Leg day is a phrase that strikes fear into the hearts of even the most seasoned gym-goers, simply because the day that follows it can involve hobbling around on severely aching pins.
However, there is a reason that so many people take the maxim “never skip leg day” to heart. The lower body contains the biggest and most powerful muscle groups, and you’re selling yourself short if you’re not training them at least as much as the rest of you.
If you’re looking to increase the size of your legs in particular, then these tried-and-tested tips can help you out. We also have lots of legs workouts for you to pick and choose from.
You’ll often be told that you should move through your weightlifting 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, when you train your legs making explosive, faster movements allows you to do more reps and actually builds muscle faster. Try timing your leg exercises, doing as many (controlled) reps as you can in two minutes, taking a short rest, then doing another set.
Ensure Balance By Training Unilaterally
Most people are either right- or left-dominant, meaning one side of their body is usually doing a bit more work than the other. This creates 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.
Use Isolation Movements To Increase Muscle Definition
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 hinge of the machine.
Work On Your Stabiliser Muscles
A lot of people trying to add muscle to their legs completely neglect the smaller stabiliser muscles found in the hips. These help to prevent injury and ensure stability and safe movement in 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.
Pick Up A Set Of Resistance Bands
Add a set of mini resistance 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 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.
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 even when at home watching 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. To perform 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 lower slowly. Do three sets of 12 on each side for both moves.
Don’t Forget Your Calf Muscles
We assume that during the summer of Jack Grealish and his stupendous calves no-one needs to be told how important it is to train your calf muscles – but just in case you are ignoring them, stop ignoring them.
Concentrating on the bigger quad and hamstring muscles may seem the logical approach to bigger legs, but working only on those and leaving out your calves could put you at risk of having legs that look completely out of proportion.
For calves you can be proud of, try deficit calf raises. Stand holding dumbbells by your sides with your heels on the floor, resting your toes on a block 5-8cm off the ground – a weight plate works well. Lift yourself to stand on your toes, pause, and then lower again. Three sets of ten deficit calf raises every leg session will set you well on your way to bigger calves.
Sam Rider is an experienced freelance journalist, specialising in health, fitness and wellness. For over a decade he's reported on Olympic Games, CrossFit Games and World Cups, and quizzed luminaries of elite sport, nutrition and strength and conditioning. Sam is also a REPS level 3 qualified personal trainer, online coach and founder of Your Daily Fix (opens in new tab). Sam is also Coach’s designated reviewer of massage guns and fitness mirrors.
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