Getting rid of skinny legs is a goal of many lifters, whether it’s because they’re trying to make their overall appearance more balanced or they want stronger legs in general.
So how do you get rid of skinny legs? Getting rid of skinny legs requires training your legs more frequently, training with different rep and set ranges, and lifting with proper form. You should also lift challenging weights, avoid doing too much cardio, and eat more food. As well, you should make sure to train the quads, hamstrings, and calves evenly.
In this article, I’ll discuss the reasons why you may have skinny legs and how you can get rid of them. I’ll also provide sample workout programs that can help you add muscle mass to your legs.
If you’ve been trying to add size to your legs and aren’t seeing results, download the Fitbod app. You can customize your leg workouts best on your schedule and the equipment you have available. You also get your first three workouts for free!
Why Are Your Legs Skinny? (8 Reasons)
Usually, skinny legs are due to a variety of factors. You may have skinny legs due to a combination of any of these reasons below.
The main reason that you may have skinny legs is your genetics. Everyone is predisposed to carry fat and muscle in different areas of the body. It’s possible that your genetics make it difficult for you to grow big legs, even if you’re able to easily build muscle in your upper body.
Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to change where your body is predisposed to hold most of its muscle mass. But on the plus side, there are several things you can to overcome your genetic shortcomings, as I’ll discuss below.
Related Article: Got A Big Upper Body & Small Legs? Here’s What To Do
2. Lack of leg strength
You might have heard of the expression “mass moves mass.” What this means is that the bigger you are, the more weight you can lift. Of course, it’s not always so cut and dry, but if you have skinny legs, it’s likely that you also have weak legs.
In that case, you’ll want to focus on improving your strength and not solely on adding muscle mass. It sounds counterintuitive, but you can build muscle by training for strength, especially if you’re a beginner.
3. Doing too much cardio
Cardio is beneficial for improving heart health, lowering blood pressure, and improving insulin sensitivity. But doing too much cardio can hinder your progress when it comes to building muscle.
This is due to the interference effect, which refers to the diminished performance in strength or hypertrophy training following bouts of high-intensity endurance training.
Studies have shown that concurrent training, or the combination of resistance training and endurance training, can limit hypertrophy. Doing an excessive amount of cardio could explain why your legs are still skinny even if you’re doing a lot of strength training.
Related Article: Can Cardio Burn Muscle? (Yes, Here’s How)
4. Not eating enough
In order to build muscle and get bigger, you need to eat enough calories. Specifically, you need to consume enough protein and carbohydrates to fuel your workouts, aid in recovery, and help build muscle mass.
Not eating enough or not following the correct macro breakdown for building muscle could be holding you back from adding size to your legs. It’s not uncommon for people to be able to eat much more than they think they can. You may think that you’re in a calorie surplus, but unless you’re accurately tracking what you eat, you may still be undereating.
Related Article: What Should Your Calories & Macros Be When Bulking?
5. Not having enough leg volume or training legs infrequently
While it is possible to see results from lifting only once a week, it’s not ideal if you have a specific goal like trying to add size to your legs.
If you want your legs to get bigger, you should train them twice a week at a minimum. You may need to add a third leg day if you’re already training legs twice a week and still not making progress.
Similarly, you may also need to add more volume. Doing 2-3 sets of squats and deadlifts is certainly better than not doing anything at all, but it won’t do much to help you grow your legs.
You should be aiming for at least 12 sets per muscle group each week. You could do more, but research shows that doing more than 18 sets per muscle group per week can actually inhibit muscle growth.
6. Not incorporating enough variety into your leg routine
Aside from not training your legs frequently enough, your skinny legs could be due to a lack of variety in your leg routine.
Obviously, squats and deadlifts are two excellent strength exercises that can help build lower body strength and muscle mass. But if they are the only two movements you do for legs, you may be selling yourself short.
Isolation exercises like hamstring curls, leg extensions, and calf raises are all beneficial exercises for adding mass to your legs. You should also consider adding various compound exercises like Bulgarian split squats, lunges, and even squat and deadlift variations such as front squats and Romanian deadlifts.
Related Article: Outer Quad Exercises: 7 Must-Do Exercises
7. Not lifting heavy enough
When you’re trying to add muscle to a certain part of your body, you have to continuously test your strength. Doing lunges with the same 20lb dumbbells week after week or month after month will just cause you to stall.
You don’t want to lift so heavy that you can’t complete at least 6-8 reps with good form, but the weight should still feel challenging. For hypertrophy training, I recommend lifting with weights where you feel like you can still perform 2-3 more reps at the end of each set.
Once you can complete all of your prescribed reps in a set at a certain weight without sacrificing your technique, you can add 5-10lbs (depending on the lift).
8. Not lifting with proper form
Everyone knows that lifting with improper technique can lead to injuries. But it can also negatively impact your ability to grow muscle because you’re either not targeting the correct muscles or you’re cheating reps and not getting the full benefit of the movement.
For example, think about how much harder it is to squat below parallel than to do a quarter squat. Squatting lower means you have to activate more muscle groups and force them to work harder. It also means that they’re under tension for a longer period of time, so you can load your muscle fibers more effectively without necessarily having to lift more weight.
The same also applies to the tempo with which you complete each rep.
While you can (and should) add specific tempo work to your lower body lifts to help grow your legs (such as lowering to a count of 5 seconds in a squat), you don’t have to go super slow every time you lift. Just focus on maintaining control of the weight, not bouncing around when you’re holding a heavy load, and achieving a full range of motion with each rep.
Related Article: 3 Leg Workouts to Build Muscle Without Weights
Looking for a new workout routine to help you get rid of your skinny legs? Download the Fitbod app today and get started with three free workouts to add size to your quads, hamstrings, and calves.
8 Tips For Getting Rid of Skinny Legs
Below are 8 tips to help you get rid of your skinny legs. Just be aware that you’ll need to remain consistent with your routine and be patient. Change won’t happen overnight, but you will see results within a few months if you stick with it.
1. Do a combination of compound and isolation exercises
Including a combination of compound and isolation exercises will help ensure that you’re effectively training all of the large and small muscle groups in the lower body.
Compound exercises are great if you’re also trying to improve your overall strength or you’re short on time. But focusing solely on compound movements won’t allow you to target the smaller leg muscles because the larger ones (and the glutes) will do most of the work.
But isolation movements are beneficial for strengthening and increasing size in the muscles that get overlooked in the compound lifts. It’s also harder to accumulate fatigue on isolation movements since they don’t stress out your nervous system as much.
This means you can train to failure more often on them, which can help when you’re trying to increase your training volume or challenge yourself in the gym.
Related Article: Can You Get Big Legs Without Squats? (Yes, Here’s How)
2. Work through a full range of motion
I mentioned earlier that not working through a full range of motion could hinder your muscle gains. While there is an argument for doing partial reps to address weaknesses (such as getting the bar off the floor in the deadlift), you’ll want to lift with a full range of motion in order to build muscle.
This means squatting to at least parallel when doing any squat variations, fully locking out your deadlifts, and touching your knee all the way to the ground when doing lunges. If you have trouble with any of this, you can try:
- Doing stretches to improve your hip and ankle mobility
- Adjusting your squat stance so you can get into a better bottom position
- Strengthening your glutes to help with your deadlift lockout
- Dedicating at least one training day per week to lift with lighter weights and work on your technique
3. Increase your training frequency and/or volume
There’s a reason why so many lifters dread leg day. It can leave you sore for days, and just when you start to feel better, it’s time for your next leg day again. But if you want to get rid of your skinny legs, you need to train them more frequently.
If you’re currently only training them once a week, add a second day. If you’re already training them twice a week, add a third day. However, I wouldn’t recommend adding a fourth day unless you know for sure that you can recover properly.
If you can’t add another full day of leg training to your routine, you could try increasing your volume instead. You could add an additional 1-2 leg exercises or aim for 2-3 more sets across the movements already prescribed in your program.
Related Article: Leg and Arm Workout: How To Structure on the Same Day
4. Vary your set and rep ranges
It’s commonly understood that the best rep range for hypertrophy is 8-15, and it is recommended to do anywhere from 12-20 sets per muscle group per week. But if you do the same 3 sets of 10 reps every time you work out, you could be limiting your leg gains.
One way that you could add variety to your training is to follow undulating periodization. This means that you vary your intensity across several workout days per week.
For example, Monday could be a high-intensity day where you lift heavier weights for fewer reps and sets while Thursday is a low- or moderate-intensity day where you lift lighter weights for more reps or do some technique work.
Another way to add variety to your set and rep prescriptions is to incorporate dropsets. You’ll work up to one challenging top set for the day, then decrease the weight by about 10% and perform as many reps as you can until failure. You’ll then repeat this for a total of 2-3 sets.
5. Follow progressive overload
Progressive overload refers to consistently doing more work over time, whether it’s through adding more weight, reps, or sets. Your body will eventually adapt to a certain training methodology, so you’ll need to keep challenging it in order for it to grow.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should be adding more weight, reps, or sets to your leg exercises every time you work out. But you should be making steady progress over time to prevent your leg growth from plateauing.
You may reach a point where you can no longer lift heavy enough, whether it’s because your gym has a limited number of weights available or you’re training at home with just a few pieces of equipment. And you can only increase your sets and reps to a certain point before you’re just wasting your time doing additional work.
Once you get to that point, you can try the following:
- Adding tempos by slowing down the eccentric (downward) portion of your lifts and lowering to a count of 3 or 5 seconds
- Adding pauses at the bottom of your lifts
- Doing 1 ½ or 1 ¼ movements (for example, squatting all the way down, rising back up halfway, squatting all the way down again, and then standing up all the way)
These types of variations increase your time under tension, which can help you gain more muscle mass.
6. Limit your cardio
You don’t have to completely cut cardio from your routine if you want to get rid of your skinny legs. But you should cut down on the amount of cardio you do so you can optimize muscle growth.
For example, if you’re currently doing 45-minute high-intensity cardio sessions 3 times a week, you may want to cut them down to 30 minutes or just do 2 workouts per week. This will not only help save your legs so you can hit them hard during your lifting sessions but will also prevent you from burning too much muscle during your cardio sessions.
I’d also recommend being selective about what kind of cardio you do, especially if you’re adding in more leg days or increasing your leg training volume. Running or cycling 2-3 days per week when you’re leg training 2-3 days per week could be tough on your recovery. You may want to just do some brisk walking, use the elliptical, or swim instead.
Related Article: What Cardio Should You Do When Bulking?
7. Eat in a calorie surplus
To get bigger legs, you need to eat in a calorie surplus. This means eating more than your maintenance calories, or the number of calories you can eat each day without gaining weight.
Determining whether you’re in a calorie surplus will require you to track what you’re eating and your body weight for at least two weeks. You can use an app like MyFitnessPal to track your daily calories and how much you weigh each day.
If your weight has stayed within the same 2-3 pounds or you’ve lost weight, you’re not eating enough. You’ll need to slowly start eating an extra 200-300 calories per day until your weight starts to go up.
However, it should also be noted that eating more calories will likely cause you to gain weight all over. Even if you’re genetically inclined to carry more weight in the lower half of your body, you can’t magically tell your body where to gain weight. You may notice some changes in your legs, but you could also notice your arms and chest getting bigger, too.
Related Article: How To Bulk Up Fast: 10 Tips for Maximizing Muscle Growth
8. Switch up your movements
Perhaps you’ve been rotating through the same 4-5 leg movements for the past couple of months because you’re following someone else’s program and don’t know how to customize it to suit your needs. Or maybe you’re sticking with the same movements because they’re familiar to you and you like doing exercises that you know you can do well.
There’s nothing wrong with sticking with movements that you enjoy doing and know work well for your body. In fact, I’d even say that most leg workouts should always include some kind of squatting motion and some kind of hinge motion. But swapping out some of your exercises for new ones will challenge your body in new ways.
For example, you could try swapping front squats for back squats, Romanian deadlifts for traditional deadlifts, and lunges for Bulgarian split squats. It would also be beneficial to try different machines at the gym as well, such as the hack squat machine instead of the leg press.
Related Article: The Best Bulking Leg Workouts: 10 Must-Do Exercises
Sample Workout Program for Getting Rid of Skinny Legs
Below are two sample workouts that can help add mass to your legs. They’re meant to each be done once a week. As such, both workouts include quad, hamstring, and calf work so you’re hitting each muscle group twice per week.
You’ll also notice that I included some exercises that target the glutes. Even though these workouts primarily target the legs, training the glutes as well will give you a well-rounded appearance in your lower body and help prevent injuries when doing a lot of leg work.
Leg Workout – Day One
- High bar back squat – 3 x 6-8
- Romanian deadlifts – 3 x 10
- Leg press – 4 x 8-10
- Lying hamstring curls – 4 x 10-12
- Standing calf raises – 4 x 15
Leg Workout – Day Two
- Heels-elevated trap bar deadlift – 3 x 6-8
- Good mornings – 3 x 10
- Hip thrusts – 4 x 10
- Bulgarian split squats – 4 x 8 per leg
- Seated calf raises – 4 x 15
If you’re looking for more workout programs to help you add size to your legs, check out the Fitbod app. You can get started with a routine that’s suited for your individual goals right away – and your first three workouts are free!
While genetics play a large role in the size of your legs, they’re usually not the sole reason why you have skinny legs.
You could have skinny legs because you’re not training often enough, not lifting heavy enough, not eating properly, or lifting with improper form. Doing too much cardio and not doing enough total leg volume could also limit your leg gains.
Fortunately, these are all relatively easy fixes. By adding an extra leg day or two to your routine, increasing your sets and reps where possible, eating more food, lifting heavier weights as you get stronger, and doing a combination of compound and isolation exercises, you should start seeing muscle growth in your legs within a couple of months.
About The Author
Amanda Dvorak is a freelance writer and powerlifting enthusiast. Amanda played softball for 12 years and discovered her passion for fitness when she was in college. It wasn’t until she started CrossFit in 2015 that she became interested in powerlifting and realized how much she loves lifting heavy weights. In addition to powerlifting, Amanda also enjoys running and cycling.