower body you can be proud of.