How to Build Bigger Legs: Best Quadricep, Hamstring and Calf Exercises for Mass

Updated on February 26, 2020
dwelburn profile image

David is an army-trained biomedical scientific officer, writer, and lifelong health and fitness enthusiast.

The incredible leg development of Tom Platz.
The incredible leg development of Tom Platz. | Source

Many people neglect their legs because they’d rather focus on their pecs, delts, arms and abs. But if you really want to build an impressive, well-balanced physique, you must train your legs hard and heavy on a regular basis. So in this article, I’ll outline the very best exercises you can do to build bigger, stronger legs.

The legs are divided into three main parts. These are the quadriceps, which are located at the front of the thigh and consist of four separate muscles⁠—the vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius and rectus femoris; the hamstrings, which are located at the back of the thigh and consist of the biceps femoris, semitendinosus and semimembranosus; and the calves, which consist of the large two-headed gastrocnemius muscle and the much smaller soleus muscle, which lies underneath the gastrocnemius.

The main function of the quadriceps is to extend the knee. The hamstrings flex the knee and extend the hips, and the calves elevate the heels. So if you want to build up your legs in the fastest, most effective way possible, here’s what you need to do.

The Quadriceps

The best exercises for developing the quadriceps are as follows:


This is the very best lower body exercise there is, and if you want to build big, muscular legs, you have to squat. It’s very important to squat properly, though, if you want to get the best results and avoid injury. So take a deep breath and go down until the tops of your thighs are parallel to the floor, keeping your spine in a neutral position. Then drive down with your heels as you stand back up, exhaling as you reach the top.

If you are a beginner, squats are the only leg exercise you really need to do, as they will develop the entire thigh (quads and hamstrings) as well as the glutes, spinal erectors, obliques, abs and calves to some extent. But when you’ve been training for a while, you’ll need to include some additional exercises to ensure proper all-round development.

Front Squats

These put more direct emphasis onto the quadriceps, and they also take a lot of the strain off the lower back. So if you have lower back problems, you may need to do front squats instead of regular back squats. They are a little awkward to perform when you first start doing them, but they get easier over time.

45 Degree Leg Press

This is another basic compound exercise that allows you to place a high level of tension onto your quads, with additional involvement from your hamstrings, glutes and calves. Use a medium foot spacing to put more emphasis onto the quads (a wider spacing puts more emphasis onto the glutes and hamstrings).

Bulgarian Split Squat

Single leg work is important, as it helps prevent muscle imbalances and allows you to develop better coordination. And the Bulgarian (rear foot elevated) split squat is one of the best single leg exercises there is. Whilst holding a dumbbell in each hand, place one foot up on a bench behind you and squat down on the other leg until the top of your thigh is at least parallel to the floor. Then stand back up again.

Two other excellent single-leg exercises you could do instead of split squats are lunges and step-ups.

The Hamstrings

All compound quadriceps exercises work the hamstrings as well to a certain extent, but some direct hamstring work is still required if you want to maximize their development.

Ideally, you should do two types of movement for the hamstrings⁠—a compound hip extension movement (where the hamstrings work in conjunction with the glutes and spinal erectors) and an isolation knee flexion movement.

Romanian Deadlift

This is probably the best hip extension movement. Keep your knees slightly bent, and your lower back arched, as you lower the weight down until your torso is parallel to the floor. Then focus on lifting with the hamstrings as you rise back up again.

Two other good hip extension movements are hip thrusts and glute-ham raises.

Leg Curl

This is your knee flexion movement, and it can be done either lying, seated or standing, but my personal favorite is lying.

The Calves

Calves can be a difficult muscle to develop for a lot of people, as their size is strongly influenced by genetic factors. However, even if you are not blessed genetically in this area, you can still develop good calves if you persevere with them and train them in the right way. The best exercises for building the calves are:

Standing Calf Raise

This can be done on either the calf machine or the Smith machine, depending on which you have available. Always do this exercise (and any other calf exercise) through a full range of motion, lowering yourself as far as you can and raising yourself as high as you can. Do the movement under strict control by lowering yourself steadily and then exploding upwards. Then pause briefly at the top before lowering again.

A tip that you may find useful is to focus on raising yourself up onto your big toe, rather than the entire ball of your foot. By doing this, you will generate maximum tension in the gastrocnemius muscle, rather than allowing the stress to shift to the soleus.

Leg Press Calf Raise

This is another excellent calf exercise, and it has the advantage of removing the spinal loading that you get when doing standing calf raises.

Seated Calf Raise

Here you are working the calves with your legs in a bent position, which primarily targets the soleus muscle rather than the gastrocnemius, which is the main muscle targeted when the legs are straight.

The technique is the same as for the other movements, except that you should raise up onto the entire ball of your foot, rather than your big toe.

Sets, Reps and Frequency

For the quadriceps, choose two of the exercises listed above and do 2–4 sets of each (after your warm-ups) for anything between five and 15 reps. I’d recommend doing 5–8 reps for your main lift and 10–15 reps for your accessory lift. So, for example, you might do squats for three sets of 5–8 and Bulgarian split squats for two sets of 10–15.

For the hamstrings, do Romanian deadlifts (or another hip extension movement) for two sets of 8–10 reps and leg curls for three sets of 10–12 reps.

And for your calves, choose two of the exercises listed above and do 3–5 sets of each. Use a rep range of 6–10 reps for your straight leg calf raises, and 10–15 reps for your bent leg (seated) calf raises if you do them (though these are not essential).

Train your quads and hamstrings every three to five days, just as you would any other body part. Calves can also be trained at this frequency, but if you find your calf development is starting to lag behind, you can train them more often⁠—up to three or even four times per week.

And that’s about all you need to know in order to build bigger legs. As always, focus on progressive overload (increasing the weight you are using for the same number of reps over time), and ensure you eat properly and get sufficient rest and sleep, and you will get the results you are looking for.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)