If you’re anything like me, some of us are naturally doomed with small legs. We’re jealous of those who were born with 16″ calves. We get frustrated. It doesn’t matter how hard or how often we train them, OUR LEGS WON’T GROW! As it turns out, maybe we’re doing it all wrong. We’ve gathered 27 tips to building bigger, stronger legs with everything from the anatomy of your legs to proven exercises, we’ve got you covered.
1. The Anatomy of your Legs
The only way to properly train your legs is to understand how every muscle works together to control their movement. Your legs contain many muscles, ligaments, and tendons. We’ll cover all the major components so you can understand how your legs move.
- Gluteus Maximus, Medius, Minimus (Glutes)- The gluteus muscles work to move your thigh, commonly referred to as your butt
- Tenor Fasciae Latae- works with the gluteus to abduct the femur
- Biceps Femoris- a two-part muscle that forms part of the hamstring muscle group
- Semitendinosus- one of three hamstring muscle located in the back of the thigh; works to flex the knee and extend the hip
- Semimembranosus- one of three hamstring muscle located in the back of the thigh; serves as a thigh extensor
- Vastus Lateralis- the largest muscle in the quadricep group; works to extend the knee
- Rectus Femoris- muscle in the quadricep group
- Vastus Medialis- medial muscle of the quadricep group
- Psoas- the strongest muscle of the hip flexor that connects the lumbar vertebrae to the femur
- Illacus- muscle that works to lift the femur forward
- Sartorius- the longest muscle in the human body; works as a flexor and rotator of the thigh
- Adductor Magnus- a thigh muscle that works to pull the thigh inward toward the body’s midline
- Gracilis- muscle that aids in hip adduction.
- Gastrocnemius- forms half of the calf muscle along with the soleus; works to move the foot
- Soleus- joins the gastrocnemius to form the calf muscle that works to move the foot
- Peroneus Brevis- plays an important role in the motor functions of the foot
- Flexor Hallucis Longus- works to plantarflex and invert the foot
- Tibialis Posterior- muscle that supports the medial arch of the foot and aids with stabilization
- Flexor Digitorum Longus- muscle that works to move your toes
- Peroneus Longus- muscle that everts and plantarflexes the ankle
- Tibialis Anterior- muscle that aids in the dorsiflexion of the foot
- Extensor Digitorum Longus- muscle that works to dorsiflex the foot through the ankle
2. Do more squats!
Many consider squats an essential exercise when beginning weight-lifting, and we couldn’t agree more! Along with the bench press and deadlifts, squats are a staple in many common weight–training programs, and justifiably so. Did you know that 60% of human muscle mass is located in the legs? That’s right, and because squats are a compound exercise that use many different muscles in the leg, they are highly efficient in gaining leg mass. To perform a proper squat there are a few keys to stay safe and maximize results.
- Always keep your back straight! This is very important and will save you back pain in the future.
- Keep your feet slightly more than shoulder width apart
- Bend your knees, keeping them from extending past your toes (this will prevent knee injuries)
- Lower your body until your upper leg is parallel to the ground.
- Return to the starting position keeping your back straight
3. Deadlift like you mean it
Deadlifts are famous among weightlifters because of the number of muscles used. Deadlifts work everything from your arms, to your core, to your legs, all in one exercise. Deadlifts are one of the most “functional” lifts that you can perform. Think about the last time you moved a piece of furniture. The form used to move a heavy piece of furniture is very similar to that of a deadlift. Because of its functionality, we recommend deadlifts for everyone. Aren’t sure what a deadlift is or how to perform one correctly? Read below to find out more! To perform a proper barbell deadlift there are a few keys to stay safe and maximize results.
- Start with a barbell loaded with the appropriate amount of weight. (We recommend just the bar for first-timers)
- Approach the bar, bending over with your hands gripping the bar at shoulder width apart. Your knees should be slightly bent, and your back should remain straight throughout the entire exercise.
- Straighten your legs until the bar is at waist level.
- Finally, lower the bar back down to the starting position.
4. Drop Sets… more of them
Drop sets are perfect if you’re looking for DOMS (Delayed onset muscle soreness), and bigger legs. A drop set is a set of reps (no specific amount) in which you keep performing the exercise until you cannot lift anymore (hence the term drop). Drop sets are great for certain exercises like the machine leg press. By using a machine, you are able to keep yourself safe when you can no longer lift the weight as it will be held by the machine.
5. Pyramid Sets
Pyramid sets are just like they sound. You will complete sets in a pyramid fashion. For example, one pyramid set maybe look like this: 1×30, 1×20, 1×10, 1×20, and 1×30. This reads: one set of 30 reps, one set of 20 reps, one set of 10 reps, then back up to one set of 20 reps, and finally 30 reps. During the pyramid, many will lower the weight as they endure the sets.
6. Mix pyramid sets with drop sets
Mixing pyramid sets and drops sets will shock your legs like never before. You can use them on any exercise, from squats to calf raises. We recommend switching up your routine every couple of weeks to keep your lower legs guessing.
7. Check your form
One of the most common problems when beginning a new weight training program focusing on legs is knee and back pain. The culprits are bending your back or letting your legs go past your toes during various leg exercises.
8. Stay Hydrated
Dehydration can lead to poor performance in the weight room. A lack of fluids results in lower blood volume which forces your heart to work harder to pump blood throughout the body. So how much water should you drink per day? As a rule of thumb, try to consume .66 ounces of water per pound of body weight per day. This amount will ensure that you are not dehydrated or over-hydrated. There’s more to hydration than the amount of fluids you consume. Timing also matters! Spreading your fluid intake over the course of the day and during key times will help your body run more efficiently. Some key times that you should increase your fluid intake are: in the morning after waking up, 15 minutes before working out, throughout your workout, and 30 minutes before sleep.
9. Go Deeper
There’s no doubt that going deeper in your leg exercises will force your legs to grow. When performing squats or leg press, try going even lower than normal. This will increase muscle activation in your legs with a larger range of motion.
Massage has many benefits in muscle recovery including decreased inflammation, increased blood flow, and reduced muscle soreness. There are many different massage techniques you can use, we’ll give you some of our favorites.
- Trigger Point Therapy. Trigger points in your muscles are typically a result of trauma caused to the muscle.
- Myofascial Release: a hands-on technique where pressure is applied to myofascial connective tissue that restores motion and decreases inflammation
- Gua Sha: uses a scraping technique to release pain from muscles
11. Warm Up
Going into a workout head on with cold muscles is an injury waiting to happen. By warming up, you activate your sympathetic nervous system that prepares your body for physical stress. Your heart rate will also elevate as you warm up, preparing your heart for a greater amount of stress.
12. Cool Down
Just as we warn not to start a workout without warming up your muscle, we advise not ending a workout without cooling them down. It is always a good idea to end your leg workout with a light 5-minute jog followed by both static and dynamic stretching.
13. Track Progress
Keeping up with your progress is important when starting a new strength training program. It will keep you motivated and coming back for more. By tracking how much weight you are lifting (or lowering in this sense) you will be able to see results that keep you motivated.
14. Foam Roll
Foam rolling has many of the same benefits as massage. The added benefit is that you can use a foam roller by yourself! You can trigger many different muscle groups using a foam roller. Foam rollers come in various densities, the harder the roller, the better massage you will get. Don’t have a foam roller? Find some great foam rollers here!
15. Get flexible
Increasing flexibility can impact how many muscle fibers are recruited when weight lifting. By increasing your flexibility, you can activate more muscle fibers that aren’t normally recruited and also ensure that your muscles are working together properly. Plus, you can better your posture and decrease the chances of injury by becoming more flexible. Be sure to stretch 4–5 times per week to increase your flexibility.
16. Supplement correctly
There’s no doubt that the supplement industry can be extremely lucrative and misinforming in order to sell more of their products. We’ve been promised fat loss, extreme muscle gains, and a healthier heart by many products. Understanding which are worth your time (and money) and which aren’t will save you time (and money in the long run). We’ll go over a few of the essential supplements you may want to consider in your regimen.
- Protein Supplements
17. Focus on both compound & isolation exercises
It is important to focus on both compound and isolation exercises. Compound exercises, like bench press, squats, or military press are crucial as they recruit the most muscle fibers in order to lift the weight. Isolation exercises, like tricep extensions, dumbbell curls, or calf raises are also critical in order to keep your muscles balanced. With isolation exercises, you can target your weaknesses to build muscle in key areas and improve your overall strength. By mixing both compound and isolation exercises, you’ll be on the fast track to building muscle mass in a hurry.
18. Strengthen your stabilizers
Your body has many muscle stabilizers that work with large muscle groups in order to move weight in strange or awkward positions. Stabilizer muscles help to maintain your bodies biomechanics. In your legs, your hip adductors and abductors are two key stabilizers that work to keep your hips stable. When performing a squat, as you lower your body your quads and gluteus maximus will handle the majority of the weight. If your hip adductors and abductors are weak, you may become unbalanced and drop the weight. This can be dangerous and cause a serious injury.
19. Change your workouts
Doing the same workout over and over is a recipe for disaster in the gym. Your body adapts to change and will limit muscle growth if it is prepared for the same workout. Be sure to change your workouts up from time to time. We recommend trying a different workout after 1–2 months. Keeping your body guessing is a key to success in your weight training program.
20. Don’t forget your calves
Your calves carry your entire body around every day. Because of this, they must be trained in a way that inhibits growth. Simply doing a few calf raises every week isn’t going to cut it. They need to be under much stress in order to grow. Not only should you up the reps, but more importantly, we recommend upping the weight. Because your calves are not used to raising your bodyweight plus an extra 150 pounds, they will be under duress and therefore forced to grow. Do these several days per week and you will start seeing results. Want to find out more about how to grow your calves? You can find everything you need to know here!
21. Don’t overdo cardio
We’re not telling you not to do cardio. But it will be tougher to put on muscle mass if you’re doing cardio every day. Try to limit your cardio to a maximum of 3–4 days a week in order to put on more muscle. Excess cardio will diminish your gains as it is harder to remain in a calorie surplus.
22. Prevent overtraining
Overtraining can be a serious problem for both new and experienced weightlifters. The thought that “more is better” when it comes to weight training can be dangerous and lead to serious injuries. There are many signs of overtraining. Some of them are listed here:
- Insomnia or trouble sleeping
- Decreased performance
- Increased muscle soreness
- Frequent sickness
- Chronic subtle injury
Stretching has been long proven to have many benefits for the body. Stretching not only improves flexibility and posture, but it also brings blood into the muscle which aids in recovery and decreases inflammation. There are a few things to keep in mind before you stretch. You should never stretch a cold muscle. Before stretching your legs, do a light jog for 5 minutes to warm them up first. There are several types of stretches. We’ll cover the two most common here:
- Static Stretching
- Dynamic Stretching
Protein is one of the most important muscle building nutrients. With the appropriate diet, you can put yourself on the road to success in building bigger legs. For males, we recommend consuming 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, we recommend consuming 200 grams of protein. You can read more about how much protein you need here. All proteins are not equal! There are many different kinds of protein. Here are a few of the big ones to consider:
- Whey Protein
- Casein Protein
- Whey Protein Isolate
25. Sleep like it’s your job
Sleep is crucial to muscle recovery. Aim to get 8+ hours of sleep per night. During your slumber, your body repairs itself while protein synthesis is in full swing. By getting a full night of sleep every day, you can ensure your body will have the rest it needs to grow. It’s important to note that sleep is not like an AT&T Rollover plan, you CANNOT rollover your sleep. By getting 3 hours one night and 12 the next your body will not get the rest it needs to recover. Need some help getting more sleep? Try taking melatonin before bed to get a longer, less interrupted slumber.
26. Know your nutrition
In order to put on muscle, your body needs to have a surplus of calories. This surplus of calories will indicate to your body to grow. It will use the surplus of calories to repair broken down muscles, forcing them to grow larger. It is important to understand that all calories are NOT the same. There are 3 main types of macronutrients: fat, carbohydrates, and protein. Each macronutrient contains a different amount of calories per gram. Each gram of fat contains 9 calories. Each gram of carbohydrates contains 4 calories. Each gram of protein contains 4 calories. Each macronutrient also serves a unique purpose. Carbohydrates (starches and sugars) are known for their ability to provide quick energy to cells using their high glucose and fructose composition. Fat can also be used as an energy source if there is no glucose available in the cell. Protein is broken down into amino acids and work to build muscle. You can read more about nutrition here!
Building bigger legs is not a quick process. It’s going to take time and a lot of dedication. By keeping track of your progress and following the steps above, you will find it easier to stay motivated and encouraged by your results. Believe in the process, and remember that great things take time to make. If you follow these 27 tips, you’re sure to put some muscle on those legs. Have some tips that you think belong on the list? Comment below your thoughts, we’d love to hear!