14 Sep 5 Leg Training Tips for Long-Legged Lifters
My legs have always been my weakest body part.
Despite always prioritising leg training and blasting them twice a week, they’ve continuously lagged way behind my upper body.
I can put this down to two reasons:
- Not training them in a way that suits my body type
- Having long legs
I can’t do much about having long legs, that’s the way my body structure is. But what I can do is train them in a way that’s productive for my own mechanics.
This means having to think outside the box a little, and go against the typical ‘squat, squat, squat’ mantra most lifters live by.
In the past 1-2 years after changing my approach, my legs have finally started growing and catching up with my upper body.
Since then, I’ve tested this out with a number of clients too with similar body types, and I’m sold on the results.
Here are my top five tips for long-legged lifters wanting to grow bigger legs:
- Use Squat Alternatives
If your back squat looks more like a good morning than a squat, you may need to rethink using it in your leg training.
I used to back squat twice a week, minimum.
I never got super strong on it, but I managed to squat twice bodyweight – a respectable number.
I squatted in all rep ranges: 3s, 6s, 10s, and a fair few cycles of breathing squat 20s & ‘widow makers’.
I tried twice a week, three times a week, even a ‘squat everyday for forty days’ challenge.
I pushed them hard for years but never got the results that reflected my efforts.
It wasn’t until an upper back injury that I could no longer hold a bar on my back without pins and needles down my arms forced me to stop back squatting.
This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as now I had to find a different way to train.
Which is when I started front and safety bar squatting instead. And within a few months, I was noticing changes.
By placing the load in a more forward position– as with a front rack position or safety bar – I was able to stay more upright as I squatted, which meant the stress was now on my thighs, as opposed to my hips.
This isn’t to say back squatting is a bad exercise. For many who are built well to squat (think short femurs, long torsos), this is the only leg exercise they’ll need. Like in the demonstration picture below!
But if you’ve got long legs (in particular femurs), then it’s likely that for muscle growth, you’ll need to pick another squat variation.
- Embrace the Machines
Most of my best training discoveries have come from injuries.
I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff in my own training over the years, all of which have manifested themselves in injuries over time.
While not great for my own training progress, it’s made me a better coach and lifter now.
Being unable to back squat meant I turned to front and safety bar squats.
But when I couldn’t front and safety bar squat due to lower back issues, I was really stumped.
Coming from a powerlifting background, I’d always just done the big three, and thought machines were a waste of time.
When I couldn’t squat in any form, machines were my only option, so I had no choice but to start using them.
And boy was I proved wrong!
I quickly realised how good machine leg training was going to be for my leg training. My problem was that my lower back and core were always my biggest limiting factors when free squatting.
When I started leg pressing and hack squatting, all of the stress was going right into my legs – something which I’d never experienced before.
6x Mr Olympia Dorian Yates realised this early in his career; that back squatting all the time wasn’t doing anything for his leg growth besides giving him hip issues.
It was only when he switched to Smith machine squats, leg presses and hack squats as his ‘key lifts’ that his legs blew up.
Now I could see where he was coming from!
In my own leg training now, my two main indicator lifts are leg presses and hack squats. I’ve stopped free squatting, and it’s paid dividends in my leg development.
- Don’t Forget About Single Leg Work
Another discovery from my lower back injuries was the power of single leg work.
I’m a huge fan of all single leg exercises. My personal top three are walking lunges, reverse lunges and Bulgarian split squats.
All of my programs will have at least one variation of those in them.
- Improved structural balance – this is critical to stay healthy. Most people have imbalances between their legs, and I’ve found this is more so in individuals with long legs. Joint stress is typically higher too, so single leg exercises can provide a joint-friendly way to blast the legs while improving overall structural integrity.
- Reduced spinal loading – single leg exercises allow you to overload the legs with very little spinal loading. This is great for lifters who are typically limited by their lower back strength.
- Your legs are the true limiting factor – if you program these correctly, you can annihilate your legs in your training without taxing the spine, core and upper back. Your legs are what will fail, nothing else.
Because of these benefits, I like to program single leg exercises in every leg session for long limbed lifters.
One way to use them is to before the bigger compound exercises, as a way of pre-fatigue and making sure all the muscles are firing properly.
This will mean less weight required later on, which typically suits these individuals who are otherwise typically more injury prone.
The other way is the conventional method of using them as ‘finishers’. Like 100 rep walking lunges!
- Pause At The Bottom
I like incorporating pauses in the weakest position in almost all exercises.
But for long legged lifters, I think it works REALLY well.
By pausing at the bottom of a split squat, hack squat or leg press, even if it’s only for a split second, it helps to establish range, maintain correct muscular tension and improve sturdiness in the joints.
Long legged lifters are typically pretty unstable in the bottom position of a lift. By pausing, it teaches you to stay tight and make sure you fire back up using the right muscles.
Another applicable example is in long legged lifters who have particularly long tibias, which often limits leg press depth. By pausing at the bottom for 1-2 seconds, you can provide your legs with adequate time under tension to sufficiently stimulate muscle growth.
- Work Your Dorsiflexion
One of the most common reasons people struggle to reach depth on a squat or leg press is a lack of dorsiflexion.
This problem is exaggerated in long legged lifters, and is often what forces them to lean forward excessively when squatting.
Dorsiflexion is simply pulling the toes up towards the ceiling. And the reason most struggle is because of tight (or weak) calves and weak tibialis anteriors (a muscle in front of the shin).
To correct this, a few strategies that I’ve found to help are:
- Work the tibilias anterior before squatting / leg pressing. You can do this by doing toe raises, and just focusing on pulling the toes up as high as you can. This works well in supersets with calf raises.
- Try Olympic lifting shoes. While it may be considered as ‘treating the symptom, not the cause’, using a raised heel for some exercises helps to increase depth. I know when I leg press with raised heels I get an extra 2-3 inches, and my quads burn up like fire. For squatting motions, I’ll cycle them in and out, as I still want to try integrate the separate tibialis work I do, into my compound work for longer-term health.
Patience With The Long Legged Program
If you’ve got long legs, you need to be patient. It’s going to take longer to fill out your legs, but if you’re consistent and stay progressive with your key lifts, they’ll eventually catch up.
To finish, I’ll leave you guys with a sample ‘long-legged’ workout from my current training split, incorporating the principles laid out. This would be my ‘higher rep’ secondary leg day of the week:
- Lying DB Leg Curl 3×8-12
- Bulgarian Split Squats 3×10-12
- Paused Leg Press 3×10-15
- Paused DB RDL 3×10-15
- Adductor Machine 3×12-15
Give it a go, embrace the pump and start growing your legs!