Leg Muscles – How to build a ‘Sweeping Shape’

by Scott Abbett


There's nothing that provides an overall look of power to the human body like a strong pair of thighs. And there's nothing that gives those thighs a strong appearance like having a "sweeping shape" to them. This is the kind of muscular development that gives the upper legs a sort of upside-down teardrop appearance. It usually causes your thighs to vibrate dominantly as your feet make impact with the ground. This, in turn, tells the world you're not only a bodybuilder, but someone in possession of substantial athletic strength. It says that half your body can exhibit incredibly usable power.

Leg Extensions

I was not blessed by nature with such underpinnings. Mine were genetically of the variety that seemed the same size up at the top as they did down at the connection near the knees. Yes, I had skinny legs. And it was the cause of much teenaged self-consciousness - not the least of which brought on by incessant teasing about my undersized lower limbs from older sister. It wasn't until my sister and I were both adults that she confessed to me: "Scott, I was jealous of your skinny legs." Gee, if only she'd told me sooner or I'd been intuitive enough to figure it out, we could have prevented a lot of hot summer days during which I'd refused to expose them.

Beginning in my mid-twenties, my thighs began changing for the better. But it took until that point for me to realize that it wasn't going to happen without bodybuilding. I enthusiastically jumped in, training my upper leg muscles with a vengeance through the use of oft-prescribed, multiple sets of free-weight squats. I'd perform "heavy" sets (with forced reps) until my legs would give out beneath me on the way to my car in the gym parking lot. This was the key, I was told repeatedly, to building big legs. "You can't build them without free-weight squats", the juiced up pro bodybuilders said. Hey, if it worked for them, it's got to work for me - even sans steroids, right?

Well, wrong! As I said, my legs did start to change for the better, but not by much. Along with more size, what I was really longing for but sorely lacking is that cool "sweeping shape" on the thigh muscles. I wanted the appearance that the muscles were flaring out beyond the width of the hips that sit above them.

Big Quadriceps

What finally got me there? Well, the elimination of countless sets of free-weight squats, for one thing. I'm not sure I could ever find a lifetime drug-free bodybuilder who'd swear that these are the magic bullet for leg development, but if I do, I'll hand him a bottle to pee in or a polygraph to hook up to. Free-weight squats are extremely taxing on the entire body. It's not unusual for the body to have to dig into its energy reserves for merely recovering the systemic demands of free-weight squat workouts. That doesn't leave much energy for recuperation and compensatory growth of the targeted muscles. Bottom line: If free-weight squats are working for you, keep doing them. If they're not, then don't think you're committing a cardinal sin by eradicating them. You could easily get your best muscular development without them.

My current workout (the one that's making my thigh-sweep ever bigger) is devoid of free-weight exercises. It consists of some squats, but they're done on a Body Master machine. This is the apparatus I begin my leg routine with and I use it for full squats that are slow and controlled. By the time I've finished four to six sets of these, my thighs, hips, glutes, and hamstrings have gotten off to a good workout.

Now it's time to go on to the isolation movements that have the greatest potential for creating a thigh sweep. Accomplishing this is a matter of maximally targeting both the inner and outer thigh muscles respectively. I use two pieces of equipment for this: a horizontal, sliding leg press machine and a leg extension apparatus. Targeting the inner and outer thighs on the leg press is mainly a matter of foot positioning - for the leg extensions; it's technique.

The way to hit the inner thighs on the leg press is to place your feet on the platform at slightly wider than shoulder width with the toes pointed about 30 degrees away from each other. This will more directly hit the vastus medialis (the inner thigh). Be sure to only perform the descending half of the exercise to the point where your thighs are perpendicular to your upper body; there's no point in going full-range with this exercise as we are trying to keep tension on the thigh muscles. For the same reason, don't lock your knees at the top of the movement.

The method for hitting the outer thighs (vastus lateralis) with the horizontal leg press slide is to put your feet together on the platform (so they're touching each other) and slightly raise your toes off the platform. This will effectively cause you to push the weight from your heels. Again, only descend until your thighs are perpendicular with your torso and don't lock your knees at the top of the movement. This should create extreme tension on the outer thigh muscles.

For leg extensions, you will target the inner thigh muscles by moving the seat to the full forward position so that you have the least amount of distance possible between your torso and the lever bar. Point your toes straight up toward the ceiling and pivot your ankles so your heels are pointed slightly toward each other. As you raise the weight in this position, lean your body forward on the ascending movement. Then bring your body back toward the seat-back as you lower the weight. When you perform this movement correctly, you'll feel a lot of tension on just the inner thigh muscle.

Natural Muscle Gains and Fat Burning Secrets

To target the outer thighs with leg extensions, adjust the seat to its farthest position back. Now when you sit on the machine, your upper body should be leaning as far away from your feet as possible. Point your toes straight forward, in the direction that you're looking. As you raise the bar (and the resistance) keeping this position, apply outward moving tension to your legs as if you are trying to spread your feet apart. Of course, you don't want to apply so much pressure that your feet actually move on the bar; just enough to shift the work to the outer thighs. As you lower the weight, you can just slightly relax the thighs by not applying any directional tension. When done correctly, this leg extension variation will create maximum tension on the outer thigh, which is pivotally important for creating that sweeping shape.

If you want that teardrop shape to your thighs, I highly recommend you try these exercise techniques in the order presented. Perform four to seven sets of six to eight reps on each exercise, and watch your legs improve in size and shape.