LEG WORKOUT TIPS FOR HARDGAINERS
Believe it or not… I used to be what you’d call a “hardgainer” when I was younger.
I struggled to gain muscle and build a bigger stronger frame.
So let me start with a first key tip. You CAN work your way out of it like I did!
But my whole life, even as I started to build muscle, my legs always trailed behind in muscle mass.
I sure wish someone would have shown me the 4 training techniques I’m about to show you a lot earlier, because they would have helped me to build my leg muscles at a much earlier age!
Anyone that has ever struggled to build muscle mass has likely had trouble adding sizes to their legs. Today I’m going to give you 4 leg workout tips for mass that will help even the hardest of hardgainers to pack on size and start bulking up their legs in no time.
No one knows the pain of hardgainer legs better than Jesse, so he’s going to help me demonstrate these four major lessons any hardgainer could benefit from!
#1 barbell SQUAT… LEAVE YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR
Most skinny guys allow their self-consciousness to get in the way of what they should be doing in their legs workout, especially when it comes to squats.
No doubt, it can be a bit intimidating to watch others around you squat multiple plates while you are struggling to lift even 45 lb plates on each side of the bar.
But if you want to build bigger legs, the first thing you’re going to have to do is leave your ego at the door!
I promise you, you’re going to see better results because of it!
If you have to start with just the 25s, then that’s where you have to start. Remember, everybody has to start somewhere.
But there’s one more thing you’ll also need to be mindful of…
A lot of guys will not only put more weight on the bar than they can handle, but they’ll also do little quarter reps like you can see Jesse doing below, completely missing the benefits of taking the barbell squat through its full range of motion, into a deeper squat with proper form.
What you need to do is lower to a lighter weight that you can handle, and get your intensity not from heavy weights, but instead from the high rep sets that you do in good form through full range of motion.
You can see that Jesse has the ability to go really low in the squat position and maintain correct form. I will even have him do some pause squats at the bottom to ensure that his muscles are in command of this weight, and that they’re being subjected to the entire range of motion of the barbell squat.
You’ll want to take yourself through a grueling 20 rep set to get the most out of this.
This doesn’t mean that the 20th rep is hard, but instead that the 15th rep makes you feel like you want to quit!
Then you’ll have to figure out a way to do reps 16, 17, 18, 19, and 20.
Even if you have to rest pause at the top of the squat, allow the intensity of the set in the higher rep range with light weight be the stimulus for growth while you’re working on building up proper form, and then progressively add more weight to the end of the bar.
#2 DEADLIFT… LEARN TO PUSH THROUGH YOUR FEET
The next crucial skill the hardgainer has to learn to build strong legs is how to properly push from the ground.
Guess where we learn to do that?
We can actually use the deadlift as the cornerstone of our lifts, because learning how to push more will translate over to the squat and other leg exercises.
An equal and opposite force is needed to lift the weight that is on your shoulders during a squat.
Think about it.
If you don’t know how to exert force into the ground during a squat, how are you going to push all that force that’s coming down on your shoulders, back up?
You have to learn how to actively push.
With the deadlift, we actually use our feet to drive through that first half of the range of motion.
In fact, you can think of the first half of the deadlift as a vertical leg press.
Instead of thinking about the deadlift as a pull exercise, think about it as a push exercise to the level of the knee, and then at that point we pull through the rest of the rep.
You can see here the focus on the push in the beginning half of the movement and a pull in the second half.
I want you to practice really pushing through the first half of the deadlift. You’ll build more strength through the legs off the floor and this will help you to dramatically increase your squat and be able to lift heavier weights over time. And don’t forget to take this legs exercise through that full range of motion!
#3 THREE-DIMENSIONAL LUNGE – TRAIN IN ALL PLANES
A common leg training mistake is that we often don’t train in planes other than the sagittal plane.
Leg extensions… sagittal plane.
Squats… sagittal plane.
Lunges… sagittal plane.
Doing only sagittal plane exercises doesn’t replicate the functionality of the legs and limits the muscle gain we could see if we also trained the adductors and abductors on the inside and outside of the legs.
However, we can do dumbbell lunges in a different way that will allow us to get the benefit of multi-dimensional leg training.
We can do this with the Three-Dimensional Lunge.
To do a three-dimensional lunge you’ll lunge forward to hit that sagittal plane. Then immediately go into a side lunge, which is in the frontal plane. Then follow it with a drop step lunge which is in the transverse plane. Then continue to repeat that sequence.
Not only will working this effective exercise in all three planes help you build much bigger legs, it will help you move and function much more athletically!
#4 BULGARIAN SPLIT SQUAT – LOAD SAFELY
When it comes to building up leg strength for someone just starting out, I like to include popular exercises that are technically easier to perform and allow you to add weight faster.
The best exercise to do this is a Bulgarian Split Squat.
Split squats may seem like a technically more challenging exercise compared to the squat, but it really isn’t.
The movement itself puts you in the right position automatically.
If you stay upright as much as you can, lowering yourself straight down, you can see proper and perfect quad loading right at the bottom of the exercise.
It also allows you to load the quads, and then simply dump the weights at the bottom of the squat if you need to without risk.
And there’s one more benefit.
After dropping the weights, you can continue to rep out, and train your legs through muscle failure to really create a stimulus for more growth.
We know that the squat and the deadlift are the cornerstones of complete muscle building workout routines for your legs. I’ve given you some important tips to help you master these movements and reap the greatest benefits, as well as some additional options that will allow you to load safely and build the bigger and stronger legs you need to perform those two cornerstone movements even better.
Apply these tips to your training routine, and I guarantee you’ll notice a difference week to week.
If you’re looking for a workout programs that give you the straight science on how to build muscle regardless of what you think your limits might be, I invite you to let me train you for the next 90 days. Check out our ATHLEAN-X programs to see which is the best fit for your goals and fitness level.
- It IS possible for hardgainers to be successful at muscle building, but even once the gains begin to come, the legs often lack behind. I’ve got 4 tips to help you overcome this problem.
- When squatting, make sure not to load the bar too heavy and to settle for reps that go only a quarter or halfway through the range of motion. Instead, leave your ego at the door, start with a weight you can handle and do challenging longer sets with a complete range of motion.
- Learning to push through your feet in the deadlift can improve all of your lifts on other leg exercises as well. Practice pushing through the floor by thinking of the first half of the deadlift as a vertical leg press.
- Almost all typical leg exercises are sagittal plane exercises which don’t replicate the three-dimensional movements that the legs are capable of. Practice the Three Dimensional Lunge to make sure your training session includes working the legs in all planes.
- Make sure your legs training plan includes the Bulgarian Split Squat because it’s an intense exercise that allows you to load safely and also automatically places you in the most correct possible form. You can drop the weight at the bottom of the movement if needed for safety or to continue to rep out beyond failure.
Jeff Cavaliere M.S.P.T, CSCS
Jeff Cavaliere is a Physical Therapist, Strength Coach and creator of the ATHLEAN-X Training Programs and ATHLEAN-Rx Supplements. He has a Masters in Physical Therapy (MSPT) and has worked as Head Physical Therapist for the New York Mets, as well as training many elite professional athletes in Major League Baseball, NFL, MMA and professional wrestling. His programs produce “next level” achievements in muscle size, strength and performance for professional athletes and anyone looking to build a muscular athletic physique.