8 Best Leg Exercises for Men to Building Bigger, Muscular Legs

There is nothing like the sight of big, muscular legs which look great both dressed and naked. 

Here are the 8 best leg exercises to put on some serious muscle mass fast. Lets turn those toothpicks into real legs and rock on the beach.


My story:

I had very tall but very thin and weak legs. Not much had changed after my first year of training. I hated wearing jeans since I had no butt, and stuffing thick underpants only added to my embarrassment. 

But once I discovered the power of targeted leg training, not only  I added pounds of muscle mass to my lower body, my upper body muscles took off too. My arms and shoulders got bigger!

This intrigued me. I later learnt that it happened due to the anabolic effect leg muscle exercises creates in our bodies. And in this article i will share all the leg muscle building secrets I have learnt. I use them on my clients for excellent results.



The Importance of Leg Training for Bodybuilders

Leg training is crucial for bodybuilders for 3 reasons:

  1. Bigger, muscular legs look absolutely irresistible both in clothes like jeans and in shorts on the beach.
  2. Your legs are the most powerful muscles of your body. Not only they create the biggest anabolic hormone release for leg muscles themselves, they create a ripple-effect or spill-over effect that helps other muscles grow. Yes! Squats help you get bigger arms.
  3. Muscular, well proportioned legs give your body a balanced look with both upper and lower body perfectly in shape, complementing each other.

Leg training is challenging, therefore many people either skip them or train them with less intensity.

Most people never train legs seriously, many people don't have the body of their dreams either.


Leg Muscle Anatomy and Functions

Your legs have 3 major muscle groups 

  1. The quadriceps and Sartorius in front and
  2. The hamstrings & biceps femurs behind
  3. Calf Muscles

Quadriceps: It is a group of 4 muscles which extend your knee joint. It is made of rectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius and vastus lateralis.

Sartorius: Extends the knee.

Biceps Femurs and Hamstrings: Bends your knee. and curls the leg back.


6 Critical Training Points for Leg Training

The leg exercises you perform are only as good as the technique you use to do them and the workout program you use them in.

Here are the 6 key leg training strategies for effective leg workouts.

1. Squat, squat and when in doubt squat some more. It is called as the king of all lower body exercises for a reason. It works like crazy but for fastest gains you need to train them with moderate intensity and high volume.

2. Train both quadriceps and hamstrings every week. Miss the hamstrings and you miss training 50% of your muscle mass. And that means you get only half the results.

3. Train legs in the first workout of the week. Your mind/muscles will be freshest. 

4. If your legs are weak, then prioritise it with weak-point training. Once your legs take off, so will your upper body.

5. Train such that your quadriceps and hamstrings strength levels are the same. That is the optimal strength ratio for bodybuilders.

6. High rep squat/deadlifts are the key to build biggest lower body muscles in shortest time possible. Master rest-pause technique for squats to perform high rep squats.


8 Best Leg Muscle Building Exercises of all time

The following exercises are not easy. There is nothing called easy leg training. These are the most effective leg exercises and demand hard, hard work.

Not many people train legs hard, not many have the body of their dreams either.

5 Best Leg Muscle Exercises

3 Worst Leg Exercises


1. Parallel Squats Exercise

Squats work 200 muscles in your body. Its effect on nervous system is unparalleled. It maximises anabolic hormone release like testosterone and growth hormone and build 

All this means one thing: Big and Strong body.

Here are 2 secrets to squat training:

  1. Go Parallel: Squats work your hip and knee joints together. Below parallel squats under-work the hamstrings and create muscle and strength deficits. 
  2. Perform multiple sets: Research has shown that maximum anabolic response was seen after 4th set of squat training. {1}

I have written how to perform the perfect squats here. The article includes best training tricks, squat variations and a 4 week leg muscle building workout program.


2. Deadlifts Exercise

Do not think deadlifts are a back exercise only. They train your entire posterior chain muscles. In all they train 200 muscles of your body just like squats. Although they mostly target your hamstrings and lower back, they also work your quadriceps, arms and trapezius muscles.

How to get best out of deadlifts:

  1. Do full range deadlifts: Better range means most muscle fiber recruitment, which means more muscle growth.
  2. Go heavy for reps: Your first goal is to increase poundages to lift your bodyweight in pounds for a dozen reps. This rep range builds muscle mass. Low reps give you strength and higher reps give you mass.

Here is an article on how to perform deadlifts with perfect form.


Advanced Leg Muscle Building Exercises:

Beginner bodybuilders will do great with heavy squats and deadlifts alone. Your time is best spent on trying to lift your bodyweight in pounds in these two key lifts.

The next two exercises are for more advanced trainers. Once you have some solid muscle mass, it will be time to create a better balanced body muscle & strength wise.


3. Step Ups Exercise

Are you looking for cute-looking exercises or those that build real muscle mass?

If the latter, then step ups are an excellent leg muscle builder.

Charles Poliquin, a world renowned strength coach is a big fan of this exercise. He says that since step-ups involve hip extension movement, they are very effective for hamstring development.

One special Tip:

  1. Start slow: This exercise requires high stability in your trunk, upper and lower body.
  2. Do reps of 5: Step-ups are hard on the nervous system, so train with moderate volume. Slowly increase both intensity and volume.

4. Lunges

Lunges are a great quadriceps muscle builder. You can do both the barbell and dumbbell versions for variety.

Why they work?

  • They work both the knee and hip joints and hence are a compound, multi-joint move. 
  • They require adequate hip flexibility and body stability. Hence they stimulate your nervous system even more.

5. Calf Raises

Nothing beats a great set of calves on the beach. They complete your lower body and give it the right symmetry. 

Heavy squats and deadlifts work your calf muscles too but isometrically. To build type IIB fibers you need isotonic exercises like calf raises and donkey calf raises.


4 Keys to calf muscle training:

  1. Heavy Training with moderate volume: Calves respond best to heavy training with rep range of 6 to 12 reps and multiple sets of 4-5.

  2. Get a good Stretch: The more you stretch, the better calf muscles respond. Get a deep stretch in the bottom of the calf raise exercise.

  3. Eccentric training: Use a partner to lift supra-maximal weights and lower them under control by yourself.

  4. Unilateral training: Can't feel your calves during training? I'll fix it. Do one leg at a time. It ensures more neural drive and hence better calf training.

The Truth About Machine Exercises

Leg Machine Exercises

Earlier you learn that complete leg training involves training both the hip and knee joints together. This ensures thigh flexors and extensors are trained equally and in a functional manner.

Free weight exercises like squats and deadlifts do that perfectly.

What about machine leg exercises?

Machine exercises like leg presses, leg extensions and leg curls puts your body in unnatural position wherein only your knee joints move while hip joints is fixed.

This means 3 things:

  1. 50% stimulus: You will be training only half the muscle mass, making your training half productive.
  2. No carry over: Even heavier weights in exercises like leg presses and extensions do not carry over either to your squat performance or sports performance. Research has proven that.
  3. No stabiliser Work: Machines fix your body and body stabilisers are not used because the machine stabilises your body. This means under-stimulation of stabilisers and your big lifts suffer.

6. Leg Presses

You can lift big but only your knee muscles work leaving the powerful hip muscles under-stimulated. Also lifting your tailbone off the bench, as it happens during leg press, has shown to cause disc herniations.


7. Leg Extensions

This is another exercise with no carry-over to squats or sports performance. Just an ignorant ego boost. Waste of time.


8. Leg Curls

Conventional leg curl machines with straight bench are less effective compared to hump shape bench for leg curls. 

But deadlifts remain the best exercise. If you are a fan of leg curl machine, perform this exercise as a finishing move only or as a superset.

Bottomline on Machine Training

Bottomline: Skip these exercises. They look shiny but are worthless. Let the ignorant ones queue up the junk machines. If you got some energy after your leg workout {you should be quite drained if you follow my workouts} then perform more of the best 5 exercises, and not the less effective ones.

Note: Your stabilising muscles are like pillars in a multi-storeyed building. What is pillars are weak? Buildings {muscles} collapse. What do you need to build a skyscraper? Strong foundation {big 8 exercises} and strong pillars {stabiliser muscles}.


Best Muscle Building Program

Why build only leg muscles when you can build a muscular body with big arms, chest and shoulders? 

Watch the video below to learn more about my highly recommended NNMB Muscle Program.


Summary and Action Points

To summarise, here are 5 take-home points:

  1. Building powerful, muscular legs is TOUGH. Accept it. Accepting that leg workouts are tough somehow makes them doable. 
  2. Most people would rather spend worthless hours on leg presses and leg extensions than work the squats and deadlifts. Don't be one of them. They will look year after year!
  3. Work the squats and deadlifts to your bodyweight in pounds for 12 reps. Your legs will never look the same again. Say goodbye to skinny legs.
  4. Work the other half of the muscle building equation by eating high quality, muscle building foods and meals. 
  5. Provide adequate nervous system recovery. Heavy squats and deadlifts drain the brain or powerful neurotransmitters that have to be renewed completely before next workout.

References:

1. Segal, RL, Wolf, SL, DeCamp, MJ, Chopp, MT, and English, AW. Anatomical partitioning of three multiarticular human muscles. Acta Anat 142: 261–266, 1991. 

› Leg Muscle Building Exercises

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