I'm currently squatting twice a week, deadlifting once.

Deadlifting doesn't concern me because I feel my back is getting a great workout and the hips are starting much higher than the knees, but squatting I'm fearing too much of a leg workout. My legs are already way too big compared to the rest of my body and more than capable strength-wise for everyday activities.

In fact I'm sort of glad I'm up around 20-22% body fat now, as when I was 15% my legs looked just too muscley for my liking. I'm not into the bodybuilder look.

I'm squatting bodyweight (100kg/220lbs) currently, not much by any means, but I've just started training (5 weeks) and it's jumping up 10kg(22lbs)/week, with 2x5, 1x5+ worksets. I feel I have quite a way until I start stalling.

By comparison, my work weight on the bench is only 60kg/132lbs, shoulder press 48kg/105lbs and they're not shooting up with double increments like the squats/deadlifts, rather 1.25kg/2.5lbs per workout at best, sometimes failing to complete the final set. I'm up to 80kg/176lbs on v-grip pulldowns and doing lots of chin negs as I can't yet do a single chin-up!

I'm doing the squat as recommended in Starting Strength/Stronglifts. Does an alternate form minimising quad and hamstring development exist?

Might it be preferable to substitute in power cleans for one of the squat workouts?

Or are there other really good total body exercises not primarily working legs?

  • Why do you want total body exercises?
    – user4644
    Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 0:25
  • 1
    Also, what are your goals? You say not bodybuilding, but it sounds like you're concerned with size ratios and appearances.
    – user4644
    Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 0:29
  • 1
    I've heard that the "Greyskull LP" program is designed to focus more on upper-body while using the same concepts as SS. Check it out.
    – VPeric
    Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 0:36
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    @Kate, I like the total body exercises due to the core involvement and applicability to every day activity. Goals are to strengthen lower back and widen upperbody to lose "bargearse" nickname (youtube.com/watch?v=eMmkJvUPsfE)
    – jontyc
    Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 1:01
  • @VPeric, yep, I'm doing GreySkull LP purposely for this reason.
    – jontyc
    Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 1:02

3 Answers 3


Does an alternate form minimising quad and hamstring development exist?

No, there isn't a squat that minimizes quad and hamstring development. If you don't want your legs to get stronger, just skip lifts that involve them.

Might it be preferable to substitute in power cleans for one of the squat workouts?

It depends what your goals are. If you want to increase your power development, then yes. If you want to minimize hamstring and quad development, then no.

Or are there other really good total body exercises not primarily working legs?

Pressing variants are total body exercises not primarily working the legs, but you're already doing them.


You're already doing the first and most important thing: you're working the upper body more than your lower, since you're on GreySkull LP rather than a more squat-and-lower-body-pull program like StrongLifts or Starting Strength.

It is important to note that you're entering the realm of bodybuilding at this point: developing aesthetics instead of strength, proportion instead of function.

If you don't want your legs to get bigger, you could try a few more things.

Squat, But...

  • ...nix the AMRAP sets for lower-body work. If you're hitting 10s and 20s on the last set of squats and deads, then in my opinion you're still lifting way below your strength level for squats and deadlifts. The AMRAP sets are specifically intended to function as hypertrophic mass-builders in anticipation of greater weight--note that you end up in a more hypertrophy-oriented rep range on that set. Leaving AMRAPs out would slow size gains.
  • ...stay in a lower rep range, e.g. doubles and triples, so that you avoid hypertrophy. This would be premature in my eyes, but would probably work. These should still be heavy, so I'd add substantial weight.
  • ...stay in super-high rep ranges, so that you work endurance instead of hypertrophy. This would dramatically change the program.
  • ...use overhead squats instead, which require a significant amount of skill and shoulder ability, and which you won't be able to use as much weight with.

Replace the Squats With...

  • ...farmer's walks, which work the whole body but as far as I know are not terribly conducive to big legs. Do them short and heavy--on the order of twenty yards.
  • ...nothing, assuring that your other exercises get plenty of rest
  • ...sprints, which will improve power and strength to a much lesser degree while not doing much to increase mass.

As a fellow big-legged lifter, I think you are over-worried about the leg development. There's several reasons for doing squats, including posterior chain development. What I've noticed is that the legs are going to be where they are. If you are predisposed to have big legs/glutes/calves, they aren't going to get a lot larger than when they start out. I've found that working them more burns some of the internal fat that is in there making them look larger.

That said you always have options:

  • Stay in the 3-5 rep ranges, and instead of AMRAP (as many reps as possible), go for AMSAP (as many sets as possible). This keeps each set in the 3-5 rep range, but still lets you add in that volume so you can get stronger. This provides a much more dense muscle, possibly shrinking the size some.

  • Add in some distance running. This approach does affect your maximal strength, but if you aren't competing that doesn't really matter. Based on your other question, you are training well below your current max anyway (this is a good thing). The types of adaptations that happen also reduce the size of your legs. Carried too far (i.e. training for a marathon) this can work against your goals of increasing your upper body.

  • Focus on upper body hypertrophy while maintaining strength work on squats. This keeps AMRAP and 10-15 rep sets for your upper body while not doing the hypertrophy on the legs.

If you train squats and deadlifts once a week, but put sufficient work into them, it will be enough to get stronger--which has useful carryover to sports. A useful option when trying to emphasize the upper body is to have a split that looks something like this:

  • Squat/Deadlift on the same day. One week is a squat emphasis, next week is a deadlift emphasis. Basically, you do the heavy sets for squats and then assistance work for deadlifts one week, and then reverse it for the next week.
  • Bench/DB Rows/Curls -- flat or incline is fine, just stay with one for a month at a time. The dumbbell rows should be as heavy as you can for 5 sets of 10-15. Curls are for joint health.
  • Press/Pull ups/Abs -- Any variation of a vertical press is fine, as well as your vertical pull (i.e. pull-up, chin-up, lat pull downs, etc.).

You can still program the Greyskull set/rep scheme. This gives plenty of work for your back between the squats, deadlifts, rows, and vertical pulls. Each of these provide a different stimulus and hit the back in different ways. The vertical pressing helps improve your shoulders, and the bench variations get your chest as well.

If you keep your AMRAP sets for upper body work in the 10-15 rep range, you will get some upper body size, and it also helps build a good base of strength if you ever want to change focus. If you don't want size on the lower body, keep that work in the 3-5 rep range and fill in your volume using extra sets.

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