why are my legs getting so skinny

Why Are My Legs Getting So Skinny?

Ask any recreational or even competitor lifter what part of the body they find most difficult to add muscle mass to, and there’s a good chance they’ll say their legs. Despite housing some of the body’s largest muscles, our legs sometimes lack size and definition when compared to our upper bodies.

If your legs are skinny, it could be because you’re not performing enough strength training on them, or you’re not eating enough calories to build muscle there. Lots of steady-pace cardio training like running can also lead to skinny legs.

Here, we’re going to look at some of the main reasons for skinny legs and how you can address them.

1. Lack of strength training

Resistance training is a necessity for building muscle anywhere on your body, so if you don’t do any form of leg training that is geared toward strength, then it’s likely the muscles will be underdeveloped and your legs will be skinny. 

In order to develop a muscle, it should be trained at least twice a week, so you should be aiming to complete a leg workout on at least two separate days each week, with sufficient recovery time in between. 

To build leg strength, you need to be lifting weights that are clearly challenging but not so heavy that you can’t maintain the correct form. As you build strength, you should increase the amount of weight you’re lifting accordingly so that your leg muscles continue to grow and become stronger.

2. Not enough training variation

man standing on a race track

Now, if you have been doing resistance training on your lower body regularly and your legs are still too skinny, it might be because you’re not changing things up enough. Performing the same leg exercises at the same volume and frequency every week will quickly lead to a plateau, which is when your body has adapted to your training to the point that it no longer feels the full benefits of the exercise.

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So, your workout routine should include a variety of exercises that target your legs muscles, such as different variations of squats, deadlifts, lunges, and more. 

You might also need to adjust the volume of your legs workout, which is the number of reps and sets you do. If you choose to perform high numbers of reps and sets, then you should use lighter weights. 

3. Not eating enough

a balanced, healthy meal

Growth in muscle size can also only happen if you are in a calorie surplus, which means you’re consuming more calories than you’re burning. You can have your workout routine finely-tuned and perfected for muscle growth, but if you’re not consuming enough calories then your legs will remain skinny.

You should aim to eat 200-300 extra calories per day above your maintenance limit (the number of calories you would need to consume to remain at your current weight). Obviously, you want to avoid creating excess body fat so the calories you consume still need to come from high-quality sources and a balanced diet. 

4. Too much cardio

man running by the road

While cardiovascular training is an important part of leading a healthy lifestyle, too much of it can lead to reductions in muscle mass, particularly in your legs. Now, this mainly applies to cardio activities that are performed at a slower, steady pace such as running.

This is because your body is held in a catabolic state, meaning it begins to break down muscle to create energy. This is why marathon and long-distance runners have skinny physiques with not much muscle mass.

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High-intensity training such as intervals and circuits will have less of a detrimental impact on your strength gains as they provide regular rest periods for your body to replenish its energy levels, so you can burn fat while maintaining muscle mass.

5. Genetics

photo of dna strands

If you’ve been doing everything right – lifting regularly, adapting your training as your body changes, eating enough calories – for a while but your legs are still skinny, then they may just naturally be very lean and, if that’s the case, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it.

However, if you do find yourself in this situation, it might also be worth seeking the opinion of a medical professional to ensure there are no underlying health issues that may be causing your legs to remain skinny. 

Final Thoughts

Your legs, particularly your lower legs, can be notoriously difficult to grow in terms of muscle and size and if yours are skinnier than you’d like, there could be numerous factors at play. You should ensure you’re performing sufficient amounts of resistance training with exercises like squats, deadlifts, lunges, and box jumps to target your leg muscles.

You also need to be training your legs several times a week, with recovery time in between and eating enough calories to ensure your energy levels are replenished and your muscles will grow. Too much steady-state cardio can also limit the growth of your legs. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you keep your legs from getting skinny?

If your legs are a size you’re comfortable with but you’re worried about them getting skinny, then simply maintain the lifestyle you’re currently living. Consuming a sufficient amount of calories is important, particularly if you’re increasing your training volume, and you should also ensure you’re regularly doing resistance training on your lower body.

George Gigney

George is a Level 3 Personal Trainer and qualified Behavior Change Specialist. He has been training clients for several years and writing for over a decade, focusing on sport, wellbeing, and fitness.

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