There's nothing worse than the guy walking around with a massive upper body and stick-thin legs. The proportions don't match, and the golden era of bodybuilding would cringe. So, I’m going to show you how to get big legs and how you can avoid this tragic look.
Using both heavy compound and light isolation leg exercises through a full range of motion with various rep ranges is how to get big legs. Aim for 7-25 sets per muscle group per week to maximize muscle growth.
After implementing these tips, exercises, and workouts, you will need a new pair of jeans and shorts. There is no way you'll fit them after the muscle you gain.
Table of Contents
- 8 Powerful Tips To Get Big Legs
- 12 Best Exercises To Get Big Legs
- 3 Epic Leg Workouts For Big Legs
- Frequently Asked Questions For Getting Big Legs
8 Powerful Tips To Get Big Legs
Here are eight of my wickedly effective tips to get huge legs.
Use A Full Range Of Motion
There's a reason the lifters that half-squat at your commercial gym has skinny legs. Partial reps, especially at short muscle lengths, are far inferior for building muscle than partial reps at long muscle lengths or full ranges of motion .
When performing leg exercises with a full range of motion, the muscles of the legs can do more work. Meaning more effort is required from these muscles. More effort results in greater mechanical tension, which is a key mechanism of hypertrophy (muscle growth) .
It has been shown that the muscular effort of the glutes when squatting increases as squat depth increases . We see similar findings when training the hamstrings where seated leg curls induce more significant hypertrophy than the lying leg curl due to training at longer muscle lengths .
Focus On The Muscles
Lifters concerned with strength development only care about moving the weight as fast as possible. But for building massive tree trunks, you need to focus on the muscles doing the work. For example, muscle thickness of the quadriceps doubled when thinking of squeezing the muscle during the exercise compared to focusing on moving the weight .
This means controlling the exercise, slowing the descent, and placing the tension on the muscles you are targeting. An example could be focusing on lowering the weight with your quads when leg pressing.
Take Long Rests
Look at any mass building program in a bodybuilding magazine, and you'll see a consistent 1-2 minutes rest between sets. Good luck. There is no way you're getting back under the bar after a brutal set of squats in less than two minutes.
It turns out 3-5 minutes of rest between sets maximizes muscle growth as you can perform more training volume [6,7]. If you only rest 1-2 minutes after a set of hard squats, you’ll either need to reduce the weight to meet the reps or reduce the reps if using the same load.
Both of these options are not great for hypertrophy. But that doesn't mean you always need to rest for 3-5 minutes. Lighter isolation exercises such as leg extensions may only need up to 2 minutes of rest to maintain training volume .
Read more: How Long Should You Rest Between Sets?
Volume Is Key
Volume is the critical programming variable for getting big legs. There is a dose-response relationship between volume and muscle growth . Meaning the more sets you perform, the greater your potential for building muscle.
Regarding the number of sets per muscle group per week, the low end is approximately 7 sets, and the high end is about 25 sets .
Read more: How Many Sets And Reps Should You Do?
Vary The Rep Ranges
One common programming mistake for getting big legs is sticking to one rep range. Usually, you'll see seven exercises, all performed between 8-12 reps. This was thought to be the hypertrophy rep range that has since been debunked .
Any rep range can build leg muscles if enough volume is done. However, exclusively using lower rep ranges will beat you up as you’ll have to lift heavier to maximize the hypertrophic response. A wide range of rep ranges has been suggested to enhance the muscle-building stimulus .
Pausing your reps in the bottom position reduces the involvement of elastic energy. Our tendons make epic springs that stretch and store elastic energy. Once shortened, they give us an extra boost in force production by adding elastic energy on top of muscular force production.
For example, bouncing out of the hole in a squat is mainly dictated by elastic energy contribution. However, this elastic energy dissipates as heat when we pause at the bottom. Now the effort to push out of the whole is purely muscular.
Mix Isolation And Compound Exercises
A vocal minority of lifters will state that all you need is squats to build big legs. But for complete leg development, this is far from the truth. While squats are epic lower body mass builders, they don’t target certain parts of the quadriceps and miss the hamstrings altogether.
The legend Tom Platz who has the most enormous legs you'll see on a human being, would start all of his leg workouts with high rep squats to fatigue. But after, he would finish them off with various machine and isolation exercises.
He does this for a good reason. Squatting exercises target the vasti muscles of the quadriceps (inner and outer quads). In contrast, leg extensions target the rectus femoris (middle quad) [12,13]. Overall quadriceps development needs both of these exercises.
The hamstrings are no different. Hip extension exercises (e.g., Romanian deadlift) preferentially activate the biceps femoris (outer hamstring). In contrast, knee flexion exercises (e.g., leg curl) preferentially activate the semitendinosus (inner hamstring) .
Prioritize The Legs
Most lifters looking to get bigger legs run the wrong training split. Commonly it's the bro split where the legs are trained once per week. If you genuinely want to grow bigger legs, you must prioritize them. Either through an upper/lower split, a push-pull legs routine, or a leg specialization program.
All of these options increase your training frequency for the legs. While the number of times a week you train doesn't influence muscle growth, increasing training frequency allows for more quality volume leading to more significant muscle growth.
12 Best Exercises To Get Big Legs
When chasing big legs, you don't need to get fancy with your leg workouts. The tried-and-true leg exercise staples will get you there with hard work and consistency. So here are your twelve best exercises for big legs.
Back and front squats are your staple exercises for big legs. The back squat is your best option for overall muscle building for the legs. Loads are not limited by your upper back strength, meaning you can use heavier weights and perform more reps leading to greater overall volume.
However, suppose you are specifically targeting your quads. In that case, the front squat is potentially a better option due to greater quadriceps activation due to a more upright torso . The back squat is a better option for those wanting to target their glutes due to the greater forward lean.
Read more: Front Squats vs. Back Squats
The Romanian deadlift is a staple hip hinge to build the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. Specifically, the outer hamstring called the biceps femoris. Importantly, perform the lowering phase slowly.
If you don’t feel an intense stretch in your hamstrings, you are not getting the most out of this exercise. Push your butt back to get the hamstring stretch.
Read more: Romanian Deadlift vs. Stiff Leg Deadlift
Hip thrusts were created and popularized by Bret Contreras, as you can see in the video above . Since then, every Instagram fitness influencer has a hip thrust video on their feed. Hip thrusts display higher glute activation than all squatting variations [17,18].
Many people will state there is an inherent bias in these studies since Bret created the hip thrust. However, I have talked to his Ph.D. supervisor (a professor of mine at university). Bret was blinded in the study and had nothing to do with the data collection to remove any form of bias.
The leg press is typically used as an accessory exercise for building the quads for bigger squats. But for those only concerned about getting big legs, the leg press is an epic lower body mass builder. It is not limited by your back strength and doesn't come with the systemic fatigue heavy squatting does.
Performing high reps is much easier on the leg press than squatting or even compared to single-leg exercise. To target the glutes, place your feet higher on the platform. To target your quads, put your feet lower on the platform .
The legendary Tom Platz swore by the hack squat for his massive quads (after squats, of course). He had a unique way of performing them with a similar philosophy to Knees Over Toes Guy. It almost looks like a sissy squat.
You don’t need to do it like this and can perform them the traditional way with your feet flat on the platform. With the back support, you’re able to remove this limitation and focus entirely on the legs . That means the hack squat is perfect for high rep training.
Seated Leg Curl
Seated leg curls put your hamstrings under far greater stretch than the lying leg curl resulting in more significant muscle growth . This is due to the position of the body. The hamstrings cross the hip and knee joints making it biarticular.
By sitting upright (or leaning forward for extra stretch) and extending the knee, the hamstrings are maximally stretched. On the other hand, the lying leg curl only flexes the hip slightly, so it doesn't provide the same eccentric load at long muscle lengths.
Read more: Seated Leg Curl: Maximize Hamstring Mass
Leg extensions are a must for complete quadriceps development. They target the rectus femoris, the muscle that runs through the middle of your quads, and will give the separation look when you drop body fat.
It is a machine isolation exercise ripe for various intensity techniques such as drop sets, isometrics, and partials as set extenders.
Lunges are great for developing the quads and elicit very high glute activation . Typically, longer steps will target the glutes, and shorter steps will target the quads. I prefer using dumbbells simply for the improved balance compared to having a barbell on the back.
Read more: Split Squat vs. Lunges
Bulgarian Split Squat
Bulgarian split squats are like split squats on steroids. Because the rear foot is elevated, more weight is placed over the working leg. After a brutal workout with these, you'll struggle to walk the following day.
You get the added benefit of dynamically stretching the rear leg hip flexor under load, which is excellent for improving mobility.
Reverse Sled Drag
The reverse sled drag will pump your quads full of blood like no other exercise. Further, it’s perfect for those that suffer from knee pain. In some instances, it may even relieve this pain completely. It's like performing multiple concentric only leg extensions so that the muscle damage won't be as great, but the metabolic build-up is next level.
Read more: How To Get Big Quads With Bad Knees
Standing Calf Raise
The calves are the forgotten muscles of leg development. They are hard to grow and boring to train. But if you want to get rid of those sticks, you need to train them. There are two calf muscles; the gastrocnemius and soleus.
Standing calf raises target the gastrocnemius, the large diamond-shaped calf muscle closer to the knee. You're not limited to using a calf raise machine, as these can be rare outside of a large commercial gym.
Single leg calf raises make great alternatives to load them by holding a dumbbell.
Read more: How To Get Bigger Calves
Seated Calf Raise
You need to do both seated and standing for complete calf development. The seated position reduces the involvement of the gastrocnemius so you can focus on the soleus muscle . This is the muscle closest to your ankle.
3 Epic Leg Workouts For Big Legs
Here is how you can put these exercises and tips into practice to get big, muscular legs.
Quadriceps Emphasis Leg Workout
A1) Front Squat
4 x 6-8
B1) Leg Press (Low Foot Position)
3 x 12
C1) Bulgarian Split Squat
3 x 15-20/leg
D1) Leg Extension
3 x 12-15
E1) Standing Calf Raise
4 x 15-20
Read more: How To Get Big Quads
Hamstrings Emphasis Leg Workout
A1) Romanian Deadlift
4 x 8-10
B1) Seated Leg Curl
4 x 10-12
C1) Leg Press (High Foot Position)
3 x 15
D1) Seated Calf Raise
4 x 15-20
Read more: How To Build Bigger Hamstrings
Glute Emphasis Leg Workout
A1) Hip Thrust
4 x 10-12
B1) Romanian Deadlift
4 x 8-10
C1) Walking Lunge
3 x 15-20/leg
Frequently Asked Questions For Getting Big Legs
While I’ve covered the major topics and questions regarding building muscular legs, here are frequently asked questions that I often hear.
How To Get Big Legs Naturally?
Getting big legs naturally requires eating a lot of food and lifting with enough intensity and volume to stimulate muscle growth. Training the legs more than once a week is recommended to get enough volume for the quads, hamstrings, and glutes.
How Can Skinny Guys Get Bigger Legs?
Skinny guys can get bigger legs. I was once a skinny guy. With consistent progress in strength during your lower body exercises, you will gain leg size.
What Is The Best Exercise For Big Legs?
Squats are still the king when it comes to building big legs. They are the best exercise because they train multiple muscle groups with heavy loads through a full range of motion.
Why Are My Calves So Skinny?
Unfortunately, calf size has a substantial genetic component. That is why you see people who don't lift weights with big calves. They’ll often have shorter Achilles’ tendons and lower calf attachments leading to thicker muscle bellies.
But don’t be discouraged. Skinny calves usually make you more explosive due to a longer Achilles tendon. Further, you can still build large calf muscles with poor genetics.
How Long Does It Take To Get Bigger Legs?
Like building any muscle, it takes time. You’re aiming for 0.5-1.5% increases in bodyweight per month to maximize muscle gain and minimize fat gain. As a beginner, however, you may see faster rates of growth known as the "newbie gains."
Do Squats Make Your Thighs Bigger?
Squats will make your thighs bigger by increasing the size of your quadriceps. However, suppose you have little muscle on your thighs but a lot of fat. In that case, squats can make your thighs smaller through body recomposition (assuming your calorie intake is not changing). That is, increasing the muscle mass on your thighs while reducing fat mass.
If you were wondering how to get big legs, you're now armed with the tools to turn those chicken legs into tree trunks. It will be painful. You will struggle through brutal leg workouts. But as your pants start to fit tighter, it will give you the motivation to keep pushing.
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