Squats and Deadlifts are Not the “King of Exercise” for a Lot of People.

May 9, 2012

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?

----> (New) Facebook Comments..."Cause all the cool kids are doin' it!"

{ 100 comments… read them below or add one }

Keith lai May 9, 2012 at 4:44 pm

Great article rusty. Good to see you posting again. Lunges are another great option for people who want to firm up their lower body.

Dare you to post this in the bb.com fourms 🙂

Deanna May 9, 2012 at 4:48 pm

Thankyouthankyouthankyou for addressing this! I’m naturally thin, but as soon as I start squats or leg presses or anything of the sort, my butt gets big and my thighs get bigger. I had been trying to tell myself that if I just burn the fat off, it’ll look toned and sleek, but no, I just don’t like the size.

I haven’t dropped squats from my routine completely because I’m doing bodyweight circuits. When you say drop them completely, do you mean completely-completely, or are bodyweight squats in a circuit still okay?

Greg - Kinobody Fitness May 9, 2012 at 4:49 pm

Great post Rusty!

Given your recommendation I dropped leg lifts 2 years ago from my routine and I’ve never looked back. Intervals and jump rope keep my legs slim, fit and athletic. I feel quicker and much more agile and look way better in nice pants/jeans. Oh and my legs don’t rub together when I walk anymore.

Greg.

Deanna May 9, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Or, I could just click on the link for losing muscle and answer my own question. So, thanks for referencing that article in this one!

Clint - Crude Fitness May 9, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Always controversial Rusty 🙂
In terms of mass and density the deadlift and squat are golden, but like you’ve stated — not everyone (especially the ladies) are after mass on their legs. I think labelling anything the ‘King’ of exercises is a bad idea, but they are great as a ‘foundation’. Too much time can be wasted on achieving mass-gains with isolation movements. Too much time ‘wasted’ in the gym is a no-no in my book…

Josh May 9, 2012 at 5:13 pm

What’s your opinion on free squats? Do they add mass, or could they be used in a routine to tone the legs?

Kurtis May 9, 2012 at 5:18 pm

Cool post Rusty. Now I know of a cool new way to target the glutes. Haven’t done intense direct leg training myself for a while. At one point I kept having back problems, so I cut off low rep heavy leg presses. I notice that I lost quite a bit of density and some size. It still beats having pain in the lower back :).

Nicole B. May 9, 2012 at 5:18 pm

Great Tips! When I lose weight I tend to lose my butt. I was wondering what I could do in order to keep it or build glutes…I’ll try more squats!

Bria May 9, 2012 at 5:38 pm

Wow, I feel so liberated from lower body workouts having read this. I intuitively haven’t been doing much lower body lifting in recent years; guess my instincts were leading me in the right direction. But it’s always nice to have confirmation. 😉 Thanks, Rusty.

Jeff reed May 9, 2012 at 5:57 pm

Really good points Rusty. Wish I could get away not doing squats/dead lifts, but I got little chicken legs. : ) Prefer dumbell dead lifts-lower weight-lower risk and closer to real world lifting. I mean outside of the gym who places heavy objects across their backs like a barbell off a squat rack?

Dave G May 9, 2012 at 6:12 pm

Great article! I totally agree about these power movements. They aren’t for everybody and they don’t fit in with everyone’s fitness goals. Not everyone’s looking to get as huge as they can.
The thing is, a lot of info out there is aimed at the goal of “huge”. It’s the like the handyman who only has a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail and every workout looks like it needs squats, dead lifts, and clean & jerks to be any good.
Controversy stimulates discussion and that’s always a good thing! Great stuff!

Raymond -ZenMyFitness May 9, 2012 at 6:33 pm

Excellent sensible approach to training and yes I believe you can tone your lower body without heavy squats and deadlifts.
However I like doing squats and deadlifts but no longer trying to increase the weights. I now use those exercises with moderate weights as more for health maintenance.
Cool article thanks

Karen May 9, 2012 at 6:34 pm

Hi Rusty,

I have your Women’s program. I’m so happy someone acknowledges that women can easily bulk up. My jeans don’t lie. I started your program with the tread mill. You mentioned your sister won’t go near a bike. Glad you mentioned it because I thought my legs were bulking out on a stationary bike. Anyway, about 2 weeks later, I met a friend and had on yoga pants and she said, “Oh my god, your rear end looks like a 20 yr. old! What are you doing.” Unfortunately, I hurt my lower back listening to a trainer and then had to deal with family issues out of town so I lost 2 months. I have a question, since I was traveling. What kind of moves can I do at home without equipment that would be comparable to the treadmill interval training sequence? It sure would be great to have a dvd going through the interval training with just exercises.
months.

Jason - Fitness Workouts May 9, 2012 at 6:48 pm

I find that the Romanian Deadlift is great at hitting the gluts. Hip bridges are another great exercise to.

James Kerrison May 9, 2012 at 7:36 pm

Rusty,

The note at the end of the article should be the disclaimer at the start if the article!

It makes sense and quite often in the fitness industry, common sense is overlooked.

We train our girls with squats and deads with good results, meaning toned legs and firmer behinds, which is what they want, not hyuuge legs!!

James

Mitchell - Home Fitness Manual May 9, 2012 at 8:35 pm

Rusty, what do you think about hip thrusts? This particular exercise has been gaining in popularity in the last few years. I know it’s really geared for improving the glutes, so it could be an interesting substitute for the db swings.

-Mitchell

Robert May 9, 2012 at 8:46 pm

Rusty,
+1 on Dead Lift. IMO, the King of all leg exercises. I do Straight Leg Deadlifts with dumbells (much eaiser on the low back). I go to just below my knee caps. Never got an injury that way, and really hits the glutes, hamstrings, and the low back (to a point).

Elizabeth May 9, 2012 at 8:46 pm

Hi Rusty,
After weeks of reading your site I have finally walked down to the gym and am using the treadmill for HIIT. I am 42 and very slim already but need to tone legs which look like sticks. Also I am dreadfully unfit as have done no exercise for some time. My question is twofold: is there a simple really basic weights workout I can do in the little gym we have downstairs ( live in a condo) and secondly for the HIIT, I am doing 1 min walking alternated with 1min fast run – but I can only manage 9.5 on the machine for the fast bit. I do for 20mins, is this the right approach? Is 9.5 actually enough to get the HGH etc kicking in?

I build quads very rapidly so am avoiding squats but arms I like to do and back and chest. Currently just use a bench and lift the hand weights at 4/5kg. But with the weights still bery unsure which one main exercise is best for Arms, Chest, back. I do tricep dips to try to get backs of the arms into some shape….

Thank for any help…I just need to get toned without losing any more weight but I do need to get my good old heart pumping away again too: Elizabeth

Chris Highcock May 9, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Great post.
Another relevant point I think is safety in exercise. Squats are actually a complex movement that few people do well and few coach well. Many times they are accidents waiting to happen.

To strengthen the legs I like to use static wall sits, split squats and reverse lunges which really target the glutes, often doing these with no resistance added.

Chris Highcock May 9, 2012 at 10:01 pm

Re the swing either kettle bell or dumbbell, this is also a move that is done badly 90% of the time I see it in gyms. Your video is fine with the focus on hip snap not squatting the weight, but in reality this is often ignored. Safety is so important and personally the swing is too risky for me to recommend to most. It is a good move, but it needs a good coach. It is harder to screw up a wall sit or split squat.

I. G. May 9, 2012 at 10:39 pm

You think that squats will increase the “weight of the scale”?! I think not eating in a caloric balance will do so! How can the body produce serious mass without increasing calorie intake? From what I have learned (numbers vary largely but the following is the lowest number I could find) a pound of muscle requires 2500 kcal to be build so I guess if people watch their diet they need´t be too concerned to bulk up ! Also, as to women, the problem is rather stubborn lower body fat than too much muscle mass. Women who complain about big legs carry more fat than they like. Intentionally reducing leg muscles (which is easier than cause fat stores to vanish) aggravates the problem, maybe not in a jeans but definitely in the bathing suit!

Jonathan | WorldOfDiets May 9, 2012 at 10:49 pm

Great article, Rusty.

I love both squats and dumbbell swings. However, I don’t gain a lot of lower body mass easily, so these work for me.

Clea May 9, 2012 at 11:57 pm

Thanks for the fantstic post Rusty 🙂

I was training with guys who laughed when i said my thighs were bulking….from squats, i’ve always had muscular legs and wanted to trim them down rather than build them. . it felt like I had to do this type of work to lose fat from everywhere and whilst the rest of my body was shaping up nicely, my legs felt huge in comparasion to everywhere else!! I purchased your VIFW program this week and have started with the marathon cardio and calorie counting (previously i had been told not to count calories, just carbs) I will follow this through and I am sure I will finally get the results I am looking for!! Quick question if you have time to answer…if not no problem!! Do you recommend a cheat day, one day a week when trying to lose fat, to restore leptin, or is this Unnecessary? And also do you recommend i mix up the marathon cardio at all with some intervals on the treadmill or elliptical, or will this hurt my ability to lose the muscle mass on my legs?

Thanking you in advance,
Clea 😉

John May 10, 2012 at 12:39 am

What I’ve most admired in this site Rusty is your willingness to look at the ‘gray’ areas of developing a good physique.

Genetic pre-disposition is so important to the outcomes of a resistance training regime, and yet it gets next to no mention in the vast majority of workout guides.

People will no doubt chime in about the ‘anabolic windfall’ that big movements like squats can offer (that old line about doing your legs to build your arms). All that occurred for me when I followed that kind of approach was that the muscles predisposed to growing easily got proportionally bigger, and those that take more work to develop lagged behind – end result: chunky and skewed proportions.

These days I’ll happily forsake a whole muscle group from my weights routine, and channel effort into the areas where I want to acquire or maintain mass, or tweak my posture (e.g. upper back in favor of chest development).

Stefan May 10, 2012 at 2:54 am

Rusty first let me say that i think that you are the greatest fitness expert on the web.now i’ve been following your VI muscle building program for about a month and supplementing with creatine(only in phase 1, i’ll drop it in 2 and 3).

now last year from april to october i occasionally did hiit and some home exercises(pushups, tricep dips,…) and i lost a lot of weight so when the winter came(no hiit) i started hitting the gym.i only worked legs occasionally(leg extensions, lunges) but it was enough for them to grow.now i would like to reduce my legs while continuing to gain upper body size.is it possible?

btw i am 184 cm(6ft) tall, 84 kg(185lbs) i don’t know my bf% but i can see my upper abs and have a little fat on my lower abs and my sides.i am 20 years old.

Stefan May 10, 2012 at 2:56 am

oh yeah my hiit is running outside(30 sprint-80,90 walk).hope i hear from you.

Craig May 10, 2012 at 3:24 am

Good discussion, something for everyone. I have wondered about the potential for squats to compress the spine. Your are doing a lift targeted at the lower body but you are supporting the massive weight on your SHOULDERS, which means that the back and spine have to also be involved in balancing and supporting that weight–which is quite a lot for these smaller muscle groups. Are squats an exercise that can stress the spinal column and lead to injuries like herniated discs? I luckily have not had this problem and no longer squat myself, but use exercises like leg extensions and others that do not load heavy weight onto the back and spine.

Was Fat now skinny joe May 10, 2012 at 3:51 am

Nice post!! I am one of those who don’t want to bulk up but want more explosive strength, could you get away with adding squats and deadlifts into a circuit/ barbell complex workout, where the weight is light and being moved quicker

Chinwe May 10, 2012 at 3:51 am

Hi Rusty,

Thanks for this! I’m currently training with someone and she has me training legs, albeit reluctantly, at the moment. When I get where I need to be I will stop training legs and continue with Visual Impact because I’ve found this to be more effective for my for goals in the long term. I’ve learned this the hard way but at least I’ve learned.

Dizzy May 10, 2012 at 4:06 am

Are all the women posting above squatting 300lb or something? Maybe here in Toronto we have some sort of strange atmospheric conditions which cause different results, but it’s pretty tough in my experience for women (and I am one, who squats weekly) to be adding the sort of bulk that’s being mentioned in these comments, whether to upper or lower bodies.

Keith May 10, 2012 at 4:08 am

Couldn’t agree more. I used to run for my legs and lift for upper body until I hurt my back and a knee. Started deadlifting to rehab the back problem and my thighs got a lot bigger, so much so that ladies in my life took note…they didn’t like the additional mass, so I tapered off.
I like the kettle bell idea, but I would warn lifters to use a belt to help handle the addtional stress on the lower back.

Helder May 10, 2012 at 4:16 am

I’m in Love with Lunges and Romanian DL, they give me a perfect balance without adding too much mass or not adding it all depending on my rep/set and the way i eat. There’s still a lot of dogmas and my way is the only way in the fitness world, i’m glad you keep showing different paths.

Greg May 10, 2012 at 4:36 am

Thanks Rusty! Great article. I’m a new reader thanks to my friend Sue. My whole life I’ve been pretty active being a competition swimmer, and playing just about every sport, but had/have no butt at all. I’m fast approaching 50 and still in decent shape. But after 4 ACL operations, I’m fairly arthritic in my knees. How do I build my glutes without tearing up my knees further. The dumbell swing looks like a winner.

Dave May 10, 2012 at 5:25 am

Just wish I had this problem 😉 I have to kill it with the Trap bar deadlifts to get any decent leg muscle mass!

I. G. May 10, 2012 at 5:48 am

How can squats make the scale go up if you eat in a caloric balance?

Irma May 10, 2012 at 8:00 am

I used the elliptical for my cardio. Does anyone have an idea what would be considered a low enough resistance and incline to use this to tone?

Larissa May 10, 2012 at 8:27 am

What would you recommend to “just” maintain lower body lean mass and not lose it while aging but not to build additional muscle? I am 39 and would like to prevent the muscle loss that comes with aging without getting bulky.

Martin May 10, 2012 at 10:03 am

If you take a girl/guy with a flat butt and thin little stick legs, heavy squats and deadlifts is your answer.

If you take a girl/guy with a big butt and legs that is looking to lose fat from that area (I hate the word ‘tone’ – you can use that in a music world but not in fitness), lighter weight, higher rep range squats and deadlifts with cardio will do the job.

gloria May 10, 2012 at 12:26 pm

please some advice!

I´ve been doing cardio for about ten years now (playing tennis and riding bike, 4 to 5 days a week) and I am slim (5.7´ 117lbs) but I don´t have any muscle definition, and when it comes to thighs it gets ugly because they´re saggy and flabby and it get worse, Lots of visible cellulite and they look large compared with the rest of my body. (yeah I hate them)
What can i do? More HIIT.

Niko - no eXcuse fitness May 10, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Rusty,

Controversial as ever. I love it, training should never be a one size fits all approach. Take me for example, I have the opposite problem to you. I actually put on weight quickly in my upper body and struggle for size in my lower body. I actually need squats and deadlifts to look in proportion. I wish I had a problem with putting on too much size in my lower body.

Niko

TonyJ May 10, 2012 at 3:36 pm

WoW! Good info. I reallynever thought of losing legs and firming glutes. A total different clientel for me.

Helen May 11, 2012 at 12:55 am

I think this is a bit dependent on genetics. I do bulk easily, but with the right program I have been able to do some squats without building massively (though still more than I’d like). It’s definitely an area where you have to be very careful!
With a looming holiday I’ve just dug out my old 1980s callanetics program and as always I’m staggered at how fast it’s improving my butt and thighs (why do I every stop???). One to try folks!

Anna-Lena May 11, 2012 at 1:25 am

The swing isn´t an ideal exercise to build the glutes. It is typically performed as a conditioning exercise and the range of motion it (when performed correctly) too short to qualifiy as a reaonable butt exercise. By the way do you really think those ladies who cry because squats transform their legs into Arnold`s legs are seriously interested in building their glutes? But hey, skinny jeans season is going to be over soon and beach season starts and to all the ladies who are still not scared from working their lower body: Firm, defined legs (no matter if they don´t qualify as skinny) and a tight, well shaped butt beat flabby bird legs and a saggy pancake-butt. Promised!

Maybe May 11, 2012 at 8:58 am

THANK YOU

I am so sick and tired of “it’s hard for women to bulk up” ahhh NO. For some of us it’s easy. My calves are bigger then most people I see at the gym. I don’t even do anything. There was a time that I was doing squats and lunges on a regular basis. It got to be where my jeans fit my waist but was tight around my thighs. I quit the squats and lunges and low and behold my legs got back to normal. The only problem I have is that my *particular* program (with all those squats and lunges) was awesome at burning calories.

Doug @ Health Habits May 11, 2012 at 9:29 am

Now that the warmer weather has come to frozen Canada…I have been able to get outside and start my hill sprinting program – not only is it amazing for building amazing looking hams & glutes, it turbo boosts speed & power

Squats gave me huge legs but slowed me down 🙁

Karen May 11, 2012 at 9:31 am

Helen,
I’m with you on callenetics. I came upon some photos and workout records from 20 yrs ago using callenetics and decided to try it again with the newly released version. Nothing gets rid of saddle bags, lifts the rear and gives the leg a streamline curve for me so quickly. The downside is that it needs a cardio component. Hmmm. Add Rusty’s cardio component with callenetics might be the holy grail.

Karen May 11, 2012 at 9:48 am

Erma,

If you get Rusty’s Women’s Program, he goes into great detail about how to do cardio for the best results you want. The program is geared NOT to bulk up legs, however, should you have skinny legs he also tells you how to build them up. With his cardio program sequence you don’t have to be on a tread mill any longer than 20 minutes to get great results. He has various levels that progress through the weeks. If you tend to bulk up easily, he suggests in the beginning no resistance or incline. However, it is his prescribed sequence of what you do in those 20 minutes that makes a world of difference. Can’t go into it here, I suggest you purchase the program.

Karen May 11, 2012 at 10:04 am

Dizzy,
So, in your experience, since your legs don’t bulk up easily, therefore, for those of us that do, there must be something wrong with us? That is pretty limited thinking. There are different body types that respond to different exercises. Fortunately, there are physical fitness experts like Rusty, who through his vast experience, realized this does happen, and created a program to deal with it. I think you call that a pioneer. You know, going beyond one’s own little world.

Dar May 11, 2012 at 11:39 am

I’m a competitive biker and have relatively large thighs. How come professional bikers usually have such skinny legs when biking ‘pumps’ up the leg? Should I start doing low resistance rides every once in a while to keep my leg from gettig too freakishly large?

Irma May 11, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Helpful info guys. I thought it should be longer duration and light resistance and then go in and add definition later, which seems pretty easy to do with legs. Thanks a bunch.

Charles May 11, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Hey Rusty! My question doesn’t pertain to the content of this article, but I think this is my best bet for getting a response: I am wondering if you could recommend any quality books specifically about gaining maximal muscular *power*. Something that is fairly comprehensive and rich in science, but that a layperson like myself might stand a chance of understanding. If you can’t personally recommend anything, maybe you could point me in the direction of someone you think could. Basically my goals when it comes to athleticism/diet/training are 1. to get extremely lean 2. to gain as much *power* while maintaining said leanness. and 3. to minimize mass gain. In a nutshell I want to be “more like Bruce Lee.” 😉 Thanks….Your site is pretty awesome! PS I acknowledge the possibility that my book request is too specific, too much of a niche, but I figure it’s worth a try.

Karen May 12, 2012 at 9:51 am

Charles,

In case Rusty doesn’t respond, check out Rusty’s program for men on getting lean. In his women’s course he has several techniques, which fly in the face of mainstream weightlifting/exercise, to do exactly what you are looking for, in less time. I am sure these techniques are included in the men’s course. He talks specifically on how to train the muscle so it is compact, lean and strong, however, for those that want to add bulk, he addresses that also. His course is easy to understand and he walks you through it week by week, allowing you to tweak your program. He also has special techniques on how to further maximize fat burning after HIT and during cardio. I highly recommend his program and it has a money back guarantee.

jmsmr84 May 12, 2012 at 11:04 am

If glute development is your goal, do weighted hip thrusts instead. They will hit your glutes better and not build huge thighs and hamstrings.
Google Brett Contreas

A miller May 12, 2012 at 8:23 pm

Agreed! I finally realized the only reason I thought I had bulky legs was because of the subcutaneous fat overlying the muscle. I am squatting/deadlifting heavy for me and couldn’t be happier with results as a lose the overlying fat

A miller May 12, 2012 at 8:24 pm

My response was indicate I was in agreement with I.G. ‘s response and not that of the article

Austin May 13, 2012 at 8:13 am

It’s extremely easy for me to add mass to my lower body. Even though it takes a tremendous amount of work for me to add muscle to my upper body, I can get muscular calves and thighs with minimal effort.

Training my legs once every other week is perfect for me.

– Austin

Jason - Fitness Workouts May 13, 2012 at 4:30 pm

@ charles

You may find Power to the People! : Russian Strength Training Secrets for Every American helpful.

The author Pavel Tsatsouline has a few other book that you may want to take a look at too.

Sasha May 13, 2012 at 5:22 pm

Hi Rusty,
I need help for other girl, my close friend-here’s her story:
She always wanted to be like a model, not sporty but just like them-thin arms, legs etc, but when she started loosing weight she changed her mind completely-she wanted to be those amazing girls from sport magazines.She lost some fat/weight and now she wants to gain muscles. But she is very confused with the nutritional side-what’s the proportion of protein/fat/carbs etc. when and how much, how many calories per day. there are so many strategies, that she just does not know what to do. She is also afraid to eat carbs for dinner etc.
So, as I trust your experience and knowledge, can you suggest what she needs to do?
She is 1m73cm and 58kg at the moment.
Thanks so much,
Sasha

John May 14, 2012 at 3:39 am

Hi,

This is my current routine i do circuit training 3 days a week using kettlebells, trx, box jumps, barbells in circuit fashion with 10 secs between exercises and 1 min rest at the end of each circuit ususally in the 8-12 rep range on each exercise, i then do 15 mins of hiit sprints or heavy bag work and once a week lift heavy 4×4 on deadlifts, squats, chin ups.
Is this a good routine for getting the lean ripped look?

Darryl May 14, 2012 at 3:37 pm

I don’t really agree with this article at all and I feel that you’re looking at squatting, deadlifting and even training in general in too narrow a light – like all they are good for is increasing muscle size. There’s more to health and strength then body buiding.

Squats and deadlifts should be a staple of anyone’s training program for the strength and conditioning gains. Humans are built to move and squatting and lifting has been a vital human movement pattern for thousands of years. The postural and strength benefits to be gained from these two exercises is highly beneficial when working towards any physical goal.

If you look at most ‘real’ strength and conditioning trainers in the world (not just your random gym PT) they all swear by squats and lifts. Alot of MMA trainers swear by them for improving power and agility. I use them with my clients for anything from improving speed to injur rehab and even strengthening neural pathways for people I train with disabilities – positive resuts every time.

If you’re worried about adding too much muscle mass then simply change up your timiming and loading of these exercises. But definately don’t rule them out.

Jared May 15, 2012 at 8:25 pm

Hi Rusty
I wish you could post pictures of legs that are too big or out of proportion with the body and legs that are just right.

Sometimes it’s hard to self-judge and I’d like to know what visual cues I need that my legs are getting too big.

Also how perfect legs for an hollywood look or beach body look should look like? I’d like to see some picture.

Should people who are bottom heavy train the legs more or train the upper body less and should they train the legs at every workout or every week? And even if their legs are skinny and small, do they risk to suddenly get legs that are too big?

Thanks

Jared May 15, 2012 at 8:35 pm

@Dizzy
male beginners can gain 2-3 pounds of muscles a week
female beginners can gain 0.5-1 pounds of muscles a week
It’s still 6-12 pounds of muscles a year

The point is that the concept of “too much” is relative
For a trainer “too much” is female Mr Olympia so he keeps saying to his female clients that they won’t look like that. But for a woman who wants to looks like Jessics Alba, even 2-3 pounds more of mass on her legs is “too much”. It’s the job of trainer to suit his advices according to the ideal standards of the client and not to force his own standards on the clients.

Women are said that they shold lift heavy to have more muscles so they don’t look flabby when body fat decreases. But then when they complain that they’re building more muscles then they wish they’re told that’s impossible because they don’t have the potential to build much muscle. Trainers: make your mind up!

Jared May 15, 2012 at 8:38 pm

#edit
I made a typing mistake. It should have read:
male beginners can gain 2-3 pounds of muscles a MONTH
female beginners can gain 0.5-1 pounds of muscles a MONTH

Rolando Manso May 18, 2012 at 9:04 am

While overall body proportions may be a major concern for some of us, the reason that the squat and deadlift are called the king of exercises has more to do with their effects on the entire body (including hormonal, bone density, core stability, etc., etc., …). The use of these exercises when performed correctly have such a positive impact on “natural training” that it borders on criminal NOT to recommend them to most people and especially beginners who would derive the most benefit from mastering “meat and potatoes” types of compound movements. It is also wise to mention that these two movements are the cornerstones of functional strength as described by PHd’s, bodybuilders, power lifters, Olympic lifters, and mixed martial artists alike. In a world where most just want to look pretty, it’s important to remind folks that it’s probably wiser to want to be strong and fit 🙂

Nick May 20, 2012 at 6:03 pm

I appreciate your knowledge, experience and insight on training and opinions on squatting but I have to say that regardless of how much weight you squatted and if it wasnt very taxing for you then it may have been a light weight for you in particular but regardless of weight, intensity is what makes an exercise brutal you may have found squatting 405 with relative ease but then why only do 6 reps ? I guarantee that if you pushed yourself for 10, 12 or maybe even 20 reps you would most certainly find squatting very “taxing” I personally find squatting 225 kind of light but at 20 reps ( with good form ofcourse ) its literally nauseating ….. try it !!

Päivi May 20, 2012 at 10:52 pm

Rusty, I need your help with ”building” my butt. I used to be a cardio junkie and ran marathons. However, my hips were wide (genetics) and my butt was totally flat. Because of this I started heavy resistance training. I got a bit more round (thick) butt but also bulky thighs. I am about to increase cardio now in order to decrease my thighs as you have instructed. However, i don’t want to end up with a flat butt again but rather get more muscle in my butt instead of my thighs. What exercise would help me to reach this goal ?

atif May 21, 2012 at 9:44 am

Hi Rusty ,
After reading ur post i am some what “confused” , Many Renowned Trainers say if u want to lose weight One has to lose Lots of Calories and Leg exercises are the ones who burn the most calories ….. doing Playomatrics is one great way of doing this . And here you are saying just eliminate all Direct leg exercises to slim down legs Specially Females. Now i just don’t understand what is the scientific reason behind your claim. Would u like to explain , what if females want to tone their legs and they are just using body weight squats , lunges or Explosive moves on stairs …. will this help them to slim down on their legs .

I will appreciate your reply,
Thanking you in advance,
Atif

Scarlet May 22, 2012 at 7:13 am

I appreciate this post and everyone’s comments but I think that as a woman (men don’t have this problem since they don’t generally store fat on their legs) squats, lunges & deadlifts are a MUST. If you’re thighs get bigger is because you have to lose the fat on the muscle and for that its all about your nutrition and calorie intake. It has nothing to do with the squats, in my experience adding muscle even when you have fat improves the way your body looks as a woman. It helps reduce the visibility of cellulite and all those problems women face. I just wanted to share my thoughts but respect everyones input! 🙂

Lorii Abela May 24, 2012 at 6:57 am

Great post, Rusty. Thanks for sharing.

Edi May 24, 2012 at 1:02 pm

For most people, being ‘too big’ (anywhere, arms, chest, back, legs…..), is usually due to excess body fat and not muscle mass! I mean come on – what’s easier to gain, 1 inch of fat or 1 inch of muscle? I may have fairly small pretty joints, but I squat 230kg to 45 degrees and I still look like an underwear model, weighing @ 155lbs at 5’10! Ok, so if you want skinny legs stop squatting heavy, but aside from that, you must be mad. Believe me, when I was ‘big and bulky’ it was because I had the muscle mass I have now, but also 2 inches of fat over my body! The real point for people wanting to look good is keep your body fat low enough to look good naked! Rusty makes some good points but he also feeds of the ‘but I don’t want to get too big’ hysteria, which for the most part is rubbish. I say for guys, keep body fat 10% or lower and bust your ass lifting as heavy as you can, squats included!

Jared May 24, 2012 at 10:16 pm

@Scarlet
it depends on your the way your body stores fat and build muscle
many women benefit from leg training, their legs are kind of skinny and others have small legs under the fat

But there are girls who are already not so much in their legs and through the use of squats and other leg exercise build too much muscle in their legs compared to the muscle their can build in their upper body. Even with 17% body fat they look bottom heavy and the more the train their legs the more the bottom heaviness increases and their legs, expecially with low fat, start to look masculine and even disproportionate to the rest of their body. Jean don’t fit anymore

Jared May 24, 2012 at 10:21 pm

@atif
if you want to lose weight eat less and walk and job
lifting weight burns nothing
eve, 5×5 with lot of rests is considered at most moderate weight training and you would be lucky to burn 100 calories in 1 hour, no matter what the tables say.

To lose weight 80% of your deficit should come from food and the rest from exercise, with weight lifting amounting to just 20% all the total energy burned through exercise. So it’s not a good idea to increase weight lifting intensity or do fat-burning exercises with weight since lifting weight burns so little calories it’s irrelevant.

If you’re sendetary and lift 1 hour everyday guess what? You’re still sedentary, a sedentary who traing but still a sedentary. Your total energy expenditure is still you’re BMR x 1.2 and not your BMR x 1.5 as if you were “moderately active”

theTruth May 25, 2012 at 7:01 am

he doesn’t do man exercises

eequipfan May 26, 2012 at 12:04 pm

i actually enjoy big legs, but hate squats! it does help boost testosterone, so if you are trying to bulk up up top, i think it helps with overall growth. but obviously its gonna add more mass to your legs than anywhere else, comparatively

Rusty May 26, 2012 at 9:34 pm

Rusty , glad to see this site is still up. Long time fan. I agree about squats and deadliest being overrated. They have their place of course…but this ‘squat or go home’ mentality is hilarious. Lots of jabronis on the BB.com message boards lol.

Anyway, was wondering what do you think is an ideal weight for a 6′ ectomorph striving for the hollywood ideal?

Gary J. Xavier May 28, 2012 at 6:54 pm

Rusty,

I am curious about your take on extreme fitness programs as an effective model for prolonged behavior change?

Loved the article.

GJX

olympic lifting May 30, 2012 at 6:59 pm

I think the answer to this is more complicated. What weight are you using on the squats? What are the set/rep configuration? What about air squats? To what depth are you going? What about your nutrition…you can’t put on mass if you don’t have high levels of protein to rebuild the muscles.

Additionally, bone structure plays a big role in the size of the legs…

Just my $0.02 (probably all it’s worth…)

basketball training May 30, 2012 at 7:00 pm

If you want to trim down leg size…try playing some basketball. It is a great non-boring alternative to running and you get in a ton of natural squats, lunges, agility, plyometics, running, jumping, and more.

Basketball players almost always have a nice lean build.

Ryan June 3, 2012 at 7:37 pm

Thanks for this Rusty!

I always find legs workout boring and adding so much mass to it feels pointless…

That’s why your blog and course makes so much sense because we want to get lean and sexy all year round. So much mass to the legs may not be so sexy for most people.

Jogging, running and any form of cardio is a good idea to focus on if you want to be lean and athletic, big legs is counterproductive if you want to be agile.

Brad June 5, 2012 at 4:09 am

Agreed – sqauts are overrated, especially when it comes to sculpting an attractive masculine physique.

I never squat or lift weights involving my leg muscles and yet i have defined calves, thighs, and hamstrings. Plenty of walking and some more intense cardio delivered the aforementioned results.

Jon June 7, 2012 at 11:35 am

If you felt sluggish with big legs, I’ll have to take your word for it, but I don’t think big legs necessarily makes a person sluggish.

Just look at Barry Sanders for example. I doubt he could have changed directions so quickly if he didn’t have big thighs.

Even so, I agree with you about avoiding a one size fits all prescription for squats and deadlifts or really any fitness activity for that matter.

Power lifters think everyone should train like a power lifter and look down on physique athletes for having pretty (but weak) muscles. Physique athletes think power lifters are fat and look down on anyone without abdominal definition. Crossfitters think that if an exercise doesn’t make you look like a lunatic then it’s not “functional.” 😉

The only thing to do is treat it like a salad bar: take what helps you meet your goals and leave the rest.

For me that means no squats….my butt is big enough as it is.

Scarlet June 7, 2012 at 12:56 pm

@Jared
I appreciate your comments however, you’re speaking like a man. As a woman I know exactly what I’m talking about and don’t take this the wrong way but it has been my experience that most men don’t know how to train women properly since you’re not a woman yourself you do not understand. Sorry but it really annoys me to hear men speak about women’s bodies like they know more than ourselves. we can agree to disagree.

Kate June 7, 2012 at 4:06 pm

I find that resistance exercises for my legs only increase my leg size, which is great if your looking for bulky muscles but i prefer the slim look. I suggest running for lean legs, cardio works really well for me.

Brad Scott June 9, 2012 at 12:35 pm

Yea I agree Rusty. There are so many different exercises out there why just stick to a couple. I really like walking lunges for gaining size.

Edward @ BuildMuscle.org June 11, 2012 at 7:35 am

Good one Rusty, personally I have found that running (not jogging) & hiking are enough to build toned looking legs. For someone who does a lot of cardio, I would personally not recommend leg exercises as I found out that intense movement of leg muscles are good enough to make it look toned, in fact extra weight exercises will increase my fatigue level.

Chris D June 12, 2012 at 4:22 am

I agree with you 100% on this observation. I did p90x and Insanity for a year and got down to 145# and liked how I looked. I switched to Crossfit for 2 years and thought I was weak because I couldn’t lift as much weight as other people. I put on 10# and raised my numbers to more “respectable” levels and thought I was in good shape. I did. Spartan Sprint obstacle race recently and finished ok. Shocker came when I saw pix of myself and other guys on my team. I looked chunky and blocky, different body parts just looked out of proportion. I have a really short torso and long legs so if I develop everything, I end up looking like a weird troll. Compound lifts aren’t for everyone. If a person is going to use resistance training, in particular a linear progression model of weight overload, it should be done judiciously and not just because people tell them they need to squat heavy #’s to be “fit”.

Patrick June 12, 2012 at 2:35 pm

Hey I wasn’t sure where to ask this but here it goes: I have a question about the lactate threshold level. Is is what speed your going or the resistance level on the exercise bike? For instance, I was going 14.5 mph at resistance level 8 on my exercise bike and after 20 minutes my heart rate was at 165. For 90% at 30 minutes, would I go 14.5 mph at level 7 or would I continue at level 8 and go 13 mph?

Dan W. June 14, 2012 at 12:39 pm

I too used to squat weekly and could bulk up my lower body fast. Although I seldom squat now, I do incorporate Smith Machine squats which is not a traditional squat, yet applies resistance to my lower body. I like Smith squats because I can target different leg muscles by varying my stance … particularly using narrower stances that aren’t possible with a traditional squat (at least I find it difficult).

There’s no doubt that I rely on my cardio workouts to work out my lower body which leaves more time and effort for the upper body. I’m glad you wrote this post telling it like you see it. In recent years, much of the online literature sounds like all you have to do is a squat, a dead lift and a bench press for a full body workout. I don’t buy that … besides I like variety.

Vix- Miss Fitness Life June 15, 2012 at 11:14 pm

Remember girls that you can do squats if you love then without bulking up as long as you have your food right…if you food is out you will definately bulk up in the wrong kind of way!

Paul June 17, 2012 at 7:45 pm

Guys who say they can do multiple sets of free bar squats with over 400 pounds inevitably don’t go down low enough, although they think they do. I play a game in my gym – when I see a guy load heavy weight on the bar, I guess from his physique and technique how far off parallel he will be.

The same for deadlifts – I’ve only seen one person in my gym ever do a deadlift correctly. Guys straighten the legs too soon and thereby bring the lower back into play. Extreme deviations, usually with heavier weight, make it look almost like a stiff-legged deadlift in the final phase. You can lift more weight this way, but you defeat the exercise’s purpose by removing stress on the main muscle groups, as well as endangering yourself.

The weights are only props, not a numbers game to see how much you can lift, a point that younger guys with peer pressure have trouble with. Once I did that little extra to go truly all the way down to parallel on squats (tops not bottom of thighs parallel with the ground), thereby engaging my hamstrings better to protect my knees, I’ve never had a knee tweak. (Rule of thumb: if you think you’re at parallel, you’re not – have someone look carefully.) I had to drop 50-60 pounds just from that little extra, but it came back and stronger, because I was then engaging my muscles better. Look at the illustrations in Rippetoe’s book STARTING STRENGTH Second Edition, the best explanation I’ve ever seen in over two decades of studying these lifts.

Paul June 17, 2012 at 8:30 pm

What is the purpose of the partial deadlifts videos on the site that illustrate awful form? The heavy lifters are lifting with their lower backs – just look at how little the legs bend. Very dangerous. The guy in red shorts comes much closer but is still using his lower back to some degree – keeping the back straight, as he explains, does not fix the error. Also, hyperextending your back backwards at the top of the lift while standing straight, as illustrated, is another way to injure yourself. This is why few people should do deadlifts or free bar squats, because the available expert instruction is lacking. These videos should be removed, because they invite people to hurt themselves. See Rippetoe’s STARTING STRENGTH Second Edition for detailed explanations and diagrams. (I have no affiliation with Rippetoe or Crossfit.)

mike June 22, 2012 at 8:14 am

hi rusty i have purchased i think all of your programs and have found them to be the best. really am not just saying this as i have tried and used many and do personal training and teach fitness and weight classes to boys and girls and men and women and for attaining a “look”, which is what most want visual impact and the womens’ version as well as the ab and cardio stuff is hands down the best.
i do have one question that i was asked however. would you recommend creatine as an ongoing supplement or just during the shrink wrap phase? i have them using kre alkalyn for those who wish to use it.

thanks

mike

JC June 24, 2012 at 1:56 pm

I’m 30 pounds overweight according to my height and my B.M.I is 29. I’m looking to get ripped and looking for a great workout program that I can do without weights. Anyone know of any good workout programs. By the way I have begun eating Primal/Paleo. Please help me out. Thank you.

Dominique Sawyere June 24, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Thanks for the great blog, it was an interesting read. I have just started getting the body I want following the tips from http://www.fitandtonednow.com (and seeing some great results) but I think I will definitely keep your tips in mind cos there is already enough mass down there!

Luke June 25, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Mr Moore,
Excellent article!
I believe you are spot on with a great deal of content you right about. Particularly your view that simply a lean, healthy look is the way and not looking like someone who lives in a gym. Look at all those great looking people in those sitcoms, movies etc. from 20-30 or more years ago. Or as you say the’ bond actors look’. At the same time I respect the athletes who require a bigger build to excel in their chosen sports.

Long Live Rusty! Keep Writing!

Luke M-Davies July 1, 2012 at 5:05 am

Hey Rusty – what a great article to read after not visiting your blog in far too long! Glad to see it is still buzzing with activity and great writing!

I really worked hard on running this year but am a month into my lean muscle gain training (as summer approaches and running races taper off, I want a bit of summer size! who doesn’t 😉

It’s amazing that I have reached the same conclusions as yourself for similar reasons

Deadlift & Squats – “I fall under the category of gaining muscle too quickly in my thighs, hips and butt.”
This is true for me too and I naturally have J-Lo glutes which help me to run powerfully but I don’t want them to be any bigger. I like the deadlift for raw strength and grip strength so I go for partial reps!

Squats – Same as above but I also find a deep squat can really over strain my groin, I prefer walking lunges and kettlebell swings.

The muscle market has pushed the Squat and Deadlift as the ultimate mass builders a bit too much and I think have scared people away from leaving them out of their workouts. A clean&press will hit more muscles and still give that supposed ‘testosterone kick’!

Mike July 1, 2012 at 6:20 am

Good article, and completely agree for the most part. There is too much emphasis put onto squatting and Deadlifting and many people don’t even seem to understand what they actually do for the body.

Seja_LiveLaughLove July 6, 2012 at 8:10 pm

Squats and deadlifts are performed so faithfully in people’s exercise routines. Your right that they are not the “all in all” in exercises, there are so many other full body movements, or activities from full body movements that work the entire body and will help you stay lean. We work our quads so much from just doing our daily activities (i.e. how many times do you sit down and get up throughout the day). From playing basketball, to swimming, to pole dancing there are so many options out there.

sagajagads July 9, 2012 at 9:53 pm

f you’re sendetary and lift 1 hour everyday guess what? You’re still sedentary, a sedentary who traing but still a sedentary. Your total energy expenditure is still you’re BMR x 1.2 and not your BMR x 1.5 as if you were “moderately active”

anytime fitness locations

chnlove reviews July 12, 2012 at 11:55 pm

It’s really good for us to improve our body shape by sports!

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