That’s right, it’s leg day. Correction: it’s calisthenics leg day.
Time to get those legs workin’ and balance out the upper body with strong calves and thighs! Don’t even touch those weights, you don’t need a leg press or curl machine to build muscle. Your body is the weight.
Let’s put this into perspective:
On average, the arm weighs about 6.5% of your overall body weight. For someone weighing in at 160lbs, that’s at least 10lbs per arm. Add the rest of your upper body and your legs do a lot of supporting.
But it’s not just about the legs.
Included in leg day are compound exercises that also target your core muscles and gluteus maximus. Together, with a host of smaller muscles and major tendons, the legs help maintain proper hip, knee, and ankle flexibility. Well-balanced leg muscles means more support for your back and joints for years to come!
Calisthenics for Building Powerful Legs
It’s very easy to target legs in calisthenics, and if you utilize proper time under tension and repetition techniques, you will feel the legendary burn.
It’s just a matter of finding your favorite, and sweating through your not-so-favorite, leg day workouts.
Leg calisthenics are also incredibly adaptable to personal strength and stamina needs, especially in the squats category.
This article will introduce some of these variations to basic leg day calisthenics while suggesting exercises that use more than one part of the leg for a more thorough workout.
Calisthenics Leg Training
There are three major muscle groups in your leg that can be targeted with a holistic calisthenics leg day routine.
- Quadriceps: located on the thigh; help extend the leg.
- Hamstrings: located on the back of the thigh; assist in hip and knee movement.
- Calf Muscles: located below the knee; responsible for ankle, foot, and toe mobility.
You can either work each leg section equally in one day, or you can split your calisthenics routine into two-three parts, spreading leg day throughout the week.
Calum von Moger, Mr. Universe 2014, stated in an interview that he starts with quadriceps on the first day, ending with some light hamstring work.
Then a few days later he’ll start with hamstrings and finish with calves. Though Calum is a bodybuilder, it is important to understand how professionals work out and how well-balanced routines throughout the week are important to avoid overworking one area of the body.
Because the leg joints do take a lot of impact with these exercises, Calum’s is a smart way to go about your legs.
Warm-Ups for an Effective Calisthenics Leg Routine
Though you should warm up your entire body regardless of what day it is, stretch each major muscle group in the leg well on leg day. Don’t rush through it.
1. Quad Stretch
Stand and be prepared to balance, or have something to hold onto nearby. Grip your foot and bring it up to your buttock, keeping your chest pushed up and hips out. Feel the stretch in the front of your thigh. Hold for 20-30 seconds and switch to your other leg. You can also do this one on your side as well. Just support your head with your hand.
2. Hamstring Stretch
Sit on the ground with your legs outstretched. Gently bend by the waist to reach your toes, going as far as you can. Hold for 20-30 seconds. You may also do this one standing up. If doing this stretch from the standing position, do not lock your knees. Feel free to allow a slight bend if you need.
3. Calf Stretch
Place your hands against a wall, on the back of a chair, or a waist-high table. Place one foot in front of the other and bend the front knee slightly. Now bend your back knee, keeping your heels planted on the ground. Bend until you feel the stretch in your calf. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds and repeat as needed.
4. Figure Four Stretch
This stretch will help relieve tension from your hips, lower back, and glutes, which will aid in the flexibility of your legs.
Lie on your back and put one foot over the opposite quadricep. Bend the knee supporting your foot and raise it to your chest as far as you are comfortable, keeping your back against the ground. Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Leg Calisthenics Exercises
You’ve really hit the ground running with those warm ups, now let’s get to the sweaty part!
1. Walking Lunge
The basic pose of a walking lunge is a regular lunge. Put one foot forward, bending the knee at a right angle. Keep your chest straight and head forward and do not drop the back knee to the floor. The front knee should not extend beyond the front foot. Keep your heels on the ground as much as possible. Instead of pushing back up into a standing position, alternate legs to create the walking movement. You will have to push back into a slight standing position to properly readjust, just do not lose the momentum of the “walk.” Lunge with the right leg, lunge with the left leg, etc. If done correctly, you’ll feel this exercise in your core—which stabilizes the upper body—hips, and glutes.
2. Archer Squat
The archer squat is a squat variation that both stretches and strengthens the leg muscles, from the quadriceps to the calves. It does require more balance than a regular squat, so you may want to have some sort of bar or other support available to you if you are not used to the position. Spread your legs out further than a traditional squat, pointing toes outwards. Adjust the stance to your comfort. With both arms outstretched in front of you, squat towards one leg while extending the other leg straight to the side. While you lean into your squat, point the foot of the extended leg upwards, rotating on the heel. After holding this pose, lunge to the other side, being mindful of the position of your feet and straightness of the extended leg, and maintaining a strong upper body.
3. Single-Leg Hip Bridge
This is a great variation of the back extension, or traditional hip bridge. Lie on your back, arms flat on either side, with knees bent and feet on the floor. Lift one leg into the air, followed by the hips. Use the grounded heel and your core to support the push of the hips into the air to create a straight line that follows the extended leg down into the shoulders. Hold the position for 10 seconds and then lower your butt and leg to the floor gently.
This is an all-star leg exercise, and, believe it or not, there is a proper way to run. It may seem complicated when written, but perfecting your running form will not only help prevent injury, but also give you the better workout for your leg muscles. Keep the head up, eyes forward, and shoulders back—do not hunch! The arms should be kept close to the side and bent at a 90 degree angle, with the hands relaxed (not floppy, but not fisted, either). Try to keep the knee in line with the middle of the foot when the foot lands. Forefoot strikers and heel strikers (either landing too much on the ball of the foot or too heavy on the heel) can lead to serious injury. Do not bend from the hips when you run, but rather bend from the ankle. If you feel like you’re running with your butt sticking out, then you’re probably bending at the hips. Calf flexibility exercises will assist in the proper ankle bend. Do not be discouraged if you cannot run miles at an incredible speed. Everyone’s stamina and muscle composition is different. However, if you learn to run correctly, gradual increases in stamina and strength may help you overcome running insecurity.
5. Donkey Calf Raises
Need a good laugh with a friend? Then this exercise is probably a good way to go. If you have back problems, definitely speak with a doctor before attempting this exercise. Bend at the waist and grip a very sturdy support in front of you. Have your calisthenics partner sit on top of your lower back. Once everyone is secure, lift up on your toes so the heel is off the ground. Hold for a few seconds and then lower yourself back. I would consider this exercise advanced not only in friendship, but in technique as well. Do not do this one unless you are absolutely sure you won’t get hurt!