Building Monster Legs or The Definitive Guide to Unleashing Massiveness in Your Tree Trunk Thighs

Building Tree Trunk, body builder legs

An Often Neglected Bodypart
When you begin bodybuilding, what do you perceive as the most impressive body parts? That’s right: arms and chest. Those are the two body parts most of us get caught up in, because they’re the bodyparts that signal to the world that we are bodybuilders. But then all of a sudden the winter months are gone and summer arrives and you find you can’t wear shorts because all winter you concentrated on getting big arms and a big chest. Suddenly you discover that legs are probably the most neglected bodypart, or at least very close to it.

So many bodybuilders try to work around legs, concentrating on arms and chest and those bodyparts they get immediate feedback on, and covering up the remaining bodyparts so that no one will notice their weak condition.

But one day you get fired up and want to compete. Then you realize that you’ve got to play catch-up with your legs.

This is when you wake up and smell the coffee: It dawns on you that you should have been training holistically from the get-go. You should have trained not from the shoulders on down but from the feet on up — from the calves to the thighs to the hamstrings, all the way up.

Having A Background Helps
As for me, I started out as a football player in school, and I also ran track, so my foundation was my legs. Athletes from other sports have an advantage in making the transition to bodybuilding, because they have a general idea about how leg training ties in with total body strength. In high school, for example, I concentrated on squats to improve my leg strength as a running back. When that carried over into bodybuilding, I put more emphasis on training hamstrings, calves, etc., and soon legs became an exclusive training day.

Because of this athletic background, I never had to prioritize legs. What I found was that once I began using a variety of exercises in addition to squats — leg presses, lunges, hack squats, stiff-leg deadlifts, single-leg curls — I saw growth almost overnight. Variety of exercises also enabled me to increase my overall strength in other exercises as well. My squats went up because I mixed in leg presses and hacks, varied the order and put more emphasis on my hamstrings.

One week it might be chest on day one, triceps-back-biceps on day two, and shoulders-legs on day three. Other times it might be legs by themselves, then chest-shoulders-triceps, then back-biceps. Don’t forget, however, that when I started bodybuilding, I was doing legs by themselves to build my foundation. Now, I’m on a double-split of three-on/one-off, so I can do legs in the morning and still have enough energy to do something else at night.

Building a Solid Foundation
One leg workout will be heavy and the next one “light,” which is relative since I use burn exercises for higher reps, while still pushing it.

Heavy day: Squats, leg presses, leg extensions and leg curls, between 8-10 repetitions per set. For most exercises I do four sets, except for squats, where I might easily do eight sets.

Light day: Leg curls, leg extensions, hack squats and lunges, four sets per exercise for 15 to 20 repetitions per set.

I train calves with legs, and I do them first because, remember, I believe in training the body from the bottom up, and because calves are usually the most stubborn-growing bodyparts.

With each succeeding heavy workout, I will mix up the exercises. If the preceding heavy workout began with squats, the current session will begin with leg presses. That way, it doesn’t always seem that I’m placing too much emphasis on squatting for poundage.

I work progressively, pyramiding the weight. Sometimes I might take three sets to warm up, but once I’m warm I’ll do at least four sets of hard, heavy, full-range reps. With squats, for example, I’ll customarily go up to 315 pounds and do four sets of eight to 8. That’s not my maximum; however, I restrict myself to avoid disproportionate leg development.


I squat in front of a mirror. My head is straight and I never, never have a spotter standing in back of me. I’m a firm believer in going it alone. If I fail, I fail by myself. Don’t help me; please don’t help me! Knowing I’m alone up there against the weights requires that I call on all my resources to do a consummate set. If the weight is too heavy and there’s a spotter, he’s the one the weight’s going to be dropped on. Nor do I want anyone hugging me or hanging on me. Just stand aside and watch. (If I’m training with someone, I might ask him how many reps he thinks I can get, and if he says 10, I’ll do 11 or 12 just to impress him.)

I go down as far as my body can take me. I have never done half squats nor stopped just after breaking parallel; it’s always been all the way. When I get up to 315 pounds I begin using wraps and a belt, but I don’t use them for support to help get the weight up; they only serve as a precaution against injury.

Lunges are a year-round exercise for me. Most bodybuilders neglect lunges, but I believe they’re vital in that some bodybuilders have a tendency to develop large buttocks from squats. What lunges do is shape from the top of the glutes all the way down to the knee insertion. They also help bring out the cuts high on the front thigh, as well as the line that separates the thigh from the hamstring in a side chest pose.

This exercise doesn’t require heavy weight. Instead, with lunges you want to concentrate on the full stretch, one leg at a time. Using only the floor — not an elevated box — I perform 12 reps first on one leg, then the other, stepping as far forward as I can, keeping my back erect, making sure my trailing knee touches the ground. Make sure to keep your head up on lunges; if it’s down you’ll lose your balance.

Lunges are one of the major exercises for women because they do such a good job of shaping and firming the glutes and the backs of the thighs

I don’t use progressive weight for lunges, just a 45-pound plate on each side, and I keep it at that weight for all four sets. Usually I do lunges at the end of my leg workout, though sometimes I’ll mix them up with my other leg exercises.

Leg Presses
I never use my hands to help press on my knees or thighs, nor do I use shoulder leverage to help in the lift. My stance does vary, however; usually I’ll have my heels together with my toes out at a 45-degree angle; the next time the feet may be parallel and close together. However, I don’t believe foot positioning in this exercise is that important; I do it simply because I like variety in all my exercises.

Hack Squats
Strict form is extremely important for this movement. My feet are flat — I don’t rock forward on my toes — and I make sure the movement is conducted very smoothly, without jerking. I concentrate on the part of the thigh that is just above the knee in the outer sweep.

Squats give you the thickness, leg presses give you hamstrings and thickness in the top of your thighs, but hack squats are what really round out your legs for the full sweep.

I prefer to do high reps for hacks; that’s why I do them on my “light” day. It’s important to not exaggerate your hack movement because it’s easy to hyperextend your knee or tear a ligament.

Leg Curls
Hamstrings are frequently overlooked but they are equally as important as the front thighs. The type of contraction I look for in leg curls is what I want to feel when doing a single-arm biceps shot. Being a black bodybuilder and not having very many role models with impressive hamstrings, I’m trying to set a precedent. I’m trying to be the one everybody is trying to emulate. That’s why with each contest you can see the development and the maturity not only in my thighs but in my hamstrings as well.

The calf exercises I do are seated raises, standing raises and donkey raises. Although I only do one exercise on a given day, I won’t repeat it the next time I train calves. Usually I do eight to 10 sets per exercise, 12 to 25 reps.

It’s never too early to prioritize legs in your workout. In fact, the biggest mistake bodybuilders make is thinking that legs can take away from their emphasis on other bodyparts. Quite the contrary. There has long been a theory that bombing legs actually enhances the growth of the rest of the body about 15%. It may even stimulate increased testosterone production, which we all know builds muscle.

So, treat your legs as though they were a body in themselves. At the worst, you will build frightening, outrageous legs.

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  1. mrlowbodyfatNo Gravatar says:

    Good post Israel, and I couldn’t agree with you more about how guys like to work their upper bodies entirely too much, sacrificing the true source of power, which is a strong base.

    However, for the genetically average, which is most of us, and those who decide not to use anabolic steroids, which all IBFF pros use, I suggest one exercise: the deadlift!

    Leg extensions, leg presses, and leg curls don’t even come close to the deadlift, which old time strong men use to call the “health” lift. Not to mention the deadlift is essentially a full body lift that will actually work your core and help you develop a vice like grip. One unexpected benefit of doing deadlifts is that you’ll also see an increase in your military press!

    Hell, when Dorian Yates was once asked about his “sick” six-pack and how he developed them, many folks were shocked to hear that he did little to no ab work directly and attributed his abs to, you guessed it, doing heavy deadlifts.

    As my buddy Mike Mahler likes to say, until you can deadlift 500lbs, there’s no reason to even think about isolation exercises for your legs.

  2. Yongho ShinNo Gravatar says:

    Excellent post on the importance of legs. Whenever I go to the gym, I see a handful of people who I see only working biceps and chest, day after day.

    My lower body is actually overdeveloped compared to my upper body, so I only do squats for my legs. (Occasionally I do some hamstring curls or quad extensions)

    • Israel LagaresNo Gravatar says:

      My legs have always been bigger than my upper body, runs in the family. Some folks just like looking good in the mirror. I prefer to look good and feel good, and be able to lift something that is heavy if I ever needed to save a life.

  3. for me its not about if your body looks big or not, the important is your body are healthy and strong.

  4. DRNo Gravatar says:

    Good post Israel.

    It’s no surprise that YOU are willing to put in the hard work that effectively training your legs requires.

    Too bad that the track pant wearing denizens of my gym don’t share your dedication to leg training.

    If only they knew that your gut busting leg workouts have a huge impact on your body as a whole.

    Guys who try to bulk up their upper body without devoting equal time to their legs are shortchanging themselves.

    You can’t shoot a cannon out of a rowboat, and you can’t build truly big arms without a solid pair of legs to stand on.

    It might sound counter intuitive, but 19+ years of preparing bodybuilders has helped me realize this truth.

  5. TomNo Gravatar says:

    Man I hate working my legs, but I know that it is necessary. They are definitely not the part of the body that you immediately think of when lifting, but it is still very important to do leg work.

    • Israel LagaresNo Gravatar says:

      Testosterone!!!! Plus, women love guys with a nice butt.

      • ahh, so true. Ask most guys and they’ll tell you that women check out their biceps and chest. Ask most women and they’ll tell you that they’re checking out a guy’s butt and legs. My wife is always amused when she goes to the gym and sees men trying to impress women with biceps curls when a good set of lunges or maybe some squats would be much better.


  6. JohnNo Gravatar says:

    Ever consider adding plyometrics or sprints to add explosive strength to your legs?

  7. AaronNo Gravatar says:

    I’m about to begin training again. Sometimes people, most certainly myself included, need to be reminded about the importance of working the legs. When I first began weight training I did exactly as you mention in your article. I concentrated on upper body and neglected my legs. Just as you state, I am paying the price now and I need to play “catch up”.

    For anyone who is just starting out, treat this article as the holy grail.

    • Israel LagaresNo Gravatar says:

      Thanks Aaron. My cousin trains only his upper body, he has chicken legs. I try to make him understand that doing legs will help his whole body, but he likes to think it doesn’t.

  8. True programs not the bodybuilder created body splits are based around squatting frequently and heavy and pulling things of the ground. Im talking about the 5×5 type of programs they and huge amounts of food build tree trunk legs.

    Anyways the whole training theory of today is flawing so badly its amusing, true training science can be gained by reading Mark Rippetoes, Madcows, Bob Smith, Bill Starr etc.

    And the whole upside down pyramid- all pecs no legs look just looks weird.


  9. You can always tell how serious someone is about weight training when you see them in shorts…

    I hate squatting and I hate working out legs (especially the day after) but when you take into account all of the advantages that you get from training legs it’s really hard to not train them.

  10. JoeNo Gravatar says:

    I’ve made the mistake of neglecting my legs in an old workout. Unfortunately I only noticed once I had worked my upper body so was completely out of proportion. Won’t do that again!

  11. man, i wish i had legs like that guy in the picture, i just started the 20 squat rep program tho so hopefully it will help:)

  12. JasonNo Gravatar says:

    How often to you train calves? I just started training them 3x week. Hopefully I will see better results.

  13. satrapNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks for the post, i enjoyed reading it. blogging is not as easy as many think it is, it’s hardwork. any how thanks.

  14. FitsiteNo Gravatar says:

    Maybe a little late with my reaction on this topic but I wonder if the following question is a myth or not? I’ve heard both answers (yes & no). What is your view on this one?

    Does your upper body grows faster and bigger when you have strong legs underneath it?

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