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Are you tired of making excuses for your lagging legs? Are you the guy wearing track pants in the gym when it’s 100 degrees and not because you’re trying to burn excess fat? Don’t answer that. It’s time to stop whining and man up. Give those pins some much-needed attention like you do your chest. You can’t build freaky quads if you don’t work them. Those tiny little branches connected to your knees need to ripen and ﬂower, rather than continually be referred to as a delivery system for sushi (aka chopsticks). It’s time to get raw, to go back to basics, and do some old-school, heavy-duty leg work.
There’s a lot to understand as to why you may be having trouble building solid legs. The biomechanics of lower-body movement in terms of efficiency, strength, speed, and power production come in to play along with the physiology of activation to get the muscles actually growing. There are simply some mechanical things that you just can’t get around, and when you do, you take the emphasis of the targeted muscles, making an exercise pointless. Thus the speciﬁc technique for each exercise may vary by your desired outcome.
The rules of engagement need to be fully understood to maximize mechanical potential. Bring in the anatomy of 41 plus (it’s a long story but not everyone is truly identical) pairs of muscles, not including your ankles, feet, and lower back, and you have a pretty large task facing you to activate, train, and enlarge everything down there in a speciﬁc way to make your legs look huge. There’s a lot of competition between muscle groups and individual muscles for activation bragging rights. You need to corner the melee and build some team unity.
Quads have four muscles, hence the name. The hamstrings and glutes have three if you’re counting, and your calves have two. Who cares? You should. That means that you need at least four good quad building exercises, three good hamstring exercises, a couple of calf variations, and, if you care about your glutes, well you need to isolate them as well. But it doesn’t stop there.
Since many lower-body muscles span two joints, they play a role on each joint and are involved in both isolated and multi-joint movements. For example, your main quad muscle, the rectus femoris, works across the hip and knee on the front (anterior) side of your body. This partially explains that they sometimes don’t ﬁre during certain portions of the squat movement and why some good leg extensions may help your ailing legs. Several muscles in the body need to be attacked in a few different exercises to ensure they’re completely blitzed. And this is just the beginning.
But rather then send you to school or have you read the umpteen thousands of scientiﬁc journals that, suffice it to say, I have, we take this in to account for you, and deliver this program.
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If I had a dime for every time someone said, “You have to squat,” I would be…well, you know. Hell, I practically invented the saying “Squats are king,” as I have been saying it since the ’80s (OK, it was probably coined sometime in the ’70s, during the Arnold era; you get my point).
But I bet my reasoning for squats is different than most. It is king because it requires the sum of all the mighty forces needed to be strong. And thus, it is the strength exercise. But most guys would have you believe that you need them because they make you big. Sure they do, big all over, because your entire body needs to brunt the load during the beastly movement. But for building big quads, they alone, are not the best exercise. They’ll be required in the long run to help you hoist the monster weights you’ll use in some of your other exercises though, and thus once again, they are king in my programs. But the meat of the issue lies in some of the other fine-tuning exercises, so this routine is designed to concentrate on mass and shape after strength is built. Without a solid strength base, mass and size are merely words of pleasant platitude that few actually reach.
For big legs, and matching calves—I only really consider legs that possess big quads and calves as true mass monsters—you need to stage your training over a period time that builds strength, adds the heavy-duty mass, and then shapes it out so that you can actually see a few cuts: the three S’s: strengthers, sizers, and shapers, and the exercises are broken up by the end result. You’ll need all three to get a leg up on your competition.
The table below will help you organize your lifts and match them up to your program. This is not an exhaustive list but should give you an idea of where the rest of the exercises could fit.
You may have heard me say this before: target training is key. Not just isolating a particular body part, or trying to isolate a specific head of the muscle, but having a plan that completely attacks your legs and leaves nothing on the table, is a must. It takes more than just doing a few squats to make your legs grow. And doing a couple sets of calves at the end of your workout, while seemingly earnest in attempt, at least to yourself, will not allow you to use the “I am genetically limited” excuse.
You have to squat deep. You have to vary your stance. You have to add some isolation exercises. And you have to up your volume and intensity, session after session. This program takes into account that you have other body parts, but obviously you have that solved if your lower body is your weakest link. Oh, and you need to have some guts.
Or, I mean that you need to have strong will as you may become intimate with your guts, or at least what’s inside them. It’s not uncommon on this program to need a trash can, as just when you think it is time to quit, it begins to get fun—for all those watching, that is.
This may go without saying, but I cannot tell you how many times I am approached and asked how to make X muscle bigger, only to find that person is training X muscle the last day of the week as the last exercise. While legs can hardly be classified as a single muscle, if you’re training your upper body six days a week, and trying to squeak out your legs on a double day, it simply ain’t gonna cut it.
For this program to work, you will be hitting legs twice a week on their own. Just the legs, no abs, nothing else. That means if you want the rest of your body to grow, work it in around your legs. Below are three general ways to split up your weeks to keep the rest of your body growing while speeding up your gains made by your wheels. Series 1 is your best bet. Series 2 for the full eight weeks could cause some overtraining, unless you curbed the volume and intensity on your Friday and Saturday routines. Man up, dude, and get yourself in the weight room!
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The fastest way to leg growth is to train them like it’s your job. This program is designed to take a full eight weeks, splitting it in two 4-week segments. During each phase, you’ll be using two different workouts each week, attacking the three S’s—strength, size, and shape. The first phase is decidedly more strength-based, with an additional focus on size, where the second phase is all size, leaving you absolutely trashed and crawling out of the gym on Thursday evening. Trust me, if you have a stick-shift car like me, you may consider buying something new, borrowing a friend’s, or better yet, catching a ride with your training partner.
In Phase 1, we build that strength base with the first day similar to that of a powerlifting routine. The second leg day of the week brings in a bodybuilding-centric workout, which increases the overall volume through more sets/reps and finishes with a punishing sub-routine. Phase 2 is all about size. Both workouts in the week are littered with hypertrophy-styled volume, sets, and reps, although the first workout in the week will have some hints of strength to ensure that nothing is lost.
During each workout, you’ll notice some techniques being employed such as forced reps, rest-pause reps, and a slightly different tempo on specific exercises. Also within workouts, emphasis will be placed on specific foot positions and bar placements to maximize the effect on targeted muscles.
In my books, leg training is not complete without ending the workout with either a Dominator sequence or a Destroyer sequence, two punishing finishing exercise sequences I created almost two decades ago that still has athletes calling me from time to time saying, “Do you remember when…”
It’s a play on time under tension using the principles of sixes. Each single set is performed for 6 reps, using a 6, 6, 6, 6 pattern of lowering, holding, raising, pushing for 6 seconds each. So, Rep 1 takes 6 seconds to lower to the bottom, 6 seconds to hold at the bottom, then push it back up slowly counting to 6, and holding it JUST SHORT OF LOCKOUT for 6 more seconds. Then do it again for 5 more reps. Oh, and then the other 6 in the mix, is that you’ll do 6 sets of this as your last exercise. But I’m nice. I give you 60 seconds before you start again.
My advice, if you start with anything more than 50% of your normal rep weight (not your max but normal lifting weight), bring a trash can and place it next to your station. And truthfully, don’t even consider 6 full sets until you have your feet firmly planted in this routine. A more realistic approach is to shoot for 3 sets, then up it to 6 by the end of the phase.
While the Dominator is about time and a lighter load, the Destroyer verges on stupidity with an aroma of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and an execution of ridiculous. This sub routine or exercise sequence is a combination of pyramiding sets and reps with the drop or strip method of extending sets. I use a five-step process for the pyramid, but of course you can adjust up or down as needed. Each drop that follows a completed set will be 20% of the previous weight lifted (this of course, doesn’t have to be exact). The kicker here is that you only drop once you’ve hit failure on each extended set of reps.
Of course it should go without saying, the only rest taken between drops is the time to strip the weight. The pyramid portion relates to the number of drops. For the first set you perform only one additional drop all the way until failure. The second set has two drops, the third set has three drops, up to the fifth set having five drops. I offer a generous two-minute rest period between sets, but you may increase that over the subsequent sets.
And you may need to start with less weight on each subsequent set. Don’t be surprised if you’re lifting air on the last drop as even the weight of the empty machine may crush you.
If you make it through this program unscathed and you don’t see a serious change in your leg size, then your problem is not your legs, it is your approach. “Mind over matter,” “No pain, no gain,” and the list could continue, and they all apply in this case. This program is designed to supercharge your training, give you new goals, and provide the discipline lagging legs really need.
I leave you with a comment that I am stealing from a popular commercial, and applying to our world—I may not always train my legs, but when I do, I do this program. Stay strong, my friend.
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