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Calisthenics leg training to earn STRONG legs

Here’s everything you need to know about calisthenics leg training to gain muscle.

4 Bodyweight squat variations for strength

Here are some squats you can use for effective calisthenics leg training.

You’ll see that we’ve included animations to help you understand how to do them - the nordic curl being the only exception.

For some, you can match the squat to your level in the beginning, and then make it harder as you progress.

We’ve included the bulgarian split squat, which needs a raised surface to rest your other leg on.

If you don’t have a bench, this isn’t for you…

Joking! Try a chair, staircase, sofa, bed, or something you can use to safely mimic the move.

Now, let’s go!

1 - Standard squats

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Normal squats are a must in calisthenics, whether you use it as a warm-up, or a leg day finale.

They’re the most basic but essential move that lays the groundwork for every leg workout, training all of the lower body.

2 - Cossack squats

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Cossack squats are also known as archer squats or lateral lunges.

Whatever you want to call it, they give a great burn.

The bent leg holds most of your weight during this move, not just maximizing intensity, but improving hip and inner thigh mobility.

3 - Bulgarian split squats

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Bulgarian split squats mark the start of moving to more advanced leg exercises.

It’s just a split squat, but your leg is laid behind you on a raised surface.

4 - Narrow squat

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Narrow squats emphasize the quadriceps.

They’re great for preparing yourself for one-leg squatting down the line.

Advanced calisthenics squat variations

The squats we just covered will take you far.

For many guys, it will develop strength and muscle growth very effectively.

Eventually, those squats will do what they're made to do, and get your legs STRONG.

So a cossack squat could once have been tough for you, now you’re cranking em’ out rep after rep with ease.

Now is the time to move onto a harder level of calisthenics leg training…

Which means challenging moves like the pistol squat; needing more skills, power, and coordination.

For each of them, I’ll give some regressions and alternatives to help with the transition.

1 - Pistol squats

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This gets the quads good, because you have much more extension of the muscle.

Meaning more range of motion, time under tension, and intensity—all in one move.

For regressions, you can do cossack squats, and the Bulgarian split squat, to build up strength and balance.

If you want even more of a challenge, do them on a bosu ball!

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2 - Nordic curls

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Many have found Nordic curls to be the most effective leg exercise for your hamstrings.

Regressions include just doing the negative, then catching yourself at the bottom with your arms.

You can also use a resistance band.

Where you attach it to something behind you, and around your waist, supporting you throughout the move.

3 Plyometric leg exercises for explosivity

Most of us think plyometrics is just running faster and developing power.

But because they make your tendons, ligaments, and bones adapt, your joints and other supportive functions are made tougher and less prone to injury.

So using these 3 moves can help make your lower half ironclad!

Let’s get into ‘em...

1 - Box jumps

Box jumps are one of the best moves to develop explosive power in the glutes and lower body.

Remember that these are somewhat advanced, and attention towards proper form is a good idea.

2 - Lateral bounds

Lateral bounds target your quads, core, hamstrings, calf muscles and glutes.

The propelling muscles in your calves are the main contributor to each leap.

So developing your plyometric ability using these bounds can translate into many ground-based sports.

3 - Jump squats

Not only are your legs in for a treat, but your entire core (lower back, abs, obliques, etc.).

In terms of pure bodyweight plyometric exercises, this is one of the best.

7 Tips to maximize your calisthenics leg training

While progressions and regressions ensure gains, there are many other dead-simple tactics to boost your performance.

1 - Do isometrics

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Static moves like horse stance clench the muscle without moving it.

Isometrics like this can increase muscle size and strength.

All you have to do is hold it for 40-80 seconds.

You can do it as a superset, or an all-out "as long as you can go" set right after your workout.

2 - Honey & small pinch of salt before training

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It’s simple, honey is the purest form of sugar and carbs, and salt acts as an electrolyte, making an excellent pre-workout.

The release of energy from burning the carbs from the honey can significantly enhance your workout and make you feel amazing.

3 - Drink less during your workout

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Study shows that mild dehydration (up to 2% body weight loss) doesn’t hurt performance.

In some cases, it can boost endurance by reducing your body weight, and therefore energy use.

Just note that this applies to mild dehydration, and not severe levels.

On the contrary, excessive water intake during exercise can lead to bloating, cramping, and nausea.

This can interrupt you and decrease performance.

It’s good to stay hydrated, take sips so your throat isn’t dry, but not gulps by the bottle.

4 - Mind to muscle connection

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Sounds nuts?

It works.

Really imagine stacks of weight pushing you down, but more importantly, the immense work and muscle contraction you’d need.

5 - Sprinting

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8 sets of 20-30 seconds, at least once a week.

Sprints can increase your human growth hormone, boost testosterone, increase baseline energy levels, and more.

Sprinting is what our ancestors did for thousands of years, it’s very effective to work it into your training regime where you can.

6 - Warming up & down

Warming up is essential because it lubricates your joints and gets your muscles ready for training, reducing risk of injury.

Simple moves like jumping jacks, high knees, forward leg swings, and lateral leg swings are all you need.

Take 3-5 minutes to go through these moves, for at least 30 seconds each.

Warming down for 3-5 minutes in the same way, and doing some stretches, helps the body process lactic acid after a workout.

This means you don’t get cramps later, and boosts the muscle recovery process.

You can do kneeling hip flexor stretches, standing quad stretches, seated hip rotations, and touching your toes with slightly bent legs.

You also want to take a warm shower after training to boost recovery.

7 - Using resistance bands

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If some of these squats are getting too easy, you can really add a challenge with resistance bands.

Loop them over your back, then do your workout like normal and wait for the extra burn to come on.

Alternatively, you can make squats easier by attaching a band above you, and tucking them under your glutes.

That way the greatest stretch of the band is supporting you in the hardest part of the squat.

How to progress calisthenics leg training

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With calisthenics leg training you always wanna try to do harder exercises.

Many guys make the mistake of just doing more reps instead.

This works for progressive overload somewhat, but one day you'll plateau your strength, getting more endurance and muscle tone.

Doing this sacrifices strength building and muscle mass gains.

Keeping this in mind, it’s best to always do the hardest variation of an exercise you can manage.

So if you can do hundreds of squats in a row, or lunges only tickle after 70 reps, you’d want to start using pistol squats, full nordic curls, and even dragon squats.

As long as you keep your intensity nice and high, and bring your sets close to failure, you will improve.

When to do calisthenics leg workouts

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Don’t do a calisthenics leg workout back-to-back.

For best muscle recovery, you want at least forty-eight hours rest between sessions.

When using a “push pull legs” split, you can do leg day on Tuesday and Friday, giving them seventy-two hours rest.

Here’s an example push pull legs split:

Monday

Push

Tuesday

Legs

Wednesday

Pull

Thursday

Push

Friday

Legs

Saturday

Pull

Sunday

Sprints

 

 

Why people skip leg day

As far as we’re aware, and from what most people say, it’s just “hard” and “uncomfortable”.

Some even say “it’s not an aesthetic priority”, whatever that means.

Deep compound lower-body moves like bulgarian split squats have more resistance than any other exercises.

So it can feel like something is gonna tear or snap sometimes, or go very wrong.

This can easily be solved by being intelligent:

  1. Pick an exercise that is challenging, but that you can actually manage
  2. Use mind to muscle connection to make sure your form is right for each rep

If, during your set, you’re thinking about that Instagram reel you just saw...

Then you’re more likely to get the form wrong, and injure yourself.

You gotta focus, and you’ll be alright.

5 Benefits of calisthenics leg training

1 - Less hamstring injuries

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Eccentric strength training (where you do negative reps) can help prevent hamstring strains and rehabilitate them.

Negative reps this way can be effective in reducing injury.

Better get on those negative nordic curls then!

2 - Testosterone & growth hormone spikes

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Hitting legs hard gives you awesome hormonal responses, such as increased testosterone and growth hormone levels.

These hormones play a vital role in muscle growth, repair, and overall physical performance.

3 - Longer lasting muscles

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Study found leg training increased muscle growth and reduced protein degradation.

This is because of a more ideal “hormonal environment” in your body.

“Reduced protein degradation” basically means your muscles last longer, so that’s a plus!

4 - Better immune system

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This study shows that leg training, such as knee-extensor exercises, can really help manage your body’s inflammatory responses.

An “inflammatory response” means your body activates the healing process, and is vital for your health.

So the better leg training you do, the stronger your muscles AND immune system get.

5 - Higher energy levels

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Because of changes in metabolism from leg training, the muscles rely less on your body’s sugar and more on fat.

So the energy your body uses during exercise is longer-lasting.

This helps sustain energy levels and improves your overall endurance.

Limitations of using calisthenics for leg training

With all we’ve covered, you’ll see calisthenics is a very effective form of training for your legs.

But of course there are some drawbacks of a calisthenics legs workout.

These aren’t the end of the world, but the compromises of using calisthenics to train legs are worth knowing and considering:

  1. Mostly limited to squat variations
  2. Beginners might struggle exercising with their full bodyweight
  3. Harder to load without equipment (past a certain point)

How to manage the limitations of calisthenics leg training

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Given the effectiveness of training legs with calisthenics, you do have limited options.

So, all you gotta know is how to alter the “biomechanics” of each move so they hit the right muscles.

Even with progressions, it’s all relative.

Your weight is always changing, maybe you had a big lunch one day, maybe you’re on a cut, so you're almost never moving the same weight.

All this means with the smaller exercise selections is that you need to get creative sometimes.

Could be stuffing books in a bag, getting specialized equipment, or using an extra chair.

At the end of the day, as long as you’re getting stronger, that’s what matters!

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