Gaining Weight The Right Way for Tight, Toned Legs

Sexy athletic woman with big quads. Muscular girl posing outdoor, muscular legs

Key Points

  • Genetic and biological factors play a role in the body's distribution of fat and muscle.

  • It's possible to reshape your body through a combination of diet and exercise.

  • Gaining weight in your legs involves strategic exercises and caloric supplementation with quality foods to yield satisfactory results.

Americans have weight concerns that usually center around losing a few pounds. Some people, however, are naturally thin, with efficient metabolisms that may make it difficult to keep weight on. For those with thinner frames, keeping weight on may be just as much of a stressor as losing it. Many look for answers regarding how to gain weight in the legs and lower body to look well-proportioned. 

Your genes may be working against you, but it is possible to gain weight in the legs and develop the kind of strength and stability that you seek. Proper diet, exercise, and a commitment to pushing yourself beyond your current limitations may yield a well-sculpted, strong lower body. Lace up those shoes, and we'll get those gams into shape in no time!

man posing with muscles

Why Are My Legs So Skinny?

Human genetic makeup is vast and varied, and there is no way to predict where or how your body puts on weight other than looking at the bodies of your biological family members.

Those with apple and peach-shaped bodies typically have excess weight unevenly distributed across their bodies, making them especially prone to maladies and chronic health conditions. Even an overweight person can be standing on thin legs, which makes movement and exercise even more precarious because the added weight on the frame wreaks havoc on a weak lower body.

Why are your legs so skinny anyway? Here are some possible reasons your lower body isn't meeting your stringent strength and appearance standards. Rest assured that with the right combination of diet and exercise, there is hope for even the thinnest of frames.


Your genetic makeup may be working against you. You have a unique predisposition regarding how your body distributes fat and muscle across your frame. For example, you may find it easy to build upper body muscle but struggle to complete a set of squat reps. 

The good news is that you have several strategies available for overcoming your predetermined limitations. Work with your existing musculature and combine strategic strength training with a proper diet for significant gains.

Lower Body Weakness

The concept of "mass moves mass" is often mentioned in fitness circles, suggesting that increased size relates directly to the ability to lift heavier weights. One easily assumes that having slender legs and a small lower body may also translate to weaker leg muscles.

Your primary goal should be to enhance leg strength and coordination rather than focusing solely on bulking up. This beginning approach is foundational to achieving the kind of strength and size that you desire.

Too Much Cardio

Cardio offers numerous benefits, such as enhancing heart health, reducing blood pressure, and improving insulin sensitivity. Striking a balance is essential, as excessive cardio can work against your muscle-building efforts.

This is known as "the interference effect," where your performance in strength training diminishes following intense endurance and cardio training sessions. Concurrent training involving a balanced approach to strength training and cardio is the best recipe for muscle building, heart-boosting success.

Poor Eating Habits

Sufficient calorie consumption is an essential part of muscle building and strength gains. You need an adequate amount of calories from proteins and carbohydrates to:

  • Support your workouts

  • Facilitate recovery

  • Promote muscle growth and strength

Failing to consume enough calories or maintain a balanced macronutrient breakdown designed for muscle development could impede your progress and attempts to develop leg size. Most people incorrectly estimate their daily caloric needs based on their goals. Unless you accurately and diligently track your food intake, you may be over or under-eating.

Infrequent Training

While it may be possible to yield some results by lifting weights once or twice weekly, there are better approaches than this if your ultimate goal is to increase leg size. Aim to train your legs at least twice weekly if you're going for size. Adding a third leg day may be necessary to optimize results.

Building size and strength includes consistently upping your game regarding weight load and number of reps. Jay Cutler, pro bodybuilder and four-time Mr. Olympia, shares a good reminder that "what hurts us today makes us stronger tomorrow." Make incremental changes to weight and reps that give you the physique you want.

Inadequate Weight Load

Continually challenge your strength levels to promote muscle growth in targeted areas. Repeating lunges with the same tired set of 20-pound dumbbells week after week, month after month, causes muscles to stagnate. 

Striking an appropriate balance is crucial to your continued success. Don't lift weights so heavy that you struggle to complete six reps with proper form. Your weight should still provide a challenging sensation to work as intended. 

Once you successfully complete all prescribed reps in a set with a particular weight without compromising technique, consider adding 5-10 pounds (depending on the exercise) to continue challenging and building new muscle tissue.

Improper Form

Improper lifting and exercise technique often leads to injuries, some of which are difficult to overcome. These injuries harm muscle health and growth. When your technique suffers, you may not target intended muscles or cheat on reps, diminishing your potential benefits.

Focus on maintaining control of your weight, avoiding bouncing or jerking motions, and ensuring a proper, complete range of motion with every exercise you attempt. Mindful movement is vital to exercise efficiency.

muscular man doing leg extensions

Gaining Weight: Right Way vs. Wrong Way

When it comes to gaining weight in the lower body, there are proper ways to pack on muscle, and unhealthy ways of piling on extra fat that is tough to shed. Obviously, gaining muscle is the preferred method of building your lower body in a way that promotes long-term health. How does improper weight gain happen?

Unhealthy Eating

Relying on excessive consumption of processed foods not only leads to weight gain, it's detrimental to your overall health. This puts you at risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Focusing solely on your caloric intake without considering the quality of your food results in nutritional deficiencies and imbalances in the body. A lack of essential vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients compromises your health and hinders muscle growth and development. 

Sedentary Lifestyle Choices

Sitting on your couch and refraining from exercise contributes to muscle loss, decreased bone density, and a weakened cardiovascular system. This is the perfect blend of catastrophic chaos that eventually destroys your health. 

Regular physical activity is the best course for creating a healthier life.

Unverified and Ineffective Supplements

Relying on unverified supplements and quick-fix solutions for gaining weight in the lower body is risky. Many of these products lack sufficient scientific evidence of efficacy and have several potential side effects derailing your efforts to improve your health.  

The Right Way to Gain Weight

Setting yourself up for success is as easy as combining a strategic set of exercises with proper diet and other self-care measures. Remain consistent with your workout routine, and be patient!

Change may not happen overnight, but the results are yours if you stick with it and commit to your health and wellness.

Combine Compound and Isolation Exercises

Compound exercises are great for enhancing overall strength. They are also time-efficient but may not effectively target smaller leg muscles, as larger muscle groups such as quads and glutes dominate your workload.

Integrate isolation movement to promote muscle growth in those smaller clusters to address this issue. Isolation exercises impose less stress on your nervous system. Training to failure on isolation movements is advantageous when you're seeking to increase volume. 

Engage in Full Range of Motion

Limiting your range of motion during exercise impedes your opportunity for muscle gains. Working within your limitations while pushing yourself to reach the full range of an exercise ultimately leads to more efficient training. 

Implement these strategies when working out:

  • Stretch to improve hip and ankle flexibility.

  • Adjust your squat stance to achieve a better bottom hold and position.

  • Strengthen those glutes to enhance your deadlift lockout.

  • Devote at least one weekly training day to lifting lighter weights and focus on improving your technique.

Increase Training Frequency and Volume

Leg day is dreaded by many, and with good reason. You're sore for days, and the minute you start to recover, it's time for yet another lower body session. To overcome those skinny chicken legs, you need to increase both frequency and volume of your workouts.

Consider adding a second training day per week to bulk up and improve strength. Don't go beyond four days per week unless you are confident you can recover in time for another workout. 

If increasing training sessions aren't possible, continue your progress by increasing volume. Adding extra exercises or aiming for a couple of extra sets will do wonders for your lower body.

Vary Your Set and Rep Ranges

Doing the same exact three sets of ten reps for every workout hinders your progress. To introduce variety into your training routine, consider incorporating undulating periodization, which involves varying intensity across multiple workout days a week.

For instance, if you designate Monday as a high-intensity day, you'll focus on lifting heavier weights for fewer sets and reps. If Thursday is a low or moderate-intensity day, you choose lighter weights and higher reps to focus on technique and form. 

Encourage muscle confusion by continually adding weights and reps to your workouts–to the ability that you can safely handle it. Anything excessive could put you at risk for an injury that derails your progress.

Follow Progressive Overload

Progressive overload revolves around continually increasing the demands placed on your body over time. Adding more weight, reps, and sets to your training regimen is crucial to challenging your body to stimulate growth. Your body adapts to these changes by producing stronger, more efficient muscles.

Progressive overload doesn't necessarily mean increasing weight, reps, or sets for every workout. Focus on making steady, sustainable progress to avoid the dreaded plateau.

Consider playing with tempo if you encounter a plateau. Perform isometric holds and narrow the range of motion to produce a more controlled movement from top to bottom, bottom to top. 

These new challenges encourage progress even if you aren't able to increase weight, reps, or sets.

Limit the Cardio

Reducing the number of cardio sessions in your weekly workout routine optimizes muscle growth and prevents excessive muscle loss. Be selective in the type of cardio exercises you choose, particularly when you're adding more leg training. Running and cycling weekly, in addition to training days, poses a serious challenge to your recovery. 

Opt instead for activities like brisk walking, elliptical training, and swimming to provide cardiovascular benefits without placing too much strain on your legs.

Eat Properly

You must eat a calorie surplus to gain the right muscle. However, taking in more than your requirement for weight maintenance is more than just gorging on doughnuts and pizza. 

Choose foods known to build muscle and support optimal health to build the body you desire. Consider adding the following to your plate.

Protein Rich Foods

Protein is an essential part of muscle repair and growth. Include lean, delicious protein sources — like chicken breast, cottage cheese, turkey, lean beef, and eggs — to improve your muscles' appearance and performance significantly.

Complex Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the fuel your body uses to power through workouts and help replenish glycogen stores in your muscles. Whole grains like brown rice, whole wheat bread, quinoa, and sweet potatoes fill you up without slowing you down and packing on unnecessary fat stores.

Healthy Fats

Don't neglect healthy fats, as they are essential for hormone production and joint health. Avocados, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish protect joints, improve brain function, and balance hormones. 

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and veggies are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, all of which support your optimal health and muscle recovery. Eating the rainbow for better health never tasted so good!

Dairy and Plant-Based Options

Dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, provide an excellent source of calcium and protein. Those who follow plant-based diets should choose almond milk, tofu, tempeh, and other plant-based protein sources ideal for improving bone health and supporting muscle growth.


Drink water, water, and more water! Staying hydrated is critical to promoting proper muscle function and recovery. Drink water before and after workouts, as this is when it optimizes cellular and other body functions needed for repair and recovery.

female with muscular legs

Males vs. Females: Is There a Difference in the Process?

Building muscle and lower body strength is similar for males and females, though you must be aware of some factors that may play a role in your ability to reshape your lower body efficiently. 

Hormonal Differences

Males typically have higher testosterone levels, a hormone that plays a big role in muscle building. Testosterone fuels muscle protein synthesis and increases muscle mass and strength gains. 

Females, in comparison, have lower levels of testosterone but still have the impressive ability to build muscle through proper training and nutrition.

Muscle Composition and Distribution

Sorry, females, you typically have a higher percentage of body fat to manage. Some of these fat stores may naturally rest around the hips and thighs, impacting definition. With the proper training and nutrition, however, it's still possible to build muscle in the lower body and improve both strength and shape.

Genetic Factors

Genetic variations influence muscle-building potential and how quickly you see results. You might be predisposed to building muscle faster than others. Rest assured, with the right cocktail of diet and exercise; you'll have no problem seeing results.

Best Lower Body Exercises

Having a strong, fit lower body helps you move through your day with ease. Well-sculpted, trained leg and glute muscles also improve your performance during your favorite athletic activities, such as running, cycling, soccer, or football. 

Here are some of the best lower body exercises for strength and muscle growth.

man doing lunge with kettelbells

Dumbbell Lunges

Lunges target many muscles in the lower body, providing balance and stability that facilitates more efficient movement. Stand with your feet hip-width apart to perform a dumbbell lunge while holding a dumbbell in each hand. Allow your arms to hang naturally with palms facing the thighs.

Take a big step forward with your right leg, bending your knee until the front thigh is parallel to the floor. Your back leg should also bend to accommodate the movement, with the left heel coming off the ground. 

Push off forcefully through your right heel while engaging your core muscles, hamstrings, and glutes on the right side, bringing your leg back to starting position. Alternate legs, repeating 5-10 reps on each side.

man doing deadlift


To perform a deadlift, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Position a barbell near your feet, and ensure your weight plates are fastened with collars.

Start your movement by hinging forward at the hips while bending your knees. Grasp the barbell with an overhand grip, placing your hands as wide as your shoulders. Engage your glutes, hips, and core muscles, lifting the barbell as you extend your body to an upright position.

Lower the barbell by bending the knees and pushing your hips back, keeping your back straight while controlling your lift to the floor. Complete 7-10 reps.

While you usually use a barbell for deadlifts, dumbbells work too — providing you commit to using the proper form.

Lateral Lunge

A lateral lunge targets the frontal plane of movement, involving side-to-side body movements. This exercise stabilizes the hips, unlike other lower body exercises that just focus on up and down, forward and backward planes.

To prepare for a side lunge, stand upright with your feet together. Make sure you have ample space on both your right and left sides. Take a large step to the right side, lunging with your right foot. Bend your knee deeply to accommodate the lunge while shifting your hips backward.

Keep the left leg straight, with your foot firmly planted on the floor. Keep your upper body upright and your chest open. Push off with your right foot and lift your body to return to a starting position. 

Weighted Step-Ups

Weighted step-ups are effective for building lower body muscle with or without weights. It’s one of the few leg exercises that target the lower body while elevating your heart rate, yielding the benefits of strength training and cardio.

Start with a sturdy step, box, or low chair to perform the weighted step-up. Stand in front of your platform, holding weights at shoulder height with each hand. Step onto your box using your right foot, making sure that your entire foot is planted on the surface. 

Push through your foot and bring your left foot up to meet the right foot on the box. Step off the box first with your right foot, followed by your left. Alternate sides, bringing the left foot up to the box and following with the right foot, then back down. Repeat ten step-ups on each side.

girl squatting barbell in gym

Classic Squat

As long as you have proper form, the squat is one of the most comprehensive and effective ways to blast lower body muscles and produce some serious strength. To perform a squat, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart or wider. Let dumbbells hang at your sides, or use a barbell across your lats as you engage your core muscles to prepare for movement.

Bend your knees and push your hips back as if sitting in a chair. Lower yourself toward the ground while maintaining a neutral spine and a straight back. Keep lowering your body until your upper thighs are parallel to the ground. 

Pause in a lowered position for a moment, then drive your heels to push yourself back up to a standing position. Repeat 6-12 reps for strength and muscle development. 

Building a Better Body, One Rep at a Time

Training the lower body properly is critical to building muscle and gaining strength. Your quads, hamstrings, calves, and glutes all play a significant role in daily activities and athletic performance. Strengthening your lower body not only yields a more pleasing appearance, but functional movements like walking, running, and climbing stairs become much more enjoyable. 

Building the lower body of your dreams is possible regardless of where you are now. For more tips and expert advice on creating a superhuman physique, check out FitnessCorner

Now what are you waiting for? Start building!

Was this article helpful?