Do You Need To Squat For Bigger Legs?*
*When talking about the squat, we are typically referring to the free barbell back squat.
There seems to be a belief in the fitness world that if you don’t squat, you’re not considered a real man.
This macho nonsense couldn’t be further from the truth. Especially when you consider that for some people, squatting may be doing less for your legs than you might think.
Which brings us to today’s question, do you need to squat for bigger legs?
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It’s always been thought that the only way to get bigger legs is to squat, squat, and squat some more.
This probably comes from the fact that in the old days there were no ‘safe’ leg machines, and the only real compound leg exercise was the squat.
This meant you squatted, regardless of whether your legs grew or not.
The only people that have no choice as to whether they need to squat or not are powerlifters, as it’s part of their sport.
For everyone else it’s an exercise in a large toolbox that may or may not be used depending on the individual.
When is the squat suitable for use?
The first requisite for including a squat into any programme would be to possess the required flexibility necessary.
If your bodyweight squat resembles something close to a Gollum impersonation, squatting with added load is not going to be on the cards.
Assuming you have the flexibility to squat well, the next thing will be to look at your joint mechanics and levers.
To keep this simple, the best squatters are those with short femurs and long torsos, which you’ll be able to see in the graphic below. These are the people who can stay more upright and derive the most benefit from squats.
The worst squatters are those with long femurs and short torsos, as they typically have to bend over much more to keep the bar in line with the middle of the foot.
The best example of a short torso, long femur type lifter in the bodybuilding world would be Tom Platz.
In this historic feat of squatting 500lbs for 23 reps, you can see how upright he’s able to stay throughout. This makes for a very quad dominant lift and as evidenced from his leg development, productive for leg growth too.
For those with long femurs and shorter torsos, the story is a little different.
While you can still back squat, you probably won’t get much leg growth from it. Instead, it’ll feel like a more hip-dominant move, given the forward lean required to keep the bar balanced in line.
What to do instead?
If you’re not blessed with the genetics to back squat deeply and safely while stressing the quads, it’s probably time to reassess why you’re still doing it.
In body composition, NO exercise is indispensable. The key is to find exercises that you can train with progressive overload while maintaining tension on the target muscle.
Dorian Yates, six-time Mr Olympia, realised this early on in his career as he ditched free weight back squats for Smith machine squats, leg presses and hack squats.
In numerous interviews, Dorian has spoken about how religious squatting only led to ‘okay’ development and hip issues, until he began to experiment with other movements that ultimately led to this:
Experimenting with movements that suit your body is an important part of learning about your body and maximising your progress.
For those with short torso, long femur structures who still wanted to free squat in some form – front- and safety bar squats will be more effective at keeping you upright and translating more stress to the quads.
Focusing on machines is often frowned upon, but these individuals will benefit from progressively overloading exercises like the leg press and hack squat.
The advantage of these machines is that it’ll take the core and lower back out of the equation, and let the legs take all of the stress.
If squatting is already a burden on your back, you can see why you’d get more from using equipment which allows you to be more stable and focus on just using the legs.
The Number One Rule of Hypertrophy
To grow bigger legs, they need to get stronger in medium- to high-rep ranges.
You also need to stay injury-free, which can be problematic when you force exercises that don’t suit you into your training programmes.
The exercise itself doesn’t matter. The role of an exercise is to allow you to apply progressive overload to the muscle in a safe manner.
This is why it’s important to keep an open mind, and never get trapped into thinking ‘I should squat because Tom Platz did, and look at his legs!’.
Here’s a workout to try…
The aim of this piece wasn’t to bash squatting. This isn’t to say UP are anti-squatting because nothing could be further from the truth.
If you can squat safely and effectively, rest assured you will be squatting hard, heavy and regularly!
We have plenty of clients who are squatting, but we might have even more who aren’t squatting.
Lack of flexibility, poor posture, injury history and structural issues (long femurs and short torsos) means the risk/reward for putting a bar on a client’s back isn’t worth the results it may or may not deliver.
Always keep an open mind, and pick the exercises that are right for you.