3 Reasons Your Legs Won’t Grow!

You’re training hard in the gym, haven’t missed a leg day in months, you’re hitting your squats and deadlifts, but your legs just won’t grow…

What gives?!

Believe it or not there’s more to building tree trunks for legs than the simple act of squatting and deadlifting. In fact, you’ll see plenty of bodybuilders build massive legs without the assistance of either of those two exercises. Building big legs comes down to a few key variables that thankfully are no different than the standard hypertrophy principles you’d use to grow any other muscle.

Here’s 3 reasons your legs won’t grow and how to fix them!

(Need a program specifically focused on building muscle?)

1. You Only Run Strength Programming

“My deadlift max is 600lb, I’ve squatted 500lb for reps, I’m still scared to leave the house without my sweatpants”

You’ve probably seen this guy at your gym. They have insane numbers on their lower body lifts, but you’d never know it outside of the gym environment. What’s going on here, shouldn’t their legs be huge?

Don’t get strength progress and hypertrophy progress twisted. They are two separate training goals, with two separate stimulus requirements. A stronger muscles has the POTENTIAL to be a bigger muscle. However, one does not automatically infer the other.

If you find you’ve increased your overall lower body strength a lot but haven’t seen any noticeable mass gained to your legs, your training volume may be too low. This is common in powerlifting style programming which prioritizes absolute strength progress over gaining muscle (which is 100% okay if that’s your goal).

Volume is the key driver for your hypertrophy gains. So while yes, your 5 sets of 5 reps will net you some hypertrophy progress along the way, it’s not going to be anything close to the type of progress you could find on a bodybuilding program that could have you doing 4 to 5 sets of anywhere from 8 to 15 reps.

If having big legs is important to you consider switching to programming that prioritizes higher training volume. Still care about your strength progress and don’t want to ditch the powerlifting program? That’s fine, but you may want to look into adding some additional lower body volume into your programming.

2. Low Overall Training Frequency

“Bro I literally squat 3 times a week and I’m still walking around on toothpicks”

Your training frequency may be high for your squats and deadlifts, but how frequently are you training additional leg movements?

A lot of gym bros will hit their squats and call it a day…then proceed to crush three…four…maybe more…different upper body exercises. Balance. They also proceed to have the audacity to question why their upper body is yoked while they are embarrassed to show their legs…

Treat your legs like you would your upper body lifts. Nobody has a problem fitting in extra sets of curls or bench press, but mention 1 Bulgarian split squat and all of the sudden it’s “Oh I’m late for work“, “I have to be home or the wife will kill me, “Yeah yeah I would but I gotta go sweep the uh…roof…”

You might have your squats and deads on lock but if you are upset with your overall leg progress it’s good to take a look at what additional lower body accessory movements you are doing during the week, how frequently you do them, and how much total leg volume you are accruing as a whole.

3. Focusing too Much on Absolute Load

Believe it or not, load is not the end all be all of growing a muscle. Yes, you want to progressively overload weight overtime to induce hypertrophy just like you would with strength training, however, load is not your most important training variable.

Focus first on increasing your overall training volume like we talked about above, then focus on how you are actually lifting this weight, THEN focus on increasing weight on the bar.

Bodybuilder’s will focus on two things specifically while lifting. First, moving the muscle through a full range of motion. Second, controlling that muscle through a full range of motion. Both of these technique changes serve the same goal, maximizing hypertrophy potential for the muscle being trained.

Cutting ROM and moving explosively through a movement is a useful strategy for maximizing how much weight you can lift in a competition setting, but it is generally speaking frowned upon when it comes to bodybuilding.

The goal here is to increase overall time under tension (the amount of time a muscle is held under tension/strain). Time under tension being it’s own training variable that could increase hypertrophy.

If you’ve always been the type of lifter who has maximized their technique for competition and lifting as much weight as possible, it might be worth it to switch to some controlled full ROM variations for a time to see if it helps those legs of yours that “just won’t grow”.

(Check out this video for more leg training tips!) 

Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.