Diet and Nutrition

Building a Set of Monster Legs

In this world, there are some things that certain people would rather not discuss, but for others, avoidance just isn’t an option. Sadly, there are millions of people facing this same problem. You are not alone.

This problem is serious. Let me ask you a few questions…

Do you bench more than you squat?

Are you sporting 17-inch arms but only 14-inch quads?

Do you just have a hard time getting your legs to grow?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you may be suffering from “SLS”, otherwise known as “Small Leg Syndrome”. This is a very serious problem that affects millions across the world, but don’t be scared…I am here to help.

Okay, so maybe I made some of that up. Maybe there is no such syndrome, but I can guarantee you one thing: I have seen plenty of people over the years who seem to suffer from small legs that don’t respond to training. If that sounds like you or if you just want a change of pace for your leg training, then this is the article for you.

Small legs will be a thing of the past! If you want big legs, here is the program. The rest is up to you and your dinner plate.

Before we get started, I have a list of pre-requisites:

  1. You must have at least one year of consistent training under your belt. This program isn’t for beginners. If you are a beginner, save this article and I’ll see you next year.
  2. You must have healthy, fully functioning knees. If you don’t, then check out this great article by Nick Tumminello that specifically addresses training legs with bad knees – Get Big Legs with Bad Knees
  3. You must have a healthy, fully functioning lower back. No need to explain why.
  4. You must have a healthy appetite. In other words, you are going to have to eat big!
  5. You must practice abstinence for the entire duration of this training program. Ok, not really…just made that last one up!

I know you’re reading this article and ready to learn how to get some huge legs, and that is great. However, there are a couple points I want to touch on before we get to the good stuff.

First of all, I highly recommend proper footwear for squatting.  Not all athletic shoes offer the correct support for the squat, and Nike Shox may be close to the worst. The extra cushioning designed to absorb impact while running can destabilize your feet and lower body mechanics when it sinks under the weight of your body and the bar while squatting. Do me a favor and squat in flat shoes of some sort: Chuck Taylors, Nike Frees, or even in your socks, if your gym allows. I know you’re not a powerlifter, and I won’t get into specifics, but just wear the flattest shoes that you can find.

The next requirement is a proper warm up…and squatting the bar for ten reps doesn’t count. I won’t be picky on what you do, just get some blood flowing, make sure you are fully warmed up and mobile enough to get to proper squat depth, and mentally prepare to go to battle with the weights.  Additionally, most everyone could also benefit from adding some glute activation exercises to their warm up, whether some dumbbell or kettlebell swings or glute bridges.

Not your typical “To Do” list

As with any program, just doing the program alone isn’t enough. Getting big legs requires both commitment and gritted determination…and trust me when I say it isn’t going to be easy. If it were, we’d all be walking around with Tom Platz legs!

There are many factors to consider, but I have compiled the top four into a neat “To Do” list.

1. Intensity is Key 

No sugar coating it here…it’s time to get to the point. Training like a sissy will get you nowhere. Training like a sissy will leave your legs small and weak forever. Your goal is to get big legs? Then you have to accept the fact that when you hit the gym, you have to mentally prepare for all-out effort. You have to prepare yourself and have the right mindset to go out and win the battle.

If you were stepping into the octagon with Matt Hughes, would you walk into it with some half-ass intensity? If you were hanging from a ledge with your life in your hands, would you pull yourself up with some half-ass intensity?  I don’t think so…hell, I know you wouldn’t!

So when you’re going into the gym, it is no different: find that intensity. Building a jacked pair of legs is no easy task, but if you approach each session like a battle and strive for personal records, you will be on the path to success.

Take a lesson from Arnold himself – go all out!

2. Calories

I have heard that nutrition is responsible for anywhere from 50%-90% of muscle gains. I don’t know if that is correct, but I do know that it is very important if you want big legs. Simply put, you have to create a caloric surplus to gain any muscular weight. I won’t go into specifics here because this is a training article, but just to give you some ballpark numbers, take your current body weight and multiply it by 18-22. That is how many calories you should aim to take in. Your job is to eat like a horse…I don’t care if you are full, not hungry, etc.. You are going to have to eat when you’re hungry and when you’re not hungry.

A lot of guys think that they are eating big, but when it comes down to it, they really aren’t. Record your food and calories for a couple days. If you aren’t hitting the calorie recommendations from the calculation above, then start eating more. I am a big fan of pre-, during, and post-workout nutrition. Start sipping on a high calorie protein/carb shake (such as Opticen or Maximus) about 15 minutes before your training session, and continue sipping throughout and after your workout. Follow this up with a whole food meal containing protein, carbs, and healthy fats about 30 minutes later.

3. Recovery

The workouts in this program are no joke and they will take a toll on your body. It is very important that you put as much effort into your recovery as you put into the other aspects. Training is only part of the equation. You don’t grow while you’re training, you grow while you are recovering.

  • Sleep – Make sure you get a minimum of 8 hours of sleep each night. Aim for 8-10 hours every night of the week. If you want to maximize your gains, you may have to sacrifice a few things to get the sleep. Staying out in the bars until 3 am doesn’t do anything for your recovery or journey to bigger legs. Turn off the TV or computer an hour earlier and make yourself get to bed.
  • Utilize naps – If you can, take a nap every day. While for some this isn’t a possible, try to take a nap when you can. Maybe you can only take naps on the weekends…if so, do it!
  • Stretch – Schedule in a stretching session a few days a week to increase blood flow and to help to get nutrients to your muscles.
  • Get a massage – If your finances allow, find a local massage therapist and get a massage once a week. If this isn’t an option, get one bi-weekly or even just monthly.
  • Foam roll – Pick up a foam roller if you or your gym doesn’t have one. Foam rolling can work wonders for recovery. It’s kind of like having your own massage therapist at home.
  • Grab yourself some ETS, it’ll work wonders for reducing your soreness and will allow you to recover more quickly between workouts.

Training and nutrition are only half the battle. You have to focus on recovery, and using these methods will minimize your recovery time while maximizing your results.

4. Technique

I’ve made this mistake myself in the past: trying to use too much weight at the expense of poor technique. It happens, but it doesn’t need to. When you use too much weight and alter your technique, you run into a lot of problems. First of all, you are going to get injured…it’s going to happen and it is just a matter of when. The second problem with using too much weight is that it causes you to alter your movement patterns, which in turn changes your muscle recruitment patterns. The bottom line is you should use a weight with which you can perform your target number of reps using proper form.

Let’s get down to the nitty gritty – The Program

Get this: you will be doing two leg workouts a week! Yes, I know even one sucks, but your goal is to build some big ass legs and this is how you will get it done. It really isn’t bad as it may seem at first. You will train the lower body by focusing on quads on one leg day with a second lower body day focusing on hamstrings. With two workouts specifically targeting the legs, the other two days will be devoted completely to upper body training for a total of four workouts per week. However, your goal for upper body training is purely maintenance. If you want to make those legs grow, then all of your focus needs to be on them.

On the first training day of the week (usually a Monday for most people), you will hit the legs with a quad focus. While everyone else at the gym is observing international bench press day, the squat rack should be nice and lonely and ready for you to abuse…I mean USE. You’ll follow this up with an upper body-only day on Tuesday. Wednesday will be a complete rest day but you are more than welcome to use some recovery techniques (foam rolling, massage, etc.) on this day.

On Thursday, you’ll get back to business with your second leg workout hamstring focus of the week, but this time with a hamstring focus. Friday will be your second upper body day and your last training day for the week. Saturday and Sunday are rest days again, limited to recovery techniques and possibly some light walking.

So, the overall split look like this:

Monday: Lower body (A) (quad focus)
Tuesday: Upper body (A)
Wednesday: Off/Recovery
Thursday: Lower body (B) (hamstring focus)
Friday: Upper body (B)
Saturday/Sunday: Off/Recovery 

Concept of the program

This concept of this program is based on a few different ideas. First of all, you will focus on getting stronger. You will train in the functional strength/hypertrophy rep range (6-10) with relatively heavy weights using traditional strength movements (or variations thereof). Rest intervals are set at 2-3 minutes to help recovery between sets while using maximal weights. Rest intervals of 2-3 minutes have been shown to increase growth hormone as well as free testosterone. With the increased strength and a calorie surplus, your legs will get bigger….there is no other way around it.

The second method uses the traditional total hypertrophy (muscle building) rep range of 8-12, with rest intervals of 90 seconds. These rest intervals have been shown to increase growth hormone production and stimulate hypertrophy. The third method for increased size involves working at the top end of the total hypertrophy rep range (15 reps) using short rest intervals (60 seconds).

Rest intervals of 60 seconds have been shown to increase growth hormone levels, stimulate sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, and increase nutrient uptake by the muscles. Lifters have been using high reps on leg presses and squats for years and getting great results. By using the leg press for these higher rep sets, you will still be able to still move a significant load for a long period of time with your legs doing all of the work. With this method, your legs have no other choice but to grow!

Here is the program in detail:

Weeks 1-4

Workout A

Exercises Sets Reps Rest
 * Front squat (shoulder width) 3 6-10 2-3 min
Barbell lunges (short step) 3 8-10 90 sec
** Leg press (feet low, narrow) 4 15 60 sec
Seated calf raises 4 20 60 sec

* You may use a crossed arm grip, clean grip, or modified clean grip with straps and a shoulder-width stance. .

** Feet low on the platform, narrow stance.

Workout B

Exercises Sets Reps Rest
 * Romanian Deadlifts 3 6-10 2-3 min
** Glute ham raises (natural) 3 8-12 90 sec
*** Leg press (feet high, med.) 4 15 60 sec
Standing calf raises 4 20 60 sec

* Be sure to go only as low as you can without rounding your lower back. The depth varies from person to person.

** You will have to use slight “push” off the bottom, but be sure to minimize it and keep the focus on your hamstrings.

*** Feet high on the platform, medium stance.

Weeks 5-8

Workout A

Exercises Sets Reps Rest
 * Back squat (narrow) 3 6-10 2-3 min
Barbell split squat 3 8-10 90 sec
** Leg press (feet low, wide) 4 15 60 sec
Seated calf raises 4 20 60 sec

* High bar placement, narrow stance. 

** Feet low on the platform, wide stance.

Workout B

Exercises Sets Reps Rest
 * Goodmornings  3 8-10 2-3 min
Barbell lunges (long step) 3 8-12 90 sec
** Leg press (feet high, narrow) 4 15 60 sec
Standing calf raises 4 20 60 sec

* Be sure to go only as low as you can without rounding your lower back. This depth varies from person to person.

** Feet high on the platform, narrow stance.

Upper body stuff

I’m not going to go into much detail as to what exercises you should do on upper body days. After all, this program is about getting BIG tree trunks. However, here are some guidelines for your upper body days:

Tuesday: (Upper Body Maintenance) (A)

A. Horizontal press  
B. Horizontal pull 
C. Single joint shoulder
D. Single joint bicep
E. Single joint tricep
F. Ab/core exercise

Friday: (Upper Body Maintenance) (B)

A. Vertical press  
B. Vertical pull 
C. Single joint chest
D. Single joint bicep
E. Single joint tricep
F. Ab/core exercise
G. Upper back accessory

Notes: Pick the exercises and set/rep schemes you want to use. Keep in mind that this is purely for upper body maintenance.

Tempo and progression

Tempo

You may notice that I didn’t mention tempo. This is simply because I have tried to count tempos myself in the past and it just doesn’t work. I can’t focus on moving a heavy load with correct form while counting the tempo. Instead, this is what I want you to do: focus on controlling the negative portion of the lift. Pause very slightly, then explode into the concentric portion as fast as possible, yet IN CONTROL! This is your tempo guideline.

Progression

Exercises with rep ranges

The first week of an exercise, simply start with a weight that you know you can handle for the middle rep range and stop at the lower end of the rep counts. Then, the next week, increase the number of reps from the week before, with the same weight while avoiding failure. Repeat for the next week: keep the weight the same and shoot for more reps from the week before without hitting failure (while staying in the rep range). For the fourth week, keep the weight the same and try to beat the numbers from the week before, but this time it’s ok to go to failure.

Let’s use the front squat as an example over the first four-week period using a 3×6-10 rep scheme. 

  • Week 1: 225/7 – 225/6 – 225/6 
  • Week 2: 225/8 – 225/7 – 225/7
  • Week 3: 225/8 – 225/8 – 225/7
  • Week 4: 225/9 – 225/9 – 225/8

Exercises without rep ranges

For these exercises (such as the leg press), for the first set of Week 1, pick a weight that you know you can do at least 10 more reps with than the prescribed number, without hitting failure. Add more weight on each subsequent set. Then, for the first set of the next week, start with the weight that you used on your second set in your first week. Continue to add weight on each set. The third week, start with the weight that you used for your second set on the second week and progress as before. Proceed similarly for the fourth week.

Let’s use leg press as an example over the first four weeks using a 4×15 rep scheme.

  • Week 1: 585/15 – 595/15 – 605/15 – 615/15
  • Week 2: 595/15 – 605/15 – 615/15 – 625/15
  • Week 3: 605/15 – 615-15 – 625/15 – 635/15
  • Week 4: 615/15 – 625/15 – 635/15 – 645/15

Keep in mind, these numbers are just examples. You may or may not progress this fast; there are too many factors to consider. At the end of the day, the take home message is that you should be pushing to progress and get stronger over time.

Some final words on the program

This program is strictly for those who want to put some serious size on their legs, mainly for aesthetic purposes. This isn’t how I would train a competitive or strength athlete’s lower body. This IS how I would put some serious size on a bodybuilder’s legs in the shortest amount of time possible. So if you’re ready to start looking for new jeans to fit your newly enlarged legs, then this is for you!

This program should be performed for eight weeks as laid out. Once you have completed the program, take one week off from any leg training. Do not use this program for more than eight weeks and do not repeat for at least another 16 weeks.

You may wonder why this program doesn’t have supersets or dropsets, forced reps, or Eastern European upside-down triangle reps. That’s because it doesn’t take all that fancy stuff to build a jacked pair of legs. The principles that this program rests on have been used not only by me and my clients, but by trainees all over the world with great results!

If you can handle the challenge, then get to work, get to eating, and get to growing!

Written by Chase Karnes

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Building Monster Legs discussion thread

About Chase Karnes

Chase Karnes graduated from Murray State University with a degree in Exercise Science. He is a NSCA certified personal trainer and strength coach located in Western Kentucky. He is currently studying for his Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist certification (CSCS).

Through Argonauts Fitness, Chase has worked in the exercise and nutrition arena for half a decade. He has hands-on experience working with strength and physique athletes along with athletic and general populations. Chase is also a competitive athlete himself competing in NPC Bodybuilding, Powerlifting (1330 Raw Total), and NAS Strongman competitions. He has worked or consulted with clients from over 6 states.

Chase can be contacted for personal and group training, program design, nutrition consultation and speaking engagements through his website www.chasekarnes.com or Argonauts Fitness