One of the most common utterances from those that go to the gym is that they dislike training their legs. The legs are a far less fashionable muscle group to train, mainly because they probably attract the least attention, especially as they’re covered up for the majority of the year if you live in the UK. People that only train their upper-body and completely skip their lower are often lovingly labeled T-shirt trainers (only training the muscles that will make them look good in a tight tee.) But the T-shirt trainer is missing a trick as the muscle growth benefits of training your legs are well documented, heightening the release of growth hormones and testosterone throughout the whole body, aiding the quicker growth of other muscles around the body.
So if you suffer from skinny legs and you want to swipe the T-shirt trainer monkey off of your back, follow our essential tips for building bigger, stronger legs.
1. Use resistance bands
Add a £10 set of mini bands to your gym bag. It’ll be the best investment you make. Loop them around your ankles, below the knees or above the knees and work against the resistance to warm-up, pump up or over-fatigue the muscles. The beauty is that they help you target muscle groups such as your often neglected glutes, adductors and abductors that can be hard to hit with basic squats or lunges. You can’t go as heavy as you would if you had a 100kg barbell loaded on your back, but recent research shows that flooding muscles with blood – called getting a “pump” – helps them grow bigger.
2. Don’t neglect your derriere
Strong glutes are as vital for big strong legs as abs are for upper-body strength. If you’re soft in the middle, everything else will crumble. Before any legs workout or when simply at home watching the TV, use mini bands to do crab walks or donkey kicks to grow your glutes. For crab walks, wrap the band below your knee, lower into a half squat and take big steps out to your side, leading with your knee rather than your ankle. For donkey kicks, wrap the band around your ankles and hold a chair in front of you. Keep one leg on the floor and kick the other leg straight back and up, then slowly lower. Do three sets of 12 on each side for both moves.
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3. Train quickly
You’ll often be told that you should move through your weight lifting exercises at quite a slow pace to put your muscles under the maximum amount of stress. While this does apply for much of the upper-body, making explosive, faster movements actually builds muscle faster in the legs, allowing you to do more reps. Try to time your leg exercises, doing as many (controlled) reps as you can in two minutes, taking a short rest, before doing another set.
4. Don’t bother with cardio
Cardio based exercises like swimming, cycling and running do engage your leg muscles and may help them to get stronger, but they won’t help them get bigger. These exercises force your body to use up a lot of energy without actually putting the leg muscles through enough strain to force them into growth. Hit the cardio when your legs are at a size that you’re happy to maintain.
5. Don’t neglect your stabiliser muscles
A lot of guys working on adding muscle to their legs completely neglect the smaller stabilsing muscles found in the hips. These help to prevent injury and ensure correct stability and movement of the pelvis and hips. If these muscles aren’t working correctly, all other movements become far less effective and potentially more dangerous. Be sure to train your adductors (inner thigh) and your abductors (outer thigh) as part of any routine, especially prior to deadlifting or squatting.
6. In order to get tone and definition use isolation movements
The leg curl and leg extension machines found at most gyms are perfect for this. Put the weight on a medium resistance and go for high reps to sculpt your hamstrings and quad muscles. Make sure you set the machine up correctly for your height to prevent injury. The joint of your knee should line up directly with the axis of the machine.
7. Ensure balance by training unilaterally
The majority of people are either right or left dominant. Meaning one side of their body is pretty much always going to be doing a bit more work than the other, creating a slight imbalance in muscle size and growth. Add unilateral exercises like single leg squats or lunges to ensure that both of your legs are developing evenly, this will guard against any muscular imbalances.
8. Don’t forget your calves
The calves may not be the sexiest or most fashionable muscles to spend your valuable gym time training but they’re important for balanced, thick looking legs. Concentrating on the bigger quad and hamstring muscles may seem the logical approach to bigger legs but only working on those and leaving out your calves could put you at risk of making your legs look completely out of proportion.
For calves that you can be proud of stand try standing with a dumbbell in each hand and your toes rested on a black 2-3 inches off the ground. Make sure your heels are on the floor, and your hands are by your sides. Raise yourself up all the way onto your toes, stop and then lower yourself back down again. Three sets of ten every leg session will get you well on your way to bigger calves.
9. Remember to warm up
Raise your core temperature with five minutes of light cycling or running, followed by a proper stretching session focusing on your calves, groin, quads and hamstrings. If you haven’t warmed up properly you are leaving yourself more open to injury while limiting your chances of growth.
10. Keep your body well fuelled
Don’t forget that your glutes and your legs are the biggest muscle group in your body, so keeping energised is integral if you’re going to be training them hard. Consume good quality protein before and after training as well as protein powders to ensure that you don’t tire when hitting those leg muscles hard.