Do you suffer from “chicken legs”? Or maybe you just want to take your home leg workout to the next level?
In any case, you can guarantee you will develop tree trunk legs with this calisthenics leg workout.
What Is Calisthenics?
Calisthenics is a style of strength training that focuses on utilising and mastering your bodyweight. It takes elements from other forms of exercise such as gymnastics and yoga, with an emphasis on skill training.
As for the word itself, it’s derived from the Greek words kállos and sthenos - the former meaning “aesthetics”, the latter meaning “strength”.
And when you take a look at impressive calisthenics skills like the planche, it’s easy to understand the meaning behind the name.
Calisthenics exercises do not require equipment, which means you can do them at home, in the garden or anywhere where you can find adequate space. And for many of us looking for convenience and affordability, it’s a no-brainer.
You may not be convinced that you can build legs with calisthenics. But the following exercises in this list are going to change your mind!
The pistol squat is essentially a one-legged squat, demanding a combination of leg strength and balance. It might not look like much or sound that hard, but it’s one of the hardest squats to master, even without weights thrown into the mix.
Due to the demanding nature of the exercise, the pistol squat targets the whole leg - the quads, glutes, hamstrings, quads and calves. It also delivers a good core workout with the stability needed to perform the exercise.
To do a pistol squat, extend your arms out in front of you for balance, raise one leg in front of you and lower into a one-legged squat. It’s best to do the exercise slowly so you can maintain your balance.
The concentric phase of the exercise (going back up), is the hardest part, requiring you to push your entire body weight up using one leg. Repeat for both legs.
The pistol squat isn’t easy, and that’s why there are progressions to work up to it. Pistol squat progressions include assisted pistol squats - holding on to something, like a banister or chair, for balance - and chair pistol squats, where you lower yourself onto a chair before going back up, to reduce the range of motion.
The shrimp squat is similar to the pistol squat. But the difference between the shrimp squat and pistol squat is that the shrimp squat is performed with your leg held behind you.
The shrimp also looks like a levitation squat, which is the same exercise except that you don’t hold your leg. Either way, it’s an exercise that guarantees a deep burn.
The shrimp squat targets your quads, glutes, hip abductors and adductors, calves and lower back. And seeing as it involves a good level of balance and stability like the pistol squat, the shrimp squat also targets your core muscles.
To do a shrimp squat, hold one foot behind you with the other arm extended for balance. Lower into a forward lunge, then return to a standing position to complete one rep. Perform the exercise slowly to maintain your balance throughout. Repeat for both legs.
If the shrimp squat is too difficult, make it easier by performing the shrimp squat while holding on to something for stability, like a doorframe, chair or banister. Once you get stronger, you can try the exercise again without any assistance.
Performing squats or lunges for reps isn’t too demanding. But when you hold the middle phase of the rep for an extended period of time, it becomes a whole lot harder.
That’s what happens when you do a sumo walk, which involves keeping your knees bent while doing a walking squat.
The sumo walk mainly targets your glutes, hamstrings and quads. To do the exercise, you will also need to brace your core to assist your lower body.
To do a sumo walk, lower yourself into a half squat with your hands cupped in front of your chest. In this position, take small forward steps, one leg after the other, while maintaining bent knees. The sumo walk is possible even without a large room, as you can turn as desired.
What makes the sumo walk difficult is performing it for an extended period of time. Even one minute of the sumo walk can break a seasoned athlete into a sweat, especially as part of a HIIT routine.
This also makes the sumo walk an ideal choice if you’re looking to burn unwanted calories.
Bulgarian Split Squats
Don’t worry - the Bulgarian split squat doesn’t involve doing the splits, but it’s just as difficult when performed for reps and sets. The exercise requires one leg to be elevated, but this is easily done by putting your foot on a stool, chair, box or sofa.
The Bulgarian split squat mainly targets the hamstrings and glutes, but when done correctly, it also hits the quad muscles. As another calisthenics leg exercise that requires good balance and stability, the Bulgarian split squat also provides a workout for the core.
To do a Bulgarian split squat, elevate one foot behind you on a stool, chair, box or sofa. Bring your other leg forward and lunge, achieving a good split, before pushing back out of the lunge for one rep.
As you lunge, aim to position your knee directly above your foot. To keep your balance, keep your arms extended on either side. Repeat on the other leg.
The Bulgarian split squat can prove difficult for beginners and newcomers. In this case, the exercise can be made easier with the help of a wall, table, chair or banister to assist with balance.
If you have ever held a wall sit for longer than a minute, you’ll know the burning sensation that fires up through your thighs as you try to stay in place. It’s a static leg exercise that requires nothing but a wall.
But, at the same time, you’re going to need mental hardiness and good tolerance for discomfort.
The wall sit targets the quads, hamstrings, glutes and core. All of these muscles work together to perform the exercise, tensed at max capacity to hold the position in place. As a result, the wall sit is highly effective for increasing muscular endurance in your legs.
To do a wall sit, all you need is a wall and some space. Put your back to the wall, take a step forwards with both feet (back still flat against the wall), then lower yourself into a squat with your knees and hips bent at perfect 90-degree angles. Hold the position for a set time.
The difficulty of the wall sit is in the duration it is held. For beginners, try a 30-second wall sit to start with, adding five seconds to subsequent attempts. If you are no stranger to leg day, see if you can hold a 2-minute wall sit - it’s sure to light your quads on fire.
So you’ve done lunges, maybe even reverse lunges, but you have tried curtsy lunges? Curtsy lunges hit the leg muscles a little differently, and that’s because the exercise involves performing a standard lunge - but with crossed legs. And it’s not as easy as it may seem, especially when balance plays a big factor.
The curtsy lunge targets the quads, glutes and hamstrings. But as the exercise is done with crossed legs, it works the inner and outer areas of your quads that you may not have hit before. For this reason, you can expect a whole new level of DOMS the night after you perform a few sets of curtsy lunges.
To do a curtsy lunge, put one foot in front, one foot behind you, with your front thigh crossed over the other. Using your arms for balance, lower yourself into a lunge before coming back up to the starting position. Repeat on the other leg.
As with many of the other leg exercises on this list, the curtsy lunge involves the additional element of balance. And to assist with this, keep a wall, table or chair close by in case you go off balance, enabling you to complete the exercise for the desired reps and sets.
Sissy squats, if you haven’t come across them before, are nothing like the name suggests. If you’ve watched The Matrix, you’ll be familiar with Neo’s iconic pose where he leans back to dodge the bullets. The sissy squat looks similar to Neo’s bullet-dodging pose, except grounded in reality!
As the sissy squat involves leaning back on tiptoes and shifting your body weight onto your quads, it’s a quad killer that can be humbling if you try to hold it for more than a few seconds. For this reason, the sissy squat is one surefire way to grow your legs to tree trunk girth.
To do a sissy squat, bend your knees while leaning back, balancing all your weight on tiptoes. It’s another balance-intensive exercise, so make sure to keep your arms extended in front of your body to stay stabilised. Go as low as you can and hold the position for as long as possible, before activating all your quad power to return back up.
Even the biggest leg day enthusiast will struggle to hold the sissy squat. So, for your first time, perform an assisted sissy squat by holding on to a table, chair or banister to maintain balance. The exercise also becomes more doable by reducing the range of motion.
The nordic curl is not a leg exercise for the fainthearted. With your knees and feet held in place, the nordic curl involves lowering your entire body in a forward motion towards the ground, before engaging in a difficult fight with gravity to bring yourself back up.
In exchange for its difficulty, the nordic curl will reward you with massive, head-turning legs.
The nordic curl targets the hamstrings and glutes. Although it’s not much of a quad exercise, don’t forget that you need to train your hamstrings as much as your quads to achieve 3D tree trunk legs. As an addition, the reverse nordic curl is a useful variation that does the opposite by targeting your quads.
To do a nordic curl at home, have someone hold your feet in place, or wedge them underneath a sofa.
On your knees with your feet secured, lean forwards as far as you can with a straight back - without touching the floor at any point - before bringing yourself back up to the starting position for one rep.
Nothing about the nordic curl is easy. But it can be made easier by reducing the range of motion of the exercise. In other words, lower yourself only halfway to the ground for a half nordic curl.
Jump squats are a plyometric leg exercise that focuses on power and endurance. And by racking up high reps of the jump squat, you can be sure to achieve serious leg gains - not just in size, but in sheer explosive power.
If fast-twitch muscle training is something you tend to neglect, the jump squat is an exercise you need.
Jump squats target your quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves and core. As a high-intensity exercise (HIIT), the jump squat is perfect for both leg training and shedding body fat.
By performing jump squats for minute-long sets with short rests in between, you’re going to get a killer leg workout and fat burning session in one go.
To do a jump squat, lower yourself into a regular squat, then explode upwards for the concentric phase of the exercise so that you jump off the ground as high as you can. Following one rep, you can land on your two feet and pause, or go straight into the next rep to max out the difficulty.
A minute of high, explosive jump squats is harder than it sounds. And if it proves too difficult, decrease the speed or duration of the exercise. Just remember: for tree trunk legs, it’s not all about weight overload - make sure not to neglect plyometric power!
Can You Build Legs Without Weights?
You can - with the right amount of intensity. And it’s for that reason that we picked some of the hardest leg exercises out there to include in this list. Even if you consider yourself a beast at the barbell squat, be prepared to be humbled.
So, the takeaway? Whether you hate waiting around for your turn on the leg press machine or just want to build tree trunk legs at home, the above calisthenics leg workout is sure to change your leg game forever.
Don’t listen to naysayers who believe you can’t build legs at home - try these exercises and see for yourself!