As a fellow hard gainer, I know how excruciatingly difficult it can be trying to put on muscle mass. At times it seems that no matter how much work you put in, you don’t see any growth (and then the growth you do see, well it is so minimal that hardly anyone notices!).
While this can be true for upper body development, in my experience it applies particularly well to lower body muscle development.
No matter how strong you get, no matter how much work you seem to do, they always look the same. At certain times it feels as if you will be stuck with chicken legs forever.
Fortunately, this is not the case.
With a few changes to your lower body training methods, you can cause some serious leg growth, and get rid of those chicken legs forever.
A little bit of a disclaimer: It won be easy. Developing an impressive set of pins takes some serious effort, and some slightly brutal training methods. But if you push through the pain, and embrace the training methods recommended, I can guarantee you will see some serious growth!
Hit Legs More Than Once a Week
Now I know that most of us love hitting more traditional body-part splits. I mean, who doesn’t like an entire day dedicated to chest and bis?
But when it comes to promoting lower body development, training legs only once per week is seriously not enough stimulus to elicit maximal muscle growth – and this holds particularly true for hardgainers!
It is pretty well known that muscle tissue takes anywhere from 24-72 hours to recover from a training session. Obviously the more brutal the session, the longer it takes for our muscles to recover. But even if we absolutely smoke our legs, and they take a full 72 hours to recover, we could train them twice per week without any risk of overtraining.
This means that if we are currently using a body-part split (and only training leg once per week), we are giving our legs less than 50% of the volume they are capable of taking.
By training legs more than once per week we can see increase the weekly training volume they receive significantly. As training volume is a known factor to promote the development of new muscle tissue, increasing it by such a large amount will provide an extreme stimulus for muscle growth and development.
For most I would recommend hitting legs 2-3 times per week (yes you read that correctly, 3 times in some cases) for a block of 6 weeks and see the gainz come in. After the 6 weeks are up, it would be beneficial to drop it back down to once per week for a fortnight (as a bit of a deload), and then repeat the process.
This is a sure-fire way to maximise the amount of volume our legs receive on a weekly basis, and as such can cause a massive increases in muscle growth.
Skip the Isolation Exercises
While hamstring curls and leg extensions are a good way to get a bit of a pump on, they do have their downfalls.
Firstly, because they can only be used with light weights, they don’t stimulate much mechanical tension. Mechanical tension describes the physical stress placed on the muscle systems, and is directly proportional to load. Mechanical tension is considered one of the three key drivers for muscle growth.
So pretty simply, the higher the load, the higher the mechanical tension, the more stimulus for the growth of new muscle tissue.
Secondly, isolation exercises eliminate the possibility of ‘indirect’ work. Indirect work refers to the stress placed on other muscle groups that aren’t directly responsible for the movement. For example, during a squat, while the quads and glutes drive the movement, the hamstrings, calves, and spinal erectors are all working hard to maintain a good position and improve stability at the key joints.
This increases the amount of volume those muscle groups receive on a weekly basis, which as we now know, will lead to improved muscle growth.
So instead of using isolation exercises, we should prioritize large, compound, dumbbell and barbell based movements such as squats, deadlifts, and split squats (and the many variations of all three). These movements allow us to shift the most amount of physical weight (which leads to an increase in mechanical stress), while also using the most amount of muscle mass (which increases weekly volume).
So by capitalising on both of these factors, we can see massive improvements in muscle growth just by swapping out our isolation work with compound, multi-joint movements.
Use Different Rep Ranges
While we using 3 sets of 10 is commonly accepted as the ‘norm’ when involving muscle growth, it again is not the most effective means.
Using moderate rep ranges (sets of 6-12 repetitions) is a great way to place metabolic stress on the muscle tissue. This in turn does certainly induce muscle damage that will promote hypertrophy. But, it only does so through metabolic stress.
As mentioned above, there are other factors that are known to contribute to muscle growth, one of which is mechanical tension. As mentioned above, mechanical tension is maximised through the use of heavy loads.
So, by also using heavier rep ranges (sets of 1-6 repetitions) we can maximise mechanical stress placed on the muscle tissue, leading to improved growth. As a bonus, these rep ranges are also ideal for the development of strength, and improving the efficiency of our nervous system.
By further improving these two factors, we can use more loads AND recruit more muscle fibres during any given lift, which can lead to further muscle growth.
Finally, while both of these optimise mechanical tension and metabolic stress, they only do so to our type II muscle fibres (also known as fast twitch muscle fibres). By also using higher rep ranges (sets of 12-50 repetitions… yes… 50) we can stimulate the growth of our type I muscle fibres (also known as slow twitch, or endurance, muscle fibres) as well as our type II fibres, completely maximising leg muscle development.
Putting It Into Practice
So, if we take into consideration these three factors; we want to increase training frequency by hitting legs at least two times per week; we want to use mainly (if not entirely) compound movements; and we want to use a number of different rep ranges.
So an example workout optimising these three key principals may look something like this:
Leg Day 1
Front Squat 4x8
Split Squat 3x10 / side
Back Squat 2x25
Leg Day 2
Back Squat 4x4
Romanian deadlift 4x8
Bulgarian Split Squat 3x12 / side
Leg Press 2x30
It is important to note that while these sessions may not look like much – they will be brutal. This is further compounded by the fact that you are performing 2 per week.
A Note on Diet
Now, something that is important to mention is that when it comes to hardgainers in particular, diet is key. You need to be maximizing your intake of protein and carbohydrates – each of which should be consumed both before and after your sessions.
The consumption of carbohydrates before you train ensures you have adequate energy available to get you through your gym sessions, while consuming them after is essential to refueling the body after it has used a heap of glycogen.
In a similar vein of thought, protein before and after your session is essential to providing the body with a steady stream of amino acids throughout your sessions duration, and after your session. This ensures maximal recovery, further increasing muscle growth.
Eat in a caloric surplus! While this one seems obvious, it needs to be said. You cannot build new muscle tissue if you are eating an energy deficit. By eating 10-20% more than your recommended daily energy intake, you can provide the essential nutrients your muscles require to grow.
Finally, don’t become too reliant on supplements. While some do undoubtedly have benefits, honestly most are a waste of money. The two that I do recommend are a simple whey protein powder, and good old creatine monohydrate.
Protein powder is an extremely simple (and tasty) way to keep your protein intake high, and offer a fantastic and easy snack. They are a very good way to ensure you are hitting your macros.
Creatine is arguably the most well researched supplement on the planet. It has been shown that supplementing with creatine will cause greater increases in strength, power, and hypertrophy, than if we were to go without it. It does genuinely make a difference.
Remember supplements are meant to be an addition to a solid diet. If your diet isn’t on point in the first place, then supplements are not going to do a single thing!
Hardgainers traditionally have a pretty hard time putting ion muscle mass. And arguably the hardest are to stack on muscle is the legs. But increasing your training frequency so your smashing legs 2-3 times per week can make a massive difference.
Furthermore. By opting for compound movements and using a variety of rep ranges you can maximize leg development through a number of mechanisms.
Your diet needs to be on point. You need to be eating a calorie surplus, and consuming adequate amounts of carbs and protein. Don’t rely on supplements, all you need is a simple whey protein powder and creatine monohydrate.
About The Author
Luke Cafferty. Luke is a fitness junkie, personal trainer, and blogger.
He’s passionate about living a healthy lifestyle and maintaining a strong and well-rounded physique.
Check out more of his work at StrengthAuthority.com or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.
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