How to Build Muscle On the Thighs & Legs
Building and toning muscles on your legs -- including your thighs and calves -- requires regular strength and power conditioning with enough rest between training sessions to recover and heal. Choose exercises that work multiple leg muscles together rather than in isolation because multi-joint exercises can boost size, strength and function together. They can also help you burn more calories in less time so your leg muscles appear more defined and cut.
Squat and Power Superset
Warm up your body by doing five to 10 minutes of skipping rope and doing dynamic stretches, such as leg swings, standing torso twists and arm swings.
Hold a dumbbell over and near your shoulders in each hand, and stand with your feet about shoulder-distance apart. Your feet should be pointing forward, and your knuckles should be facing out to your sides. Inhale as you squat down as low as you can until your buttocks are below the level of your knees. Keep your back straight and your heels on the floor. Do not round your spine or shoulders. Exhale as you stand straight up without leaning forward. Perform eight to 12 reps.
Put the weights down on the floor or the rack, and stand in the same position as the squat to prepare for the vertical jump. Bend your legs and swing your arms behind you; do not round your spine. Exhale as you jump straight up and swing your hands over your head, extending your torso and hips slightly. Land gently on your toes and the ball of your feet in the squat position. Perform six to eight jumps.
Stack a set of aerobic steps as high as your knees, or use a plyometric box that is similar in height. Put your right foot on top of the step while holding a dumbbell in each hand by your sides. Exhale as you shift your weight toward your right foot and push yourself off the floor with your left foot, bringing your body on top of the step. Bring your left knee toward your abs, and balance on your right leg for one second. Inhale as you return to the starting position. Perform eight to 10 reps per leg.
Put the weights away, and assume the same starting position as in Step 1 to prepare for power step-ups. Bend your left leg slightly, and swing your arms slightly behind you to initiate the jump.
Swing your arms forward and jump straight up as high as you can. Switch your leg position in midair, and land gently on the step with your left foot and the floor with your right foot. Always land on your toes and the ball of your feet first. Keep your back straight. Repeat the exercise as fast as you can for 10 to 20 reps. Rest for one to three minutes before repeating the superset one or two more times.
Lunge Power Superset
Stand with your feet together, and hold a dumbbell in each hand by your sides. Step forward with your right foot about 2 feet in front of you. Inhale as you bend both legs to lower your body until your left knee almost touches the floor. Exhale as you straighten your legs and push yourself back to the starting position. Do not hunch your back or shoulders throughout the exercise. Perform eight to 10 reps per leg.
Put the weights away and stand with your right foot about 2 feet in front of you. Bend both legs into a lunge position, and swing both arms behind you. Exhale as you jump straight up, and swing your arms over your head while switching your feet position in midair.
Land gently on your toes and the balls of your feet, and immediately assume the lunge position. Repeat the exercise as fast as you can for 10 to 20 reps. Rest for one to three minutes before repeating the superset one or two more times.
Beginners should do these exercises without any weights. Once you can maintain better movement control, add free weights to the strength exercises. If the superset method is too difficult for you, do each exercise separately.
The National Academy of Sports Medicine recommends that you do three to four sets of eight to 12 reps at 70 to 85 percent of your maximum effort.
Exercise physiologist Len Kravitz recommends that you consume a meal consisting of carbohydrates and protein within 45 minutes after your workout. This is the critical window of time in which your body needs nutrients the most to repair damaged muscle tissues, replenish nutrients to your cells and re-oxygenate your blood.
Do not train if you experience any pain in your legs, hips or back. See your physician or medical professional before resuming your training. Work with a qualified fitness professional to help you set a customized workout plan that works best for you.
Explore In Depth
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- Athletic Body in Balance; Gray Cook
- University of New Mexico: Nutrient Timing: The New Frontier in Fitness Performance
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Nick Ng has been writing fitness articles since 2003, focusing on injury prevention and exercise strategies. He has covered health for "MiaBella" magazine. Ng received his Bachelor of Arts in communications from San Diego State University in 2001 and has been a certified fitness coach with the National Academy of Sports Medicine since 2002.