Why Upper Body Workouts Are More Popular Than Leg Training

It takes about one or two gym visits to meet a captain upper body. This is the type of person that devotes all effort and time to chest, back and arm training. Consequently, those biceps warriors usually have very large arms, chest and sometimes backs too. One of the most common excuses used by the captain upper body superstars for not training legs is a history of volleyball or basketball.

I used to do a lot of basketball in high school. Now my knees are in sleep mode, says the typical captain upper body.

Big Biceps’ Effect On Women

It’s ironic. People would almost never ever ignore their upper bodies and will always find a way to train their arms regardless of previous injuries to the area. When it comes to legs, it’s a different story.

Why should I train legs? I jog. This develops my upper leg while pressing the pedals of my manual transmission car works my calves. Leg exercises are a waste of time.

Of course, this stereotype is a male trademark. With women it’s usually the opposite and they stick exclusively with leg exercises and tons of cardio. The main reason man focus on their upper bodies is cultural. Various form of entertainment have altered our thinking. Everybody associates strength and muscle growth with a flexed bulging biceps.

Massive arms and upper body have proven to be an effective way to intimidate other men and get attention from women. They may say they don’t care, but they do. That’s a fact. And they are looking too.

Subconsciously or not, most men know this, but even if they don’t, there is ton of training material constantly reminding the importance of large arms. I can tell you without a doubt that people with big legs, and especially calves, would gladly trade their extra lower body mass for some arm growth.

Big legs don’t have the same impact on the opposite sex, because most women actually have better genetics than man when it comes to legs and calves. I guess the golden rule that the opposites attract holds true once again. A man with broad shoulders creates the illusion of a protective figure. I suppose women love that, and that’s another reason why the centaur look is not considered hot.

You will rarely meet a woman who is into big bulky legs. I am not saying this does not happen. There are all kinds of crazy people out there, but I don’t think this is mainstream.

Upper Body Training Is Easier and More Rewarding In Our Society 

Back in the day, when I was following a 5×5 wanna be a centaur routine, I used to get extremely anxious before squats. I would look at people in the bus and think those suckers have it easy. They are probably going to some stupid office or whatever else low life job they have, while I am on a much harder a mission – completing my squat sets as written in my training cycle.

There were weeks when I was feeling rather overwhelmed by this exercise. I never felt the same way about upper body workouts. Doing bench presses after squats was a walk in park.

The minute I was on the bench I felt relieved that this medieval torture has finally ended, and I have earned my right to lay down and be a normal bro.

Of course, the main reason for this strenuous experience is that leg training taxes not only your lower body but your overall system as well. Leg exercises work way more muscles than the bench press, and the CNS stress is greater too. Light weight or not, a squat is always hard.

This is why in most small to medium size gyms there’s only one squat rack and at least 2-3 bench press stations. There are way more volunteers to bench than to squat.

In brief, another reason why people skip leg day is lack of pain tolerance. Even simple things like leg extensions feel way more burdensome than biceps curls. When something is so hard and does not provide the preferred visual impact, it’s easy for people to just drop it and go for a jog with the dog.

For me it was a little different. When I first started training one of my main goals was to have exceptionally big legs. Why? When I was growing up I used to be extremely skinny. My lower legs were thinner than most people’s forearms. People used to joke all the time and call me names.

It’s safe to say that I was trying to compensate for my past by joining the centaur cult. I believed all myths and misconceptions surrounding squats. I was truly convinced they can add slabs of meat to you, increase testosterone levels and all that nonsense. I also wanted to feel different and superior to everybody else. As the saying goes, one of the best ways to make somebody do something is to tell him to do the exact opposite. Magazine told me to train arms, I chose to train legs.

Sadly, I didn’t get my big legs because the squat was my main leg exercise, and I wasn’t even training calves at the time. I though squats fix that too. I have very long legs and the squat is more of a hip exercise for me. It took me a little too long to realize this, but who cares anyway.

Is it that bad?

I am not against upper body only training. I used to be, but today I don’t really care. People are free to do as they please with their bodies. If you only want to train your upper portion, you should be free to do so. However, I don’t think there’s a respectable excuse, not even injuries, to avoid all kinds of lower body training. You have the right to do so, but it’s definitely not the best choice.

I know a lot of people say that training your legs will make your upper body even bigger, but that’s not true at all. Sure, squats can build a strong lower back and spinal erectors, but the maximum potential of your arms, chest and back can be reached without a single leg training session. That’s a fact. Expecting leg workouts to make your upper body bigger is simply bro-science. I know very well that there are articles entitled “Squat Your Way To Big Arms”, but it’s all nonsense. What makes your upper body bigger is not quadriceps and hamstring training. It’s dedicated upper body work and the bros with chicken legs and big arms in the gym prove that time after time.

Squat, leg presses and lunges are boring

There’s one more reason why strength training for the lower body is not on the priority list. Many of the exercises are boring. Some people find running uphills and riding a bike way more beneficial than squatting and leg pressing in a sweaty gym. That’s why they devote most of their time to the aforementioned activities. I used to think so too. I remember doing a set of leg presses and thinking that I am spending my leg juice on pushing some stupid sled up and down. I thought it was way cooler to just go outside and run, bike, hike. I can certainly understand people who minimize their leg workouts in the gym to participate in more “functional” leg training.

The truth, however, is that except for sprinting most of the activities used as an excuse not to train legs are rather easy and low intensity. If you think that you are developing a strong lower body with some easy bike rides to the local bar, think again. In order to match the intensity of squats and leg presses, you will have to be climbing some rather steep hills. There’s no easy way out. Of course, there is also the possibility to do both – a little bit of resistance training and whatever else you choose to engage in.


  1. splattenburgers

    I know this isn’t the PC thing to say but I think leg training is bullshit unless you are an athlete or just really care about legs for some reason.

    If you are working out to look good there is almost zero reason to do legs. Saying women care about legs is like saying men care if women have big biceps and shoulders. It’s total nonsense.

    And this whole bull about chicken legs is also stupid. You will never put on enough muscle naturally to have an upper body that is extremely out of proportion with your lower body, and I would argue that having an equally big lower body actually looks worse since it ruins your v-taper. The guys with the “chicken legs” often just have bad calf genetics and have naturally skinny legs in the first place, that’s just genetics and has nothing to do with exercise.

  2. Chad Walls

    Excellent article! I have been looking for a reason to just train my upper body for awhile. I have 24″ legs and only 16″ arms. I have been squatting and deadlifting for about 18 months and need a break. I am finding that training my legs drains my CNS and I often don’t have the time and energy left over to focus on my shoulders and arms. How long will it take to bring my upper body up to speed. I would like at least 17″ arms or bigger to go with my 24″ legs but also don’t want to lose the strength I gained in my lower body. Will sacrificing my leg training for 3 months be enough to dramatically improve my upper body or will it require more time?

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