Building a great physique requires balance and symmetry. Although there is no such thing as somebody with the perfect body, we all strive to be the absolute best we can. I know my readers here are highly motivated individuals with a yearning to learn how they can achieve their goals. Something that is very common is people struggling to grow their legs. Legs can be a tough muscle to grow as they include very large muscles that require a lot of effort in the gym. They also require effort outside of the gym to ensure that proper recovery is occurring. Assuming that proper nutrition, sleep and recovery are a priority to you, these are some of the common mistakes I see in people who lack growing their legs.
Not training hard enough- Quadriceps, hamstrings and calves are muscles that can take a large amount of intensity and volume. Through thousands of years of being on this earth as human beings, our legs have adapted to constantly being engaged as we walk. I often see trainees stop a set way before they start fatiguing the muscle fibers because it is hard. Getting your body to grow requires stepping outside of your comfort zone and embracing the pain of having a muscle under a load for an extended amount of time. You must push yourself and ignore the lactic acid build up and keep pushing until your muscle truly fatigues. A good way to ensure this is to find a training partner with similar goals that can push you.
Training too heavy- Properly stimulating a muscle to grow requires working a muscle through its active full range of motion. Not doing this will leave muscle fibers untapped that will never grow because your body is never being put in these positions. I often see people loading up barbells with way more weight than they can squat and barely moving that weight. They have a reduced range of motion and are just trying to “survive” under this heavy weight without actually thinking of keeping tension on the muscle. This will never give them the growth they are after and can potentially lead to some very serious injuries.
Training too light- Training legs is hard and uncomfortable. Many people are scared to push their limits and add more weight to their lifts. Your body will never grow unless you put it under a load that is heavy enough to stimulate muscle growth.
Training too fast- Oftentimes people are worried about getting their set over with as opposed to keeping the muscle under tension, especially the negative. It is crucial to load the negative and feel the tension accumulate in the muscles. The negative is the portion of the lift that causes the most stimulation for muscle growth. I often see people rushing through their sets and doing 2 reps then taking a 10 second break at the top, doing 2 more reps, 10 second break etc. They rest during their set more than they actually are doing reps.
Not picking the right exercises- A combination of heavy presses, lunging motions, certain isolation exercises, and different variations of deadlifts will be your best friends. You will never grow substantial muscle in your legs from doing bosu ball squats or band cable kickbacks. These might be used as tools in order to improve certain imbalances, but they are not the bread and butter of your results. You also must find what exercises work best for you. Although squats are seen as the holy grail of leg development, if your specific body type does not allow proper tension to be put on the legs when doing them, then you must find a variation or another exercise that will work for you.
Not focusing on mobility and the smaller muscles- In order to grow a substantial amount of muscle on your legs, you will need to focus on the foundation that will hold them together. Stretching and other recovery techniques are very important in order to maintain proper connective tissue mobility. Ensuring that you are able to maintain as much of a range of motion you can will be crucial to staying healthy. A lot of times the heavy training and our daily lives can contribute to tight tendons, muscles and ligaments that can cause muscle imbalances that may lead to serious injuries. This leads me to the next point of realizing how crucial it is training smaller muscles such as your adductors, abductors, VMO etc. This can be as simple as shifting your stance from time to time to hit the muscle a different way, or even having a thorough warm up that lights up a lot of the smaller muscles in ranges you would not normally hit them.
Not properly programming your routine- If leg growth is your main concern, I am going to recommend hitting them more often than once a week. You can do many variations like 1 heavy day and 1 lighter more isolation focused day, you can hit them hard and heavy every 4-5 days, you can do a quad focused day with a little bit of hamstrings and later in the week a hamstring focused day with a little bit of quads etc. It is important to switch things up and properly set up your routine in terms of sets, reps and even frequency. I am a big believer in adding a heavier exercise in the workout of as low as 5 reps and then going as high as 50 reps or even more.
Not listening to your body- Building your body will require careful evaluation of progress from time to time. If a certain program or routine has not been giving you the results you want and you have been following it for more than 6 weeks, it’s time to make a change. You cannot keep doing the same thing and expect different results. The secret to the most successful people that are able to develop muscle is that they have found what works best for them. Some people might grow better from doing 50 reps+, some might do better from training very heavy frequently etc. The sample routine will give you a guideline where you can begin but you must evaluate your progress in a few weeks and adjust it then.
Here is a sample routine I have created for an intermediate or advanced trainee that has been struggling with bringing their legs up to match their upper body. This is for somebody who already has a solid strength base and an understanding of properly contracting muscles. I am going to recommend 90-180 seconds in between your sets. These are work sets not warm up sets.
Do 2-3 giant sets with the following exercises with no breaks in between. This is just meant to turn everything on and should not be taken anywhere near failure: Abductor machine 10 reps with 2 second holds Bodyweight walking lunges 8 reps per leg Rope Pullthroughs 12 reps Bodyweight heel elevated close stance squats 8 reps with 5 second descent Now it’s the workout! Hamstring curls work up in weight each time 15 reps, 12 reps, 10 reps, 6-8 reps and do a triple drop set on the last set. Barbell back or front squats work up to a heavy set of 8 and do 4 sets of 6-8 reps with it. Leg press or hack squats switch foot placement every time between wide, neutral and narrow. 5 sets of 15 reps and on the last set do 30 reps no matter what. Dumbbell or Smith machine Bulgarian split squats 3 sets of 10 reps with 3 second negatives. Barbell or machine stiff leg deadlifts work up in weight each time 15 reps, 12 reps, 10 reps, 6-8 reps. Make sure to get low and have a slow negative.
Bonus for calves! Seated Calf raises 4 dropsets of 4 sets to failure every set (ex. Using 25 lb plates= 4 platesx15, 3 platesx15, 2 plates x20, 1 plate x20) Make sure to squeeze at the top for 2 seconds and do not bounce out of the bottom.