Why Your Legs Are Small and Weak, and What To Do About It

STACK Expert Lee Boyce explains how you need to train your lower body to strengthen and bulk up scrawny and weak legs.

Glute Ham RaiseWe've all seen it before: massive guys in the gym with Superman-like upper bodies, but glance down at their legs and it's a different ballgame. I often wonder how they even keep their balance on their flamingo legs.

Most of these guys don't train their legs at all. They're more concerned with working their upper-body "show-time" muscles to stay pumped for the ladies.

If you fall into this category, it's time to get serious. You need to train your legs.

Some people tirelessly work their lower bodies with Squats, Lunges and Leg Presses and still have twigs for legs.

If you have this problem, you must break out of the habit of training "mirror muscles." Instead, focus on the muscles you can't see in your posterior chain, which include your quads, hamstrings and low back.

If you have overdeveloped and tight quads and hips, these exercises won't have their intended impact. Your glutes and hamstrings will simply be along for the ride. There are many ways to address this issue, but let's start with the basics.

Learn How to Move

Learning to hip hinge will help you engage your posterior chain when performing leg exercises.

  • Hold a broomstick behind your back with one hand behind your neck and the other hand at your lower back.
  • Your head, upper back and butt should all be in contact with the broomstick throughout the movement.
  • With a slight bend in your knees, slowly lean forward.
  • Continue hinging at the waist until your torso is parallel to the floor.
  • Stand straight up by squeezing your glutes.

Once you've mastered technique, it's time to add some weight. The Pull Through is the easiest way to reinforce this movement pattern. Glute Bridges, Hip Thrusts and their variations will further reinforce your ability to use your posterior chain on lower-body exercises.

Getting better at these movement patterns will set the stage for more effective lower-body workouts. The more muscles you engage during your leg days, the more weight you'll be able to lift.

The Exercises

We've described some ways to wake up sleeping muscles, but they are only primers for a workout. To truly get a bigger and stronger lower body, the following exercises should comprise the bulk of your workouts.

Romanian Deadlifts

RDLs take your quads completely out of the movement, forcing your posterior chain to power the lift. The hamstrings are full of fast-twitch muscle fibers, so train them heavy with fewer than 10 reps to get them big and strong.

Glute Ham Raises

The GHR is extremely challenging, especially if you have a weak posterior chain. Lower your upper body slowly, taking six to eight seconds before your torso is parallel to the ground. Have a partner help push you back up.

You can also simulate this exercise by kneeling down with a partner holding your feet. Brace your upper body with your hands as you fall forward to the floor, then push yourself back up.

Box Squats

Squatting down to a box helps keep your shins vertical, limiting quad activity. This increases glute and hamstring strength, which is needed to get off the box and out of the hole. Perform fewer than 10 reps since Box Squats are extremely challenging.

Reverse Deficit Lunges

Lunging from a deficit forces your glutes to work harder since they have to travel a greater distance to get back up on top of the box.

Reverse Hypers

If you're lucky enough to have a reverse hyper machine in your gym, you have no excuse for not including Reverse Hypers in your workouts.

Final Thoughts

Remember to stretch and foam roll before (and even during) your workouts, and take care of your weak links. When you struggle with development, it's always beneficial to ask, "Why?" You're only as strong as your weakest link.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock