Updated: Feb 21, 2019
Particularly for men, part of the motivation for starting a gym routine is either to get leaner or bigger (and sometimes to do both in rotation!).
For those guys who are looking to get larger, buffer and physically more impressive, their attention can often end up fixated on their upper build - otherwise known as the much discussed ‘beach zone’.
Sun out and T-shirts off, as they say.
But what of the legs?
So often hidden away, even when shown off as we advance into the sunshine wearing shorts, our legs are both the foundation to a strong back and the key to good posture. In addition they are the means by which we can power our way through both a productive, challenging workout (and indeed through life itself).
Build you legs and you improve your speed, strength and your life. I discovered this through my career in rugby and it a principle that continues to remain with me to the present day.
But what are the tricks to getting great, more powerful legs, and what regular training techniques can we use to improve our legs (all of our legs) and our balance while we are at it?
Well, there are no new or unique methods to achieve these goals. Rather there are a proven techniques which have been shown to get results and which can be combined for maximum effect.
Before even getting into the techniques that can be used on the gym floor (or indeed in your own home gym set up) however, a word about fuel.
To exercise your body (any part of your body) requires first fuelling your body so that it has the resources to draw upon to get through an exercise routine without causing harm or injury.
And this is particularly true when attempting to build a particular muscle group (as we are in this example with our lower bodies).
Your legs are, as is well known, your body’s largest muscle group and in any typical day are faced with a great deal of strain. So come your time to workout it is vital that you feed the leg muscles to get the best out of them.
Do you want big legs?
Then work out how much protein you need to take before and then after your workout and ensure that the protein you use (whether in power form or natural) is good quality.
Your leg muscles are going to need that fuel once you start training, so feed them!
Next (and most importantly) make sure that you warm up and stretch before moving into the muscle-building part of your work out.
I cannot emphasise this point enough and it applies to every muscle-building routine that you follow. Warming up is the cornerstone when exercising any part of your body and particularly important when you are going to focus on your legs (and back).
The key to a successful warm-up?
Try either a short, sharp session on a cycle or rower, or run (whether outside coming into a gym session or on a treadmill), but do get the blood flowing to your legs before you start to work them out.
And by short and sharp I mean 10 to 20 minutes.
Sweat is good. It has never killed anybody!
So now you are fuelled, warmed-up and ready to build muscle and strength in your lower body, so let’s get to it by including the following in your leg-building programme.
Work with a focus on your stabilisers:
Your stabiliser muscles are in your hips and they help to prevent injury and make sure you are stable in the movement of your pelvis and hips. They are vital to your health and deserve your attention.
Want to strengthen your stabilises (and through them your legs)? Then be sure to train your adductors (your inner thighs) and your abductors (your outer thighs) during your routine.
Get this training of your inner and outer thighs in at the start of your routine, post warm-up, and you will be all set up for your muscle-building routine.
Now make your workout about weights:
So it’s also ironic that I advocate avoiding any cardio’ after your warm up, but I do, and for a reason.
Cyclists have a reputation for big, impressive legs, but remember, top flight cyclists do more than spin their wheels to get where they need to be. They also hit the weights and, if you want to build your legs, you will have to do the same.
Squats, especially when combined with weights, are the way to thicken leg muscles and will need to be central to your legs workout and around which everything is built. So establish a number of repetitions and sets which you can accomplish (ideally with a bar across the shoulders you can safely support) and make these squats your main goal when working your legs.
From this point push your workout and focus on what you want to achieve:
Explosive, fast, energetic movement really gets results (as I have written about before!) and this is particularly true where your legs are concerned.
Again, are you looking to build your legs?
Then get your speed up and attack your workout with focus (see below), and treat it as a challenge. You need to put energy in to get results out, so push yourself whilst the following key principles to avoid injury.
Break the workout down into specific exercises for particular parts of your legs:
Again (and in everything gym related!) your success will be down to your focus!
if you do want to get bigger, more powerful legs you will need to isolate your exercises and run through high repetitions when exercising each muscle group.
Which have to include the calve muscles.
For many, legs are all about the thighs (and, to a lesser extent, the glutes), but it is important when exercising legs not to neglect the calve muscles. If you want shaped, diamond-like calves you will need work them out as part of your routine.
An easy exercise here is to take a dumbbell in each hand, weighted to a level you can use without injuring yourself, and to elevate your toes to around two to three inches off the ground.
Then raise and lower yourself on your toes whilst the holding the weights, and run this routine through three sets of ten in every one of your leg sessions that you undertake.
Finally, remember to train both legs equally:
As in a successful and happy life, balance is everything and when exercising your legs this principle also applies, so make sure you bring in unilateral exercises to your legs workout, such as lunges (which are great to incorporate into your legs routine) and single leg squats, to ensure that you balance your routine for both your left and right side.
Which will help protect both your hips, spine and back.
So there you go, everything you need to know about how to get strong, healthy and impressive legs.
Fuel your workout, warm up effectively, focus on the muscles you want to grow and your legs will thank you by serving you well throughout your life.
Plus, they will also look great.
It is the epitome of a fitness win-win.