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September 15, 2023
Having chicken legs has always been a joke amongst gym goers, but there's been a massive shift in thinking over the past few years. Back in the day, it was never cool to have chicken legs, but guys didn't train to get rid of them. They just wore pants.
In the 2020s, chicken legs still aren't cool, but now guys and gals will hit the gym to get thicker thighs, rather than resign themselves to only wearing pants. Leg day has become a priority, and a well-built lower body is incredibly impressive.
But, how do we actually train to get thicker thighs? This article will cover everything you need to know.
Table of Contents:
The thighs refer to the upper portion of the legs in its entirety, whose full circumference is easily the largest and the thickest part of the leg. The two major muscle groups that comprise the thigh muscles are the hamstring and quadriceps. The thigh muscles attach to the thigh bone, also known as the femur.
You can also add the hip adductors and abductors, as they contribute to the overall thickness.
The hamstring muscles are a muscle group that sits on the posterior of the upper leg. Together, it contains three different muscles that cross the hips and knees. These three muscles are:
The quadriceps sit across from the hamstrings on the anterior side of the upper leg. As the name "quad" may suggest, this muscle group comprises four different muscle heads. These muscles are:
The primary job of the quadriceps is to extend the leg. Further, it also plays a small role in the flexion of your legs by pulling your thighs up.
Hip abduction refers to the movement pattern in which the leg moves out from the body laterally. While several muscles are involved, the primary muscle group is the gluteus medius of the gluteal muscles.
The gluteus medius sits on the outside of the upper hips and is the primary hip abductor muscle. Interestingly, the hip abductor muscles' primary function isn't necessarily to lift the leg outward and help maintain balance. This is accomplished by pulling the leg outwards.
Working against the leg adductors, which pull the legs inward, these muscles creates a steady base.
Imagine the burn that builds on the outside of your glutes from standing on one leg. To keep the torso steady and to prevent the hips from sagging, the adductors and abductors must fire simultaneously to keep a strong base. Weak hip abductors and adductors can result in various overuse injuries in the hips, knees, and ankles.
Let's now go over some of our favorite exercises to hit the various thigh muscles.
Keep in mind that many of the exercises are going to hit all of your lower body muscles. Therefore, when we have an exercise placed for the quadriceps, for example, that just means the quads are the primary muscle group.
We're first going to start with the quads. These are the muscles that people will see first when you're walking toward them, and first impressions are crucial. Use these exercises to make your quads pop.
We don't need much explanation for why these are on your "must-do" list. The back squat is literally one of the foundational movements you should be doing. For the lower body, the squat is king.
The front squat is a nice little variation to add muscle mass to the front of your thighs. As the front squat has the weight on the front of your body, your torso is required to stay more upright, meaning less hip flexion. This results in less recruitment of your posterior muscles, and it's up to the quads to pick up the slack. Oh, you'll get a killer core as well.
To directly compare the two, read Front Squats vs Back Squats: What's The Difference?
This is a bit of a "secret" exercise that you rarely see. I love simple and effective, and that's what you get with sled work. It's our theory that people think it's too simple, so it likely doesn't work. Don't make this mistake.
When you do backward sled drags, you're almost performing a ton of mini-leg extensions. As it's basically a brutal leg extension machine, you will feel new sorts of pain in a good way.
Check out more great variations in our article on the sled push and pull.
Leg extensions are a great isolation exercise as long as you use them within reason. Don't go excessively heavy, and be sure to use controlled motion.
Goblet squats work in the same manner as front squats except less technical. We generally use goblet squats for some killer high-rep quad burn!
Now for the posterior. These exercises are guaranteed to give those behind you a good view, but if you want even more, check out the 23 All-Time Best Hamstring Exercises.
Another obvious lift, the deadlift, is ultimately a huge hip extension. And by huge, we mean it's the strongest lift for most people. Combining a hip hinge with a ton of weight, it's pretty clear you need these for hamstring development.
The low barbell squat is a variation of the barbell squat that will put more focus on the hamstrings. To perform these, your starting position places the barbell a few inches lower than a standard squat. As a result, the torso must bend over more to keep it over your center of gravity. This requires more hip flexion and, thus, more hamstring activation.
Check out our Squats Guide for even more great variations.
The Nordic hamstring curl is an intense hamstring exercise that utilizes your body weight and eccentric contraction. The eccentric contraction is crucial for muscle growth as studies have found it plays a significant role in muscle damage and hypertrophy.
Even though it's a bodyweight exercise, don't confuse this with being easy. These will make your hamstrings scream.
Lying leg curls hit the hamstrings in a unique manner that seems to allow better isolation of the hamstrings. When you perform these, use appropriate weight and concentrate more on performing a full range of motion, especially the final couple of inches. You can use a traditional leg curl machine, or as shown in the picture above, you can recreate the movement with a dumbbell.
For more great exercises, check out these 10 Best Dumbbell Hamstring Exercises.
Now, we'll look at how we can grow the outside of the hips using hip abductor exercises.
The single-leg Romanian deadlift is an excellent exercise to build thick thighs, specifically the outside. Because you stand on one foot, that leg must work overtime to maintain balance.
If you've ever stood on one leg and felt the outside of that thigh-burning, this is why. However, with the single-leg deadlift, you're standing on one leg AND doing a hip hinge. This requires significant balance, so the hip abductors fire like crazy.
What's the best way to train hip abductors? Use the cable machine to perform hip abduction! I like using the cable as it allows us to get a full range of motion across the body.
Now, let's get to the pesky inner thighs. Here's how to slim and strengthen your adductors.
Remember that these muscles don't add a ton of mass to help build thicker thighs. However, you need to counteract the strength of your other thigh muscles.
Muscular imbalances are one of the most common reasons for injury, meaning you shouldn't neglect any…even if it's now "showy." Therefore, if you want to grow big, strong abductors and glutes, you also need hip adductor exercises.
The sumo squat is going to strengthen your adductors and improve your hip mobility. Altering your foot width will help you feel it more or less in your inner thighs. We love these as they're one of the best strength training exercises and allow a lot of stress to be placed on the adductors.
Like cable hip abduction, if you want to train your hip adductors, perform hip adduction. Enough said.
Plie squats resemble sumo deadlifts, but instead, you hold a single dumbbell between your legs. Don't think you can't load these high enough just because you use a dumbbell. I like to plie squat for burnout sets toward the end of a training session for a killer adductor burn.
Check out the 9 Best Inner Thigh Exercises for more great adductor movements!
Here are some bonus thigh exercises to toss in your session, especially if you also want booty training for the gluteus maximus.
When how to get your thighs bigger is one of your primary training goals, cycling is one of the best cardio exercises. Each person responds differently, but we've seen some trainees' legs respond like crazy to cycling, indoor or outdoor. Just take a look at the pros to see what I mean.
Throwing in some cycling HIIT or intense, steady-state rides could help with the overall development of your thigh muscles. Plus, you're going to get your cardio and all the other benefits of stationary bikes.
Give it a shot and see how you feel. If you want an example of some leg-building cardio, try this:
For more options, check out our article: How To Do Cardio Without Running: The 2 Best Non-Running Cardio Workouts.
Going to the gym doesn't automatically mean you'll see muscle growth. To get bigger thighs, you need to specifically train to increase the muscle fibers and add more muscle mass. It's relatively easy once you understand the methods to increase muscle growth.
For those wondering how often to train, you need to train at least twice a week to optimize muscle growth. This lets you get the most training while allowing enough recovery between sessions.
That said, you may want to bump this up to 3 times a week for a short while. While twice a week is best for long-term growth, hitting a muscle group 3 times a week could be effective for the short term (4-6 weeks), assuming you are eating enough to support this growth.
This extra volume can be what is needed to kick your muscle growth into high gear.
Variety is the spice of life and training, and it's how you get thicker thighs. As seen above, your thighs basically have four sides. Not only are there four muscles to hit, but they all function differently when your body is in different positions.
This means they will receive different stimulation from different angles. Therefore, you need to add variety to your training regime to hit your muscles at various angles for optimal growth.
To be clear, this is not "muscle confusion" or anything like that. You should have variety in a structured manner. For example, run a set of exercises for 4-6 weeks and then swap out with those that are similar biomechanically.
Some ways to add variety are:
Again, stick to the basic exercises and just rotate through those; there's no need to always use brand-new exercises. For example, use a sumo squat in place of a normal-stance back squat.
Similar to above, use a variety of reps to hit the different training variables:
All these play off one another, so improving one will improve the others. Further, in my professional experience, I have seen different rep ranges work better for different people. This comes from personal experience, anecdotal experience, and training others.
For example, some people respond better to heavy weights, and some use light weights. We know people whose thighs blow up just from cycling! Try a variety of reps and see how your body responds.
Building thicker thighs requires two different variables. The first part is obvious: You need to train them using the right exercises and variables (see above). However, you must also remember that you can't make big thighs without feeding them!
Building muscle requires energy, which means more calories.
Still, you want to build muscle, not fat. To do this, you need to be eating healthy in a slight caloric surplus of 300-500 calories. The higher the surplus, the greater the chance of gaining extra fat. Depending on who you are and your goals, this may or may not be an issue, so consider that when deciding how big of a surplus you need.
Follow these simple guidelines for your macros. And be sure to check out our article on Counting Macros for a deeper dive.
Protein contains amino acids, the building blocks of muscle. This is the most important macro to build your thighs thicker with muscle mass, so don't skimp. The absolute minimum amount of protein should be 1.6g per kilogram of body weight.
However, 2.0g is the general suggestion for serious athletes and lifters. Read more about how much you need specifically in our article: How Much Protein Per Day To Build Muscle?
Fat is interesting in the lifting world as it doesn't directly impact your performance in the gym. It plays a multitude of critical secondary roles, though, such as:
For these reasons, the fat intake for an athlete or lifter should never go under 30%. At the same time, be sure to get cholesterol for testosterone production and omega-6, as many have a lopsided ratio with omega-3.
Carbs are going to fuel your athletic performance. Further, while the exact mechanisms are unclear, carbs play a pivotal role in muscle hypertrophy. This is why you should NEVER do keto or low-carb diets when trying to build muscle. (We're not saying these don't have a good use. It's just not for building muscle).
Regardless, since you already have your protein and fat needs, you simply fill the rest of your calories with carbs. Again, you can alter your fat and carbs intake some as long as your fat is >30% and your carb intake is sufficient at >30%
On top of eating a healthy diet, adding a few supplements to your routine can also play a massive role in overall muscle gain.
Other than being awesome, several good things come with having thicker thighs. Here's a summary of some of my favorites.
As mentioned, having thicker thighs instantly projects that you train hard in the gym. While there are some with poor genetics, every real trainee should have decently thick thighs within reason. Plus, it will enhance your aesthetics.
To balance out massive, muscular thighs with a well-defined torso, check out our article on The Best Aesthetic Workout Routine (For The Perfect Physique).
The thighs are where it all happens in terms of performance. Not only do they control things like running and jumping, but it's up to the thighs to help create a strong base for upper body movements. Muscular thighs mean faster, stronger, and more stable performance.
No house is safe with an old, weak foundation. As the thighs are paramount to locomotion and posture, a lot can go wrong if yours are weak. When there is a lagging muscle, it causes other muscles to compensate, which leads to fatigue and poor form.
As a result, injury occurs from overuse and faulty biomechanics. Therefore, if you have weak thigh muscles, basically everything from the waist down will suffer.
Here are some further answers to questions you may have about growing thighs in the gym.
Total time to get bigger thighs depends on variables like training frequency, load, and nutrition. However, with consistent progressive overload and caloric surplus, some people can start seeing bigger thighs within 4 weeks. That said, for a true and lasting physique change, it can take 3-6 months of training.
For a skinny girl to get thick thighs, train your legs a minimum of twice a week, using a variety of quad, hamstring, adductor, and abductor exercises. Test lower rep ranges with higher weights all the way to high rep ranges with lower weights to see how your body responds.
To grow any muscle group, make sure to train it with at least 10 sets each week. You can use a mixture of the exercises in this article to combine those sets over 3-5 sessions.
I've gone over some of my favorite exercises, training variables, and nutrition tips to stimulate muscle growth for your leg muscles. As mentioned, however, they'll only work if you make a directed effort to build more mass.
Like all muscles, use variety, train often, and train hard. If you follow this, your regular-fit jeans will be your new skinny fit!
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