If you’ve given up on the squat due to long femurs, here are the best exercises to build muscle in your legs.
Time and time again, the muscle building literature says that people with long femurs “make poor squatters.”
This is no myth in that trainees with long femurs must have a pronounced forward lean to keep their balance as they approach parallel in the squat, let alone deeper. I’m a certified personal trainer.
“Long femurs” refers to a relative measurement, not an absolute length, in particular, femur to torso ratio.
Thus, if a short person’s femurs are longer than their torso, they will have more difficulty squatting than will a very tall person whose femurs are a lot shorter than their torso.
Best exercises for those with long femurs (no particular order):
Split Squat with Elevated Foot with dumbbells.
Try to keep torso erect. The drawback is there’s a limit with how much weight you can hold in each hand. (A free barbell can also be used.)
Split Squat with Back Foot on Floor with dumbbells (a.k.a. stationary weighted lunge). Same as above.
Split Squat with Smith Machine. If you’ve reached a point where you need heavier dumbbells with split squats than your gym provides, try the Smith machine.
Weighted Walking Lunge. Keep torso erect. Whenever I see men doing this with huge dumbbells, they always have well-developed quads.
Though I also gather that some of that development is from other leg exercises, very possibly the back squat, but I’m sure they wouldn’t be doing weighted walking lunges with heavy dumbbells if it didn’t help build leg muscle.
Weighted Single-Leg Step Up.
Do not confuse this with the aerobic version where the trainee is going up and down for many reps while holding dumbbells.
The dumbbells should be heavy enough to prevent more than 8-12 reps with good form. Keep torso erect and don’t rush.
The higher the step, the more hamstring and glute activation, so use a higher step to really build leg muscle.
Dumbbell Squat. Hold dumbbells on either side and see if you can go parallel. Widen stance until you can and do this before a mirror. The caveat is the limitation on dumbbell weight.
Women with long femurs won’t be presented as much with this limitation, as it’s far less likely that a woman will get too strong to be challenged by holding a 100 pound dumbbell in each hand.
Thus, dumbbell exercises are even better for women with long femurs wanting to build muscle. This isn’t to say that a woman can never “outgrow” 100 pound dumbbells.
Sumo or Wide Squat. This is great at building leg muscle. A person’s femurs would have to be outrageously long for this exercise to be difficult to do.
However, the wider the stance, the more hip and hamstring flexibility required.
A great sumo stance is possible only with adequate hip/hamstring flexibility.
Want to build leg muscle and have long femurs? Then get going on achieving flexibility. (One way to do that is to just keep doing the sumo squat.)
Front Squat. Many with long femurs swear by this for building leg muscle.
Sumo Deadlift. This, too, will build leg muscle and has similar dynamics to and requirements of the sumo squat.
Machine Hack Squat. Give this a try. Many trainees find it uncomfortable and hard on the knees, however. A variation is to face the machine.
Leg Press. Get at least a 90 degree knee bend; preferably go deep.
Box Squat. Make sure the height of the box allows your femurs to be at least parallel or a little deeper.
Don’t abuse the presence of the box by resting on it at the bottom of the movement or losing the lower back arch.
Don’t let feet leave the floor when you make contact with the box. Pretend the box isn’t there, even.
Many fitness professionals swear that this exercise really builds leg muscle, and even those who don’t have long femurs will do these to help build leg muscle.
If you have long femurs and want to build leg muscle, there’s no reason why you can’t achieve this. It’s a myth that the back squat is for every body.
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.