I just read a question to an elite Bodybuilder about building the outer sweep of the quads. His answer, as always, centered around the angle and position of the feet during squatting and leg pressing type movements. The theory is that you can train to change the shape of your thighs (and other muscles) as distinct from training to gain regular muscle ‘mass’. I disagree and want to give a more basic answer with a bit of math and common sense to illustrate why.
Firstly, one of the most basic principles of goal-setting is to quantify what you are aiming to achieve. So let me throw some numbers at this concept of developing outer thigh ‘sweep’ as opposed to building ‘mass’.
It is safe to assume the average thigh (ie femur) of even a short bodybuilder is at LEAST 50cm in length. As such, a 1cm increase in the width of the thigh when viewed the front – ie just 2% of the length – is probably not going to deliver the kind of body-shape-changing effect desired. Im going to assume we want at LEAST 2cm of width added to the thighs in order to actually be visually noticeable.
So lets say our 50cm long thigh is 70cm in circumference at the largest point (a very respectable, 27 1/2 inch thigh for a lean, short bodybuilder). Using very simple math, 2cm added only to the width of this thigh (ie not the depth) requires an increase of ~6.3cm (~2.5 inches) to the circumference. Thats 6.3 cm – 2.5 inches – of overall thigh growth for about the least increase in outer ‘sweep’ necessary to be visible. Hmmmm… already this sounds a lot like a regular muscle building task to me!?
[A tiny] 2cm added only to the width of a thigh requires 6.3 cm – 2.5 inches – of overall thigh growth. The mass of muscle in the thighs needs to increase by a massive 18%!
Lets keep going. For this 70cm thigh to increase 6.3cm to 76.3cm (30 inches), the cross-sectional area – and therefore mass of muscle in the thighs – needs to increase by a massive 18%! That is an awful LOT of muscle growth for a mighty small ‘shape’ training outcome! But it gets worse!
Physics – not my opinion – tells us that the force generating capacity of a muscle is directly proportional to its cross-sectional area. Which means that when this thigh increases just 2cm in ‘sweep’, its force output – ie strength – will increase, give-or-take, by around 18%!
In order to train for the 18% increase in quad strength that will come with the 18% increase in mass, you could rely on luck, hope, voodoo or HEAPS of drugs. Or you could just train to increase in your training loads by 18%!
Assuming a man with a 70cm (27 1/2″) thigh can squat ~250kg (550lb), a 18% gain equates to a hair off a 300kg (660lb) squat! I have done stupid toe-pointy hack squats and squeezy leg extensions. I have also built both a 300kg squat and a 76cm thigh. Given my experience I can confidently say that playing pretend silly-bugger on hack squats and leg extensions is not the most expedient way developing the 300kg squat and 76cm thigh! For most of us, that sort of level of performance comes from bloody hard work and utter determination to squat 300kg!
So next time you read that you can significantly develop the outer sweep of your thighs by turning your toes during a leg press or squat, slowing things down, and reducing the weight to ‘feel the burn’, ask yourself just how likely that strategy is to add 18% more muscle mass to your overall quads and quad strength?
Muscle building isnt rocket science. But it isnt voodoo either. You do have significant control over the shape of your muscles and overall physique; but that that control is largely limited to manipulating the SIZE of the tissue you have (ie growing the muscle and shrinking the fat).
Significant muscle size increases result in massive strength increases. While everybody wants to debate whether strength gains equate to muscle gains, NOT getting stronger means you are definitely NOT gaining muscle! I recommend training for strength because the alternative is to fail outright!
So if changing your foot position during squats and leg presses allows you to make more rapid strength GAINS then it will probably help you increase the ‘sweep’ of your thighs faster by helping you grow the massive amounts of muscle you need. But if that silly foot placement makes you incapable of gaining strength – which for most people, it does – then that tells you all you need to know about its ability to help you grow muscle anywhere: it WON’T!
(PS: Perhaps you think my over simplified math is grossly incorrect and you believe that you can actually add 2cm to the width of your thighs without a change to the circumference – ie without adding extra muscle? To do that is to suggest that the position of your toes will cause your body to disassemble millions and millions of proteins in one area of the thigh and reassemble them in another area with absolutely no physiological benefit or impact on physical performance. If you believe that, good luck! Because that is voodoo)!