Building up Size and Strength in the Legs

Q: I'm kind of a small figure, typical Asian at 5'6". I was born with clubbed feet and needed surgery to reverse them and restore functionality. However, due to this I was never that into weight lifting, because

1) I was always socially afraid I wouldn't be accepted, because I had skinny legs due to the surgery and
2) My legs obviously aren't the strongest after going through the surgery.

I still wrestled and played football. I wrestled my weight class and had a fun time. I'm in college now, and everyone just seems stronger and bigger. I'm small and skinny, and I want to be sort of big, just not tiny.

I have problems with depression, and I really think exercising and weight lifting and improving on that aspect of my life will help me tremendously mentally. I've always been told by my doctors to exercise, and now I have the motivation to start.

I was wondering if you could give me any tips or exercises I could do for my skinny legs that aren't strong due to the surgery. Squats are difficult at heavy weights. I bought your book and will definitely read it inside and out.

In a society where it is widely viewed that Asians are typically small, it is nice to read and see an actual person who is fighting that stereotype. Thanks for all your posts and work.


My Answer: Thanks for the kind words Z.  It's great that you started weight training, because it will help you in so many ways, physically and mentally.  Weight training is a great anti-depressant.

You know strongman Doug Hepburn was born with a clubbed foot, and he ended up being a record breaking weightlifter, strongman and wrestler. He squatted 760 pounds. He also suffered from depression.

I know it's tough doing leg training, but you got to do it.  You have to build up your leg strength.  Yes squats are difficult at heavy weights.  But difficulty, the resistance you endure is what's going to build you up.  If you can only squat with just an empty barbell, then just do that.

Don't think of it as being weak.  Don't think of it as performance.  Think of it as rehabilitation.  So when you squat, you're just rehearsing and practicing the movement, not performing your max lift.  If you think of it this way, then you're not worrying about how you look to others.  You're just focusing on building your strength.  Focus on squatting with good form and squatting all the way down. 

Keep doing squats, but also do some single leg exercise variations to correct any strength imbalances that resulted from your clubbed feet.  Your leg routine should be a combination of back squats, lunges and single leg squatting variations like the Bulgarian squat.

If you are looking to build up both size and strength in the legs, then you will need to alternate between heavy weight/low reps and high reps/moderate weight.  The quad chapter in High Tension Exercises for Muscular Growth talks about this.  The quad specialization routine in that chapter is very advanced and extremely brutal, however, so I would suggest starting off with a very basic leg workout, something like the heavy/light program:

Back Squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Reverse Lunges: 1 set of 10-12 reps

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