I want to explain my stance on limiting the use of squats and deadlifts. I don’t believe they are terrible exercises. I think they have a place in the routines for some people, depending upon their goals. Do I believe that either of these should be labeled the “king of exercise” that so many people claim them to be? Not by a mile.
[Here's a fit couple walking down the beach. Both of them could probably add quite a bit of mass to their legs with a routine based around squats...but should they?]
Squats: The Best Exercise to Add Mass to Your Lower Body
Want to add a lot of mass to your legs, hips, and butt? Squats are the answer. Want to increase the weight on the scale? Squats will do that too. No doubt about it…squats will definitely add a lot of muscle to your body quickly. Although they do work a lot of muscle groups in the body besides legs, the majority of muscle added will be to the lower body. For someone who wants to add a bit of size to their legs, it is a great exercise choice.
The Lower Body Has a Large Potential for Muscle Gains
People who question my recommendation for limiting the use of squats, typically say something along these lines…”adding muscle is tough and takes hard work, people don’t need to be worried that they will add too much muscle on accident”. The problem is that the lower body does tend to grow at a faster rate than the upper body. Women in particular have this problem.
[Once your lower body has as much muscle as you would like, I recommend either backing off on squats or dropping them completely from your routine.]
If Your Legs Are Bigger Than You Would Like?
If you want to lose muscle mass in your legs, then avoid all direct leg resistance training. For some reason, this is a controversial recommendation…but it makes perfect sense to me. Avoid all direct leg resistance training until your legs are as slim as you would like. At that point, reintroduce a limited amount of direct leg resistance training…but make sure that your legs don’t increase in girth again. Here’s my full-blown post on losing muscle on purpose.
If You Want to Tone the Lower Body Without Adding Size?
A few options:
- Perform cardio in an intense manner and see if that gets the job done.
- Train legs short of failure 1-2 times per week.
- Train legs once every other week (if you gain size easily in the lower body).
Deadlifts: A Better Option for Density, Less Potential for Mass
I fall under the category of gaining muscle too quickly in my thighs, hips and butt. Intense cardio keeps my quads and hamstrings toned, but doesn’t hit the lower back as much as I would like. A great exercise to work the lower back and glutes, are partial deadlifts in a power rack. I simply do these once every other week, for 5 sets of 3-5 reps (well short of failure).
[I used to do deadlifts from the floor every other week, but found that it added size to my quads. Shortening the range of motion to the upper 1/2 or upper 2/3 of the lift works my back and glutes without hitting the quads as hard.]
A Good Exercise That Targets the Glutes
As far as firming up and shaping the lower body, I believe that intense enough cardio will get the job done for a lot of people. For those who want to add in a bit more glute work, kettlebell or dumbbell swings are a great option. Roman demonstrates the proper variation of this exercise to target the glutes.
[Just like partial deadlifts...this still hits the legs to a certain extent, so cut back the frequency if it adds more size to your lower body than you would like.]
“Real Men Squat”, “Squat or GO Home”, & Other Nonsense
I haven’t squatted in years, but I never thought squatting was particularly hard or taxing. I got up to 405 pounds for 5 sets of 6 reps…and it was somewhat tough…but not crazy intense or anything. Sure there are guys who squat over 600 pounds for reps, but it is all relative. There are some in fitness who act like squatting is such an accomplishment. It really isn’t that big of a deal. Heck…I used to run hills in Junior High with my track team, and that was much more intense than my old squat workouts.
A Lot of People Will Want to Limit These Lifts
I don’t like wearing pleated pants or relaxed fit jeans…so these lifts aren’t congruent with my goals. I also found that too much leg mass made me feel sluggish. If you are a man or woman who wants large legs, then that is cool…I’m not trying to push my goals on anyone. One of my good online pals, Elliott Hulse, has legs the size of tree trunks…but it works for him. He is a competitive lifter and would have big legs even without lifting. He is just playing on his strengths, which completely makes sense.
Note: There are some men and women who can squat or deadlift on a regular basis without adding too much mass to their lower bodies. If you have those same genetics, then you can get away with doing those lifts on a regular basis. If you don’t have those genetics then avoid those lifts…or at least use them less frequently. Makes sense, right?