The Best Leg Exercises for Beginners in Calisthenics – part I

the best leg exercises for beginners in 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, calisthenics is more than enough to achieve your goals. This article provides you with 5 leg exercises to build stronger athletic legs with calisthenics. 

About Leg Exercises

Leg exercises 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 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 this becomes easy for you, you can add a weighted vest or resistance band. Also, try using the variations we provide for each exercise. 

The 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 Exercise 

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.  

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) 

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.

Variations

– Put more load on your quadriceps by bending your back more

– Put more load on your glutes by standing up straight

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 weight.

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) 

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

Variations

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

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.

There are even more leg exercises you can do in calisthenics. Click here to check out 5 additional leg exercises to build strong, athletic legs. If you need any of the equipment we mentioned above, like resistance bands or pull-up bars, check out the recommended equipment we use ourselves.

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