Thicker legs make for a strong physique and a voluptuous backside. A thick legs workout includes squats, as well as other compound exercises, to build strong quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves.
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Go Heavy for Muscle Gain
Getting thick isn't about gaining fat. What you want is lean muscle development. Lean muscle gives you the sculpted, strong legs you desire.
Women need to commit to a vigorous training regimen to gain muscle. Bypass the 5- or 10-pound dumbbells, especially when it comes to your legs. These are some of the biggest muscles in your body. You need heavy resistance to challenge and develop your thighs, calves and buttocks.
Read more: Your Ultimate Guide to Gaining Lean Muscle
Go heavy and get out of your comfort zone, recommends the American Council on Exercise. Pick a set of dumbbells or a barbell that feels challenging to you. Choose a weight that can be lifted 10 times or so, with the last 2 reps feeling exceptionally hard.
You'll read a lot about completing 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions for each exercise as a general strength-training rule. While this can help you maintain muscle for good health, if you're looking for a thick legs workout, use heavy weights and perform fewer reps.
The American Council on Exercise suggests just 3 to 6 reps when doing thigh-thickening exercises. Give yourself a rest with these heavy sets — aim for about 60 seconds of recovery in-between.
A Note About Progression
Depending on your overall fitness and training goals, you may work your legs two or three times a week. A study published in Frontiers in Physiology in July 2018 showed that three training sessions per week consisting of 2 sets per exercise were superior to just one session of 6 sets per week.
A small group of novice lifters performed 2 sets of 12 reps of knee extensions at 67 percent of their estimated one-rep maximum, while another small group did just one training session per week with the same weight, but 6 sets. Those doing three sessions per week experienced greater improvements in thigh circumference and muscle thickness.
If you're new to training your legs, start with functional movement patterns without using resistance. Perform the exercises listed below without any weight. As you progress, incorporate a barbell or dumbbells into your workouts.
Muscles thicken up when pushed beyond their comfort zone, but you don't want to break your body in the process. Be smart about progressing so you don't injure yourself.
Read more: Outer-Thigh Exercises
The best thigh-thickening exercises target multiple muscles at once. The January 2020 issue of the International Journal of Sports Medicine published research comparing the muscle-building effects of back squats compared to those of hip thrusters.
This small study revealed that after 12 weeks of training, women experienced greater muscle hypertrophy — or growth — with the back squat as compared to the hip thruster. But the study noted that both hip thrusters and the back squat improved quadriceps femoris and gluteus maximus thickness. The back squat was just a little more efficient.
When you do squats to build leg thickness, do make sure you move through a full range of motion. A January 2020 review published in SAGE Open Medicine showed that moving through a full range of motion results in greater increases in muscle size compared to training with a partial range of motion. The quadriceps, for example, grows when moved through a full range of motion — meaning you should perform squats to at least 90-degree of knee flexion whenever possible.
When looking to thicken your legs, don't skip your ankles. Thick hips and thighs look out of proportion with skinny calves. As the American Council on Exercise points out, your gastrocnemius and the soleus make up the entire space of the back of the lower leg and are critical for everyday activities like walking, running and jumping.
Thick Legs Workout Ideas
Maximize muscle growth with leg workouts at the gym. Remember to push yourself with heavy weights and don't worry about doing dozens of reps. Consider training your legs about three times per week on non-consecutive days to see major changes. Get adequate rest between your workouts so that your muscles can recover properly. The American Council on Exercise suggests several of these exercises to boost your leg size and muscle thickness.
Move 1: Back Squat (Barbell Squat)
The back squat targets the quadriceps at the front of your thighs and uses your buttocks, inner thighs and soleus muscle of the calf for assistance.
- Approach a barbell racked on a squat rack at upper chest height.
- Step under the bar to position it at the back of your shoulders.
- Hold the barbell stable with an overhand grip.
- Lift the bar from the rack and stand with your feet shoulder-distance apart.
- Bend your hips to push your buttocks back and bend your knees, keeping your feet pointed forward. Maintain a straight back.
- Lower until your thighs are at a 90-degree angle or just past parallel.
- Straighten your hips and knees to stand up straight to complete 1 repetition.
Move 2: Suitcase Squats
Suitcase squats simply change the position of the weight to target your quads and buttocks in a slightly different way. The more directions from which you can target a muscle, the better the results.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand and allow them to hang alongside your thighs.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointed in the same direction as your knees.
- Bend your hips to lower your buttocks down and to the back. Simultaneously bend your knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Keep your heels flat on the floor and your chest lifted.
- Pause momentarily at the bottom and then straighten the legs to return to the full stand to complete 1 repetition.
Read more: 17 Exercises to Tone and Shape Your Booty
Move 3: Hip Thrusters
Hip thrusters compete with squats when it comes to building big quads and glutes. If you have access to a bench, use it because it increases your body's range of motion and thus the move's effectiveness.
- Sit on the floor in front of the long side of a workout bench.
- Roll a barbell up and over your hips at the crease of the thighs (use the barbell pad for comfort and best execution).
- Center the bar over your hips and position your upper back on the edge of the bench.
- Plant your feet with knees bent about a shoulder-distance apart. Hold on to the shaft of the bar.
- Lift your hips as high as you can. Hold the contraction.
- Lower your hips back down to complete 1 repetition.
Move 4: Wide Squat With Heel Raise
This exercise builds proportionate thickness in your legs by targeting both your calves and your thighs. You may use a barbell placed across the back of your shoulders instead of the dumbbells.
- Stand with your feet wider than your hips, toes pointed slightly out.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand up by your shoulders.
- Lift your right heel off the floor, keeping the left heel flat. Bend your knees to lower your thighs until they're parallel to the floor.
- Rise back up and perform the desired number of repetitions. Repeat with the left heel lifted.
- Frontiers in Physiology: "Higher Training Frequency Is Important for Gaining Muscular Strength Under Volume-Matched Training"
- Sage Open Medicine: "Effects of Range of Motion on Muscle Development During Resistance Training Interventions: A Systematic Review"
- International Journal of Sports Medicine: "Back Squat vs. Hip Thrust Resistance-Training Programs in Well-Trained Women"
- American Council on Exercise: "Get Stronger Calves With These 5 Exercises"
- American Council on Exercise: "A Girl's Guide to Gaining"