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Big Legs, Small Upper Body? (Here’s What To Do!)

If you have big legs and a small upper body, then you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, I explain why you have thick legs and a small upper body, how to add more size to your upper body, and more.

Big legs small upper body

Why Do You Have Big Legs And A Small Upper Body?

There are 10 common reasons why your legs are bigger than your upper body. These are:

  • Insufficient Upper Body Training Volume
  • Not Training In The Full Range Of Motion For Upper Body Exercises
  • Upper Body Training Frequency
  • Legs Training Frequency
  • Poor Upper Body Exercise Selection
  • Training Too Heavy
  • Training Too Light
  • Not Eating Enough Protein
  • Your Gender
  • Lipodema

Let’s explore these in more detail.

Insufficient Upper Body Training Volume

When looking to gain muscle mass, it’s important to do sufficient training volume to stimulate hypertrophy.

Most people with a small upper body aren’t training it enough.

Solution: Increase Upper Body Training Volume

For most individuals, aim to target your chest, shoulders, back, and arms with 12-15 total sets per body part per week, using mainly compound exercises.

Not Training In The Full Range Of Motion For Upper Body Exercises

This is one of the most common problems I see with beginner lifters.

When doing upper body exercises like bench press, they fail to lower the bar to their chest.

Or when doing military presses, they lower the bar only to the top of their head.

In both these scenarios, your muscles are under less tension per rep than they should be, so you’re not getting the full benefit from the exercises.

Solution: Use A Full Range Of Motion For Upper Body Exercises

By using a full range of motion, your muscles will be under tension for longer which will encourage more muscle growth.

You’ll also be recruiting more muscle fibres, which again, can lead to more muscle growth.

Upper Body Training Frequency

Most people with a small upper body only target each individual muscle group once per week.

For example, they may do legs on Monday, chest on Tuesday, shoulders on Wednesday, arms on Friday, and back on Saturday.

But by training each muscle group once per week, you’re seriously limiting upper body muscle growth.

Solution: Increase Upper Body Training Frequency To Twice A Week

Instead of doing the standard bro split as described above, a more effective way to hit your upper body is to do PPL (Push, Pull, Legs.)

For example, you could do Push on Monday, Pull on Tuesday, Legs on Wednesday, Push on Thursday, and Pull on Friday.

By training this way, you can expect some serious upper body gains.

Legs Training Frequency

Another common problem I see is people training legs too often.

While you don’t want to be that guy (or gal) who skips leg day, you also don’t want to be the person who does legs twice a week.

Solution: Limit Legs To Once A Week

As outlined above in the PPL routine, by training legs only once per week, you’ll be somewhat limiting leg growth while your upper body catches up.

Poor Upper Body Exercise Selection

Topless man doing a bench press in the gym

Gym-goers with a skinny upper body typically chose the wrong exercises.

While there’s nothing wrong with isolation exercises like concentration curls and chest flyes, they’re not the most effective if you want to maximize upper body growth.

Solution: Focus On Compound Exercises

In your Push and Pull sessions, I recommend you choose from the following exercises:

  • Bench Press
  • Military Press
  • Pull-Ups
  • Deadlift
  • Rows
  • Dips
  • Close Grip Bench Press

Since these are compound exercises, they target multiple muscle groups at once, so you know that you’re getting the most from each exercise.

Training Too Heavy With Upper Body Exercises

During ego exercises, like bench press and deadlifts, I often see people going for 1 rep max, or only doing reps in the 2-5 rep range.

While this isn’t necessarily bad for hypertrophy, it means that you’ll fatigue much quicker and thus you won’t be able to train with enough volume to maximise muscle growth.

Solution: Lower The Weight

If you’re someone who is always lifting heavy, then try spending the next few weeks in a hypertrophy phase where you train in the 6-12 rep range.

This will allow for high training volumes to be accumulated, and higher volume often leads to more muscle growth.

Training Too Light With Upper Body Exercises

This can be an issue for many newbie lifters.

They don’t know how to push themselves properly, so they end up using a weight that they can comfortably get 20 reps per set done.

While I’ve just stated the importance of training volume, there’s a balancing act and too much volume usually means you’re not lifting enough weight to damage your muscles.

And if your muscles aren’t being damaged, then there’s less reason for them to grow.

Solution: Increase The Weight

As just covered in my earlier point, you should be aiming for a weight where you can do 6-12 reps per set.

This is enough so that you’re doing sufficient volume, but not too much so that you’re using a too light weight.

Not Eating The Right Foods

When it comes to body composition, the importance of diet cannot be understated.

Many people with a skinny-fat physique with chunky legs tend to eat too many refined carbohydrates, like white bread.

Solution: Increase Protein And Lower Your Carb Intake

By increasing protein, you’ll help encourage upper body muscle growth, since protein is vital for muscle gains.

And by lowering your carb intake, your body will rely more on its fat stores (from your legs) for energy.

This means you’ll be building more upper body muscle, while slimming down your thighs.

Your Gender

If you’re a female, then you’re more likely to have big legs and a skinny upper body.

This is because females tend to store more body fat around their thighs and bum.

(Whereas men tend to store body fat around their belly, hence the infamous dad bod.)

Unfortunately, there’s no real solution for this as it’s a genetic predisposition.


Lipedema, also known as “painful fat syndrome”, is a medical condition where fat accumulates around your thighs, knees, shins, and ankles.

It occurs mostly in women, and it’s often genetically inherited from your parents or grandparents.

If you have fat legs and a small upper body as a female, you should check with your medical professional to rule out lipedema.

Solution: Liposuction

Unfortunately, the only way to reduce the fat from lipedema is through surgery, known as liposuction.

While surgery can remove the fat, it’s not a cure and in some cases, the fat can return.

What Body Type Has Big Legs?

There are 3 different body types: Ectomorph, Mesomorph, and Endomorph.

If you have big legs, then chances are you’re an Ectomorph.

(Ectomorphs are the most common out of the 3.)

Why Are Some People’s Thighs So Big?

The reasons for this vary.

For example, some people have big thighs because thanks to their genetics, they naturally carry a higher percentage of body fat around their thighs.

Whereas some people have muscular thighs. Again, this can be due to genetics, or it can be the result of training your legs frequently.

Is It Good To Have Thick Legs?

There’s nothing wrong with having thick legs!

Your legs support your upper body, so by having thick legs, you’ll have more support carrying your upper body.

Some people are attracted to thick legs too.

That being said, carrying a large amount of fat around your legs isn’t ideal and you should aim to lower your total body fat if you want to optimize your health.

Why Are Your Legs Bigger Than Your Arms?

Your legs are a bigger muscle group than your arms, so naturally, you’ll have bigger legs than arms.

Having bigger arms than legs is often the result of skipping leg day, which you should never do!


In summary:

  • If you’re a female, then you’re more likely to carry body fat around your legs, hence you’ll often have bigger legs and a small upper body.
  • If you’re a male, then you’re probably not training your upper body effectively, so your leg growth is exceeding your upper body growth.
  • Lipedema is a medical condition that mainly affects females and is quite a rare reason for having thick legs and a skinny upper body.

That’s all for big legs with a small upper body, but why do some people have a big chest and small arms? Or what should you do if you have big thighs but small calves?

Thanks for reading!