Your thighs are your wheels—your preferred method of transport, the torque behind your speed, the core to the spring in your step. They are basically responsible for helping us take the 3,512 average number of steps every day...
So if your thighs are so important, why are you ignoring them?
If you're like most people, you likely dread those "heavy" leg days that leave you hobbling out of the gym. (We like to call it Jelly leg syndrome, but we’re sure there's a more scientific name for it!) If that's you, then stay tuned for some growth-spurring leg-training tips that'll finally take the dread away and make you excited to put your legs through the routine on this page.
Of course, if you're on the other side of the spectrum and love training legs, lusting throughout the week for that familiar burn, then we have a hunch you too are going to really enjoy these tips for increased intensity and growth. Whatever camp you are in, let’s get right to the information that matters.
"Regardless of how much you like or dislike leg training, this review is bound to shed new light on the dark part of the gym where the leg equipment lives."
Upper Leg Muscles: A Brief Review
The upper legs (or your thighs as they're more commonly called) are made of a number of serious muscle groups with both leading and support roles—the star actors being the quadriceps and the hamstrings. The quads make up the bulk of your front leg, while the massive hamstrings and glutes run the back of the leg. Each muscle group has an opposing function, but the groups are highly dependent on the other's function and role in athletic performance and weight lifting.
The quadriceps femoris (a.k.a. "quads") is a group of four muscles covering the femur bone of the thigh. The first muscle group of the quad is the vastus lateralis, which is found on the outer part of your upper leg often called the quad sweep. The vastus medialis lies on the inside of you upper leg forming a teardrop just above your knee. The vastus intermedius is found on the top part of the femur and is also located deep into the lateralis and medialis muscle groups. Making up the fourth muscle group of the quad, the rectus femoris runs from the hip bones (the iliac crest) all the way down to the knee (platella). All of these four muscles are responsible for extending the leg at the knee.
The back of the upper leg is comprised of three hamstring muscles. The muscle we sit on is called the biceps femoris and has both a long head near the hip (ischial bone) and a short head above the back of the knee that connects to a tendon which connects to the fibula. The inside-back of the thighs are comprised of the semitendinosus and semimembranosus muscles. Sound like a mouthful? Well, they both connect between the hip and the tibia bone of the lower leg. Lastly and certainly not the least important, the gluteus maximus ("glutes") is the largest and thickest hip muscle and consists of the thickest and strongest fibers in the body. These muscles pull the thigh and lower leg backward like that of a thigh extension (pulling your heel to your butt).
To design a strong leg program, it’s very important to know the function of each muscle and how to place maximum tension on it to stimulate fast growth.
5 Unique Exercises to Propel Your Upper Leg Development
Without argument, the single best thigh exercise is the barbell squat—with dead lifts and heavy leg presses being the close runner-ups. There's no doubt about it, building impressive legs requires one or more of these fundamental exercises. If you think otherwise, then we can almost guarantee you that, no matter hard you try, you're likely never to develop your legs to their full potential...
The following exercise recommendations are designed to help increase your strength, whether you do them before, during (as a "super-set"), or after the primary lifts listed above. They will increase your muscle size, separation (e.g., definition), and greatly enhance muscle contractile strength and overall power:
Certainly not the easiest of exercises, front squats are mostly performed by athletes and serious lifters wanting to greatly enhance their quad sweep. With the front torso bearing most of the weight, the bar must rest on the anterior (front) deltoid, with the arms in an upright position to support the movement.
When doing the front squat look up at a marker higher than your eye level, so that you keep your positioning up and firm throughout the movement.
Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts
An absolutely amazing exercise for stimulating maximal hamstring growth and strength, these single leg deadlifts provide a burn that'll last for days! Besides one-legged lying leg curls, this is the best exercise to isolate each leg. This exercise requires strict form, and it's easy to recruit lower back muscles into the exercise, so read carefully.
With perfect posture, hold a dumbbell in each hand while placing one foot slightly ahead of the other (about a half-step). With your palms facing toward your body, slowly lower the dumbbells to your shins with your front knee slightly bent.
When the dumbbells reach mid-shin level, squeeze your glutes and push your hips forward to return to the starting position without rounding the back. Keep your chest lifted with your back flat from start to finish. The beauty of this exercise is it doesn't require you to go all the way down to your toes to stimulate the hams, and you don't need extremely heavy weight to achieve a high level of stimulation.
We recommend a lower rep range (8 to 12), and avoid doing this exercise around back days.
(Yes, your whole body is going to feel this exercise!)
Most of us are used to performing lunges using a Smith machine or a barbell. Both the Smith machine and barbells are effective ways to perform lunges, but for greater separation of the quads, along with a greater capacity for balance and weight, we recommend heavy dumbbells. Also, these dumbbell lunges use a much smaller distance from each foot for greater difficulty and a movement more advantageous for muscle building as opposed to athletics.
With a dumbbell in each hand and straight posture, lunge one foot forward a little under two feet from the planted foot. The front leg should be bent at the knee 90 degrees so the thigh is parallel to the floor. Very importantly, make sure the top of your kneecap doesn't go over the very tip of your foot or you're destined for some future knee pain. Keep your head looking forward and avoid bending your back too far forward. It is also recommended to use a higher rep range of 12 to 20 reps with few sets. For an even greater challenge, try stepping two feet behind your planted foot for reverse lunges.
To make this exercise even more challenging, you can "step up" onto a sturdy bench or raised platform with each leg individually. Please be careful, though, when performing this exercise, and ensure you have good lunging form and balance before moving on to this more advanced exercise.
Dumbbell Lying Leg Curls
Once reserved for those without a leg curl machine, dumbbell leg curls are an excellent growth-stimulating exercise for all the muscle groups of the hamstrings. This exercise is best done with a partner and can easily be performed with a moderately heavy dumbbell on a flat bench.
Lie flat on your stomach on the bench so the end of the bench is near the mid-quad area. Have a partner place a dumbbell between the arches of your feet while keeping your feet squeezed tightly together with your feet pointed away from your body (toes pointed).
With your feet tightly cupping the dumbbell between your arches, slowly perform a lying leg curl. Feel all the muscles of the entire leg working to lift the weight while stabilizing the body. This exercise also stimulates the calf muscles when a heavy weight is used. A recommended rep range is 8 to 15 with proper form.
Smith Machine Single Leg Lying Leg Press
This exercise might draw some attention, but you'll be commended for your creativity and incredible upper leg development. This exercise requires a Smith machine that isn't angled and moves vertically. Place a mat on the floor long-ways under the Smith machine bar and lie down with your hips directly under the bar. Place both feet under the bar, push up slightly, and then twist/roll the bar with your feet so the bar becomes unhooked/unhinged. (It's also good to have a partner help with this.)
Put one foot down flat on the floor, leaving one leg to support the entire weight of the bar, and slowly lower the bar until your knee is near your chest, and then thrust the weight up. You can target different parts of your upper leg by changing the location of the bar... place the bar under the balls of your feet for greater quad recruitment or place the bar under your heels for greater ham recruitment. Or just set the bar on your arches for optimal recruitment from both important muscle groups.
We recommend a higher rep range of 12 to 20 reps each leg. With this exercise you can also point your toes in or out slightly to change the emphasis on the inner or outer thigh.
You are well aware that if you blast your legs, you may pay the price over the next few days. Stimulating such a large muscle group demands preparation before, during and after your training. Ensuring you are using BIO-GRO™ Bio-Active Peptides consistently will ensure you are optimizing protein synthesis to increase the rate of recovery and muscle building. Ample protein of at least 1 to 1.5g of protein per pound of target bodyweight is a must. Follow your leg training session with 1-2 scoops of 100% BIO-ACTIVE WHEY to get the fast absorbing whey protein necessary to quickly recover.
Pair BIO-GRO and 100% BIO-ACTIVE WHEY with PRE-GRO™ MAX is a formidable stack to get the most out of your leg training. PRE-GRO MAX delivers strong energy and focus as well as strength ingredients like creatine and beta-alanine to help you squeeze every last drop out of you lifts. Oh and the plasma Expansion matrix will absolutely blow your legs up, putting more growth pressure on your muscle fibers.
Changing variables in your routine only leads to greater gains. Adding these exercises to your leg-training arsenal can only help thrust upper leg development—faster than you might imagine. Remember, as mentioned earlier, these exercises aren't intended to replace the "bread-and-butter" of your leg training: barbell squats. Instead, we suggest you use these recommendations in conjunction with your regular leg exercises... for systemic growth throughout the legs and to help increase strength, muscle separation, and overall power.