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April 30, 2022
Things have changed since the days of lifting in the '90s and early 2000s. And by "things have changed," we’re speaking about the emphasis that your average lifter puts on building the size of their legs. Perhaps it's the fact that squats and deadlifts have become more common, or maybe it's just part of normal changes in society. Whatever happens, we love it because a thick pair of thighs can make or break a perfect physique. Still, strong thighs are an indicator of true strength and dedicated lifting habits. However, what size is ideal? Or is there an ideal size? Let's look at what the research says in regards to what gets us excited about thighs and quads. This article will go over:
Is the thigh gap still a thing, or are we looking for a pair of thunder thighs? Let's find out.
For obvious reasons, we are always a little reluctant when talking about "perfect body size" or anything of that nature. Poor self-esteem and body image issues are rampant today, especially in the world of fitness and bodybuilding; it's not just isolated to one sex.
Women can suffer from anabolic use just as men can suffer from body distortions such as "bigorexia" (a type of bodybuilding dysmorphia)1. At the same time, one of the primary goals of fitness, especially bodybuilding, is to look good. The point is that it can be a very fine line to walk.
Therefore, by all means, we want you to strive to be better. However, we also stress that you need to also love yourself if you never get to that pinnacle shape in your mind. It's safe to say that anyone who has been in fitness at one point or another has dealt with this at least once in their life. As they grew older, most of them realized that people don't really give a shit what you look like at the end of the day.
Our belief is that training to look perfect is much more important than actually looking perfect. The point is to train hard, be consistent, and never be complacent but don't put yourself down if you don't look like that guy or girl (they might even be trying to look like you).
Now being totally aware of how hypocritical this sounds, let's look at the perfect thigh size.
As the "thigh" can be a bit arbitrary, let's first talk about what the thigh actually is so that we're on the same page. The thigh is simply the upper leg area that sits between your knee and hip. Being so, the major muscles that are found in the thigh area are your quadriceps and hamstring, and the primary bone is the femur. Since the thigh is made up of your quadriceps and hamstring, the thigh is the largest part of any appendage as well as the strongest.
As the thigh is so big, there are a lot of possible places that you could measure, which isn't going to do any good when comparing numbers. When you measure your thigh, you're going to take a measurement at the largest part, which will be located in the upper third. Further, try to use a soft tape measure in order to get the most accurate reading. Wrap the tape around your thigh and make sure it's flush against your skin but not pulling into your leg.
Before we get into the actual numbers, one of the good things about thigh size is that it really doesn't matter, assuming you fall within a certain range we'll list below. You see, your thigh size is going to significantly depend on what your goals are. For example, optimal thigh size differs even within different divisions of bodybuilding. In the open category, the basic rule is as big as you can get. However, when competing in the physique categories, the leg should just be "proportional" to the rest of your body.
Even old-school physique lifters had a general rule for your thighs in relation to aesthetics. They believed that your legs should be strong and defined, yet they should not overshadow the rest of the body. In other words, if you were to look at a person and immediately be drawn to their tree trunks, they'd consider those too big.
Even in basic society, we can find a massive difference in ideals. For example, some groups of people prefer thin legs while others prefer a little thicker. Some prefer legs with heavily defined muscles, and others like just a little. It really is solely dependent on the person.
So let's start with the ideal thigh size for men.
Note: A lot of people refer to measurements simply as "quad" size, but that's just semantics. Remember, your leg size measurements will consist of the circumference of your quads and hamstrings.
While we can’t give you an ideal size, we can give you some numbers to see where you stack up.
Actually, there are two numbers to consider; absolute size and proportions.
Proportional Thigh Size For Men:
When looking at proportions for men, there are two numbers we can look at:
Again, these numbers are used to create the whole package. As mentioned above, most guys want a set of legs that are powerful looking but not overly large, something right down the middle. This is likely because the legs can easily become the center of attention. We have all seen the memes of guys who have impressive physiques yet are walking around with skinny legs (hint: It's the guy who always wears pants no matter how hot it is). However, we have also seen guys with huge legs who also grab the spotlight. That being said, most guys want a set of thighs that complement their bodies.
Absolute Thigh Size For Men:
Surprisingly, there’s not a ton of information on thigh size. The one document we can find is from the 2008 anthropometric reference data from the CDC2. They report their numbers according to age and are as follows:
The numbers on the left are the mean (average sizes), while the numbers on the right represent the total range (the smallest size and largest size). Keep in mind that these numbers are based on the entire population as a whole. This means you have people who get zero exercises, weekend warriors, elite athletes, and everything in between. As you see, there's about a 20 cm difference that can occur with thigh sizes which is almost 50% of the lower number. That's a pretty big difference.
Further, there are no other measurements, such as height or weight, to relate these to. So you may have a 6'2" guy and 5'5" guy with the same thigh size, but that will obviously look much different on the body.
That being said, we did read some bodybuilding forums to see what we could find. After reading the most we ever have about guys thighs, it seems that most seem to be around the 23-26 inch mark.
To give you some perspective, let's look at a pair of 25 inch quads...
...and a pair of 30 inch quads...
As you can see, anything above 25 is already pretty massive, and 30 inch legs are absolutely huge.
Of course, body fat percentage comes into play as well when considering thigh size. Lean, big thighs are much different than fatty, big thighs.
When looking at women's thigh sizes, there doesn't seem to be any meaningful proportion numbers of the circumference of the thigh. We could only find the measurements around both thighs in proportion to your height. We'll still give them here anyway for reference but keep in mind what this refers to:
To do the math, you simply take your height and times it by the above average proportions to see where you stack up. So, if you are 65 inches tall and 35 years old: 65 x 0.318 = 20.67 inch thighs would be proportional.
Absolute Thigh Size For Women:
Regardless, we still have some absolute numbers to share. And we're going to use the same study from above for women as well:
Again, there's a huge range. However, we do want to mention that we scoured some forums and found an interesting trend. Women of all heights and sizes had wildly different thigh sizes. At the same time, some women loved their bigger thighs, and some hated them. Some loved their smaller thighs, and some hated them. So again, the ideal thigh size really is a personal preference.
For reference, let's look at 20, 22 and 25 inch thighs on women of average height.
While you may like or not like bigger thighs, there are actually a lot of really awesome benefits big powerful thighs can bring. One study in Denmark followed 1436 men and 1380 women over 12 years to examine the relationship between thigh circumference, cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and total mortality3. While we also think that's a crazy long time to look at thighs, they made an interesting finding. A strong relationship existed between smaller thighs and incidents, meaning the participants with larger thighs suffered fewer adverse health problems.
While this is likely more due to the lifestyles that caused the bigger thighs than the thighs themselves, it's still a very telling sign. Next time someone calls you "thunder thigh"s, just say, "yea, cause I want to live longer than you!" No, no, don't say that. Actually do say it; the world is full of too many assholes.
The next study followed 324 female twins for 12 years and looked at the relationship between leg power, cognitive function, and IQ4. Again, they found that stronger legs were associated with higher cognitive scores and higher IQs. This is even more telling as these tests were conducted on twins indicating that leg training can actually improve your brain.
So now you can say, "I'm going to live longer than you, AND I'm smarter!"
If you want to grow your thighs, you'll need to train using a hypertrophy-specific program. This means moderate weight (70-80%1RM) and moderate reps (8-15). While your training plan should definitely include the squat and deadlift, you'll want to use some more specific exercises.
Exercises For The Hamstrings (And Glutes):
These are the best exercises to target your hamstrings and glutes. Unless you have a crazy body, we know your glutes are not located on the thighs. However, the hamstrings and glutes work together in almost every exercise so while it may not be your primary focus, you'll still train them:
Exercises For The Quadriceps:
These will be the best exercises to target the quadriceps. We would suggest paying attention to these as the quadriceps seems to be the most attractive part of the leg as it's what's visible. Having a prominent outer quad sweep, defined teardrop muscle, and visible line of separation between the quadriceps and hamstrings tends to be a major factor in determining how a pair of legs look:
The Best Cardio For Legs:
In addition to training them with resistance training, there is one piece of cardio equipment that seems to really help define the leg musculature: cycling. This has been shown to be the case in studies and anecdotally5. This is likely due to the muscles being under constant tension and the ability to increase the pedaling resistance. Regardless, we would suggest switching to cycling if you are really wanting to bring your leg training altogether.
How Often Should You Train Your Thighs?
Optimal hypertrophy requires you to train a muscle two times a week. This training frequency has provided the maximal amount of quality volume while effectively balancing adequate rest. However, you could benefit from training your thighs three days a week to get that growth.
Making your thighs smaller is a bit different and depends on a few factors:
Do you have excess fat?
If you have some extra weight on your body, it can often be distributed to the thighs, especially true for women. For this situation, you need to lose weight. Unfortunately, if you think about it, did you choose where the fat went? This is because the distribution is purely genetic, and you really have no control over where you lose that fat first either. The only situation where this might be true is for someone who is already lean, but that's a different story.
Regardless, you're going to need to watch your calories and get on a training routine. The above advice for exercise and cardio still applies, especially in cycling. However, since your main issue is losing weight, you don't need to be as specific as training your thighs and should just focus on a training plan that trains every part equally. And above all, you will need to get on a diet.
Are your thighs too muscular?
If your thighs are too muscular, there's really not a lot you can do as this is due to two reasons. One cause could be your genetics which you have zero control over. The other possible cause could be due to you being athletic. In this case, you would basically need to stop training and let atrophy take place to take away the muscle. If you are in a position where this is possible, keep in mind that you don't need to stop training entirely. For example, if you run 5 miles 5 times a week, you could cut down to running two times a week. On the other three days, you could maybe try rowing to still get the cardio but use your upper body. Whatever you do, we don't recommend you stop working out just to lose some size in your legs.
As cliche as it sounds, in this case, it's true. There are so many factors to consider that it's really a lost cause to try and identify the magic number. Thigh gaps or not, all thighs are attractive to some and not so attractive to others. The bottom line is you're never going to please everyone. The best advice we can give for the ideal thigh size is to live a healthy lifestyle, train hard, eat right, and see what God gave ya!
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