How bodybuilders build massive legs?

Getting into serious training to build mass legs can be quite a difficult task, especially when there is so much conflicting information out there.

Which machine should you use, how many reps should you perform, how low should you go?

It all depends on your goal! The execution of the exercise is going to be different from sport to sport.

In this article I will break down the differences between leg training in the three main power/size sports and give you the tips which we’ve gathered from working with the top Australian Athletes like Lee Priest and Matt “Trunk” Grimshaw.

Powerlifting Leg Training or Raw Power

The goal of the powerlifting squat is for the athlete to lift the highest weight possible. There are certain rules which prevent everyone from performing power quarter-squats.

The athlete must squat to parallel or just below parallel. For the lift to be considered a good lift.

So, the training style is going to be completely different from your regular gym goer who promulgates the Ass to Grass squats.

The lift will also be performed in a much slower tempo, this allows the athlete to maintain the stability and control of the barbell. Which is extremely important when you are lifting your max or near maximum weights.

Ideally you would use the same technique in all leg training exercises – slow and controlled on your way down and explosive on your way up. This type of training will help you build up your numbers as well as muscle mass.

how to build big quads

Weightlifting Leg Training or Explosive Power

Differences between Powerlifting and Weightlifting Squats:

– Weightlifters squat with a high bar – this quad dominant movement allows them to not only develop massive quads but also bulletproof their cores.

– Ass to Grass – one of the main reasons’ weightlifters squat all the way down to build strength in the deep knee flexion. In this sport the athlete is requires catching the bar at the very bottom. If they would not have the necessary strength, they would not be able to stand up.

– Speed – the faster you can get the barbell of the ground the more you will be able to snatch/clean. Momentum is your friend!

Weightlifting training will be oriented towards building that strength in the deep knee flexion and working on your explosive power both when lifting the bar off the ground and when trying to push it up.

This type of training will also have a higher carryover into other exercises. You will be able to jump higher and sprint faster compared to bodybuilders or powerlifters.

best quad exercises

Bodybuilding Leg Training or Size over Power

Most bodybuilders would not know what their one rep PB’s are for a good reason – their training is focused on getting the burn in their muscles every single workout.

Differences between Bodybuilding and Powerlifting Training

– Focus on squeezing or contracting the muscle at the top of the movement as opposed to keeping your whole body tight throughout the whole movement.

– For certain exercises there is no such thing as rep limit!

– Focus on the pump as opposed to leaving at least one rep in the tank.

– While powerlifters might have massive legs, they will never go to the extreme of getting the muscle definition.

Things we learned from Lee Priest about leg training:

  1. You can build massive legs just by using machines alone.
  2. Do not count the reps, make the reps count!
  3. When training a specific muscle group, there is no need to exercise through the whole range of motion.
  4. Stretching is important.
  5. You will get more out of your training by choosing a lower weight and performing 12 quality reps than going heavier and compromising your form.
  6. Do not use momentum when training.
lee priest leg building

Leg Extensions


A lot of people tend to use momentum in this exercise in order to get the weight up. They try to perform an explosive movement. The pad leaves their leg, and they catch it again. Needless to say, this is not only a counterproductive way to train but also dangerous!

It is a matter of really concentrating on the muscle and squeezing it. Do not look at the leg extensions as a mass building exercise. They are a great way to warm your muscles up and get the blood flowing. Which makes them perfect for muscle shaping.

Use medium weight for this exercise, slowly go up and contract the muscle for a second. Then slowly go back to the starting position and repeat!

Rep Speed – Ideally you would take 1-2 seconds to lift the weight up, pause for a fraction of a second to squeeze the muscle and return to the starting position. For the best results, your return should also take 1-2 seconds.

Negative Leg Extensions

There is concentric and eccentric part of the movement. By switching the focus from one to the other you can push through plateaus and add some variation to your training.

How to:

  1. – Load the leg extension with around 100-105% of your 1RM.
  2. – Your training partner will help you to bring the carriage up.
  3. – Slowly perform the negative rep, it should take you 3-4 seconds to come back to the starting position.
  4. – Perform 3-5 reps for this variation.

Lying Leg Curls

Lying leg curls is probably one of the most botched up exercises out there. A lot of trainees tend to go to heavy and then use momentum to complete the rep.

Your hamstrings work heavy during squats, leg presses, lunges etc. Lying leg curls is just a shaping exercise which should help you to get the blood flowing in your muscles.

It is not a power movement, so there is no need to start stacking plates.

How to:

  1. – Adjust the pads so they would be sitting closer to your ankles.
  2. – Choose a lighter weight for this exercise, remember you are shaping the muscle and not building size.
  3. – Start with your legs fully extended.
  4. – Slowly curl the legs up and focus on contracting your hammies.
  5. – Control the weight on your return to the starting position.

Barbell Squats/Machine Squats

This is where you will find the most differences between bodybuilding and other sports. Even though the exercise shares the same name, it is performed completely differently. From the range of motion to the rep range.

Is there any point to squat ass to grass?

It all depends what sort of sport you are into, if you are powerlifter, you will need to practice going below parallel. If you are weightlifter, you will need to go all the way down to develop that explosive power.

But what if you are a bodybuilder?

Once you break parallel the stress is shifted to your glutes, it is much harder to stop at parallel and go back up rather than go all the way down and just bounce up.

The training is usually broken into muscles groups as opposed to Upper Body or Lower Body in other sports. Therefore, you would be focusing more on a specific muscle group. It is all about isolation!

What if a barbell is your only way to train legs?

Squats are phenomenal leg building exercise and should not be dismissed from your training sessions. They do work your whole leg from your quads and hamstrings to your glutes and even core.

You could easily make a whole leg workout from just using a barbell alone:

  1. – Do not just go heavy every single workout, mix things ups.
  2. – You can do 5 heavy sets as your core and then do four sets of higher rep sets.
  3. – Drop sets are a great way to add variation to your leg routine.
  4. – Really want to pump your quads? Add some front squats and weighted lunges to the mix.

Leg Press/Leg Sled

Leg Presses fall into the category where leg training enthusiast like to overload them and then perform partial reps.

Unlike squats, on a leg press or a leg sled, you do not need to worry about barbell crushing you so there is no excuse not to exercise through the whole range of motion.

How to:

  1. – You can go heavy on this exercise, but always remember that you will have to train with correct form to get the most out of this exercise.
  2. – Ideally you would perform some warmup exercises like leg extensions and leg curls before you more to your heavy presses.
  3. – Start off with a lighter weight add some more weight each set.
  4. – Start bringing the carriage down until the point where your heel starts lifting off the pressing plate.
  5. – Slowly go up and stop the moment you lock your knees out.
  6. – Squeeze the muscle for a second and start the next rep.
  7. – Do not lock out your knees so that you could keep the tension on the muscle at all times.

If you can stick to the correct form with these exercises you will definitely get the burn and muscle growth in your legs. It is worth mentioning that Lee Priest never did barbell squats when he was preparing for competitions.

It is all about the way you perform the exercise and not the weight or machine you are using. If you are a hard gainer, give these exercises a go!