When the budding football careers of Joshua Aji Mathews and Rohan Singh came to a grinding halt, they looked at other avenues to get their daily fix of fitness. While Joshua tried to embrace a routine at the gym, Rohan decided to take up dancing alongside a crew. It kept them engaged for a while, but all that changed when they discovered the world of calisthenics.
Gravity-defying moves such as the human flag had Joshua fascinated, but on his first attempt, he realised just how difficult it was. For Rohan, the first few days of calisthenics in a public park broke the monotony of training with equipment in an enclosed space.
Over time, both realised that freestyle calisthenics not only helped them achieve their goals, but also gave them enough room for creativity and experimentation while improving endurance and flexibility. What stood out for Rohan was that most of these exercises relied on bodyweight and utilised minimal equipment.
Other athletes have also praised the benefit of calisthenics. For Nishkarsh Arora, it has helped build muscle without compensating on the mobility he needs for slacklining and rock climbing. For professional bodybuilder Bikram Sahoo, calisthenics perfectly supplements his weight training. And for Rajan Sharma, it allowed him to break past the limitations of a gym.
As they explain it, the main idea of calisthenics is to combine bodyweight and the force of gravity to create resistance that is needed for training. And when this training is focussed on the legs, it generates testosterone that helps with muscle gain and fat loss, and also helps reduce risk of injury and generates more power for the body.
Below these athletes list out a few calisthenic leg workouts that have been most effective for them.
Free squats: With your feet slightly apart and back straight, bend your knees and lean your hips backwards to get into a sitting position. At the same time, extend your arms forward. Ensure that your heels remain on the ground. Stand up again and bring your arms down. Free squats mainly target your quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes. However, core strength and stability, ankle mobility, back muscles and calves play an important role while doing this exercise.
Pistol squats: Stand with both feet together. Extend your left leg forward until it is straight, with the heel hovering just above the floor. Raise your arms in front. Keep your core tight and spine straight. Now bend your right knee and lower your body while continuing to extend your left leg. Continue bending your right knee until your extended left leg is parallel to the floor, then return to the standing position.
Joshua Aji Mathews
Box jumps: Find a box with height that you are comfortable with. Place it a short distance in front of you, but less than two feet away. Swing your arms back and then forwards to gain momentum, and simultaneously jump off the ground. Land on top of the box with your knees bent and then straighten up. Jump back down again gently or step off the box one leg at a time. This is a plyometric exercise that strengthens your glutes, quadriceps, calves and hamstrings. It makes you faster, more powerful and explosive, while also increasing your heart rate to help burn calories.
Spanish squats: You will need a resistance band for this exercise. Tie one end to a fixed post and make two loops for the legs. Set these loops just below your knee. Step backwards until you feel some tension in the band. As is the case during a regular squat, tilt your hip backwards while bending your knees. Lower your hips until it forms almost 90 degrees, then slowly return to the standing position. Spanish squats help target quadriceps with greater load and without risking injury to the knee. The bands improve stability while squatting, which in turn works the core.
Lunges: Keep your upper body straight. Step forward with one leg and lower your hips until both knees are bent at 90 degrees. The step should be manageable, such that the knee of your front leg is in line with the ankle. The lower knee must not touch the ground. Now shift the weight to your heels and straighten up to get to the starting position. Repeat the same, this time putting the other leg forward. Lunges are great to strengthen the lower back, hips, glutes and quadriceps.
Side squats: Place your feet slightly wider than your hips. Extend your hands straight out in front of you. Now shift your weight to the right heel, push your hips backward and bend the right knee. Ensure that your left leg is straight. Return to the starting position. Repeat the same, this time shifting weight to the left heel, bending the left knee and extending the right leg. A resistance band on the ankles or weights can be used to increase the level of difficulty. Side squats target your glutes and quadriceps.
Glute bridges: Lie down flat on your back. Bend your knees with your feet flat on the ground. Engage your core while lifting your hips off the ground. Keep your hands straight and flat by your side. Hold your posture for a second and then return to the start position. Glute bridges work your hips and core muscles.
Sissy squats: This variation is quite unlike normal squats. Hold your feet together and start by pushing your knees forward, lifting your heels and bending backwards. Your body must be in a straight line from head to knees. Try to lower your knees as low as possible in controlled movement before returning to the standing position. This exercise is not recommended for those with knee problems. Beginners can start off by holding onto a rail or post for support.
Chair hold against wall: With the back straight against the wall, take a step forward and bend your knees to get into a sitting position; your thighs should be parallel to the ground. Hold this position for as long as you are comfortable. This is a form of isometric training which is great for the quadriceps. For a variation, extend the duration or raise your calves while performing the exercise. An advanced form of the exercise is where you hit the position and then raise one leg over the other thigh.
Calf raises: With both feet flat on the ground and your back straight, shift your weight onto the balls of your feet and then lift your heels off the ground. After hold the position for a while, return to the starting position. You may increase difficulty by holding weights in either hands. Another variation is to stand at the edge of a step, so that your heel can go lower than the starting or resting position, before raising it again. If you are into slacklining, perform calf raises on the line for increased difficulty.