I want to make my legs more symmetrical to my upper body. They need to catch up slightly. I can easily achieve that with weights but I wish to achieve it with body weight exercises instead since I suffer from lower back pain and prefer not to squat with weights.

So far I have been doing sprints and pistols. Both were helpful but it seems like I got the maximum out of these. Also I am not a big fan of the pistols for they really make my knees feel not right. I combine them with some easier exercises like wall squats or jump squats but I am not mentioning these for they don't do all that much. I need something that will stimulate the muscles more. If not an exercise than a different strategy of how to combine these - sets, reps, etc.?

I have been looking online for materials but can't really find anything good for gaining muscle mass in the legs. Any suggestions are welcome, thank you in advance.

  • 1
    Just curious, why body weight exercises specifically?
    – JohnP
    Nov 3, 2013 at 1:54
  • Because I have lower back problems so I don't want to squat with weights. Other than that it's a challenge to see how well I can do with body weight only.
    – Arthlete
    Nov 3, 2013 at 10:30
  • Ok, you do not wish to squat with weights - but even then, only bodyweight might still be a bit too restrictive imo. What about ankle weights, resistance bands etc. You'd probably need such things to work towards pistols given the knee issue you mentioned. I would very much like to see an answer to this question, one that would also address the knee issue.
    – BKE
    Nov 4, 2013 at 11:10
  • But you see I don't lack strength for the pistols, I feel too much strain in my knees. Anyways I do use ankle weights and rubber bands but as secondary exercises. I am involved in gymnastics and when I workout on the rings I can pretty much exercise everything except for legs. So 30% of my workout is on the rings which is the majority of all the stimulation that my muscles get. Then I finish with rubber bands. I need a main exercise to stimulate my legs how the iron cross stimulates my biceps, chest, shoulders.
    – Arthlete
    Nov 4, 2013 at 20:03
  • You might find this useful: Ido Portal and to a lesser extent Coach Sommer, both enormous bodyweight-exercise and gymnastics devotees, are quite frank about the limited utility of BW work for lower body muscle development. Nov 20, 2013 at 17:32

5 Answers 5


When it comes to body-weight, there is one limitation and that's the fact that you can't increase the weight to put more pressure on the muscle. However there is one thing which most forget, and it's such a simple trick to hype up the pressure and still not to be dependent on the weights which may not be preferred from one athlete to the other. Due to issues such as back problem, limited equipment and injuries. The key is:

Stay Single

Exercise the legs separately, one leg at a time. Such an strange feeling to start with if you haven't tried yet. I leg press 300kgs for 20 reps and I thought about it and came to conclusion I'll do 300/2=150 with one leg. I failed!! 80ks, sometimes 90 is the max. but you may ask why?

When you do a single leg workout you lose the sturdiness and support of two legs brought to each other. You lose the center and you actually need to do some balancing. Single leg body weight squats, and single leg with the other folded back calves are the must. Give it a go and let me know.

  • I agree with you and know what you are talking about. But as I said above I already used the single leg squats for most of what they can offer me. Also they put too much pressure on my knees so I want to try something different. Thanks for your input, I did rep you. I am still looking for more ideas though.
    – Arthlete
    Nov 4, 2013 at 20:05
  • @Arthlete- Mainly that was what I used alot and I though i'll kinda let everybody who is reading the question know. I'll let you know if I get any answers talking to some legends about it.
    – Mehrad
    Nov 4, 2013 at 22:43
  • @Hituptony- Thanks for the corrections mate.
    – Mehrad
    Nov 4, 2013 at 22:43

So I was looking for an answer myself. I was thinking about athletes who do a lot of body weight exercises for their sport and remembered about ballet dancers. I am providing 2 photos to illustrate their lower body physique:

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So I found some exercises presented by the black guy in the middle of the second photo on this link: Christopher Cuomo

And I also found one more leg workout from a male ballet dancer. Tyler from RW Ballet Workout Video

I will try these tomorrow, they look like exercises for women. I can't imagine people gaining muscle this way but photos speak for themselves. I hope to see some other ideas as well.

  • 3
    Those workouts seem to consist of leg lifts, squats, and some ab work. I would consider the fact that these guys are doing tremendous amounts of these basic exercises, plus carries and holds of their partners, and that might be the greater factor in their leg physique. Also, don't discount the weighted work that some male ballet dancers do: "To create long, lean muscles without building bulk, use heavier weights and low repetition." Nov 4, 2013 at 21:39
  • Yes but their partners are usually rather light which cannot compare to a barbell in the gym. I also thought about them training with weights, that is a possibility but they really don't need it. Their goal is to perform better and look well. Both can be achieved without weights further more weight training is often counter productive for what they do. Thanks for linking me to the article however.
    – Arthlete
    Nov 5, 2013 at 23:11
  • 1
    Nothing is like a barbell in the gym, but my point is that these guys didn't get big legs with a few leg lifts and air squats. I'm only guessing, but I'd attribute their leg development to a phenomenal number of repetitions of fundamental ballet positions on the barre, supplemental weighted work, lots of leaping ballet moves, and numerous long-time-under-tension partner carries. If you want ballet legs, do ballet instead of Men's Health "ballet lite". Nov 5, 2013 at 23:27

I think two ways to go further in leg training with body weight would be jumps and slope.

Jumps offer lots of interesting dynamic variations. If you're not interested in jump squats, then maybe jumping onto a higher platform. After all, these dancers also do jump a lot.

As for slope (or stairs), it would definitively make sprints more challenging.


Here is an exercise that will give you a lot of mass on your legs provided you do it right. It's called Zhàn zhuāng ("standing like a post"). It's basically just standing but it takes a lot of tweaking to get it right in the beginning.

There are no reps or anything needed; it will work the whole body as well and especially the knees, but you have to devote time to it. If you just start with one minute and progress to 10 minutes you will see and feel the progress. Its basically standing with your knees slightly bent and whole body completely relaxed.


more wieght = more mass. Do lower back bodywieght excersizes like laying belly down on the floor with arms in various position and raising your trunk. Also, and this pertains to wieghted squats and bodywieght squats, don't lock out your knees and only go as far down till you start to feel a relief in tension. You want tension in your legs the whole time not just parts of the rep. Only go between 3-7 inches if neccessary for the entirety of the rep. Its science and its called time under load.

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