Don't expect to get bigger legs in two weeks. It takes time and consistency in your workouts to develop big leg and glute muscles. In the end, you'll be rewarded with bigger, stronger legs that help with athletic performance and aesthetics.
Men can grow their thigh and glute muscles with resistance exercises like squats and deadlifts.
Best Lower Body Exercises
Your muscles won't grow unless they're stressed and given a chance to recover. Exercise places stress on your muscles and helps them grow. Proper rest along with a diet rich in protein and complex carbs supports hypertrophy, or muscle growth, and post-workout recovery. It's a slow process that takes consistent effort.
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Your leg muscles are used in many activities, such as running and cycling, and team sports like soccer. These endurance activities can actually help you build leg muscle, according to an April 2015 study published in Exercise and Sports Science Reviews. However, that's not the best type of exercise for building big thigh and butt muscles. The weight room is the best place to grow your legs.
With exercises like squats, deadlifts and hip thrusts, you can build bigger legs by directly targeting the muscles in your lower body. To get a better grasp of which muscles each exercise works, it's important to understand basic anatomy of the legs.
Leg Muscle Anatomy
Your thighs can be broken down into two main muscle groups: the quadriceps and hamstrings. There are also inner and outer thigh muscles, but the quadriceps and hamstrings are the largest muscle groups.
There are four separate muscles that make up the quadriceps. The vastus medialis, vastus intermedius and vastus lateralis originate from the top of the femur and insert into the patella. The fourth muscle, the rectus femoris, starts in the top of your hip bone and goes down into the knee. It's the only quadriceps muscle that crosses the hip and knee.
The quadriceps extend the knee, which means that the best exercises for growing the quad muscles involve knee extension. When the knee extends, it straightens out.
Your hamstring muscles run down the back of the leg. There are three hamstring muscles, although one of the muscles can be considered to be two. The semitendinosus and semimembranosus muscles run down the inside part of the back of your leg. The biceps femoris runs down the outer part of the back of your leg.
All the hamstring muscles start in the ischial tuberosity, which is the bony part of your buttocks. They insert into the top of your shin bone. The hamstrings directly oppose the quadriceps by flexing the knee. That means leg exercises that target the hamstrings shouldn't involve too much knee extension.
Read more: Exercises to Tone the Backs of Legs
The hamstrings have another role, which is hip extension. Since they cross two joints, the hip and knee, they have actions at both. Hip extension can either mean thrusting your hips forward or kicking your leg back.
There are three glute muscles, but the gluteus maximus is the most visible. It's the large muscle that makes up the bulk of your buttocks, and is incredibly powerful. Its main actions are to extend the hip and rotate your femur externally.
The gluteus maximus starts at the top of your hip bone in the back and goes down into your femur and into the iliotibial tract, which is a thick band of tissue on the side of your thigh. The best glute exercises for mass primarily emphasize hip extension.
Now that you're more familiar with leg anatomy, you know what muscles you need to work to get bigger thighs and buttocks. That will help you select the best movements to specifically target each muscle group.
Exercises for the Quadriceps
The quadriceps, which extend the knee, require more bending of the knee than other exercises. Squats and single-leg exercises like lunges are the most useful. If you prefer to use cable machines, the leg extension machine is made to target the quadriceps.
Barbell back squats are perhaps the most common variation of the exercise, but you can do front squats to get the same effect for your quadriceps. Both variations require a barbell.
For a back squat, the bar goes across your upper back. For front squats, it sits on the front of your shoulders, and you keep your arms up to hold it in place:
Barbell Back Squat
- Walk under a barbell and place it along your upper back.
- Grab the bar with your hands wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Lift the bar out of the rack and take a step back.
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.
- Squat down as low as possible, keeping your back flat. Keep your feet flat on the floor at all times.
- Stand back up to complete the repetition.
If you don't have access to a barbell or don't feel comfortable using one, you can perform goblet squats with a kettlebell or dumbbell. You simply hold the weight up at chest height and squat down as low as possible.
Read more: A Beginner Leg Workout Routine
Hitting the Hamstrings
Squats also activate your gluteus maxiums and hamstrings, but they require a large range of motion at the knee and primarily work the quadriceps muscle. To work the hamstrings, you can opt for a deadlifting exercise or use a hamstring curl machine at the gym.
The deadlift is known as a posterior chain exercise because it works the muscles in the back of your body, such as the lower back, glutes and hamstrings, more than it works the muscles in the front, like the quadriceps.
Barbell deadlifts are a popular exercise, as are stiff-legged deadlifts where you keep your knees straight. However, there's another deadlift variation that works the hamstrings more.
The single-leg deadlift, or single-leg Romanian deadlift (RDL), works the hamstrings to a greater extent than many other popular exercises, according to a small September 2017 University of Wisconsin study with 16 participants.
In the study, researchers tested exercises like the seated leg curl, swiss ball leg curl, kettlebell swing and RDL. They found that the single-leg RDL recruited the hamstrings the most.
- To do a single-leg RDL, start standing with a weight in your left hand.
- Kick your right leg back and lean forward with your torso.
- Keep your back as flat as possible as you lower down.
- Raise your back leg up as you go down.
- Go as low as you can; then stand back up.
Best Glute Exercises for Mass
The hamstrings are used to flex the knee as well as extend the hip. However, the main muscle for hip extension is the gluteus maximus. Since it's used to extend the hip, the best exercise to work this massive muscle should be a primarily hip-dominant exercise. The hip thrust is an excellent choice because you can use heavy weights to stimulate this strong muscle.
A June 2019 study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine showed that the barbell hip thrust is one of the best glute exercises for mass since it's better at recruiting the muscle than most movements. It can also be used to enhance sprint performance.
To do a hip thrust, you'll need a barbell and a sturdy bench or box:
Barbell Hip Thrust
- Sit on the floor with your back to a sturdy box or bench.
- The side of the box or bench should be digging into your middle-upper back.
- Take a barbell with weighted plates on either side and roll it up over your legs.
- Put a pad around the center of the bar so that it doesn't dig into your hips.
- Plant your heels in the floor and drive your hips up into the air, leaning back slightly over the box or bench.
- Go up until your body is flat and forms a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
- Lower the weight back down to the ground.
Sets and Reps for Growth
Building muscle requires discipline, patience and consistency. Slowly you'll get stronger at these movements, but if you push it too hard and too fast, you run the risk of getting injured. Try to move up in weights only when you feel comfortable. To make the exercises harder, you can also increase the amount of sets and repetitions you do.
Rather than focusing on a specific number of sets or reps to get bigger muscles, focus on volume. Training volume is calculated by multiplying the number of sets, reps and weight you use per exercise. To build mass, you have to steadily increase the training volume you use in a session, shows a small 34-person January 2019 study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.
You can play with any variable to increase the volume. You can do more repetitions, increase the weight, do more sets or a combination of all variables. The study does note, however, that increasing volume will help you build muscle, but it's not as effective at increasing strength. To get stronger, you need to increase the amount of weight you use.
Rest and Recovery
To recover and build up your muscles, you'll need protein and rest. You should leave at least 24 hours between leg workouts to avoid stressing the muscle too much. It might be tempting to go overboard and think that more work will give you greater results, but the opposite is sometimes true. Without the proper time to recover, you can slow down growth.
Eating enough protein is very important. This nutrient contains amino acids, which your body uses to create new muscle and repair damaged tissues. When you start weight training to grow your legs, your daily protein requirements will increase.
Aim for about 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. That will give your body enough resources to build muscle. Chicken, fish, beans, nuts and other protein-rich foods are all a good choice as they contain other nutrients too. You can also use protein shakes and bars to supplement your protein intake.
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "ISSN Exercise & Sports Nutrition Review Update: Research & Recommendations"
- National Strength and Conditioning Association: "Determination of Resistance Training Frequency"
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: "Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy but Not Strength in Trained Men"
- Journal of Sports Science & Medicine: "Barbell Hip Thrust, Muscular Activation and Performance: A Systematic Review"
- University of Wisconsin: "Electromyographic Comparison of the Hamstring Muscles During Various Exercises"
- Human Kinetics: "A Comparison of Gluteus Maximus, Biceps Femoris, and Vastus Lateralis Electromyography Amplitude in the Parallel, Full, and Front Squat Variations in Resistance-Trained Females"
- Duke Medicine: "Lab 14-Gluteal Region"
- American Council on Exercise: "Functional Anatomy Series: The Hamstrings"
- Radiopaedia: "Quadriceps Muscles"
- Sports Medicine: "Does Aerobic Training Promote the Same Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy as Resistance Training? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"
- Exercise and Sports Science Reviews: "Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy After Aerobic Exercise Training"
- Duke Medicine: "Quadriceps Anatomy"
- NCBI: Nutrients: "Recent Perspectives Regarding the Role of Dietary Protein for the Promotion of Muscle Hypertrophy With Resistance Exercise Training"