Natural bodybuilders compete without the use of anabolic steroids. Due to this lack of assistance, natural competitors can't handle the high-volume routines used by non-tested professional bodybuilders, as their recovery capacity is lower. When looking to bring up your legs as a natural bodybuilder, look at how often you train them and what exercises you perform.
Finding Your Frequency
Many bodybuilding routines only work each muscle once a week, but to get your legs up to scratch, personal trainer and Mr. Universe competitor Hugo Rivera advises training your legs twice a week -- on Mondays and Thursdays, with extra calf work thrown in on Tuesdays. In addition to this, professional natural bodybuilder and sports nutritionist Dr. Layne Norton recommends making one session a low-rep, heavy workout and the other a high-rep, lighter workout.
The Best Exercises
Aim to work each of the two bigger leg muscles -- your quads and hamstrings -- in roughly equal proportion. So, for every quad exercise you do, perform one hamstring movement. The key to a successful, natural bodybuilding leg routine is rotating exercises, notes pro bodybuilder Robbie Sardinia. An example would be performing back squats and leg extensions for your quads in your first session of the week, then front squats and lunges in the second. This means you're stimulating the muscles without overtraining, adds Sardinia. Pick two quad, two hamstring and one calf exercise each workout. Trainer and competitor Brian Whitacre, winner of the WNBF world championship in 2011 and 2012, recommends back squats, leg curls, hack squats, leg extensions, stiff-legged deadlifts, Smith machine and Bulgarian split squats, walking lunges and seated or standing calf raises as the most effective leg moves.
The Power of Periodization
Proper periodization is vital for developing the optimal routine, notes Dr. Norton. In your heavy session, switch exercises each week and keep your reps lower. Perform each exercise for four to six sets of three to eight repetitions and aim to lift heavier or get more reps each workout. In the second session of the week, go lighter, but increase your reps. Stick with three to four sets per exercise, but keep your reps to to at least 10 per set. IFPA pro Doug Miller even recommends going as high as 30 reps per set to elicit muscle fatigue and growth.
Some Notes for the Natural
To get bigger legs as a natural bodybuilder, you're going to have to put some serious graft in. This doesn't just mean crushing it in the gym and striving to lift heavier each workout, but also eating enough to sustain growth. No one single leg workout will ever be better than any other -- the key is the effort and intensity you train with. Focus on gradually increasing your weights, bumping up your reps and training the leg muscles to the point of failure without using poor form.