Both men and women with skinny legs often want to know how to get thicker thighs fast. Whether for strength or aesthetic appeal, increasing muscle size requires intense weight lifting and the proper diet. Don't expect results overnight, as building lean mass takes time.
Set Goals and Expectations
How quickly you can get a thick body shape and how big you can grow your thighs depends on several factors, some of which are in your control and some that are not.
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Genetics plays a major role in how much muscle you can put on and how easily and quickly. There are three main body type categories, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM):
Ectomorphs: Tending to be long and lean with low body fat, ectomorphs find it hard to put on muscle. It can take a long time and their training program and diet must be very specific to be effective.
Endomorphs: Typically stocky and large-boned, endomorphs put on muscle easily, but also put on fat. Gains are relatively faster.
Mesomorphs: Somewhere between ectomorph and endomorph, mesomorphs find it easy to put on muscle and control their body weight.
If your thighs and the rest of your body could be considered skinny, it's important to set the right expectations. You can certainly increase your thigh size, but it will take more time and hard work than someone with a bigger body type that is more easily able to add mass.
Another factor that determines how quickly you'll get big thighs is where you are starting from and your training history. If you are just getting into weight lifting and have never strength trained before, it will likely take you longer than someone who has already been training or who trained earlier in their life.
This is due to something called muscle memory, according to an article published in the Journal of Experimental Biology in January 2016. Muscle fibers that have previously grown larger through training but have shrunk in size can regain mass more quickly than fibers that have never changed size.
Develop the Right Training Program
By far the most important component to the question of how to get thicker thighs is your training regimen. Your muscles grow when you apply stimulus to which they must adapt. The keys to an effective program for bigger thighs include:
Frequency: Applying regular stimulus to your thigh muscles is crucial if you want to gain size quickly. According to a meta-analysis published in Sports Medicine in November 2016, research shows that training a muscle group at least two times a week promotes muscle growth better than training only once a week.
Intensity: This refers to your training load. In order to adequately stimulate the muscles to adapt and grow, you have to lift enough weight to fatigue the muscle fibers.
Volume: Training volume is the number of sets and reps you do in a session. Increasing muscle size requires a greater volume than increasing strength. According to a small study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise in January 2019, there is a dose-response relationship between muscle growth and training volume. The higher the volume, the greater your muscle gains will be.
Intensity and volume depend on your training experience. Are you new to the gym? If so, there's going to be a ramp up period.
NASM recommends everyone starting a weight-lifting program should begin with a strength stabilization program, lasting four weeks. During this time, you lift lighter weights for higher repetitions — 12 to 20 per set. The aim for this intro period is to establish a strong structural base so that you can increase intensity and volume without getting injured.
Read more: The Best Leg Exercises for Muscle Definition
Master the Basic Exercises
A great place to start is with body-weight movements. This will help you learn foundational movements while starting to develop strength and build muscle in your thighs. Start by mastering these three exercises without weight so you can really get the technique down. Impeccable form when you add weight will make exercises more effective and safer.
Move 1: Hip Hinge
- Stand with your feet hip-distance apart.
- Contract the muscles of your core and legs.
- Begin to bend at the waist, pushing your hips out and back. Keep your back flat and allow your knees to bend slightly.
- Come down until your torso and thighs make a 45-degree angle.
- Push through your feet and contract your thighs and glutes as you rise back to standing.
- Perform 1 to 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps.
This exercise may seem easy, since even your body weight doesn't provide any resistance. However, if you keep the movement slow and the muscles in your legs activated, you will feel it in your thighs by the last rep.
Move 2: Squat
- Stand with your feet hip-distance apart. Extend your arms straight out in front of you.
- Keep your torso erect and your core muscles contacted.
- Slowly bend at the knees and hips. Push your hips out behind you as if you are sitting down in a chair.
- Lower down until your thighs are parallel with the floor, or however far your flexibility allows.
- Pause at the bottom, contract your core and push through your heels to rise back up to standing in a slow and controlled motion.
- Perform 1 to 3 sets of 12 to 20 reps.
Move 3: Lunge
- Stand with your feet together or slightly apart.
- Keep your torso erect and contract your core.
- Take a big step out in front of you with your right foot.
- Bend both knees to 90 degrees, making sure to keep your knees aligned over your toes.
- Press through your front foot to rise to standing; then step your right foot back to meet the left.
- Switch sides.
- Perform 1 to 3 sets of 12 to 20 reps on each side.
This is a forward lunge. You can also perform a backward lunge by stepping behind you or a side lunge by stepping to the side. In a side lunge, the stationary leg stays straight.
Increase Your Intensity
Once you have developed a solid foundation, you can adapt your program specifically for muscle growth. According to NASM, the recipe for an effective thigh muscle-building workout includes the following variables:
- 3 to 5 sets of each exercise.
- 6 to 12 repetitions per set.
- Load of 75 to 85 percent of 1-rep max (the maximum amount of weight you could lift for 1 rep).
- Controlled tempo (for example, two seconds up, two seconds down).
- One to two minutes of rest between sets.
You can perform the same body-weight exercises you did in your first stage of training but apply these variables. The body-weight hip hinge exercise is the foundation for the deadlift, which uses the quadriceps and hamstrings as synergists to the gluteus maximus, according to ExRx.net. The technique is the same, but you hold dumbbells or a barbell in front of your body.
Read more: Your Ultimate Guide to Gaining Lean Muscle
You can add weight to your squats in different ways. You can perform regular squats with a barbell positioned on your shoulders, or you can do front squats with a barbell resting across the top of your chest.
According to ExRx.net, the quadriceps act as the prime mover in the regular squat and as a synergist or secondary mover in the front squat. Therefore the regular squat will activate the thigh muscles more, but including front squats in your routine every now and then can provide variety and keep your muscles guessing. You can also perform squats holding dumbbells.
Lunges can be done with a barbell or dumbbells, and you can keep them stationary or do walking lunges. Other exercises you can do on leg day include:
- Split squats
- Leg presses
- Hack squats
- Good mornings
- Straight-leg deadlifts
- Glute-ham raises
All of the exercises discussed above are compound exercises, which means they activate more than one muscle group at a time. In contrast, isolation exercises activate only one muscle group at a time. Examples of isolation exercises for the thighs are leg extensions and leg curls.
When your goal is building muscle size, these isolation exercises are worth including to further tax the individual muscles. There is some debate over whether or not isolation exercises are as effective for building muscle size as compound exercises, but according to the results of a small study published in the Asian Journal of Sports Medicine in June 2015, they are just as worthwhile.
However, if, like most people, you are short on time and/or fat burning is also a goal, you can skip the isolation exercises in favor of compound exercises. According to the American Council on Exercise, compound exercises burn more calories while you are doing them because of the involvement of a greater amount of muscle tissue. They also provide you with a bonus cardiovascular training benefit because they get the heart rate up and keep it elevated more than isolation exercises.
Cardio, Rest and Recovery
Your muscles don't actually grow while you're working out. After your workout, your body begins to repair the muscles and increase muscle fiber size so you can do more work the next day or the next week. Therefore, it is crucial to provide your body with enough rest and recovery time.
Work your legs two or three times a week on nonconsecutive days. If you are hitting it really hard, two days equally spaced is probably enough. In the meantime, work your other muscle groups that assist in your performance of lower-body exercises. Your core muscles are a huge contributor, as are your arms, chest and back.
Don't forget cardio, either. Even if your goal is just to grow massive thighs, increased cardiovascular endurance will allow you to work out longer and harder and will also safeguard your overall health.
Aim to get at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous cardiovascular exercise each week, as recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Save your cardio for after your weight-training session so you don't fatigue your muscles before lifting.
Between your lifting workouts and your cardio workouts, you also need to carve out at least one rest day. This gives your body a chance to fully repair and recover and prevents overtraining, which can lead to decreased gains.
- Journal of Experimental Biology: "Muscle Memory and a New Cellular Model for Muscle Atrophy and Hypertrophy"
- National Academy of Sports Medicine: "Body Types: How to Train & Diet for Your Body Type"
- Sports Medicine: "Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: "Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy but Not Strength in Trained Men"
- National Academy of Sports Medicine: "NASM's Optimum Performance Training"
- National Academy of Sports Medicine: "Back to the Basics: Hypertrophy"
- ExRx.net: "Barbell Deadlift"
- ExRx.net: "Barbell Front Squat"
- ExRx.net: "Barbell Squat"
- Asian Journal of Sports Medicine: "Single vs. Multi-Joint Resistance Exercises: Effects on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy"
- American Council on Exercise: "5 Benefits of Compound Exercises"
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition"
- American Council on Exercise: "Hip Hinge"
- ExRx.net: "Squat"
- ExRx.net: "Lunge"