Women who have to work hard to achieve some size on a slimmer frame are no different from those women who have to work hard to lose some size on a larger frame. I am going to address both of these issues.
When your size is limited, like mine was when I first began my fitness quests, your objective would be to gain some muscle mass. When it's over the limits that you are happy with, then your objective would be to lose some fat. Muscle Mass and Fat ... two different things.
First determine how much muscle mass you want to gain, then increase your calories and macro-nutrients accordingly. This is explained in my articles on Nutrition 101 Parts 1 and 2. If you aren't sure of how much size you want, shoot for small increments at a time such as 5 - 10 pounds of gain to start. This same approach applies to losing fat. However, your calories and macro-nutrients will be reduced, and shoot for 10 - 15 pounds of loss to start. After 8 - 10 weeks, assess your appearance once some muscle mass is gained, and fat weight is lost. Then take the appropriate measures either to continue to gain or to continue to lose.
If you're happy where you're at, begin a maintenance program. I really can't give an approximate time table for either based on the fact that people gain and lose at different levels and speeds. This factors in with genetics, body type, metabolism, age, gender and your ability to be dedicated to your goal, just to name a few. However, you will begin to see results quickly.
There are several different ways to train the lower body for size, and fat loss. Every professional in the fitness industry has an opinion on what works and what doesn't. You may have to try a couple different approaches to find what works for you. This is my opinion ...
Gaining Mass on Legs
When training for size there are two things that you will be required to do. You will need to increase your caloric intake, and train with a heavier weight on a muscle building program. Eat 5-6 small meals per day with enough calories in each meal to feed your muscles to grow, and keep your body in a positive nitrogen balance at all times. At the same time, keep the foods clean enough for the proper nutrients the body needs and not to gain an excess in fat weight. However, gaining too much fat for a slimmer body with a higher metabolism will be a little difficult, but not impossible.
Train your legs twice a week, every 4 - 5 days depending on soreness. You will train calves in both sessions.
Leg Training Session #1
Barbell Squats: 4-6 sets X 8-10 reps each set
Hack Squats: 4-6 sets X 8-10 reps each set
Leg Press: 4-6 sets X 8-10 reps each set
Bilateral Leg Press: 2 sets X 10-15 reps each set
Dead Lifts: 3-4 sets X 15-20 reps
Any Calf Exercises: 3 sets X 15-20 reps each set
In the first training session for the week we do the Squatting, Pressing, and Dead Lift exercises. No exercise is better for putting mass on your legs like Squatting. Any bodybuilder or fitness enthusiast will tell you this. It is wise to have a workout partner to spot you for these exercises, because you will be training with heavier weight than what you were accustomed to. Have the Barbell Squat, Hack Squat, Leg Press and Barbell Deadlift as part of this session. Do 4 - 6 Sets for each with 8 - 10 Reps. If it's too easy to do 8 - 10 reps add more weight.
The goal is to cause fatigue to start at least by the 5th or 6th rep, the load on the muscle is then greater and more muscle fibers are hit. Rest 1 Minute or until the lactic acid has moved out of the muscle, and breathing is back to normal between sets before going to the next set. Your ability to recover between sets will improve as your fitness level improves. Stretch the muscle between sets as well. After completing the Leg Presses, do 2 sets at 5-10 lbs. at 10 - 15 reps of Bilateral Presses, meaning single Leg Presses on the Leg Press machine. Your legs will be fatigued from the other exercises, so use caution when executing this exercise. Do Dead Lifts at 3 - 4 sets at 15 - 20 reps. Train calves at 3 sets of 15 - 20 reps.
Leg Training Session #2
Leg Curls: 4-6 sets X 8-10 reps each set
Leg Extensions: 4-6 sets X 8-10 reps each set
Barbell Lunges: 4-6 sets X 8-10 reps each set
(Switch lunges to Inner Outer Thigh exercises every other week)
Any Calf Exercises: 3 sets X 15-20 reps each set
After Four Weeks Add:
Single Leg Curls: 3 sets X 10-12 reps (do after Leg Curls)
Single Leg Extensions: 3 sets X 10-12 reps (do after Leg Extensions)
In the second leg training session for the week, we do the Extensions, Curls, and Lunging exercises. Flip flop the Lunges with Inner Outer Thigh exercises on the low cable pulley every week. Meaning in session two on the first week do Lunges, and in week two in the second session do the Inner Outer Thigh, etc. This is in replace of, not in addition to. This way you will get the lunging benefits, as well as the inner outer thigh benefits without over training. Keep the sets and reps the same as in the first weekly session except for the inner outer thigh, do at least 3 - 4 sets at 15 - 25 reps with moderate weight. Don't train inner outer thigh to failure. Train calves at 3 - 4 Sets of 15 - 20 Reps.
Do Single Leg Curls and Single Leg Extensions at 3 sets of 10 - 12 reps at a moderate weight after 4 weeks of training in this manner in addition to your Leg Curls and Leg Extensions. Follow this way: Leg Curls - all Sets/Reps, Single Leg Curl - all Sets/Reps, Leg Extension - all Sets/Reps, Single Leg Extensions - all Sets/Reps.
DO NOT do excessive cardio training during your building phase. Keep your cardio at 3-to-4 times per week at 20-to-30 minutes each session.
Losing Fat on Legs
Keep in mind that you can't Spot Reduce Fat. You will lose fat weight over your entire body no matter which bodypart you are actually training. In other words, training your legs will not cause you to lose fat on your legs only. It will come off your whole body evenly. Training to lose fat, tone and firm the legs, thighs and buttocks will follow the same regimen as gaining with these differences: You will need to reduce your caloric intake to push your body over into fat burning and train with lighter weights and higher reps and fewer sets for a fat loss program. You will eat 5-6 small meals per day to keep your body in a constant fat burning mode through an elevated metabolism. This will also keep your body in a positive nitrogen balance, so that your muscles don't go catabolic while you're losing fat. You will keep your foods much cleaner for this phase of fat loss than for the phase to gain mass, because the goal is to get leaner. However, you will tone and firm the muscle, and even gain some muscle in these areas due to that which is what you want to do.
Train your legs twice a week, every 3-4 days depending on soreness. You will train calves in both sessions.
Changes To The Mass Gain Program #1: In the first training session for the week, you will do the same exercises as to gain in that session with these differences: Drop the number of sets to 3-4 at 10-15 reps with a moderate weight. Keep the Sets/Reps for Bilateral Leg Presses the same. Train calves at 3 sets of 12-15 reps.
Changes To The Mass Gain Program #2: In the second training session for the week, you will do the same exercises for this session with these differences. Drop the number of sets to 3-4 at 10-15 reps with moderate weight. Keep the Sets/Reps for Inner Outer Thigh exercises the same. Flip flop the Lunges with the Inner Outer thigh each week, same as in the gaining session. Train calves at 3 sets of 12-15 reps.
Do sustained aerobic activity 5-6 times per week for 30-45 minutes each session. Add a Leg Circuit Training session after 4-6 weeks of training in this manner every 3 weeks in replace of the entire second training session and not in addition to it.
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For Gaining and Losing
Gaining: Drink your protein supplement no later than 30-45 minutes after your training session is over. Take L-Glutamine, and Creatine (try Cell-Tech hardcore, the stuff is amazing) and eat adequate amount of carbohydrate at this time. For other supplements: Multivitamin, Essential Amino Acids, Flax Seed Oil, and Omega Three Fatty Acids taken in the morning.
Losing: Drink your protein supplement no later than 30 - 45 minute after your training session is over. Lower your carb and fat intake, take L-Glutamine and Creatine. For other supplements: Multivitamin, Essential Amino Acids, Flax Seed Oil, and Omega Three Fatty Acids, taken in the morning. Consider a fat burner such as HydroxyCut or Xenadrine NRG, both of which are excellent choices and follow the directions on the bottle exactly.
- Drink at least a gallon or more of water per day, no exceptions.
- Use variety in the exercises. There is more than one way to squat, press, curl, extend and lunge, etc. Do not put into your sessions every leg exercise there is in hopes of getting results quicker. Stay in this format.
- Change these exercises every 6-8 weeks, staying in the same format.
- Adjust weight accordingly as you get stronger. Legs adapt fast. You will see and feel differences quickly.
- Get plenty of rest, and don't overtrain.
- Assess yourself after a complete 16-24 weeks of training legs in this manner before deciding to change to a different format altogether.
Follow these guidelines closely, stay true to yourself and you will be on your way to more beautiful and shapely legs.
Good Luck and Train Smart!