Building Leg Strength with Bodyweight Exercise

What’s the ultimate exercise for building leg strength? Well, that depends.

Just as with everything else in the fitness/diet/health realm, your goals are the only things that matter when it comes to the “right” things for you to do.

Leg strength is no different. First, figure out what your goal is, and then you can figure out the best way to build the leg strength you need to meet that goal.

Here’s a snippet of what Andy had to say on the matter:

As you know, it’s impossible to build leg strength with bodyweight exercise.

…haha, not really.

In this episode, Ryan and Andy talk about the “best” exercises for building leg strength, and when/why they’re actually appropriate. They’ll also share ideas on how to build leg strength with just bodyweight exercise, and what’s actually necessary for success.

They also talk about splitting up your workouts, and they give you the low down on bar kipping.

Here’s what this episode will cover:

(05:35) Is splitting your workouts into multiple sessions per day “optimal”?(07:27) What’s the deal with bar kipping? (And for the record, we don’t hate Crossfit!)(13:10) More strength is not bad, it’s just not necessary to have the maximal level of strength if your goal is skill work.(19:57) Nobody can say squats aren’t a great exercise – they just are!(21:00) You need to be strong for when shit happens.(28:45) If you want some instability, stand on the hood of a jeep while someone’s driving it down a bumpy road.(29:59) Always keep in mind when looking at information online that those recommendations are probably based on that person’s goals, not on yours.

Andy: All right, all right. Breaker one-niner. Get your ears on for the GMB Fitness Skills Show. Over the next 20 minutes plus or minus, we’re going to be talking about how to get strong, how to get agile, how to get healthy and how to do it all in a way that you actually enjoy. My name is Andy. Here with me Ryan.

Ryan: Just Ryan.

Andy: Ryan.

Ryan: That’s it. Just Ryan.

Andy: You’re like Cher and I can’t think of it – and Prince.

Ryan: Bono, yeah.

Andy: Bono, yeah.

Ryan: Sting.

Andy: Sting.

Ryan: That’s right. What’s up man?

Andy: Yeah, yeah. I wonder if Bono is Bono’s real name.

Ryan: I’m sure it has to be because there’s no way …

Andy: Man, you know, Sting’s real name is Gordon Sumner.

Ryan: Wow, I did not know that.

Andy: Prince is Prince’s real name, Prince Rogers Nelson.

Ryan: No kidding! Wow!

Andy: Yeah, yeah. Anyway, with that being said, today we’re going to be talking about leg strength.

Ryan: Leg strength.

Andy: Because as you know, it’s impossible to build leg strength with bodyweight exercise.

Ryan: Absolutely impossible.

Andy: So we’re going to be talking about how you can, I guess, not do that effectively. But first, I want to read a couple of reviews we’ve gotten because people keep writing them and if you are listening to this in iTunes, we highly appreciate any review that you leave because it just lets people be able to find the show more easily and that inflates our sense of self-worth.

Let’s see. Here’s one. Arden1991 says that the show is entertaining and enthralling. I don’t know about enthralling but I will agree with you on the entertaining part. This podcast is the perfect blend of entertaining and informative and has arguably had the greatest impact of all those I listen to. Well, hot damn! It has not only provided me with numerous tips and practical information on an exercise and skills training, but has also fundamentally changed my approach to fitness and healthy living. I cannot recommend it enough.

Well, Arden, thank you for that. We’re very glad to help and get in touch if you ever need anything. Even if your name is not Arden, anybody listening to this, if you ever need any help or advice from us, get in touch and we will help you out as best we can. Anything to add to that Ryan?

Ryan: Oh, that’s very cool.

Andy: Yeah. I mean we are out to change the way people look at health and fitness and everything because I think a lot of people look at it in unfortunately kind of stupid ways, and not because the people themselves are stupid. But because most of us, we learn what we know about health and fitness from bad sources, TV, well-meaning but misinformed friends, magazines, ads, things like that.

So yeah, most of what most people know about health is wrong. So if we’re changing the way you look at it, then I think that’s a good thing. Again, Ryan has nothing to add.

Ryan: I have nothing to add to that.

Andy: This is good. I should just run with this. Do you want to go home?

Ryan: Just run with it. Do it.

Andy: All right.

Ryan: I’m just going to sit back and let you just handle it. I’m just going to do this …

Andy: I got it man. I got it. I got it.


Andy: So we’re going to talk about leg strength in a second. But first, let’s do a couple of questions for Ryan.

This is actually one that comes up pretty frequently about splitting up workouts throughout the day. Is it OK to split your workouts? For example, if you’re following a program that has like maybe six exercises on it. Is it OK to do three in the morning, three in the afternoon or whatever?

Some people have like crazy schedules and everything. Is this OK? Are there advantages, disadvantages, et cetera? Go.

Ryan: Yeah, this is actually a huge topic but I’m going to make it easy for everyone listening. Make it simple on yourself. So if you need to split the workout up, feel free to do so and really that’s it.

Andy: Yeah.

Ryan: I could go into certain protocols and we can look at Charles Poliquin and some of the ways that he sets things up by splitting things up regarding particular hypertrophy, gains, by performing a particular skill set in the morning and then following them up with condition in the afternoon.

You could even do that with handstands where you want to be on your hands as much as possible. So you split up your workout in the morning or you split up your workout so that you’re doing a particular progression of a handstand in the morning and then you follow up in the afternoon.

But let’s just keep it very simple. If you have trouble getting in what you want to be working on, and if you can split it up, then that’s something that is OK. You have enough time to recover, et cetera, et cetera. Do it.

Andy: Yeah.

Ryan: Do it.

Andy: Because I think there’s like two questions here, right? One is, “Is splitting your workout into multiple sessions per day, is that optimal?” We’ve talked about optimal before and how it – really for most people, it’s not even something to worry about. You’ve got to get 90 percent of your basics in order before that last optimizing 10 percent even matter.

We can talk about protocols and like different ways if you’re doing certain things with like skill and strength and strength and hypertrophy and power and all this stuff like Ryan just said.

But for most people, yeah, I think just do what you got to do and ultimately it comes down to, “You know what? Try it for a couple of weeks.”

If you feel like you’re not making progress, then you might need to reorganize things and put them together. But give it a shot for a couple of weeks. Almost anything you can try for a couple of weeks and it’s not going to kill you.

Ryan: That’s right. Another thing too, if you feel that you have to be doing two sessions a day, because there’s so much stuff to get done, you’re probably doing too much.

Andy: Yeah, yeah.

Ryan: So take a look at really what your main goal is and just focus on that.

Andy: Yeah, I think we’re probably not answering the question the way a lot of people ask it in terms of like what’s the best way. But I mean it’s super, super relative and it’s really hard to plan that if you don’t have everything else in order.

So we’re answering it based on our experience of most of the people asking what they really ultimately need and that’s just to find something that works for them.

So if you’re wondering if you can split it up, yeah, you can. You can. It’s not going to hurt you.


Andy: Cool. All right. Next question is – you know, we’ve talked about this a bunch lately off and on. So we have these shirts Skip the Kip. We’re against kipping for muscle-ups. However, we also pretty much only do muscle-ups on the rings and just for the record in case anyone is offended, we don’t hate CrossFit. We actually think CrossFit does a lot of good.

We just think that promoting kipping muscle-ups is a bad idea for various things that we’ve discussed ad nauseam before. So we’re not getting in into that. But every time we mention gymnastic ring muscle-ups and don’t kip, somebody says, “What about bar? I mean surely it’s OK on the bar, right Ryan?” I mean the bar, is that OK?

Ryan: Sure. If that’s what you want to do, feel free. Do a kip on the bar. It’s all up to you. Here’s the deal though.

Andy: It’s not the ideological issue.

Ryan: It’s whatever you want to do. I mean – and I’ve said this numerous times before. If you want to do – I’m trying to think of something like just out there and the trouble is, is if I mention any other organizations, then I will probably get blowback.

But let’s say if you want to do – if you want to run the – I can’t remember the name of the race but basically a 100-mile endurance race. Do it! Do it if that’s really what you want to do.

If you want to do zumba, do it. If you want to kip on the bar, do it. You know what? It’s perfectly fine. All we’re trying to say is that for what we’re after, what we’re trying to do here in GMB, we’re not going to do the kip. That’s not what we really want.

Just to clarify too, every time someone says “kip,” in my brain, I don’t think of the CrossFit kip to be honest. So like Skip the Kip thing, that’s – yeah, we’re talking about that sort of kipping.

But for me, a kip is actually called a glide kip and it kind of sort of looks like that. So it’s just a gymnastic move to get above the bar.

Andy: It looks like this.

Ryan: Yeah, it’s – yeah. I actually did a tutorial on that a very long time ago on the beach, Los Angeles, very pasty white then. But yeah, that’s – in my mind always the glide kip is what I was thinking of. But going back to what we just said, it’s all good. Do what you want. It’s fine.

Andy: Yeah.

Ryan: It’s totally fine.

Andy: There are a lot of different training systems out there and people always like to make it like a holy war, like everything is – one thing has got to be better than the other. If you do one thing, obviously you think everything else sucks. Well, no, I mean you can do something and think something else is good.

I mean I like funk music. You know what? Jarlo likes country music. I can’t stand listening to country music. But some of my favorite musicians are country musicians. They smoke man.

So in any training system, it’s the same thing too. There are people that get super strong on any variety of things. It doesn’t mean that we’re saying that people who do skipping can’t be strong. We just don’t recommend it for what we do.


Ryan: This is a very, very good lead-up into the leg thing. I know you didn’t – maybe you didn’t …

Andy: I didn’t plan that at all, but now that you’ve mentioned it, yeah.

Ryan: I think this is very good, and because looking at leg strength, the thing is – and it could be anything that we’re talking about. A person that is really into bench pressing is going to tell you that the bench press is the best movement for chest development. A person who does and loves barbell squats is going to tell you that that is the best movement for leg development strength, glutes, whatever.

A person who’s only into bodyweight exercises is probably going to tell you that single leg squats or pistols or something is the best movement. But here’s the deal really and it comes down to everything, everything out there. You got to find what works for you. That’s it.

S looking at leg strength, it comes down to one thing. Why and what are you doing that for? What is the goal? That’s it. OK?

So if you look at leg strength, yes, if you want hyper development in your legs, just as strong as you quite – as you can be.

Andy: If you want shredded quads.

Ryan: Just shredded, just – get under the bar.

Andy: Yeah.

Ryan: Or under a truck and just whatever. Just start squatting the crap out of whatever you’re doing. Go heavy. Go hard. That’s probably what you need to be doing.

Now, if you’re looking at leg strength for example for maybe tumbling, for maybe parkour for something else out there, maybe heavy, heavy, heavy barbell squats are not for you. The reason why? You could be so extremely sore and wasted after that workout that you won’t be able to actually perform your skill work. That should be your number one focus.

So likewise in Gold Medal Bodies, what we’re doing here, if you look at Floor One or Floor Two, we’re talking about leg strength, to be able to perform skills.

So really, we only need that certain amount of strength to be able to perform the skills as well as we can without getting injured. So it’s not that we’re trying to create these huge, massive tree trunks.

Andy: Yeah.

Ryan: And just get shredded and pack on as much bulk as possible. That’s actually what we don’t want.

Andy: Yeah. You’re not saying that more strength is a bad thing either. You’re just saying that we don’t need to focus on the maximal development for more, beyond what’s necessary.

Ryan: Exactly.

Andy: If you have more, it’s OK.

Ryan: Yes.

Andy: Core strength is not bad. But when we’re trying to create a program and put together a method of getting certain goals, right? Then we don’t need to focus on something that’s over here like – you know, that doesn’t fit that.

Ryan: Trying to think of a good example. It’s not really coming to me but it’s kind of like driving a car. When you drive a car, you don’t necessarily need to go and become a licensed F1 driver in order to just drive on the streets and get yourself from point A to point B.

You just need to know enough to not kill anybody and not hit anything and get – well, basically, get there safely. Now, that might seem like not good enough for some other people and that’s perfectly fine. But remember, what we’re focusing on is the actual skill of going from point A to point B and doing it beautifully.

Now that extra strength is of course going to help. But it doesn’t mean that we need to try and squat until we puke because again, it’s that skill work. So what am I talking about with that skill work? I’m talking about aerials. I’m talking about front flips, back flips and power moves that are going to help get us explosively off of the ground.

So squatting, yes, it’s going to help. Heavy, heavy barbell squats, it’s going to help. But the thing is, it’s not going to equal our back flips. It’s not going to equal a particular aerial. You’ve got to be working on the strength and the necessary movements involved for gaining that strength for that skill. That’s why you focus on that skill development.


Andy: And it should also be said too that squatting is not necessarily the end all, be all for jump development. If we’re talking about aerial moves, squatting is not always the best.

If we’re talking about one-legged aerial moves like the no-handed cartwheels, that kind of thing, pushing off of one foot step-up type movements are a lot better and especially explosive stepping movements like skips and that kind of thing will develop a lot more specific strength for that sort of thing.

If you’re talking about lateral jumping off of both legs, hip drive, hip extension movement, like a kettlebell swing or something.

Ryan: Exactly. Yes.

Andy: It’s a lot closer to what you’re going for than a barbell squat. Now I’m not saying that barbell squats aren’t good. They’re great but they’re not always the best tool for the job and every time you mention leg strength, somebody says, “Squats, all you need. It develops everything.” True. It’s all you need in general but it’s not necessarily always the best thing you need.

Ryan: That’s a good point too, in general. So if we have a person that they’re not really concerned about a particular skill, all they’re looking at is getting stronger, and being able to get more comfortable in their body.

So we could just look at some basic exercises for them. We start off of course with just being able to see if they can do a squat. They do body squats and then they graduate into maybe barbell squats. Same thing for the upper body. They can start off with simple push-ups. Then they graduate into maybe the bench press.

But the thing is, is that’s not what we’re about. So you need to figure out what you’re about and find something that’s going to help you get there, whether that be wanting to deadlift 1000 pounds or squat 1000 pounds.

There’s an article that came out a couple of days ago that I thought was interesting, looking at these heavy, heavy squats and sometimes that it’s not actually – it’s the way that they’re doing it by using particular suits, belts, wraps and things that are aiding in that.

I’m kind of digressing but the thing is, is they have a particular reason for doing what they want to do and that’s because they want to get stronger in their squat.

We don’t necessarily just want to get stronger in our squat. We want to be able to do these cool tricks and progress from there to be even doing – to be able to do even harder and more difficult.


Andy: I think one thing that a lot of people miss – and this is going a little bit off the topic strictly of leg strength but this is just more of a general thing is people think that they need certain athletic attributes that may or may not be correct.

Just you made a car metaphor earlier and so like just to take that further, just to illustrate this point, look at like a Ferrari, right? High performance, super powerful, super fast, super amazing handling, right? Super expensive, super hard to drive for the average person.

Ryan: Good point, very good point. Keep going, yeah.

Andy: Yeah, I cannot drive a Ferrari. I will just tell you right now. Now, but then look at like an Accord, Honda Accord. Oh, well, that’s mediocre. It’s a great fucking car! Shut up! You know what? An Accord will smoke a lot of other cars if you drive it well. That’s the thing because it has a good mix of attributes and if the driver is skilled and has a good mix of handling and power, if you have one of the V6 models or whatever, that a skilled driver can actually outperform somebody in maybe a more powerful car.

Take a jeep. A jeep is more powerful than an Accord but it handles like shit, right? You will flip over when you try to go around the corner or something.

So I’m not going to get too much into cars. I don’t know too much about cars. But the point is …

Ryan: I don’t know shit about cars, but go ahead.

Andy: You look at all the different attributes of a car or the different attributes of your body and you think strength, power, speed, flexibility, whatever.

You think that you want some level in all of them. But you know what? You can’t achieve the highest level in all of them unless you go the Ferrari route and that takes a lot of time and energy and money and it’s really not for everyone. That’s OK.

But look at honestly for your goals what attributes are important and work on that. So same thing with squats, squats are great. They’re really, really – they’re a great exercise. I mean nobody can say that squats aren’t a great exercise. They just are. We love them. But if your goal is leg strength, well, leg strength for what?


Andy: So with that said, let’s talk a little bit about developing leg strength without barbell squats, because people ask us this all the time. How do I build leg strength with bodyweight? And you know what? It’s possible to build some serious leg strength with just bodyweight.

Ryan: Yeah. The most common thing you see out, especially recently, as far as building leg strength would be the pistol, the single leg squat. I love it. I think it’s a great exercise but unfortunately, I see a lot of people only focusing on that.

So it’s almost kind of the mentality of the barbell squat. All you need is that squat. Well, you brought a good point and that is when we’re looking at particular movements that are going off into different directions, twisting, lateral movements, things like that, you also have to think about that.

The reason why, you need to be strong for when shit happens and shit is going to happen when you’re performing things like the aerial or back flips or side flips, things like that.

So for example, focusing on little things like the push and lift concept that we have, rotational strength, this is very, very important too. And it’s not just about looking at one particular joint. It’s looking at the whole complex or the ankle, the knee, and the hip. How are they working together and how is the strength in unison when performing particular movements?

That is another way of looking at strength and that to me, bodyweight, I think actually can be better than simply performing the barbell squat. Now, in motion, when you’re performing a twisting rotational thing, you’re not going to want to just literally jump into it. You have to build up that strength, right?

Andy: Yeah.

Ryan: So yes, the pistol squat is maybe a good place to start. The best place to start is just the regular bodyweight squat to see if you can do it properly. But then build yourself up. But if we’re looking at a single leg strength component, then look at the pistol. Focus on doing that.

Andy: And also look at the shrimp squat too. Some people will naturally favor the pistol or the shrimp squat and it’s not that one is harder than the other. One will probably be harder for you though. So as soon as you get to a basic level of competency with the one that’s easier for you, start working on the one that’s harder for you too. So not to interrupt but just …

Ryan: No, no, no, that’s a very good point. Thank you for bringing that up and everything is dependent upon, like Andy said, where your body currently is. You might be coming off of an injury or let’s just say like having done a particular sport many, many years ago. Your ankles are very tight. Your hip flexors are very tight. Well, the shrimp squat might be a good option for you.


Ryan: Now, I mentioned rotational strength. This is something that is overlooked a lot and I think it’s extremely important. Jarlo and I have had numerous conversations about this in regards to knee injuries and how people really need to focus on improving their rotational strength, even if you don’t have injuries.

If you are working on any sort of aerial maneuver, and I’m not talking the aerial but where you’re in the air performing a movement. You got to focus on rotational strength that might just be bringing one leg up into the air and just holding it and moving from side to side. That’s a good starting point.

Andy: And it’s a little obvious but just say why you need to focus on rotational strength if you’re in the air.

Ryan: Landing. When you’re landing.

Andy: Exactly.

Ryan: It’s for the landing and so again the barbell squat is an amazing exercise but the thing is, is you’re not in – well, you’re in motion but your feet do not leave the ground nor are you twisting and coming down in what could be a compromising position.

So you don’t want to twist your body and land with your ankle at a particular way and have it – I don’t want to say break but I mean something bad happened. An example, one of our friends Anthony, this is a good example.

Andy: His sport is [0:24:47] [Indiscernible] and he’s excellent at it.

Ryan: He’s amazing, amazing guy. But broke his ankle just because …

Andy: Broke his foot, I think.

Ryan: Was it his foot?

Andy: Yeah.

Ryan: OK, yeah. But the thing is, is it can happen to anyone. So we want to be prepared just to make sure that this stuff doesn’t happen. So landing is so important and that’s why again in all the programs that we have, we don’t just have you jump up into an advanced level. The progressions are extremely important, starting it low.

I even mentioned this. If you can’t do a pistol, go back. Focus on your basic bodyweight squat and gradually work on being able to do that. Landing is so important.


Andy: And it’s the same thing with when we get into – people get the pistol down and they get to where they can do maybe 10 pistols, right? You got to be pretty strong to do that, have some good ankle and hip mobility.

Ten pistols is good. But then people are like, “Oh, well, I’ve mastered pistols. Now what?” They start doing crazy shit like jumping pistols on to boxes and stuff. You know what? There are better uses of your time. There are better uses of your time. I’m not saying it’s a bad exercise. I don’t believe there’s such a thing as a bad exercise, but there are better uses of your time.

Work on things like explosive stepping moves. Go out and do parkour style movements and start applying that strength on the one leg into lifting off the ground. Don’t just go, “How can I make the pistol harder?” because just like Ryan said at the beginning, you’re looking at just the one thing.

It’s not always about making the pistol harder. It’s about what your goal is and what are the things you’re trying to develop with the pistol now that you’ve got that level. What is the next level of skill that you need to be working on?

Ryan: You’re kind of hinting at it but combinations, so looking at taking a couple of movements and putting them together. That to me is awesome. I do that with a lot of the kids over here where they have to be on one leg and perform multiple movements. What it does is it forces their body to think – well, it forces their mind to think but also their bodies to move in particular ways that they’re not comfortable with. But we do it in a manner that is safe. So that’s something to think about in a very good way to strengthen your legs.

Andy: My very favorite leg exercise is one that I’ve never really seen anyone train very much but it’s extremely effective, is alternating one leg cartwheels.

Ryan: Yes. Well …

Andy: Cartwheel squats, right? When we’re preparing for F1, I showed them to you, right? We were like, “I don’t think we can put that in there.”

Ryan: I remember – didn’t you show – you did that again when we were in Santa Fe, I believe. We were on the mat and you were doing some …

Andy: Yeah.

Ryan: Yeah, stuff like that is so good.

Andy: Gets his pistol down, explode up into a cartwheel. You can do it sideways, forwards and then you land on the opposite leg and squat down and explode up the other way. It’s very, very difficult and it’s a great multidirectional thing.

Ryan: Yes, you’re hitting everything in there. Yeah.

Andy: Yeah. Well, that’s an example of a combination. You’re not just doing the pistol. You’re transitioning that pistol movement into something else.

Ryan: And then when you get better with that, you can hold some kettlebells and do that and do aerials.

Andy: Yeah. But make sure they’re on fire.

Ryan: That’s right. Oh, there’s some fun stuff out there. I would go the way of standing on top of a Swiss ball. Is that what they’re called?

Andy: Yeah, the Swiss ball or – yeah.

Ryan: The Swiss ball in doing that. Don’t do that. OK.

Andy: If you want some instability, just stand on the hood of a jeep.

Ryan: There you go. There you go.

Andy: And do your squats that way while somebody is driving down a bumpy road. Good times.

Ryan: Or you could skip it and just watch Damien Walters and enjoy that. Then you will be good.

Andy: Good enough.

Ryan: All right.

Andy: But all of these things are based on the basics. They will always start with the basics. The goal is not to get X number of pistols. The goal is to develop the leg strength that you need for what you need to do it for. If pistols are the exercise you need, if another squat variation is the exercise you need, or if some sort of single leg hip extension exercise like a dynamic skipping or something is better for you, do that.

Ryan: Good, good. Yeah. Find what you need to do and do it. That’s about it. So that’s leg strength. If you do have any other questions or if you do have any questions about what we’ve talked about today, remember you can always contact us. We will always answer your questions. So yeah, that’s about it. Lots of good stuff that we talked about today. Anything else to add there?

Andy: No, no. Just always – well, maybe one more thing is to really just always keep in mind that when you are looking at information online and you’re looking at what people recommend for different things, that’s their preference for their goals.

Just remember that you always have to think about your goals and what’s right for you. Just because someone says the squat is the best exercise, it may be the bets sequel exercise in the world if you can only choose one, but it may not be the best exercise for you for what you’re trying to do right now.

So if you have questions, just contact us. We will shoot you straight. I think most people have figured out by now that we’re pretty fair and unbiased when it comes to asking us questions about stuff.

If the best choice for you is to go to the weight room and skip all our stuff, we will tell you that. So if you don’t know who to believe or who to trust, trust us. I know that sounds kind of dumb but ask us and see if the answer resonates with you. Ask some other people too, but just always keep in mind that their favorite answer or our favorite answer may not work for you. It has always got to be in your own context.

Ryan: All right.

Andy: Cool.

Ryan: OK.

Andy: Well, yeah, leave us questions. Leave us reviews. Get in touch and yeah, we will talk at you again next week.

Ryan: All right. Thanks for listening.

[End of transcript]

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