9 Advanced Bodyweight Leg Exercises for Exceptional Strength

Your legs and hips are comprised of some of the biggest muscles in the body. When you’ve got strong legs, so many athletic activities are open to you: running, jumping, climbing, and the infinite possibilities therein.

You’d be hard pressed to find a high-level athlete in almost any sport who doesn’t have strong legs–it’s just a necessary part of athleticism.

If you ask most people how to build strong legs, they’ll probably direct you straight over to the squat rack. And that’s fine–weighted squats are a great way to build up those big muscles in your legs. But it’s not the only way, and it’s not necessarily the best way to build applicable strength for your athletic endeavors.

In this article, I’ll show you some of my favorite bodyweight leg exercises for building the power, strength, and athleticism you need for the activities you love.

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How to Choose the Best Bodyweight Leg Exercises

When it comes to bodyweight leg exercises, most people just go straight for the pistol squat once they’ve got their basic bodyweight squat down, and they think that’s all there is. Don’t get me wrong–we love pistol squats (see our in-depth pistol squat tutorial here).

But the exercises you choose to spend your efforts on should correspond directly with what you need to work on for your particular goals.

Instead of just picking random exercises to work on, we’ve included exercises that address one or more of the following key points. If you’re looking to build advanced strength in your legs, these exercises will help you in ways “typical” exercises can’t:

Our method of training ensures your efforts are spent only on exercises that will further your training goals. In the exercise descriptions below, you’ll see recommendations for exercises based on your level and the types of activities you love.

That way, you’re not wasting your efforts and you’re building the specific attributes you need for your life. Win-win!

These exercises are pretty advanced (although if you use supports, you can adjust them to a lower level, as demonstrated in the video), so you may want to spend time on the following resources before diving into the exercises I’ll show you below:

Hip mobility routineBasic squat techniqueLocomotive mobility and strength exercisesProper jump technique

Top 9 Advanced Bodyweight Leg Exercises

As you try these exercises, remember to work at your own level. There’s nothing heroic about pushing through a rep that puts your body at risk. If something feels to hard, step back a variation.

Working consistently at a level that’s doable for your body is how you’ll make progress.

We can help you develop the strength for advanced lower body movements. Download our 16 best tutorials for getting 💪🏻 strong with bodyweight training.

If you’ve got questions about any of the exercises in the video, I’ll break them down in detail below. Just click on the exercise you want to jump right to it.:

Elevated Deep LungeElevated Shrimp SquatBack Leg Elevated LungeSide Lunge SquatSingle Leg DeadliftSissy SquatBox JumpDepth JumpBox and Depth Jump Combination

Each breakdown below helps you see who should be doing which exercises and the benefits of each. Let’s get into it.

1. Elevated Deep Lunge

The purpose of this exercise is to develop strength in the deepest range of motion of your hips and knees.

Who Should Do This Exercise:

Anyone who does sports that require strength in a low-to-the-ground position, such as wrestling, martial arts, or surfing.

Important Details for the Elevated Deep Lunge:

Step up on to an elevated surface with one leg, trying to get as deep of a bend in the knee as possible.Try to use as little momentum as you can, and emphasize strength and control.In the video, I show several assisted variations of this exercise before showing the full version. It’s a good idea to start by holding on to a support as you do this exercise.In the first variation, you’ll place more of the tension on the elevated leg, whereas in the second (assisted) variation, you’ll shift your weight toward the back leg.

Why We Love the Elevated Deep Lunge

This is a great exercise for encouraging greater range of motion in the lunge position. It is a common athletic position in many sports and activities and emphasizing it in your training will transfer to good benefits on the playing field.

2. Elevated Shrimp Squat

The purpose of this exercise is to improve your balance and control and provide more resistance in a greater angle of hip flexion.

Who Should Do This Exercise:

This exercise is best for those who can do the regular shrimp squat well, and for those who require a good amount of strength in this angle (wrestlers, climbers, BJJ practitioners).

Important Details for the Elevated Shrimp Squat:

The key is to find the right upper body angle for your body, to keep your weight balanced in the middle of your foot as you squat up and down.Adding in the elevated component adds a greater test of balance. If you need to work on your basic shrimp squat, our friend Al Kavadlo has a great tutorial on his blog.Be sure to use a support as needed, and focus on moving through this exercise with control.

Why We Love the Elevated Shrimp Squat

Shrimp squats feature prominently in our Integral Strength program because they help build control and balance through challenging ranges of motion. This isn’t something most exercises emphasize, but that control is important for everything from sports and training, to preventing injury as you get older.

3. Back Leg Elevated Lunge

The purpose of this exercise is to provide resistance in the hip flexors and quadriceps in a stretched position.

Who Should Do This Exercise:

If you need strength in this extended position, this is a great exercise for you. This includes jumpers, sprinters, climbers, and anyone who practices a martial art that includes a lot of kicking.

Important Details for the Back Leg Elevated Lunge:

Elevate the back leg, starting out by holding a support, and push through the balls of the feet on the back leg.The weight should be primarily on the back leg, using the front leg as support.Keep the upper body upright and tall, and make sure to engage the quads and hip flexors on the elevated leg to initiate the movement.

Why We Love the Back Leg Elevated Lunge

The extension you get in this exercise is pretty unique–it’s not an angle we typically train. But many activities can benefit from increased strength in this position, so it’s a good one to add to your routine if you do any of the activities mentioned. Plus, it provides a nice hip stretch during the movement.

4. Side Lunge Squat

The purpose of this exercise is to provide resistance to the adductors and to the hamstrings in the abducted position.

Who Should Do This Exercise:

This exercise is good for those that need strength in the outstretched position, such as BJJ practitioners, climbers, and anyone who practices a martial art that includes a lot of kicking.

Important Details for the Side Lunge Squat:

Use a support at first and start with a wide stance.Drop your weight toward one side, bending that knee and keeping the other knee straight. Only drop as far as you can go comfortably.In the full range of motion, you’ll drop all the way to the side, but if you need to sit back some, that’s perfectly fine.Try to engage the hamstrings on the straight leg to pull yourself up, rather than just pushing through the foot on the bent leg.In the elevated variation, if you are at the level to perform that, be sure to move slowly so as not to overstrain the muscles.

Why We Love the Side Lunge Squat

This is a great exercise for working on straight leg hamstring strength and increasing your flexibility on the bent leg. When you work on both sides, it’s also a way to assess distinctions in mobility and strength from side to side.

5. Single Leg Deadlift

The purpose of this exercise is to work on balance, hip hinge, and provide closed chain resistance for the hamstrings.

Who Should Do This Exercise:

This is a good exercise for anyone to practice, as hamstring strength is important for a wide variety of functional movements and sports.

Important Details for the Single Leg Deadlift:

Keep your hips, chest, and shoulders square as you hinge forward.Make sure to lock out the supporting leg and keep your chest up, gazing forward.Use a support in the beginning, then as you work up to doing this without a support, you can use your fingers as “training wheels” on the floor.

Why We Love the Single Leg Deadlift

Straight leg hamstring strength is often neglected. This is a great way to focus on that, while also improving balance and awareness of your body in space. Proper hip hinge is also a very important concept for improving your power and athletic ability in many pursuits.

It also may decrease the incidence of hamstring pulls and strains.

6. Sissy Squat

The purpose of this exercise is to provide resistance for the quadriceps in a stretched position.

Who Should Do This Exercise:

This is another good exercise for most people, as it builds quadriceps strength in a unique way.

Important Details for the Sissy Squat:

Try to keep your torso in a diagonal line with your knees as you bring your knees forward and your shoulders back. You’ll be dropping your knees down to the ground as you push up on the balls of your feet.Do not worry about the myth that bringing your knees past your ankles is dangerous–it’s not. This is a great exercise for the quads.

Why We Love the Sissy Squat

The unique positioning of this exercise allows for building quadriceps strength in a way that regular squats do not. It also teaches a person how much tolerance they have in these angles, and shows where they need improvement.

7. Box Jump

The purpose of this exercise is to teach body awareness and precision in the jump.

Who Should Do This Exercise:

If you’ve done a fair amount of jump training and you’re interested in activities such as parkour, trail running, or in general athleticism, box jumps are great for you to practice.

Important Details for the Box Jump:

You want to make sure to start in a deep squat position, with your arms pulled back.Raise your arms overhead and bring your knees toward your chest to create momentum.Land softly on the elevated surface, with your knees bent.It’s a good idea to work on the basic jump before attempting box jumps.

Why We Love the Box Jump

The box jump is great for providing a marking point for consistency in your jumps. Plus, you have a lot of control over the height of the jump, so you can start at a lower level and work your way up.

Box jumps are a sticking point for many people who do CrossFit, but that’s often a mobility issue. See how to address that here.

8. Depth Jump

The purpose of this exercise is to provide intermediate to advanced plyometric stimulus.

Who Should Do This Exercise:

This exercise is best for those people already well versed in jumping activities, such as runners, basketball players, jumpers, or those who do parkour.

Important Details for the Depth Jump:

Don’t start on too high of a surface, as you don’t want to overstress your joints.Make sure to land softly on the balls of your feet, driving your knees forward.As you get more comfortable with this, you can experiment with jumping from higher surfaces.

Why We Love the Depth Jump

The depth jump is geared toward more advanced trainees, but it’s a good way to train drops in a safe and controlled manner, since you can control the height of the drop.

9. Box and Depth Jump Combination

The purpose of this exercise is to provide advanced plyometric stimulus.

Who Should Do This Exercise:

This is definitely not one for beginners. If you already do a lot of jumping activities, adding this in will be really good for improving your power and precision.

Important Details for the Box and Depth Jump Combination:

Here you will be combining the box and depth jumps, one right after the other.The key point is to always land softly, both when jumping up for the box jump, and when landing from the depth jump.Do not overdo this one. Go slow and test out how this feels for you.

Why We Love the Box and Depth Jump Combination

The combination of the box jump and depth jump will take your jump training to the next level. Of course, you should only practice this if you’re a seasoned jumper, but if you are, then working these into your routine will help with activities like parkour, basketball, or other activities that require precise and powerful jumps.

Programming and Troubleshooting for Bodyweight Leg Strength

Many of these exercises are probably pretty different from what you’re used to. They’re certainly not your typical “gym” exercises, and most calisthenics programs will usually have more standard squat and lunge variations.

So, in this section, I’ll go through some considerations, including common barriers and programming.

Common Barriers to Building Leg Strength

If you ran into some trouble with the exercises in this article, you may need to spend some time on your weak areas. Here are some resources to help you out with common barriers:

Front and back scales for addressing balance issuesTargeted stretches for limited ankle mobilityJump training for building power in the legsTips for improving hamstring flexibilityAdvice for keeping your knees healthy

Programming These Exercises Into Your Routine

In order to program these exercises well you gotta get clear on what your goal is. Do you care more about speed or endurance? Setting PRs in these particular exercises or building generally useable strength?

Once you’re clear, this table will help you work them into your routine:

Goal Recommended Sets/Reps
General Purpose Strength • 3-5 sets of 6-10 reps
• Rest 90 seconds to 2 minutes between sets
Pure Strength • 4-8 sets of 1-5 reps
• Rest 2-3 minutes between sets
Endurance • 2-5 sets of 12-25 reps
• Rest 60-90 seconds between sets
Power and Speed • 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps (but it will depend on when your explosiveness starts to fail)
• Rest at least 2 minutes between sets

Depending on your current routine and specific needs you might want to adjust these numbers. But they’re a good general starting point.

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Don’t Skip Leg Day!

Your lower body is the foundation for so much in athletics and physical performance as well as overall health as we age. Building strong and powerful hips and legs will help you do all your favorite activities better.

Practice the exercises I’ve shown you, choosing those that match your goals best, and you’ll have a strong lower body in no time.

For strength throughout your body that applies to your daily life and favorite activities, try our Integral Strength program. Just like we’ve shown in this article, Integral Strength helps you figure out where you need the most work and choose the exercise variations that will help you reach your goals.

That way, your efforts are specific and directed, and you’ll build the strength you want that much faster.

Build Strength for the Activities You Love

Over 8 weeks, Integral Strength will help you build the kind of specific strength that carries over into demanding physical skills and dynamic sports.

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Build Practical Strength with Bodyweight Exercises

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