Bulking up your legs doesn't mean turning your lower limbs into tree trunks that resemble the Incredible Hulk's. Adding lean muscle mass can make your legs more shapely and defined, and the increased muscle may also boost your metabolic rate and burn extra calories. Trouble can raise its head, however, when you bulk in the wrong way and start adding stomach fat -- the number one thing you want to avoid in your quest for a stunning physique.
As dull as they may be, calories are the number one factor in building lean muscle. To bulk up, you need to eat an excess of calories to give your body energy to build muscle, but too many can lead to fat gain. Active women need 2,000 to 2,400 calories per day to maintain weight, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. To bulk, you'll probably need slightly more than this, but start with these figures to avoid excess fat gain.
Rather than whiling away your gym time on the leg extension and leg curl machines, hit the free weights hard. Free weights stimulate more muscle growth and give you a much bigger metabolism boost than machines, writes Cassandra Forsythe in "The New Rules of Lifting for Women." Base your leg routine around front squats or back squats with a barbell, dumbbell squats and lunges, deadlifts and step-ups.
Cardio may not be at the top of every bulker's priority list, but it is crucial in keeping a flat stomach while building muscle. Opt for high-intensity interval training that really tests your lower body -- think hill running, sprints on the stationary bike or sprints outside wearing a weighted vest. These not only burn a few calories to fight the stomach fat, but they also work your quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves, stimulating further muscle growth.
Schedule and Guidelines
Train your legs twice per week, leaving at least two days between workouts. Pick three to four exercises and perform each for four sets of five to eight reps. This may not seem like a lot, but five to eight reps with a heavy weight should be seriously challenging, according to strength coach Nia Shanks. If you can do 10 reps on one weight, it's time to bump it up. Add in two cardio sessions on separate days, each lasting just 15 to 20 minutes, but aim to work at maximum effort. Monitor your calorie intake daily and adjust it after your weekly weigh in. Look to add no more than half a pound each week -- any more than this will likely be increased fat. If you're not gaining muscle quickly enough, increase your intake slightly, or lower it if you're adding fat.
- Mayo Clinic: Strength Training: Get Stronger, Leaner, Healthier
- United States Department of Agriculture: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010
- New Rules Of Lifting For Women: Lift Like a Man, Look Like a Goddess; Cassandra Forsythe; December 2007
- Tribe Sports: Nia Shanks: Why Women Should Lift Heavy Weights
- Getty Images/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images