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Bodyweight Leg Exercises for Strength/Vertical


I'm looking for advanced bodyweight leg exercises, which can (hopefully) increase my maximal strength and improve my vertical jump. For now, my vert is 30 inches. I am 6'1 ft and 155 lbs. At most, my wrist at level with rim (barely), still can't dunk.

I don't have exercise to weights atm, but will do so at the end of year. For now i'll stick with bodyweight exercise, realy hardcore ones that will add strength in my legs.

I know bodyweight sucks at developing maximal strength, 'cause it's bodyweight. Sssh, but i know gymnasts implement bodyweight exercise (planche, rings) in their workouts and they are effective.

I have being doing pistol squats, 2 sets of 10 reps each leg, holding a dumbbell in front for balancing, since i can't do a free-standing pistol. It really helps in gluteal and hamstrings development. It's only the hardcore leg exercise i know.

Any others?


Burpees - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7MGljX4bbps


It seems like your goal is to jump high so actually practice that. Pylometrics and box jumps would work. Be explosive. You already know about pistols which are awesome. Here's some other bodyweight leg exercises.

Burpees: A squat thrust with a jump. An explosive drill for the whole body and great for endurance work (both muscular and cardiorespiratory).

Jump squats: With head up and back straight, squat down until your legs are at a 90 degree angle. Then jump back up as high as you can.

Starbursts: Start in a very low squat position, with your ass resting on your heels, and your arms resting down to your sides (you should be in a little ball). Explode up, jumping as high as you can, shooting your arms and legs apart into a star shape (it will look like an open jumping jack in the air). Then land back down into the small ball.

Bodyweight Squat

Boot strapper Squats: Put your feet together, bend down and put your hands in front of your feet (bend your knees if you have to). Now walk your hands about 1 foot away from your toes. Keep them there. Now bend your knees until your ass touches your heels, then straighten your knees out as far as you can.

Glute-ham sit-up: A very difficult exercise. Lie face down with your feet anchored. Pull yourself into a kneeling position by bending your knees.

Calf raises: From standing, simply rise up onto the ball of your foot. Can be done with one foot or two.

Wall sits



plyos and box jumps


There is a program that uses plyo boxes specifically designed for jumping ... Air something


You've already mentioned pistols which are among the best.

Christopher Somner outlines a lot of gymnastics leg progressions in his book. Box jumps and progression to single leg jumps and bounds are among them.


depth drops
depth jumps
PF drops
stiff leg ankle hops
single leg box jumps
single leg bounds
split squat drops
broad jumps
double leg bounds
low squat ankle hops

if you think jay schroeder is not a nutbag, then you could implement iso-extreMeEzZZZ.. ie iso lunge, iso squat, iso pushup, etc for 5 minute holds... re: evo-sport



if you're stupid enough, and prepared enough, to do shock (4x10 DJ from 30"), it will increase maximal strength, explosive strength, etc.

im not saying you should do shock, im just saying that what you said is wrong..

well technically, doing a depth jump from 30" is 7x your bodyweight, so it's not really bodyweight :wink:



Would you mind listing some of the gymnastics leg progressions? I know i have the strength to do a pistol squat but not the balance.


http://beastskills.com/Pistol.htm here is a tutorial for getting the pistol.


Thanks for the reply, but what i am seeking is not strength endurance, to jump high you must have a large source of maximal strength to tap the energy from. Aside from the glute-ham raises, i think most of those exercises you mentioned are largely endurance in nature. Correct me if i'm wrong. :slightly_smiling:

This is interesting, but i thought plyos (DJ) are used mainly to improve reactive strength? I'm not sure about this, but using DJ and plyos to increase maximal strength sounds too easy to me. Again, someone correct me if i'm wrong.

My view is that maximal strength should come from the squats, since i don't have weights right now, i need a bodyweight substitute to increase my maximal strength.

I think you mean Air Alert III, it's generally regarded as a marketing sham and does nothing to improve your vert significantly except for ruining your knees.


doesn't matter what your view is though.. it's been STUDIED AND PROVEN to increase maximal strength.

even box heights of 30" can achieve this in "less than elite" athletes.. elite athletes need 36-42" boxes to target maximal strength.

using dj's to increase maximal strength sounds too easy? have you ever done moderate volume dj's from a 36-42" box? lol

i just told you how to increase maximal strength in my reply.. why in the hell would you think a stupid pistol is going to increase maximal strength vs single leg bounds or split squat ada drops? do you think high rep bodyweight squats are going to increase strength more than DEPTH DROPS from above your running vert, or depth jumps from 30"? no... they wont.

with any type of true plyo you're dealing with forces that far exceed anything you will ever experience with a squat/barbell lift... unless you do depth jumps with a 135 lb. barbell on your back from 30".

anyway, do pistols/other BW crap.. but if you want to really stress your lower body with no weights, it has to be done with drops, so progress with those slowly and you'll see results.

barbell squat = ~225 + ~70% of your BW

depth jump from 30" = your BW x 7

study by verkhoshansky:
"the experimental group utilized depth jumps (for 3 weeks; 3x/week; 40 jumps each training session). The back squat and traditional jumping exercises were eliminated from the program. The changes in the level of explosive force and reactive abilit of the neuromuscular apparatus were measured weekly on a special device.

the improvement of all recorded characteristics [speed of movement, maximum effort, maximum strength of muscle, power of effort] in the experiment group exceeded significantly the same parameters of the control group. The biggest increase in the speed of the loaded movement (V) and power (N) was found to be in beginning segment of the working amplitude of the control movement"

result of another study by verk:
"So, the Shock Method could be used for the reactive capacity increasing (Dept jump from 0.75 height) or for the maximal explosive strength effort increasing (Dept jump from 0.95 ?~@~S 1.15 m height)."

there's other studies on depth jumps increasing 1RM squats etc...

you have to realize the amount of energy you're dealing with, when doing drops/depth jumps.

sorry if i came off like an ass, im really dosed up on caffeine.

peace man



Thanks adarqui, you just cleared my doubts. I thought DJ is for reactive strength only, now i'll try to implement it in my workouts. So anything above 0.95m develop the explosive strength? Also, what do you mean by split squat drops? Should i start with drop at 30 inches then progress to a depthjump at the same height? Which of these should i use more - depthjumps or drops? Thanks.


you should do a depth jump test.. or at least see if you can reach your CMJ height while doing an 18" depth jump.

i'd use 18" boxes for DJ's/Drops initially (if you can reach your cmj from 18".. if not, use 12" box, and 6" box for lunge drops)..

and 12" boxes for split squat/lunge drops.

split squat/lunge drops is simply dropping into a proper positioned lunge, on mid-foot on the front foot (not flat footed)... this is for hamstrings/glutes/quads and calfs.

your should use drops initially until you get the proper form.. go to youtube.com/korfist and check out the proper depth drop form (ADA) video..

once you have the form down you can then utilize depth jumps.

so initially, say:

4x3 depth drops from 18"

3x3 each leg, lunge drops from 12"

then progress to dj's at 18" after however long... up the lunge drop height... for depth jumps just do like 3-4x3 also.. after you become very comfortable, begin to increase the box height.. you should be able to achieve at or higher than your standing vert when doing the depth jumps.

never start out with 30"+ box heights..

peace man


Thanks! I heard depth jumps/drops are only effective in the short term, and plateau after that. How long should i use it and when should i stop?


you can do depth drops & depth jumps FOREVER.. it depends on the intensity though.. if you are going very intense (4x10 from 30"), then both of those you should only use for short blocks, ie 3d/week for 2-3 weeks, a few times per year.

if you are dropping from submax boxes, just to strengthen the musculature/motor programs involved i nthat position, then there really is no standard..

i would implement drops much more than depth jumps.. there are many different drop positions that can strengthen many positions.. and since there is no transition, it's much less intense, even if you go more intense with the box height.

you plateau with DJ's just like you would with weights... except DJ's you plateau quicker due to the intensity.

you need to think of depth drops more like normal movements.. walking down stairs and pausing is a depth drop.. landing from a jump is a depth drop if you try and control it.. these are natural movements that are found everywhere... if you think of them as magical, then you will need a crazy periodization for implementing them etc.. when all you need is:

day 1:
- 18" depth drop squat : 4x3
- 12" depth drop split squat: 3x3
- mini-freefall pushup (from extension) OR clap pushup: 3x5-10
- example of pullup variation would be clap pullups, those are damn hard for most people tho
- etc etc

day 2:
- repeat

if you implemented something like that 2d/week, you'd begin to understand how it effects your body.. it's simple & natural..

there were studies done in supertraining which did dj's for a few months... 2 week blocks, 1 week rest.. and they kept progressing.

the body has built protective mechanisms to handle "shock".. every day we experience shock, in sport too etc... the intensity of shock in a max effort DJ from 30+" overloads this natural mechanism to the fullest.. thats the only reason why it needs care in implementing...

peace man


Thanks for your reply, i appreciate it! Btw, is it possible to promote hypertrophy (in the legs) using only bodyweight exercises?


I see what you're saying about how most of the exercises could be more endurance focused. I think it really depends on how you use them. I listed a lot of these out there to spark ideas for you and for general leg strength development.

Strength and endurance are relative -- if I can do sets of 15 pistols and someone else can only do 1. They would be working maximal strength while I would be working endurance. If some of the exercises are focused on too much on endurance, change them to suit your needs. For example, use one leg or jump on a platform or box. Explode up from a pistol onto a 24" box.

Also with these exercises, I said to be explosive. You will need to engage those fast twitch muscle fibers to jump high. An Olympic lifter would be able to jump higher than a power lifter. Even though a power lifter can move serious iron around when it comes to squats and deadlifts, they don't practice rapid, dynamic force generating movements regularly like oly lifters do.

For leg hypertrophy with calisthenics, I would say yes it could work to increase size. It would take more time than lifting weights (unless you were an untrained individual). I gained about 10-15 lbs in about 2 months doing bodyweight calisthenics in an intense circuit 5 times a week -- push-ups, pull-ups, dips, and situps. I worked up to 400+ reps on the push ups, dips, sit-ups, and 120 reps for pull-ups. It might not have been a "scientific" way to train for hypertrophy (which wasn't my goal), but I got slightly bigger.


Wow Yosh, your reps are insane! But i seeking increase hypertrophy in legs, which is harder than upperbody. Any ideas?


yes it is possible..

Roger Nelsen once made a connection between kaatsu (go look it up its cool) training, and long duration iso holds.. long duration iso holds, with only your bodyweight, act somewhat like a tourniquet.. this tourniquet reduces blood flow to the muscle, which, without substantial oxygen delivery, relies on anaerobic means of energy production (fast twitch fibers use these energy pathways). this simply means that, without an adequate oxygen supply, the fast twitch muscle fibers are working alot harder than normal...

an example of an LDISO would be a bulgarian split squat held for 3+ minutes.. look up "jay schroeder iso extremes".. he makes people hold a few positions for 5 minutes at a time.. he claims that you will receive no benefit until you reach the third minute.. the studies on kaatsu training kind of back this up.

go check out some threads on wannagetfast.com forum on isos.. there's some hugeeeeeee threads.. iso split squat/iso squat/iso ghr.

think about a gymnist who only uses his bodyweight.. then think about his freakish upper body development.. gymnists spend alot of time training isometrically, especially on the rings.

you can't mimic those type of movements in the legs though.. thats why its alot harder to achieve the hypertrophy gymnists have achieved... if your feet were more like hands, then yes, it'd be easily possible.

the most extreme way i could think of achieving that, would be to because insane on a ghr or poor man's ghr, and to be able to isometrically hold these positions for quite some time... i'd imagine then, that your hypertrophy development would be through the roof.

sprinting can hypertrophy the muscles too..

so there are alot of methods to achieve hypertrophy without barbells.

drops/plyos etc wont hypertrophy you.. they will re-arrange important factors within the muscle/tendon, but they will not get you jacked...

go do a lunge and hold it for as long as you can in the deepest position.. when you get to 1 minute and you're completely dying/shaking/burning, then you'll understand it's effectiveness.. if you can get to 3-5 minutes right off the bat, then thats impressive.

there's more technical aspects to performing the ldisos properly, but you can find those out by reading the WGF threads.