This Is Why You Can't Put Muscle on Your Legs

Credit: Erik Isakson / Getty Images

Powerful, Herculean legs are hallmarks of manliness and athletic performance. Training your legs properly will help you fill out a pair of jeans or shorts, avoid injuries, and dramatically improve your performance on the field, court, and trail. So why, after years of training, do so many men struggle to build their legs? Here are the top five reasons, and how to remedy them.

Your Squat Form Sucks

The squat can be a fantastic tool for building strength and muscle all over. Unfortunately, many people lack the proper technique to go heavy without hurting themselves. To fix that, you'll need to get loose. First, mobilize the hips and ankles, and train the core directly. For the hips, I recommend the Deep Lunge. For ankles, try these movements. Lastly, do the Zercher Squat. Part of why I like this variation so much is that it places the torso in a more upright position while also engaging the core better. The anterior weight shift makes it so that you can get a tight position even if you do have tight ankles. 

You Don’t Balance Pushing and Pulling Exercises

You have to train both sides of the leg to maximize muscle building, strength gains, and prevent injury. Many people focus too much on the front side, but let’s talk about that back side — the glutes and hamstrings. The hamstrings perform two jobs: To flex the knee, and to extend the hip. So you’ll want to include some movements that do both of these. One great option is the supine leg curl using sliders or a suspension trainer. I recommend doing this either as a burnout at the end of your workout or as a primer for squats. Hit a couple sets before you squat heavy and feel how much more solid your form feels, and how much stronger your squats are. Grabbing a Swiss ball also works great for this.

You Need More Volume

Doing the same old body-part split and hitting legs once per week isn’t going to cut it. If you train legs once per week, that’s only 52 sessions in a year. If you train them three times, that’s 156. Tripling your training is going to transform your body in a profound way. Not only do you need more leg days per week, but each day needs to accumulate more sets and reps. German Volume Training (10 sets of 10 reps) will likely make even the skinniest guy gain size and strength in his legs. After all, you're banging out 100 reps of a big lift at least once per week. You're going to be sore. But you're going to blow up in the process.

You Only Lift Slow

There are different types of muscle fibers that are stimulated by different styles of training, which means digging into high-rep training, low-rep training, and explosive training. Sprinting is an ideal option, especially sprinting up hills. Hill sprints will teach you to stay on the balls of your feet while you run and reduce your risk of injury. Sprinting injuries happen during the deceleration, and the hill puts you in a state of constant acceleration while reducing the deceleration of each step. Make sure you throw sprinting into the mix at least once a week, preferably twice. 40 to 80 meters for six to eight sets should do the trick.

You Don’t Eat Enough

If you want to get thicker legs, you gotta eat. The good news is that training your legs properly should give you a primal hunger. Growth means ramping up your intake of protein, carbs, and fat — the whole nine yards. Bodybuilders have had “bulk phases” and “cut phases” for years with great success because they know that a caloric surplus is a necessity for building muscle. If your body can handle lactose, milkshakes are great for building muscle. Just stay consistent and build up your daily calories and you'll see results in no time.