Do you want to get in shape and burn calories without having to go to the gym? If so, then you will love these bodyweight cardio exercises for legs! These exercises are a great way to get your heart rate up and torch some serious calories. They are also perfect for people who don’t have a lot of time to work out. So, whether you are a beginner or an experienced exerciser, you will find something here that suits your needs.💯
In this article we’re going to cover:
- 🎯 What cardio exercises are
- 🎯 Benefits of these exercises
- 🎯 The top 15 bodyweight cardio exercises for legs
- 🎯 A sample cardio workout
- 🎯 & Frequently asked questions so you can maximize fat loss and cardio health
Let’s get started! 💪
⚡️What are cardio exercises?
Before we talk bout our list of cardio exercises, let’s first define what cardio actually is. Cardio is short for cardiovascular exercise, which means any type of activity that gets your heart rate up and keeps it there for an extended period of time.
This can be anything from running to swimming to playing tennis to dancing. Basically, if it gets your heart pumping continuously, it counts as cardio.
Working on cardio exercises boosts your cardiovascular endurance to help your working capacity for longer and help boost your body’s efficiency to use energy.
Take note that if you’re looking to build muscle, or explosiveness, or strength, it’s better to look into a different set of exercises. Here’s the our ultimate list of calisthenics leg exercises: 📍101 Bodyweight leg exercises.
Is it different from aerobic exercise?😲
Cardio exercise is also known as aerobic exercise since this type of activity primarily requires oxygen to meet the energy demands of the exercise. This is attributed to low to moderate intensity exercises that can be sustained for longer periods of time.
However, you can also boost your cardio too with anaerobic exercises. These are exercises that don’t require oxygen to use your body’s energy but use energy stored in your muscles. These are short and fast bursts of energy that are too difficult to sustain longer such as sprints and high jumps. Resistance training also falls under this category.
In terms of anaerobic exercises, we’ll focus on the movements that overlap and can be transitioned into aerobic activities such as sprinting and jumping.
Both aerobic and anaerobic exercises have amazing benefits and they can both improve your cardiovascular health.
Why is cardio important?🤔
Cardio is important because it helps to improve your cardiovascular health. It does this by:
- ✅ Increasing your heart rate
- ✅ Strengthening your heart and lungs
- ✅ Boosting your blood circulation
- ✅ Reducing your blood pressure
- ✅ Improving your cholesterol levels
All of these factors combined help to reduce your risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular conditions.
🏆Benefits of cardiovascular exercises
In addition to improving your general health, here are other benefits you can enjoy from working on your cardiovascular health:
- 💯 Help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight
- 💯 Reduce your risk of developing type II diabetes
- 💯 Reduce stress and improve your mood
- 💯 Improve your sleep quality
- 💯 Increase your energy levels
- 💯 Boost your immune system
- 💯 Improves your working capacity
Cardio work not only translates to better athletic performance for your calisthenics journey or other disciplines. Better cardiovascular health transfers to a better everyday life that’s sustainable and more capable of movement. Not to mention it’s an amazing way burn fat since aerobic exercises produce better results for fat loss compared to resistance training or a combination of both as shown in a 2012 research.
✨TOP 15 Bodyweight Cardio Exercises for Legs
We’ll be covering the best bodyweight cardio exercises for your lower body. You can also incorporate upper body cardio such as swimming or rowing if you like. This will also boost your general cardiovascular health, but for this article, we’ll focus on your legs which won’t need any equipment at all.
Hill sprints are fantastic for building muscle, strength, explosiveness, and cardiovascular endurance. The uphill incline challenges your body to produce force from your whole legs, quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, calves, and core to propel your body upward.
It’s also very scalable depending on your skill level. You can find a slope that can accommodate your skill level. Obviously, the more incline the hill is, the harder the exercise gets. A higher incline also requires better ankle mobility to help sustain the constantly flexed feet.
You can build muscle with this type of exercise since you will be fighting against gravity. Hill sprints sound simple, but it is highly effective.
Combining hill sprints with in-between jogging can make a great high-intensity interval training. This shortens your workout while still enjoying the benefits of fat loss and cardio boost.
For a complete guide on HIIT, check out this article: 📍20-minute HIIT Workout for Maximum Fat Loss & Cardio
Similar to hill sprints, sprinting on the flat ground also requires a short burst of energy. It’s much easier compared to hill sprints but is still very challenging and effective because of the intensity of sprints.
Working on your sprints helps develop power and speed that translates to many sports such as basketball, football, and the like.
Shuffling is a great way to improve coordination while building up your cardio. It’s so simple to do and requires only a little space. There are also a ton of combinations you can add to shuffling such as a squat or a touch reach to spice up the movement pattern.
🔥Jumping legs apart & together
This exercise is simple enough that helps you build better balance and control when jumping. You can also scale the exercise by performing higher jumps or using faster transitions.
Once you have mastered the regular bodyweight squats, you can use this exercise for cardio work for your legs. The squat touch allows you to get a short rest in between your reps while improving your leg endurance. Going in deeper the squat or wider with the stance trains your mobility as well.
Mastering the lunges allows you to perform lunges skips which builds explosiveness and endurance. You can also develop your mobility better with the lunge. The emphasis of the lunge normally is on the quads, but making a smaller lunge can shift the emphasis to your glutes. Lunges are normally used as a progression for the pistol squats.
🔥Jumping mini splits
This exercise is like a smaller lunge that trains your coordination and your legs. You can easily transition it into wider and bigger split squats if you have the capacity, but performing jumping mini splits is also already good for cardiovascular work for your legs.
🔥Up & down stairs
Fighting gravity is an amazing approach to help develop strength and endurance. Similar to the hill sprints, going up and down the stairs is fantastic for your legs. The caveat is that you have to be extra careful since you are more prone to accidents compared to hill inclines. Start small and start slow. Gradually build up your speed and you can just go up and down one step on the stairs to develop your coordination.
Toe taps are another great option to improve coordination while building up your cardio. It’s simple to perform and only needs a small amount of space. While training endurance, you can also improve your balance when performing the exercise. Start slow before getting fast with your toe taps.
Speaking of small spaces, the high-knee is another fantastic option that can get very intense. Tucking one knee towards your chest requires balance, coordination, and good lower body mobility. You will feel your legs burning soon with this exercise.
Another simple exercise is skipping. It’s like jumping rope without the rope. It can build your endurance over time and work on your legs as you skip. You can easily adjust the difficulty of the movement but performing higher skips or faster skips.
🔥Candlestick straight jump
This movement is quite complex and demands good coordination to perform effectively. Rolling from a candlestick straight into a jump and back requires good control, mobility, and coordination. It’s a fun exercise to add to your cardio work and it definitely builds up your leg muscles. The momentum from the candlestick helps your jump to be easier so you need to get your timing right!
Want to improve your balance and coordination? Then ski jumps might be for you. With this exercise, you’ll be jumping from side to side non-stop so you need to learn how to use the momentum and control it. It’s quite a simple move that doesn’t require much space.
Jumping jacks are an old classic that you probably encountered in your gym class. It’s a basic warm-up exercise, however, you can also use it for your main cardiovascular work if you enjoy this movement pattern. Small jumping helps build up endurance for your legs.
We’ve saved one of the best exercises for your legs and overall cardiovascular health. This is simple walking. Walking is low-impact and can be done anywhere, at any time. The low-intensity nature of the exercise still builds leg endurance while not compromising your recovery when your focus is on developing muscle and strength. You can even do it without any rest days and use it as an active recovery exercise.
Even though there has been a trend of the 10,000 steps, you don’t necessarily have to achieve a specific number. Just keep walking even if you take a walk after 20 minutes of working on your computer.
Walking is a great way to show your gains from calisthenics while enjoying the space around you. You can also listen to music, a podcast, or an audiobook when taking your time.
💥How to Use Cardio Exercises in your Workout?
Using cardio exercises will depend on you many factors. A 2005 study shows that resistance training like calisthenics can even improve your cardio, so you can use cardio to supplement your main goal of strength and muscle development.
The American Heart Association recommends getting 150 minutes of moderate exercise of 75 minutes of vigorous training for general health benefits. You can use your cardio work for this time and choose an exercise that fits your goals and that you enjoy.
Cardio work isn’t complex unless you’re training for a specific event or a high-level competition. As long as you get an ample amount of rest in between your strength/muscle training and cardio, then you can perform whatever works for you.
👊10-minute Cardio Workout Sample
You can choose a single exercise on the list and work on it continuously for 10 minutes with minimal rest. But to keep some things exciting, we’ll spicy it up with this cardio exercise.
Be sure to do a proper warm-up aimed to prepare your lower body for the workout. Read more here: 📍 Ultimate Calisthenics Warm-up Guide
It works for only 10-minutes because we’ll be taking advantage of the benefits 📍High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) protocols can provide us. This means alternating high-intensity cardio work with low-impact movement as “rest” in between to keep your heart rate up.
We’ll also focus on the exercises that use the least space so you can do them at home at anytime!
Here’s your 10-minute workout:
Exercise 1: Lunge skips 30 seconds
Active rest: Jumping jacks 30 seconds
Exercise 2: High knee 30 seconds
Active rest: Jumping jacks 30 seconds
Exercise 3: Squat touch 30 seconds
Active rest: Toe taps 30 seconds
Exercise 4: Lunge skips 30 seconds
Active rest : Toe taps 30 seconds
Exercise 5: Skii jumps 30 seconds
Active rest: jumping jacks 30 seconds
👊 Repeat these set of exercises for 2 rounds to get an amazing burn for 10 minutes and build those legs, heart, and lungs!
🧐Frequently Asked Questions
🔎What is the best cardio for legs?
Hill sprints are amazing for building up your leg muscles and cardio. It’s like weighted training but your using only your body weight and fighting gravity on an incline.
🔎Can bodyweight exercises build legs?
If you’re asking if BODYWEIGHT EXERCISES can build bigger legs, then YES! You don’t need a gym, you don’t need weights, and you can do it anywhere.
The key here is to stay 📍 PROGRESSIVE. This means that to build muscle, you need to keep your workout more challenging than the last one gradually. You can do this by adding reps, using a slower tempo, using weights, or using a more challenging progression.
In fact, you can use regular bodyweight squats and still make muscle gains. According to a systematic study, you just need to get much effort through a high training volume if the exercise is something quite easy for you.
BUT if cardio exercises can build bigger legs, then it depends on the exercise you choose. Higher intensity scalable exercises such as hill sprints can do the trick. Jogging can lower your body fat percentage to make your muscles more visible, but the intensity is not quite enough to build bigger muscles.
🔎What cardio will slim my thighs?
In general, yes. Cardiovascular exercises can help slim down your thighs IF combined with a caloric deficit.
However, keep in mind that there are no exercises that target only one area for fat loss. You’ll need to create a caloric deficit through diet and exercise to lose weight all over your body, including your thighs.
That being said, certain exercises can help you improve your thigh muscles while you’re losing weight all over. These include muscle-building exercises such as lunges, squats, and deadlifts granted that the exercises are intense enough for your skill level.
“Spot reduction” is a common myth that surrounds calisthenics and the general fitness industry.
Read more about busted calisthenics myths here: 📍STOP THE LIES! 5 Calisthenics Myths Debunked!
🔎Can bodyweight exercises be cardio?
Calisthenics exercises can be cardio if the intensity is moderate enough. A good way to make calisthenics more cardio-based is by choosing exercises that you have fairly mastered to ensure the low intensity.
For example, the regular squat is calisthenics fundamental. IF you have fully mastered the squats, then incorporating this exercise as your cardio can be effective.
However, if it’s still challenging for you, then it’s best used as a strengthening or muscle-developing exercise.
Calisthenics is a form of resistance training designed originally to build muscle and strength. But as mentioned above, there’s an overlap in the exercises.
🔎Which exercise to choose?
There are actually more calisthenics exercises to choose from for your cardio work but these are the top-notch options. Choosing the correct exercise shouldn’t be complicated. Just choose what you will enjoy so you can keep doing them sustainably. Make sure they fit your goals so that you can see results and not get frustrated in the long run.
You don’t need to go to the gym to get a good cardio workout.
There are plenty of bodyweight exercises that will torch calories and improve your cardiovascular health.
Choose an exercise that you enjoy and that fits your goals, and make sure to progress gradually to avoid plateaus.
If you need to build strength & muscle too, make sure you’re following a personalized calisthenics program that’s both PROGRESSIVE & ADAPTIVE to your capabilities & lifestyle.
You can start taking your calisthenics training journey to the next level, with a short assessment to know what your body can do.