If you want to know exactly how to get thicker thighs, from the exercises to do in the gym to the type of food to eat, this page will show you what to do.
Here’s what’s covered:
- How to get bigger thighs (volume, frequency, sets, & reps)
- Nutrition, calories & protein (and why there are no individual foods that make your thighs bigger)
- My 5 favorite exercises for bigger thighs
How To Get Thicker Thighs
To get bigger thighs, simply knowing what exercises to do isn’t enough. Your overall workout routine, from the number of sets you do to the amount of rest you take between each set, needs to be set up in the right way.
Here’s how it’s done.
Choose a Suitable Training Volume
First up we have training volume, which is one of the most critical factors affecting how quickly your thigh muscles will grow.
And by training volume, I’m talking about the total number of work sets you do for your thighs, both in a single training session and over the course of a week.
In other words, the higher your training volume – up to a point at least – the faster your thigh muscles will grow.
If you’re relatively new to lifting weights, aim for around 10 sets per muscle group per week.
For example, if you’re following a 4-day upper/lower split routine, where you train the upper body and lower body on separate days, you might do the following workout for your thighs:
- Squat 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Leg Extension 2 sets x 12-15 reps
- Leg Curl 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Romanian Deadlift 2 sets x 12-15 reps
Performed twice a week, that’s 10 sets for your quads and 10 sets for your hamstrings.
Once you’ve moved past the beginner stage of training, chances are you’ll need a higher volume of training to keep the gains coming. In this case, 14-18 sets per muscle group per week is closer to the mark.
Train Your Thighs at Least Twice a Week
In terms of training frequency, you want to train your thighs at least twice a week
Hitting legs once a week can certainly work in the sense that it will lead to muscle being built. But for most people most of the time, twice a week is the sweet spot.
Consider the results of a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, where researchers got two groups of trained men to lift weights for two months .
Both groups did the back squat and leg extension for their quads, for the same number of weekly sets. The only difference was in how often the workouts were performed.
The first group hit their thighs once a week, while group two trained them twice a week.
Statistically speaking there was no significant difference in results between the two groups. Whether the legs were trained once or twice a week, the muscle gains were very similar.
But numerically speaking, it was the twice a week group who saw the best results.
When the researchers looked at total volume load (sets x reps x weight) for the duration of the study, subjects hitting their thighs twice a week ended up doing the most work.
Over a longer period of time, the increase in volume load with the higher training frequency may well lead to faster gains in size.
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To quote the researchers directly:
“It is plausible to hypothesize that this greater [volume load] achieved through a high frequency protocol if executed for a longer time frame (more than 8 weeks) may possibly culminate in a significantly greater increase in strength and hypertrophy compared with a single-session.”
In general, most people will see better results with a routine that involves working the thighs at least twice every seven days.
But if you’re willing to accept that your quads, hamstrings and adductors won’t grow quite as fast, one lower body workout a week is still a viable option.
Push Yourself Hard
Stimulating muscle growth does require that you reach a certain threshold of effort when you’re in the gym.
You certainly don’t need to push yourself to failure – that point where you’re physically unable to complete another rep. But you do need to get reasonably close.
And training harder doesn’t necessarily mean lifting heavier loads. In fact, your thighs muscles can be made thicker with a variety of rep ranges and loads, ranging from light to medium to heavy.
That is, you can do 5 reps, 10 reps or 30 reps, and your thighs will grow at much the same rate, just as long as you’re expending a high level of effort in each set.
Give Yourself Enough Rest Between Sets
And by long, I’m talking about giving yourself at least a couple of minutes rest between each set.
Why do longer rest intervals work better?
With short inter-set rest periods, particularly with exercises like the back squat, leg press, or Bulgarian split squat, residual fatigue from the previous set will bleed into the next one. This has the effect of reducing the number of repetitions you’re able to do.
As a result, the strength of the muscle-building stimulus generated by a given leg workout is weakened, which in turn means that muscle will be gained more slowly.
Include A Variety Of Exercises
Compound exercises like the barbell squat and deadlift work a large number of muscle groups simultaneously, making them a very efficient way to increase lower body strength and size.
However, to ensure complete development of all the lower body muscles – glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and adductors – your leg day should include both compound and isolation exercises.
That is, your thighs will grow more quickly if you include a variety of exercises, such as front squats, leg extensions, Bulgarian split squats, leg curls, leg presses, Romanian deadlifts, and so on.
Squats, for example, don’t do a great job of targeting rectus femoris, the muscle running down the front of your thigh.
In fact, when researchers used MRI scans to assess muscle growth after ten weeks of squat training, they found three of the four muscles that make up the quads grew by roughly five percent . But rectus femoris didn’t grow at all.
For complete quad development, you’ll need to combine squats with an isolation exercise like the leg extension, which hits rectus femoris to a greater extent than the squat .
It’s a similar story with the hamstrings. The majority of muscles making up the hamstring muscle group are biarticular, which means they cross two joints, the hip and the knee.
This gives the hamstrings two main roles:
- Knee flexion
- Hip extension
If you want your hamstrings to grow, it’s a good idea to incorporate exercises that involve both hip extension (such as the Romanian deadlift or 45-degree hip extension) and knee flexion (such as the seated leg curl or lying leg curl) in your workout routine .
Don’t Overdo Cardio
Too much cardio, running in particular, does have the potential to put the brakes on muscle growth if you’re not careful.
It does so by interfering with the quality of your workouts, slowing recovery, as well as interfering with some of the molecular signaling pathways that drive muscle hypertrophy.
How much cardio is too much?
That’s going to vary from person to person, and there are no strict rules that say exactly how much cardio you can do without interfering with growth in the thighs.
As a general guide, I’d suggest limiting the amount of moderate-intensity cardio you do to a couple of hours a week.
Don’t do any intense cardio immediately prior to training legs. You’re better off doing it once the heavy lifting is out of the way, or better still on a completely different day.
Finally, be very careful with high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which does have the potential to put the brakes on muscle hypertrophy if you do too much of it.
If you want to do HIIT while you focus on building muscle, limit it to 1 or 2 short sessions a week.
Train Through A Full Range Of Motion
Most research shows that training your muscles through a full range of motion generally leads to greater gains in muscle size than partial reps.
Why is that?
When you train a muscle through a full range of motion, you subject it to a high level of tension at long lengths.
By that, I mean you’re challenging your muscles when they’re in a stretched position.
Various studies have been done to establish the importance of training at long muscle lengths when it comes to hypertrophy.
In one trial, a team of Japanese scientists compared seated and lying leg curls to see which one stimulated more growth in the hamstrings .
Seated leg curls differ from lying leg curls in that they cause some of the hamstring muscles (specifically the ones that cross the hip) to be put in a stretched position.
After 12 weeks of training, the seated leg curls stimulated significantly more muscle growth in the hamstring muscles that cross the hip, which were the ones trained at long muscle lengths.
A similar study, this time using the leg extension machine, also shows a faster rate of growth when a muscle is trained at longer muscle lengths .
Partial reps performed in the bottom third of the movement, which challenge the muscles at long lengths, stimulated more growth than partial reps done in the top third of the movement.
Eat Extra Calories
When it comes to building bigger thighs, your training routine is only half the story. You also need to pay attention to the nutrition side of the equation.
Are there any foods that make your thighs bigger?
There’s no single food that will make your thighs bigger. If you want to maximize the speed at which your thighs grow, you will need to eat more calories overall.
That’s because building muscle takes energy. A diet designed to maximize your rate of muscle growth requires eating more calories than your body needs to maintain its weight.
That means being in a calorie surplus, rather than the deficit required for weight loss.
It is possible to build bigger thighs in a caloric deficit. But in most cases, gaining muscle in a caloric deficit tends to happen a lot more slowly than it does in a calorie surplus.
That is, without enough calories, your thighs and glutes will grow a lot more slowly than they otherwise would do.
How many extra calories do you need?
In most cases, somewhere between 300-500 calories a day above your maintenance requirements should be enough to get the job done.
As well as eating sufficient calories, you also need to pay attention to the amount of protein you’re eating.
Protein is one of the most important nutrients for building muscle, mainly because your muscles need it to repair and recover after training.
To calculate the amount of protein you need, aim for at least 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. If you prefer metric, multiply your bodyweight in kilograms by 1.6.
That will do the job for most people.
You’re also better off spreading your protein intake across 3-4 smaller meals, rather than one or two big ones.
Ideally, you’ll eat some protein within the first few hours after getting out of bed, before a workout, after a workout, and before going to bed.
That protein can come from whole foods, such as chicken, eggs, fish beef, turkey, or protein supplements like whey protein.
My 5 Favorite Exercises for Bigger Thighs
While there’s no single “must do” exercise that’s essential for building thicker thighs, if I could pick only 5 exercises to work the quads and hamstrings, these would be the ones I’d go for.
- Rest the bar across your traps and keep tight hold of the bar.
- Step back from the rack and place your feet flat on the floor, roughly shoulder-width apart.
- In this stance, your toes should point slightly outwards rather than straight ahead.
- Brace your abs before starting the descent.
- Your knees and toes should point in the same direction while you descend.
- Maintain the natural arch in your lower back throughout the exercise.
- Squat to a depth that feels right for you, which may be slightly above or slightly below parallel
- Straighten your legs and return to the starting position.
Bulgarian Split Squat
- Place the rear foot on something stable like a bench.
- Practice doing the exercise without dumbbells until you get the hang of the technique.
- Play around with the position of both feet until you find a foot placement that allows you to perform the exercise without losing your balance.
- The foot in front of your body should point straight ahead.
- Keep your torso upright or lean slightly forward throughout the exercise.
- Make sure the front knee tracks in the same direction as the foot.
- Use dumbbells, kettlebells or a barbell across your shoulders to add load and make the exercise harder.
Seated Leg Curl
- Sit down on the leg curl machine, adjusting the seat so that your knee is lined up with the pivot point.
- Make sure the foot pad is positioned just above your heels and not on your calves.
- Begin the movement by bending your knees, bringing your heels toward your glutes.
- Pause briefly with your knees fully bent before returning your feet to the starting position by straightening your legs.
- In a standing position, position your feet hip-width apart with a slight bend in your knees.
- Lift your chest and keep a slight arch in your lower back. You want to maintain this neutral spine position throughout the exercise.
- Begin the exercise by pushing the hips back as far as possible. During the hip hinge movement, your knees should remain slightly bent and your spine in neutral.
- Keep the knees slightly bent throughout the exercise, with most of your weight back on the heels.
- Lower the barbell to the point where you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. For some people, that might be at the midpoint of the shin, while for others it might be level with your knees. It all depends on how flexible you are.
- Return to the starting position by pushing up through your heels.
- Sit down on the leg press machine and put your feet on the platform.
- Your feet should be roughly shoulder width apart, with the toes pointing slightly out.
- Start with your feet placed roughly in the center of the platform, not too high and not too low. If your feet are too low, it can lead to pain in your knees. If they’re too high, you’re not working the quadriceps as hard. Play around with your foot placement until you find a position that feels right for you.
- Straighten your legs and release the safety catches.
- Lower the platform by bending your knees. Use a range of motion that’s as large as possible, but doesn’t hurt your knees or cause you to round your back.
- Make sure your knees follow the direction of your toes throughout the movement.
- Push the platform back to the starting position by straightening your legs.
Workouts for Thicker Thighs
- Barbell Squat 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Leg Curl 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Barbell Squat 3 sets x 5-8 reps
- Leg Press 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Leg Curl 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Romanian Deadlift 3 sets x 12-15 reps
- Barbell Squat 3 sets x 5-8 reps
- Leg Press 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Romanian Deadlift 4 sets x 12-15 reps
- Bulgarian Split Squat 2 sets x 8-12 reps
- Seated Leg Curl 3 sets x 8-12 reps
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