T Nation

Operation: Jacked Legs


Last summer my legs were my best asset. This summer they're my worst. What happened? I did a figure competition and hired coaches who told me that in order to become symmetrical I needed to stop training legs. They literally had me atrophy leg muscle on purpose.

So I followed their advice against my better judgment. And as a result, I ended up winning my novice category, but hating my legs. Sure they got smaller, but they also lost muscle definition, shape, and hardness. Half my body turned skinny fat for the sake of symmetry. That picture above was taken the day after the competition.

How ironic is it to do a figure competition and become less fit as a result?

So I'm mad at myself and I'm more motivated than ever to build up what I lost. I'd rather lose a competition and like my body than win and regret what I had to do in order to get a trophy.

With that said, the times when my legs looked the best was when I had been doing a lot of training with Christian Thibaudeau or when I've made up my own programs inspired by what he taught me.

So I'm going to amp up the lower body training and keep you posted on my progress here. What are your best tips for building beautiful legs? I'd love to hear them!


I'm definitely going to join you! :slight_smile: Legs and glutes are on my To Do List this year. I would absolutely love to hear something about the routines you did with Christian Thibaudeau.
I guess what really made a difference for me was squatting 3 days a week. Right now I train 4 times a week - which means training lower body only 2 times per week.


Thanks for joining me and responding yesssy. Training your legs twice a week is just fine. CT had us doing a lot of cluster sets and super sets with stuff that didn't just make your legs burn, they also made your lungs burn. And you'd go straight from one thing to another. Like walking lunges holding a heavy kettlebell and then putting that down and doing walking lunges with a slightly lighter kettlebell, then putting that down and doing body weight walking lunges. Then going straight from that into kettlebell swings, kettlebell sumo squats, or kettlebell thrusters (or all three with dropsets), then going from those into pushing a prowler. I haven't gotten back into that level of intensity yet because I lost so much strength in my legs... and also because a small part of me still worries that if I train legs too hard then they're going to look "too big".

Today I worked legs but just focused on glutes and hams with a couple additional compound exercises. Nothing fancy. I was tempted to hit quads, but this thought keeps running though my head: "If OTHER people think my legs look too big then maybe I should only focus on posterior chain."

But you know and I know that's total BS.


Hi Dani I love your articles I posted them of FB for my girlfriends to check out... Personally I love big thick legs and even bigger glutes :slightly_smiling: I am considering hiring a well known bikini trainer but not if she's gonna try to shrink my legs-of course I don't want or plan on competing.

Anyways, I personally think your legs look flatter and less proportionate to your upper body. Just what I see of course. And I'm bias because like I said I love big legs I always thought mine were huge till I tried growing them now it seems they don't want to grow, grrr! Well, good luck to you in you goals but I think you should do what feels comfortable and appeals to you!


mma_girl, so glad to hear that the articles are helpful. Thank you for sharing!

You can absolutely compete without worrying about making the same mistake I did. Just be sure to tell your trainer up front that you're more interested in long term health and fitness than winning a trophy. And during prep, if he or she tells you to do something that's not in line with what you value as an athlete, stick to your guns. Don't let them scare you or bully you into making bad choices.

Also, if you have several years of experience in weight training and nutrition, and your coach gives orders rather than suggestions, then that's a red flag too. You're an adult. Not a lapdog. And sometimes the judges' advice will be just as varied as different coaches' advice, so don't make your life revolve around pleasing other people. Just build the body you love, listen to what the experts have to say, weigh it, and follow through if it makes sense.

I know that sounds like such obvious, cliche advice, but when you're in the middle of prep, you're more vulnerable to overriding your instincts and common sense.

You're absolutely right. My legs in that picture are flat and disproportional. I had a hard time posting it because I was embarrassed about the way they looked. But now I'm just angry.

I appreciate your feedback so much, hope you swing by more often!


Should have been an upper body day, but I was curious to try those supersets. I can tell you: I'm going to sleep well tonight!
Dani, do you have another coach now? Or do you train on your own?


That's awesome, yesssy. I'm coaching myself these days. :wink:


When you go from not training legs to training legs, you'll notice that the rest of your body will start to tighten up too. Especially the abs. Maybe it's because you're using the muscles which give you the biggest potential for getting the burn all over.

This is what my training philosophy is all about -- build yourself up so that you burn fat naturally. In a way, hypertrophy is mother nature's thermogenic. The more muscle you have the more metabolically expensive tissue you carry around on your body.

So if you're trying to get a leaner, losing muscle in your legs is not the way to go even if your legs appear to be too muscular compared to your upper body ... unless you're ok with getting a little softer and fatter everywhere else.


I'm nowhere near your level, Dani, so take my input for what's it's worth, but for the past 3 months I've been doing SOME kind of squat pattern (back, front, goblet, pistols) every training day. I'm training 4 days per week. Some days are super light or even just body weight, but there is always something.

I've noticed a real difference in the definition of my quads and my husband is quite happy with how my glutes are coming along!


LiftingStrumpet, I love your advice and I'm going steal it. :wink:

I think Bret Contreras has recommended something similar -- working and isolating the booty most days of the week to keep the glute muscles firing properly. (Believe it or not, it's common for a lot of women to train their lower bodies hard without actually using their glutes. I turn into one of those women if I don't isolate my butt at the beginning of a leg workout.)

Anyway, you're absolutely right. Who says it has to be a full blown leg day in order to hit the lower body with just an exercise or two?

Great tip! Thank you for dropping by!


That's crazy! I could never stop training my legs, it's my favorite so if anyone told me to they'd better watch out!! :slightly_smiling:

My favorite leg exercises:
Front squats
Back squats
Bulgarian squats

Barbell lunges are the devil but a much needed exercise to perfect the leggies :slightly_smiling:

Go Dani Go! Operation jacked legs is an excellent plan. I totally agree with you, I'd rather be happy with my body and lose a show rather than change my body to please someone else.


Thanks for the support Bron! Those are your favorites? Masochist. :wink:

Yeah, I missed training on my own terms, and building what I wanted to build. Kinda sucked the fun out of lifting. And while I may end up looking like a lopsided freak with these soon-to-be man legs, it's more than worth it to reclaim the thing you're most passionate about.


Dani, No Im not a dieter anymore no way I could prep that hard for a show plus I don't think I'd enjoy being that lean. I like the idea of being about 16-18% bodyfat - If I could get about there! Lol.
Please don't feel embarrased a million women would rape and pilage to look like you in that photoshoot. Plus we all know youre a knowledgable coach yourself. I do hear you on the anger though. I've seen some of my favorite competitors come down on their legs but they still stayed kinda hard/fullish so I'm not sure what that trainer was thinking.

I have the same sentiment as Bron I would rather have the body I want than win a show hence why I don't feel like even trying to get crazy lean (I want lean just not ripped) its just not me :stuck_out_tongue:
Oh well no worries I'm sure you will have fun retraining them. Legs are always the best days!

My new favorites are Barbell bridges and hip thrust ala Bret Contreras. Also sumo DLs, Romanian DLs, reverse lunges off a box and of course squats. Those tend to be more glute than leg but if you're like me and quad dominant than anything is leg lol


mma_girl, your perspective on not wanting to get crazy lean makes sense. Because if you think about it, crazy leanness for most women is something that they can only pull off temporarily. And those who try to hang onto extreme leanness often end up messing up their bodies and battling weight issues long term.

I kinda think about it like this: Would you rather be really lean for a while and then balloon up later; going from one extreme to the next? Or would you rather be lean enough to look obviously fit and muscular year round? The second option makes more sense to me... sounds like that's where your mind is too.

PS- Love your lower body favorites!


"Soon-to-be man legs" lol, 'man legs' for the win! I'm sure you won't look lopsided, you have a great upper body too.

Lunges aren't my favorite, we just have a love/hate relationship and I know I need them.

On the bright side, you must have made some crazy improvements in your upper body during the leg layoff! Right?!


I hear you on the love/hate relationship with lunges, Bron. You're right, I did make some progress on the upper body, but even so, my delts and lats were never big enough for what my coaches wanted.

Capped shoulders are what's in style right now for figure competitors. Judges want to see a ball-shaped shoulder at the top of women's arms. And I can see why. It's aesthetically pleasing. It also makes women's waists appear smaller.

But genetically, that's not where I build muscle first. I am predisposed to building muscle first in my legs, arms, and upper back. Which doesn't bother me one bit, unless someone comes along and says that I need to un-train those areas to make other areas look more muscular by comparison.

But why not build as much muscle as you can all over your body? So what if that's not what's in fashion?

Own what you've got. Build it. Flaunt it. And maybe someday you'll make it look so good that it becomes the new fashion. But you can't be a trendsetter if you're always trying to look like someone else and shrink the things that set you apart.


I hear you! I have the same issue, I've always been more dominant in my lower body and my shoulders are always the last place to gain any muscle... Being 5'10 I need to put on a lot more size in my upper body to look "pleasing" on stage for the judges.

I agree with you 100% on being a trendsetter... People who are so busy chasing someone else's look that they are missing out on their own potential and going to extreme measures to reach a physique that's unrealistic to their body type (like the squeem as you mentioned and trying to manipulate certain body parts, like your legs!!)

Btw-great picture at the beginning of the thread... Helllllooooo biceps!!


Thanks, Bron! Agreed. Everything you said about chasing some else's look makes perfect sense. And it seems we have the same struggle with symmetry -- I'm 5'10" too. Interesting, it is pretty rare to see taller females with big delts. If we were to look at a few hundred competitors lined up by height class, I wonder if narrow shoulders/ narrow upper body would be an obvious characteristic among most taller females. And I wonder if shorter females would generally display a more prominent X-shape.


Anyone tried elevator squats before?? I tried them yesterday for the first time and I am hardly walking today, I am no stranger to leg training but this exercise is a real beauty!

Dani, you'd like to give this one a shot.

Squat down to the bottom and come back up 1/2way, squat back down and come up 3/4 of the way then squat down and come all the way up to your starting position. (THIS IS ONE REP) Give it a try after you finish your heavy squats. Something like 3 sets x 6-8reps would work.


Yikes! Will do.