While bodyweight workouts as a whole can be highly effective, bodyweight leg exercises can sometimes provide a bit of an obstacle. The legs are the biggest muscle group in the body, which means they adapt the quickest and can get the strongest. If you’re not going to employ any external resistance, it’s harder to continue increasing the difficulty of bodyweight leg exercises. However, here are a few ideas and movements you can use to make your bodyweight workouts tougher.
Don’t let “Other” Factors get in the Way
One mistake some trainees make is doing bodyweight leg exercises that end up being too difficult for reasons other than strength, power, or endurance. For instance, there are a number of people who have the leg strength to do a single leg pistol squat, but are hindered by poor ankle flexibility or a lack of balance. You don’t want to include movements that make you focus more on the skill of the exercise itself rather than the base physical qualities said exercise is supposed to train.
A better alternative would be a single leg squat off of a box, chair, table, or the like. Plant your left foot on the box with your right leg hanging off to one side. Squat down, extending your arms for balance if needed. By being able to hang your “off” leg down, you greatly reduce the need for excessive balance and flexibility. Then you can put your focus on strength and working the muscle instead.
“Dead Stop” Every Rep
You know that taking advantage of momentum can help you use more weight and/or do more reps. When doing your bodyweight leg exercises, eliminate this by adding a “dead stop” to the bottom and top of every rep. In other words, lower to the bottom position of the movement, then pause for a second. Reverse and extend to the top position of the movement, preferably just before lockout, and pause again. This eradicates any inertia you can take advantage of and maximizes muscle tension.
Turn any Leg Exercise into a Jump
Virtually all bodyweight leg exercises can be made more advanced by turning them into some sort of jump. By doing so, you make your leg muscles have to contract harder and faster, create more tension, produce more force, and generate more power. It doesn’t really matter what movement(s) you’re talking about, either. For example:
- normal bodyweight squats can become squat jumps or box jumps (especially from a fully squatted position)
- lunges can become lunge jumps (jumping from the lunge position, bringing both feet into the air, landing in the same lunge position)
- lunges can become more advanced scissor jumps (jumping from the lunge position, bringing both feet into the air, scissoring them, landing in opposite lunge position)
- split squats can be done in jumping style, keeping your rear foot planted and coming into the air with the front foot
- step ups can become step up jumps in that you plant your lead foot on a box or chair, then step up with enough force to jump up into the air with your working leg
If you really want to up your game, add the “dead stop” technique to your jumps. Pause at the bottom of every rep, then explode the top of every rep into a jump.
Do “Natural” Glute Ham Raises for the Hamstrings
Most bodyweight leg exercises predominantly focus on the quadriceps, but a “natural” glute ham raise is one of the most brutal hamstring exercises you can do. Get on your knees, and have either a partner hold your heels or hook them under something immoveable. Lean forward, keeping your body as straight as possible, bending only at the knees, and using your hamstrings to lower you. Keep your hands up to “catch” yourself before you hit the ground, then reverse to the start position.
This is a very difficult exercise, so don’t expect to be able to do full reps in the beginning. Place a block or bench in front of you to lower yourself to in order to shorten then range of motion. Conversely, you could just lower yourself under control as far as you can, realizing that at one point, you’ll have to just fall to the ground, catching yourself with your hands. Then do a sort of explosive pushup off your knees to get your torso back up high enough to the point that your hamstrings can take over.
It takes a little ingenuity, but you can still get an excellent workout with bodyweight leg exercises. Take your time, don’t let a lack of skill hinder you, and be as explosive as you can. Couple that with “natural” glute ham raises and your legs will blow up in strength, size, and power very quickly.