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No Excuses to Skip Leg Day | Calisthenic Leg Workouts to Know
Bodyweight leg exercises generally employ a different dynamic from using weights. Thus they need to be worked in different ways, and yes—this usually means far higher rep ranges. At least if sets and repetitions are being employed as they typically are with weights.
Reps and sets are not the be-all and end-all, though, and one thing is for sure—even if you are looking to ‘smash’ your legs (if you are still a believer in ‘leg days’), you can put more burn into a calisthenic leg workout than you might have thought.
First, keep in mind that mobility can and should be worked along with the legs. It is a key component of leg training along with strength and fitness. Foot, ankle, knee, and hip mobility are a huge part of any decent leg training and should all be incorporated and activated before getting started on any real work.
Then there are the exercises themselves. Some calisthenic exercises like the leg-specific ones that utilize larger muscles—might initially seem easy on the first few reps to anyone with already reasonable levels of fitness, strength, and mobility.
But they aren’t easy when key factors like advanced mobility and correct form are the main features of the approach. That said, when training legs with calisthenics, the exercises are generally more approachable for most people in contrast to other exercises like the various pull-ups, muscle-ups, and pistol squats that may take a lifetime’s work for many men.
The Muscles Involved
When considering the muscles involved in leg exercises, it becomes apparent that we have some large ones to play with in the quads (a group of 4 muscles), the glutes, the hamstrings, and the secondary support of the calves and ankles.
The abductor Magnus also has several important roles in the function of the leg mechanism. Lunges activate the leg muscles from different angles and with more range, which is why they work well in conjunction with squats.
Forming the Right Approach
One of the keys to successful and ongoing calisthenic leg training is not just the exercises themselves but rather the style of training you can employ to improve particular areas.
If you concentrate on the number of reps and sets alone, for instance, you will soon find that your body adapts quickly to this type of stimulus and the numbers will increase. The problem with adopting this approach solely is that:
- Eventually, the numbers will be through the roof, and the sessions will be too long for most people who train
- Mental fatigue may start to become an issue, and motivation levels may start to drop.
So even though sets and reps are necessary up to a point, it is always worth constantly being on the lookout for new, effective, and motivational ways to train the same moves. Focusing more on mobility is one way.
Many bodybuilders for instance, can’t even do calisthenics as their out-of-proportion bodies have very limited mobility compared to someone training only calisthenics and with much less bulk.
So mobility and movement must be considered equally important and trained together as much as possible. Calisthenic training is ideal for this, helping to work and improve the range of movement in key areas like the shoulders, hips, and ankles, while building integral strength.
Get Mobile and Master Form
First, you master the correct form of the leg exercises and consider the mobility aspects, along with any potential areas to work on. In no time at all you may be up to reps of tens and twenties (if you are just starting out). But once you start to know how to work the legs, you’ll see how the ‘burn’ can sometimes just creep up from nowhere and how it’s not so much about numbers but intensity.
Once you have figured out ways to get to the burn, it’s a case of tweaking, adapting, and changing up routines and styles of training to get there quicker and more effectively.
To see further, continuous improvements with calisthenic leg training, it’s largely a question of:
- How good your mobility is in key areas (hips, knees, ankles, calves, hamstrings, + abductors etc.)
- How much gas you have in the tank—fitness and conditioning
- Keeping in mind that mental strength, concentration, and self-discipline are key aspects of your training and making efforts to push past current limits
- How well you maintain form (and consistency)
Example Calisthenic Leg Exercises
- Bodyweight Squats
- Jump Squats
- Hindu Squats
- Bulgarian Squats
- Squat/Lunge Combo
- Lunges (forward, reverse, split jumps)
- Horse Stance
Challenge Yourself in New and Different Ways
There are various methods of working the given exercises. These methods should be utilized and adapted according to specific goals—i.e. size, strength, speed, calorie-burning, conditioning, etc.
A few interesting and challenging ways to help you avoid skipping leg day include combination exercises, plyometric and explosive aspects of training the legs (something much more difficult with weights), and speed and pace variations.
Squat and lunge variations should be included and can be adapted to include jump exercises with varied working paces. Then there is simply holding the hardest position of an exercise, as with the horse stance.
Lunge variations can include forward, reverse, split, side-to-side, and jumping. Reverse lunge, forward lunge, split lunge, jumping lunge, walking lunge, slow/fast lunges
No Sets and Reps, Then?
If you love training in sets and reps and find it difficult to adapt to other training styles in order to see progression, that’s no problem—just try and keeps things varied. For instance, if you get up to 200 bodyweight squats and start to feel you’ve reached a ‘sticking point, consider the various ways to do 200 squats and get creative with it. Also, bear in mind that with calisthenics 100 is a small number.
A few possibilities could be:
- 2 x 100
- 10 x 20
- 20 x 10
8 x 25
4 x 50
It is recommended that you forget counting reps if you think you are likely to get bored with eventual 3-figure numbers and endless notes that blur into each other.
Try ‘metabolic conditioning’ and HIIT-type training where you go continuously for set time periods like 30 seconds, 45 seconds, or even a minute (for a real killer!), then rest for 5-30 seconds, depending on your level of fitness. Even more challenging is doing combination exercises like squat/split jump lunge and reducing the rest times.
A Sample Calisthenic Leg Routine
Work for 30 seconds, rest for 15 seconds with each exercise, then go on to the next.
This is one round and can be repeated as many times as you feel necessary in line with your fitness goals. Aiming for 3-5 rounds is a good place to start or one if you are just starting out.