Wondering how to build strong leg muscles? A fitness trainer answers our most googled questions.
Sure, hitting the squat rack is important if you want killer quads and hamstrings. But do you know what else it takes to build a really strong lower body? Gaining strength is a cocktail of things, including how heavy you’re lifting, how often you train and how well you recover.
It’s important to know all of that, as keeping your lower body strong is so important. Firstly, to reap the benefits in your workouts, but also to help alleviate knee, hip and back pain. Building muscle in the lower body means you’ll be able to run faster, jump higher, lift heavier and dance for longer. Who wouldn’t want that?
Every week we ask trainers some of the most-asked questions from women who want to get into lifting. This week, we asked strength and nutrition coach Pennie Varvarides how to build up your leg muscles.
How do you build leg muscle?
“To build muscle generally, you need to be resistance training on a regular basis with enough frequency. If you’re trying to make your legs stronger and you only have time to train them once a week then that’s better than nothing, but it’s not going to be as effective as working out your legs twice a week, for example.
“Compound lifts, like squats, lunges and deadlifts, are more efficient than doing isolation moves like leg curls or extensions, but that doesn’t mean it’s one or the other. I would start with the biggest lifts first and then do isolation things further into the workout. This is partly because the compound lifts involve more skill so you need to concentrate better and have more energy to do them. If you do them at the end when you’re tired, the lifts won’t be as good.
“In terms of food, you want to be making sure you’re eating enough protein. Generally, the recommended dose of protein is about 1.6 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. So if you weigh 60 kilos that would be between 96 to 132 grams of protein a day.”
Which exercises are best for building leg muscles?
“Number one would be squats. It doesn’t necessarily matter which variation of squat you do, but in any squat make sure you’re going the whole way down. The further you go, the more your glutes and core will work than if you’re just going half way. Front squats or goblet squats are a little bit more quad focused, whereas the back squat is more glute focused, but generally any squat will hit the quads, glutes and hamstrings.
“Lunges are the same. Again, there are lots of different variations of lunging, but getting as much range of motion is the most beneficial way of working, so try elevated lunges and make sure to get all the way down. Leaning forward makes it more quad focused.
“Things like deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts will be more hamstrings and glutes. Hip thrusts will mostly work your glutes but also some quad muscles too.”
How many sets and reps should you do in your leg workout?
“If you’re lifting close to whatever your maximum is, you’re more likely to elicit growth. Generally speaking, most people aim for somewhere between eight and 12 reps, but it doesn’t necessarily matter as long as it’s hard and you’re getting a decent amount of volume. For example, if you’re doing five reps, you need to do more than three sets. Whereas if you did 15 reps, three sets might be enough.
“Working close to, but not quite at, failure, is generally better for strength building, because it’s easier to recover from which means you can work just as hard again a few days later, rather than needing loads of time off between workouts.”
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).