Building bigger legs is often an issue for skinny guys, as they may genetically have a tougher time adding leg muscle to their quads and hamstrings.
But, this doesn’t mean it cannot be done…
To build bigger legs, you need to focus on training the leg muscles 2-3 times per week, with a variety of rep ranges and exercises. Additionally, you also need to eat enough calories to place yourself in a caloric surplus so that you can fuel your hard training, recovery, and build new muscle tissue.
Below I’ll describe the top reasons why you have skinny legs, offer you tips to build bigger legs, and even include a sample 3-day leg workout plan.
If you’re looking for lower body workouts to help you build muscle, check out the Fitbod app and get 3 free workouts.
8 Tips For Getting Bigger Legs If You’re Skinny
Below are eight reasons why your legs are skinny, each of which are within your control to fix, regardless of your genetics.
- For a more comprehensive breakdown, check out our other guide: How To Get Rid of Skinny Legs.
1. Train Your Legs More Frequently
If you are not training your legs at least twice per week, with hard intensity, this is most likely the biggest reason behind your skinny legs.
Failure to train them a minimum of two times a week doesn’t allow you to deliver enough volume to stimulate significant growth, especially if you aren’t a beginner or have been training legs for more than a few months.
The more advanced you are, and the more aggressive you want to achieve your goals, the more frequently you should train your legs, upwards of three times a week for most people (such as the sample 3-day leg workout plan I’ve outlined below).
- If you are not used to training legs that often, start by training them twice per week, and then bump it up to three times a week for best results.
- A more advanced person may need to train their legs even more than three times a week, often integrating machine and isolation training without overloading the joints and nervous system.
2. Train Closer To Failure
When you have finished a set of whatever leg exercise you just did, you should be able to honestly say you could have only performed 1, maybe 2 good reps more. If you are stopping your sets before that mark, this is probably another huge reason you aren’t getting results.
This especially applies to machines, cable, and any movements where you are training more than 5 reps (which should be most of your training if you want muscle growth, with the exception of heavy compound exercises).
- If you aren’t hitting muscle failure and not feeling the muscles having a pump by middle or toward the end of the workout, you need to increase the intensity on every set.
3. Integrate Machines and Isolation Exercises
Machines and isolation exercises are a great way to add training volume and frequency without beating up the body. They also allow you to target the muscle group you want to grow, without fatiguing other areas.
When training machines and more isolated exercises, you can train in moderate and higher rep ranges, target a muscle better, and train it to failure without other muscle groups holding you back.
For example, it’s ofte the case that your lower back will fatigue before your glutes and hamstrings during a Romanian Deadline. This is why you should incorporate more direct isolation work for your hamstrings and glutes, and not just solely rely on compound exercises.
- After you train your heavy compound lifts, try adding some machine work to further target your muscles (such as leg extensions after squats, or hamstring curls after Romanian deadlifts).
4. Eat 10-15% More Calories
Even if you are training hard in the gym, you may not be supplying your body with enough calories to build muscle.
Ideally, when you are training hard on a 2-3 day a week leg-focused workout program you will want to make sure you are at least eating 10-15% more than your current diet (assuming you aren’t gaining weight at the start).
For more information on how to strategically eat more during a muscle-gaining bulk, check out our article on Bulking With A Fast Metabolism.
- Start by tracking how many calories you eat on a regular basis, and then adjust your intake and macros based on the suggestions above.
- If you are having issues eating more, try adding in more liquid calories like shakes. Shakes are a great way to integrate more fruits, vegetables, and protein into your diet. Check out these 5 examples of 1000 calorie shakes for inspiration.
5. Control The Eccentric Range of Motion
The eccentric phase of the movement is one of the most important aspects of the lift when it comes to muscle growth.
Research has shown that eccentric training (controlling the lowering phase) is a potent factor for muscle growth, even more so than just lifting the weight.
- If you want to gain more muscle, focus on lowering the weight under control on a 2-3 seconds eccentric, and then lift the weight.
- When lowering a weight during the eccentric phase, you want to make sure that you are not losing muscle tension, so make sure to focus on feeling the weight on the muscle at all times.
6. Train Using A Full Range of Motion
When training the lower body, you want to make sure you place the joints in the biggest flexion angles you can achieve, as this will force the muscles to produce a ton of force to overcome a load and finish the reps.
An example of this is partial squats vs deep squats. When squatting to full depth, the hips should break parallel. This ensures the quads get the maximum amount of loading.
- Try to expand the range in which you perform your current exercises by 1-2 inches, and over time you will be able to have great stability and mobility in those movements.
- It is important that you control your eccentrics at the same time as you go deeper into a stretch during a movement, both to promote muscle tension and to protect yourself from injury.
7. Progress The Workouts Week-To-Week
Progressive overload is an established and necessary aspect of resistance training, in which you apply a stimulus to a muscle group through resistance training, and progress that stimulus (either increase weight, reps, sets, tempo, range of motion) over the course of weeks and months.
If you are not progressing yourself, even in the slightest of ways every week or so, your body will slowly adapt to the current stress and get less out of the workouts than you did in the beginning.
Here are some examples of ways to progress your workouts every week:
- Add 2-3% more weight and do the same number or reps as the prior week
- Do more reps per set than the prior week, with the same weight
- Do more sets than the prior week, with the same weight and reps as last week
- Increase the distance the weight moved, such as squatting lower, or doing a deficit deadlift instead of a regular deadlift
- Add a tempo to your exercise, where you control the eccentric phase for 2-3 seconds longer than you did in prior weeks, with the same weight, reps, and sets.
- While you shouldn’t change out your exercises every week, you should be increasing one of the factors above, even if it’s just a minor increase.
- If you don’t have any clue on how to progress your training, then download the Fitbod app and the progressions will happen automatically based on your logged training data.
8. Don’t Just Think About Lifting Heavy
The reality is that while you need to train hard and push yourself to lift heavier weights over time, you probably don’t need to be lifting as heavy (expressed as a percentage of your max, not “how heavy it feels to you on that day”) as you think to build muscle.
You can build muscle in a variety of rep ranges, however, the 8-15 rep range is ideal for most people as it allows you to gain some baseline strength and still push a muscle to failure.
- For muscle growth, train in various rep ranges and intensities, and be sure to include the other action steps, like controlling the negative and pushing yourself closer to failure.
Sample Workout Program to Build Bigger Legs
All of the below exercises can be found in the Fitbod app. However, the workouts you see in the app may differ from the workouts you see below. Below is just an example so you can see how a typical program might be structured.
- Week 1 – perform workouts as described
- Week 2 – add one set to every other exercise on that day (do 4 sets instead of 3 on some days)
- Week 3 – do 4 sets of all exercises
- Week 4 – do 4 sets on all exercises again, and push yourself harder than last week
- Week 5 – do 5 sets on all machine-based exercises and 4 sets of the others
- Week 6 – do the week 1 workout again
Leg Day 1 – Heavy Compounds
- Hack Squat/Leg Press: 3 sets of 5-10 reps
- Back Squat: 3 sets of 5-10 reps
- Romanian Deadlift: 3 sets of 5-10 reps
- Lying Hamstring Curl: 3 sets of 10-15 reps
- Walking Lunge: 3 sets of 20-30 steps
Leg Day 2 – Quad Focused
- Hack Squat/Leg Press: 3 sets of 10-15 reps
- Bulgarian Split Squat: 3 sets of 10-15 reps
- Barbell Hip Thrust: 3 sets of 10-15 reps
- Leg Extension: 3 sets of 10-15 reps
- Lying Hamstring Curl: 3 sets of 10-15 reps
Leg Day 3 – Hamstring and Glutes Focused
- Lying Hamstring Curl: 3 sets of 20-30 reps
- Barbell Hip Thrust: 3 sets of 20-30 reps
- Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift: 3 sets of 15-20 reps
- Leg Extension: 3 sets of 20-30 reps
- Goblet Squat: 3 sets of 20-30 reps
Looking for a workout program? Try using the Fitbod App, which will design your program based on your logged training data and goals. The workouts will adapt automatically to your levels of recovery and rate of progress. With over 600 movements and exercises videos, you can be sure to perform the movements correctly for optimal results. Take the guesswork out of your workouts. Try 3 free workouts on Fitbod.
Other Bulking Resources
- How many calories do you need and what macros amounts are best for you?
- Dirty Bulking: What is it and should you do it?
About The Author
Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.