Best Bodyweight Leg Exercises for Beginners

the best bodyweight leg exercises for beginners in calisthenics

This article provides you with the 10 best bodyweight leg exercises to build stronger athletic legs with calisthenics. Most men and women in calisthenics want to build bigger and stronger legs. Of course, that can be a bit difficult since your legs carry your bodyweight every day. But it is definitely possible. At Calisthenics Worldwide we keep things realistic and simple. If you want massive bodybuilder’s legs, you need to go to the gym and put them under high loads during resistance training. But if you want strong athletic legs, bodyweight exercises are more than enough to achieve your goals.

About Leg Exercises

Leg exercises with only your bodyweight mostly consist of compound exercises. And those are needed to build all-around strong legs. Your main focus should be your quadriceps (which is the biggest muscle of your body), glutes (big and small), hamstrings and calves. With a lot of our leg exercises you can put emphasis on a different part of your leg. Make sure to focus on your weakest spot first. Because if you don’t, your gains may be slow and you won’t improve as much as possible. 

Always make sure to use the full range of motion (ROM) for maximum progress. Additionally, improve on sets and reps (4 times 15 as a maximum) and exercise slowly. Once the leg exercises will become easy with only your bodyweight, you can add a weighted vest or resistance band. Also, try using the variations we provide for each leg exercise. 

Overview Best Bodyweight Leg Exercises

Bodyweight Squat 

Bodyweight Squat

Starting Position 

Put your feet at hip/shoulder width facing forward. Have your hands next to your body and contract your core. 

How to Perform the Bodyweight Squat 

Bend you knees and move as if you are going to sit. Make sure to lower your butt to around 90 degrees. Your knees stay aligned with your foot and do not move past them or bend inwards. Keep your back straight during the entire movement, not hollow or bended. Of course, you do bend your hips during this movement. When going back up, tighten your glutes and stand straight. Start with a 90 degree squat first. When this becomes easy, try to go deeper to benefit from the full ROM. If this feels unnatural, try it first while getting up from a bench after only touching it with your glutes.

How to Progress 

When you are able to squat with a full ROM, you can start adding a resistance band by holding it in both hands and under your feet. The closer you keep it to your feet the harder it becomes. Good alternatives to increase the difficulty level are 1 leg/pistol squats or jumping squats.  

Squat Variations 

  • Focus on your quadricepts more with a narrow stance (beginner) 
  • Put more emphasis on your glutes with a wider stance (beginner) 
  • Focus more on pure strength with a pitsol squat (advanced) 
  • Focus more on maximum strength and condition with jump squats (advanced) 

Bodyweight Lunges

Bodyweight Exercise Lunges

Starting Position

Take a big step forward with your left leg. Make sure your right foot stands on tucked toes. Keep your back straight and contract your core. 

How to Perform the Exercise 

Once you’re in the starting position you slowly bend both knees until you’re in a 90 degree knee position. Your left knee stays aligned with your foot and does not move past it or inwards. Next, push yourself up and back to the starting position with your left leg. Keep your upper body straight during the entire exercise. After that, switch sides to train both legs. 

How to Progress

After maximizing your reps, the best thing you can do is make bigger steps or do walking lunges. This means performing the same movement but while literally walking forwards. If this is still too easy, you can add some extra weight or a resistance band.

Bodyweight Lunge Variations

  • Increase balance difficulty level by performing walking lunges (intermediate) 
  • Focus more on glutes by performing a heel-touching lunge by tapping your heels with your hands while going down (beginner) 
  • Focus on maximum strength and condition by performing jumping lunges (advanced) 
  • Hover lunge rear leg doesn’t touch the ground (advanced) 

Archer Lunge 

Starting Position

Start by making a step left and right. Your legs should stand apart from each other with your feet facing forward. Make sure both of your feet keep touching the ground. And contract your core.  

How to Perform the Exercise 

Lean towards one side and bend that knee, while your other leg extends. You can feel a stretch in your adductors during the exercise. Bend the knee as far as possible but keep it aligned. As you go back to your starting position, push only with your bended side. Next, lean towards the other side and repeat.

How to Progress 

When this exercise is getting easy, try to do the following. While you bend your left knee and you reach the end position, stay ducked and switch to your right side until you’re leaning on the right side. Then push yourself up again. This increases mobility and the hold makes the exercise more difficult. 

  • Put more load on your quadriceps by bending your back more
  • Put more load on your glutes by standing up straight

One Leg Deadlift  

Starting Position

Stand straight and contract your core. Hold your hands in front of your chest. During the movement, keep both of your legs and back stiff. 

How to Perform the Exercise

Start with bending forward towards the ground. At the same time, raise your right leg (stiffed). Make sure you feel tension on your left hamstring/glutes. Go as deep as you can and try to touch the ground or your lower leg. While bending it is important to keep your back straight and to contract your core. Go back up again until your right toes hit the ground and then go down again. You can also switch sides if immediately continuing with the same leg is too hard. 

While doing this exercise, stay focussed on your movements. Your hips should barely tilt and your knee needs to be extended. Practice this in front of a mirror to see how you are doing. Balance is very important in this exercise. 

How to Progress 

Try to go deeper as you progress in this exercise by at least touching the ground. To increase the difficulty level, try to put your hands flat on the ground. Again, a weighted vest makes it more difficult. 

One Leg Deadlift Variations

  • Two leg deadlift, same movement with your back (beginner)  

Skater Lunge 

Starting Position

Start with both feet next to each other, toes facing forward and contract your core. 

How to Perform the Exercise

Lift up one leg and place it diagonally behind you. During this movement, make sure your front leg bends 90 degrees through the knee. Again, keep it aligned. Your rear leg should only touch the ground with your toes. When you’re going back, push yourself up again using your front leg only. It’s very easy to lose balance or lose the alignment of your front leg. So focus on perfecting that part first. 

How to Progress

As you progress, try to stop touching the ground with your rear toes to increase the difficulty level. Alternatively, you can use a weighted vest

Crab Walk 

Starting Position

Stand straight with your feet against each other. 

How to Perform the Exercise

Walk left or right (you’ll do both sides) by make a big side step and bending your knees into a light squat position, which you hold. If you stepped to the right make sure you push yourself up with your right leg and close your feet together. Repeat as often as you can to one side. Then, switch to the other side. 

How to Progress

One way to progress is by putting a resistance band around your knees. It will make you sore pretty quickly. Another option is to add weight to your body. 

One Leg Calf Raises 

Starting Position

Stand on the ground with your feet next to each other. Bend one knee to lift your foot up into the air. If needed, hold onto a bar to keep your balance. 

How to Perform the Exercise

Push your heel off the ground flexing your foot as high as you can. While going back, slowly let go of the tension in your calf until your heel hits the ground again. 

How to Progress

Use a higher elevation, like stairs, with just your toes on it to increase ROM. That way, your heel will go deeper than a 90 degree angle. An alternative to putting on a weighted vest is to do jumping calf raises. This means to jump with one foot onto a low elevation. To progress, you can build up the height.

Bulgarian Split Squat 

Starting Position

Put one foot on a bench with toes facing downward, and make a step forward with the other foot. Keep your upper body straight and contract your abs. It is like a lunge position but with one foot on a bench. 

How to Perform the Exercise

Put most of your weight onto the leg that’s in front of you. Slowly bend it to 90 degrees while your knee keeps aligned with your foot, not passing it or going inward. To increase ROM, your upper body remains straight but moves a bit backwards. As you come up, push only with your front leg until it is fully stretched. 

How to Progress

First, improve your ROM or make your step forward bigger. Second, make sure your weight is all in front of you. That means no pushing with the rear leg. Third, by putting a resistance band under your front foot and holding it or adding a weighted vest you can increase the difficulty level. Train both sides equally! In all cases, make sure you keep your back straight and contracted to avoid injuries and bad posture.

Split Squat Variations

  • Activate your quads more by moving your upper body more forward
  • Activate your glutes more by leaning backward more 

Elevated Glute Bridge 

Starting Position

Lay on the ground your feet on a chair, bench or similar elevation. Make sure to squeeze your butt cheeks together during the exercise. Put extra pressure on your heels, but keep your entire feet connected the chair. Contract your core. 

How to Perform the Exercise

Push your legs and pelvis up as high as you can, but keep your back straight, not hollow. Push from your heels and squeeze your butt cheeks together. You should feel tension in these areas. Slowly go back down to starting position. 

How to Progress

You can increase difficulty by putting yout feet close together. This makes your support surface smaller. If you have a resistance band you can put it over your knee and push it outwards. Another option is a one-leg elevated glute bridge. If you use a weighted vest make sure it is in front of your body. 

Glute Bridge Variations

  • Activate your glutes more in the movement by not pushing from your heels (beginner)
  • Focus more on balance and core with the one-leg elevated glute bridge (advanced) 

Step-up

Starting Position

Put 1 foot on a high platform like a bench or 30-50 cm high block and contract your core. 

How to Perform the Exercise 

Try to push yourself up with the leg you put on the platform without using your other foot. This can be very challenging in the beginning. As you push yourself up, stretch your entire leg and make sure to contract your glutes. Your rear leg can be lifted up to 90 degrees. Now, slowly go back to your starting position.  

How to Progress

Performing this exercise correctly is very difficult because of the big ROM and because you need to keep your balance. The higher the elevation, the more challenging it is. Learn how to perform this exercise well before you add a weighted vest. If you start using an extra weight, start on a lower elevation again.

Step-up Variations

Last words

As mentioned in the introduction, these are the 10 best bodyweight leg exercises for beginners. Once you become stronger, you could make all these leg exercises harder by adding some weights to your body or using resistance bands. If you need any equipment we mentioned above, to increase range of motion, resistance or weight we definitely advice you to check our equipment in our shop.

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