As a personal trainer I hear guys complain every day about their legs not growing, and I get asked frequently, ‘Why won’t my legs grow?’
After I explain more optimal methods they could use, quite often they nod, consider what I’ve said, and then go back to doing exactly the same as they’ve been doing for the past 12-18 months to little or no results. Many people seem to have convinced themselves that their legs will always be skinny, even though they have successfully bulked up their arms and upper body.
These same guys will complete a session solely for biceps, but if you suggested a hamstring day, or a glutes day instead of shoulders, they would look at you like you’re a crazy person. Legs- made up of very large muscle groups- get done in one session once per week that causes you huge muscle ache for the coming 2-5 days. This is just gym tradition!
As we know, gym tradition and truths are not always optimal or factually correct. Luckily, we can identify the several main reasons that prevent your legs from getting sufficient and optimal training compared to the rest of the body:
- They’re simply not fun to train. A lot of the exercises require a lot of skill and mobility, and are very uncomfortable. You know leg day is going to be struggle, and so will the painful days following it- so it is hard to motivate yourself for training legs.
- As long as your legs aren’t very obviously slim, concentrating on your top half allows more success/attention from potential suitors (in general). This means that legs fall to the back of the queue, and arguably there is no issue with this- you should concentrate on the areas you prioritise (within reason).
- There’s little to no muscle cross-over (where the leg muscle groups are used as a secondary muscle or involved in a certain lift) from upper body sessions to the legs excluding deadlifts. Even if you split training across individual muscles for the upper body you will place each muscle group under repeated tension more than once every 7 days (i.e. triceps on chest and shoulder days, as well as arms/tricep sessions).
However, there are two simple points (for most people) that should help you realise that you can build leg muscle more successfully than you have been doing:
- Girls build lean (leg) muscle and their training is generally more balanced than their male counterparts’. This is with far lower testosterone to aid with muscle hypertrophy (building) than men, showing that you can develop those pins with consistency and increased leg session frequency.
- If you can build your upper body, you should be able to develop your thighs and glutes at least (but calfs will likely be more stubborn) to an equally impressive degree- but this will take consistent training.
Here are some simple tips that will help you get more out of your leg workouts, and more readily achieve your aesthetic goals.
Wear loose fitting shorts or leggings with small shorts:
These will allow full range of motion and more comfortable performance of the majority of exercises, especially compounds (exercises that work more than one joint like a squat or leg press). This may also encourage you to work them harder so you don’t have to hide your legs with trousers!
Wear well-fitting underwear, and base-layer shorts:
As well as preventing embarrassing situations, a base-layer over snug fitting underwear will warm the area and even provide the added benefits of support, mobility/warmth and reduce your muscle soreness in the coming days.
Wear correct footwear:
Hard-soled trainers or a multi-purpose trainer like the reebok crosslifters are a good choice for leg days, or indeed days where you simply require a stable base. Almost all lifts will benefit from a stable base, which comes from your foot being planted evenly on the ground; bench press, military press, dumbbell press, lat pull down and barbell bicep curls but to name a few.
Running shoes or (typically) trendier trainers will give a less stable base from which to work off of, and can accentuate issues like fallen arches, pigeon-toed stances, knees caving toward each other and poor posture (especially when you add more weight or stand on a soft surface such as a gym mat), which can all increase the risk of injury with added weight/resistance/increased fatigue.
Warm up properly:
Please read this article about the reasoning behind warming up for physical activity, which also includes two videos demonstrating super-simple warm up routines.
Warming up is key to avoid injury, increase the range of motion of each exercise, practice complicated exercises and allow you to progress more efficiently and more safely over time. Although some people can get away with not warming up, we would not advise taking that risk, and are 100% sure it will benefit your progress (especially your lower body days) long term.
Increase and maintain flexibility:
As with warming up this will allow safer and more consistent progress towards your goals, and allow a greater/more optimal range of motion (especially with squatting exercises) across all exercises that should allow higher quality muscle contractions on average.
Here are some training adjustments you can implement to make your lower body training more successful:
Train legs twice per week:
Squeezing glutes, quads, hamstrings and calfs into one workout per week is hard enough, let alone practicing good technique and lifting a decent weight throughout as you fatigue from taxing exercises!
Training legs twice per week can allow you to reduce the session volume, but up total weekly volume as you are completing two sessions. This will allow you to lift heavier in your sessions and get more practice with complicated compound lifts or variations, which in turn will allow you to lift more weight more competently.
We ensure you get an optimal amount of volume across all body parts throughout the weeks in our LDNM Guides for males and females. This allows more session variety and more efficient progress over time vs single body part training found in other guides on the market.
40-70 reps per muscle group per session is optimal for muscle hypertrophy:
Given this would be a lot of reps (across glutes, quads, hamstring and calves) to complete in one session, combining hamstrings with back or simply getting more volume through deadlifts on a back day is good practice. Again, this justifies working multiple muscle groups per session (and hitting muscle groups 2-3 times per week) instead of the archaic bodybuilding splits used by enhanced Youtube stars and competitors.
100-200 reps per week across each muscle group:
40-70 reps per session and 100-200 reps per week is a good target for muscle hypertrophy, which is beneficial to both people looking to build strength, muscle or use weight training to maintain muscle and drop body fat.
Don’t just focus on your quads:
Too many guys are guilty of this (me included in the past), and need to work their hamstrings and glutes as much as the quads to prevent imbalances and consequent injuries and to help improve core strength too.
Glute activation work:
Improving your glute activation will help you lift more weight on the bigger compounds, as well as aiding with core strength, posture and preventing injury. If you can get the glutes firing through good hip mobility, flexibility and the correct warm up exercises, then you will be able to lift heavier with more favourable technique and range of motion.
Please see this article on Injury Prevention that touches on all the above points.