When it comes to building muscle, the legs are one of the hardest body parts to train.
When I first started to lift weights, I was one of the few that went too hard on leg day. In fact, I loved leg days so much that my legs became my best body part.
It got to a point where my lower body was significantly more developed than my upper half. Quads, hams, glutes, and calves – never were I branded “chicken legs”, and I’m here to help you avoid that too.
In this article, I’ll be your personal training program manager, showing you the fundamentals of leg exercises and all the important details about getting bigger leg muscles.
The Importance of Leg Training
Why are my legs so skinny?
Having skinny legs can be caused by several factors.
The primary reason you may have skinny legs could be just lousy genetics.
Your body type and genetics may give you a hard time gaining muscle on your legs, even if you have no trouble building muscle in your upper body.
Another reason why you have skinny legs could be because you are doing too much cardio.
Too much cardio exercise might be keeping you from achieving your desired leg size.
If you are not eating right, that can also contribute to you having skinny legs.
In order to stimulate muscle growth in your legs, you have to make sure that you are eating properly every day.
Consuming more lean protein and increasing your calorie intake can help build leg muscle mass.
Lastly, if you do not give your legs the right workouts, that can also be another reason why you have skinny legs.
To build muscle for a certain body part, you need to train that body part frequently.
Doing lower body exercises can help build muscle mass on your legs and boost leg strength at the same time.
How do you transform your skinny legs to muscular legs?
You can never develop bigger legs without weight training and a balanced diet.
The right exercises provide the stimulus and eating a healthy diet is essential for a proper response.
In training, we essentially try to break down a muscle. After your leg workout, the initial recovery process signals the body to adapt to the “beating”.
How? It tells the body to repair the muscles and make sure they are bigger and stronger than before so they can take yet another beating session.
With proper nutrition, we give the body the proper tools aka nutrients to repair the damaged muscle fibers.
The Four Lower Body Parts You’ll Train
Your leg muscles are divided into four divisions: the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.
The quads are in charge of extending the knee or keeping your legs straight.
The hamstrings are the back part of the thigh. Similar to the function of the biceps on your arms, they flex the knee joint or bend your leg.
The glutes rotate, adduct, and abduct your femur at the hip joint. They straighten your legs at the hip.
Lastly, the calves are for plantar flexion or simply, getting on your tippy-toes.
Best Leg Exercises for Bigger and Stronger Legs
Since you are a beginner to leg strength training workouts, what we want is to hit every single one of those above-mentioned muscles in a single muscle building session.
To get through a complete lower body workout, mindset is key.
Leg training will require more from you than any upper body workout will.
The training movements will be divided into two movements: push and pull.
Primarily, your quads and calves require push movements. Your hams require pull movements. And, the outlier is the glutes, which can be trained with push and pull movements.
We will have main lifts, these are compound exercises that use more than a single leg muscle group. And, we will have accessory lifts, these are more focused movements.
For the main compound lifts, we’ll be using the leg press, back squats and deadlifts as key movements.
For accessory lifts, leg extensions, leg curls, leg presses, and glute bridges will be our go-to.
So, we have a total of about 7 exercises. And before you complain, seven exercises are enough.
What we want is to stimulate muscle hypertrophy, not annihilate your leg muscles.
Do not ego lift. Don’t try to do as many reps as you can or do more volume training than you can handle.
Pick a weight that you can do for 6-10 reps.
This 6-10 rep scheme is ideal for both strength and size development.
It lets you lift at an intensity enough to have you learn the proper technique as well as still provide the much-needed tension on your leg muscles for optimal stimulation.
This machine will most likely be beside the leg press machine. This exercise usually positions you in a prone or standing position.
How To Do It:
Lying Leg Curls
Adjust the machine so your thighs and torso sit comfortably on the pads while you’re lying face down.
The lever on the back of the machine should sit below your calf muscles when your legs are straight.
Grasp the handles on the front of the machine and get ready for serious leg work.
Curl your lower legs up as far as possible, while making sure that your thighs stay on the pad.
Hold for a second at the top of the movement, then slowly lower them back to the start.
Seated Leg Curls
Set up the machine so that the pads rest comfortably against your lower back while you are seated.
Place your legs on the padded lever so that it sits just below your calf muscles. Set the lap pad so that it sits on your thighs just above the knees.
Lift your legs so they are straight out in front of you and grasp the side handles on the machine.
Pull the padded lever down and back towards you as far as you can with your legs. Hold this position for a second, then slowly bring it back to the starting position.
Hamstring curls target the hamstrings and calf muscles. As you lower your feet back down, you also activate the butt muscles, thighs, and the front of the shins.
Try not to go all out at the beginning of the rep because this can lead to injury. Start each rep slowly and under full control. Accelerate after the first one-third or so of the movement.
A glute bridge is an exercise that involves lying on the ground on your back and thrusting your hips upward. You can do this with either a machine or free weights like a barbell, dumbbell, or a weight plate.
How To Do It:
With this lift, you simply put weight on the crease of your hips while facing the ceiling. Make sure your back is laid flat on the ground and both your legs are bent.
Then, thrust the weight towards the ceiling; your back should now be parallel to the ground and your knees bent 90-degrees. Hold it for a second then lower it slowly.
As the name suggests, the glute bridge primarily targets the glutes, specifically the gluteus maximus. You also activate your hamstrings and the transverse abdominis while performing these isolation exercises.
Make sure that your arms are kept to your sides and your palms are facing down. Lift your hips off the ground until your knees, hips, and shoulders form a straight line. Squeeze those glutes hard and keep your abs drawn in to keep your back from overextending.
This is the simplest leg movement to grow the most underdeveloped muscles we’d see on any fitness bro or sis – the calves.
How To Do It:
If using a machine, simply slip under the shoulder pads and tip-toe off of the floor. The same goes with using free weights.
The important part is to lower the weight slowly.
Then, at the bottom of the movement, initiate the lift slowly without relying on the elastic effect of your Achilles tendon.
Calf raises target the calf muscles of the lower leg, particularly the gastrocnemius muscles.
If you have weak ankles, I recommend doing ankle-strengthening exercises before adding calf raises to your workouts.
We will be using the most popular variation of the squat, the back squat. From the name itself, the bar will be resting on your upper back while your arms hold them in place.
This targets the quadriceps primarily. At the bottom of the movement, you then recruit the glutes to get “out of the hole”. Use a squat rack for this.
How To Do It:
Unrack the bar and take a couple of steps back. Keep a neutral spine. Before descending, brace your abdomen, this is not the same with the arch your back cue that some coaches teach.
In the descent, hold your breath while bracing to create intra-abdominal pressure that helps you stabilize the movement.
When your thighs are parallel to the floor, push up while keeping the same position. Exhale slowly yet forcefully by pursing your lips. Repeat this and stop one rep short of failure.
Squats activate the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, lower back, hip abductor, hip flexors, and the calves.
Good form is the secret when performing squats. Remember these 3 simple cues whenever you squat: chest up, hips back, and knees out.
It is best to use the dumbbells with this one. Using a straight bar will recruit more of the lower back, and that is not our target muscle now, is it?
Dumbbells help you feel or place the tension more on the hamstrings and glutes, which is where we want the lifting to occur.
How To Do It:
With the dumbbells brushing over your thighs, bend your knees just slightly.
Keeping the angle of the knee bend the same, slowly lower the weight by bending at the hips. This now loads your glutes.
Keep lowering the weight until you feel maximal tension or tightness, then stop. Never let the iron touch the floor.
From that dead-stop, flex your hamstrings to lift the weight back up. It is important that you feel your hams flexing or tightening.
Romanian deadlifts work your lower back, your glutes, and your hamstrings.
Make sure that your body weight is distributed on your heels. Squeeze your glutes hard when going up. Try making your hips go as far as possible behind you to activate more of your hamstrings and glutes.
Doing leg presses helps build key muscles in your leg muscle groups. At first glance, it seems like a simple exercise. But it’s important to learn how to do it the right way.
How To Do It:
First, do not lower the weight-sled so much that your butt lifts off of the pad.
Next, never fully straighten your legs on this machine. If the weight is heavy enough, it can bend your knees in a way it is not supposed to.
As far as foot placement, having your feet higher and close together on the footpad biases the glutes.
Having your foot lower biases the quads. Since we are using this as a main lift, find the middle spot and spread your feet shoulder length apart so we hit both quads and glutes.
Leg presses work the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and the calves.
Avoid lowering the sled too far. Make sure your heels are planted firmly on the sled. Try not to allow your knees to collapse inward or completely lock them out during extension.
Leg extensions are exercises usually done with a lever machine. You sit on a padded seat and raise a padded bar with your legs.
How To Do It:
Scoot a bit forward on the machine’s seat until your knees are not supported by it anymore.
Loaded stretched movements equal high muscle activation.
Unlike the leg press, you can and should fully extend or straighten your legs on this exercise. Remember to lower the weight slowly and never lose tension throughout a set.
The Perfect Leg Workout to Build Strong Legs
|A||Back Squat||4||6-8 reps|
|B||Romanian Deadlift||4||8-10 reps|
|C1||Leg Extension||3||8-10 reps|
|C2||Leg Curl||3||8-10 reps|
|D||Glute Bridge||4||8-10 reps|
|E||Calf Raise||5||8-10 reps|
|F||Leg Press||5||8-10 reps|
|*C1 and C2 are supersets. This means you perform the second exercise immediately after the first with no rest periods.|
There it is, a simple leg muscle group workout routine for you to do once per week. Yes, once per week. Again, the aim is to stimulate leg muscle growth, not to annihilate them into oblivion and backtrack on progress.
Having a week off helps the muscles recover better and fully, then be ready for the next leg-thrashing workout.
Diet Plan and Tips
Every meal should have enough protein. This is needed to keep your muscles “fed” so they can recover quickly. Increasing your protein intake is essential for muscle growth; so, keep that in mind.
Thus, you must also consume carbohydrates along with your protein source. A steak and rice meal would be a nice reward for being able to finish a brutal leg day.
If you’re pressed for time, you can also drink a couple of scoops of your preferred mass gainer.
Taking supplements can help you achieve those big and strong legs in less time.
Pre-training, it’s best to consume a high-carbohydrate meal or a mass gainer shake.
Post-training, I recommend consuming a fast-absorbing protein supplement or mass gainer to replenish depleted glycogen levels and trigger muscle repair.
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions
How can I get thicker legs?
Doing leg strength training exercise, such as those mentioned above, are helpful in building thicker legs.
You should also pair your leg workouts with a protein-rich diet to stimulate leg muscle growth.
Performing the leg exercises mentioned earlier can help you build stronger legs. You may also try performing other leg workouts, such as walking lunges and stiff legged deadlifts.
Do leg muscles grow fast?
After starting a leg exercise program, you will probably see some results in 2 to 4 weeks. Depending on your starting fitness level, it can take around 3 to 4 months to see noticeable improvements in your leg strength, size, and stamina.
Why are my legs not growing?
There could be a number of reasons why your legs stay skinny:
- You are following the wrong training program
- You are not working out regularly
- You are not getting enough calories from your diet
- You are not consuming enough protein
- You are performing leg exercises the wrong way
Let’s face it, gaining mass in your legs, especially one that makes people’s jaws drop in awe, is no simple feat.
But if you do achieve this, then not only is your body more anabolic and primed to build muscle overall, you will also be better at any sport you play.
I hope that with this article, you now have a clearer idea on how to get bigger legs for skinny guys.