HIIT Your Legs with a Double Dose of Squats

Steve "Kingsnake" Kuclo's high-intensity, pump-inducing, pre-contest quad workout.


Ian Spanier

“Typically, pre-contest, I like to split my leg workouts into two days, a quad-dominant day and a hamstring day later in the week,” he says. “This workout is something I picked up from a friend who is more cardio-focused. It was something he was using as a basis for a HIIT-style workout, combining regular squats with front squats for supersets.”

Intrigued, Kuclo borrowed the underlying premise, but instead of going lighter for high reps, as his friend was doing, he adapted it for muscle building. “I pyramid up the weight for back squats and front squats, going for 10 reps apiece, where I’m pretty much at failure by the ninth and 10th rep,” he says. “And because the front squat places maximum stress right on the quads, doing that after regular squats, even at a lighter weight, really destroys them.”

Kuclo’s pre-contest quad thrash—typically done on Mondays in the mid-afternoon, about three meals into his daily diet regimen to provide ample energy—begins, innocently enough, on the leg extension machine.

“Sometimes, if it’s a little cold or if I otherwise need a warmup, I’ll do the bike for five minutes, maybe some stretching for the hips and quads, but otherwise I’ll get right into extensions,” he says. The Kingsnake starts with the pin set about mid-stack, then settles his massive 5'11", 300-pound frame into the seat with the front crook of his lower legs—where his ankle meets his foot—pressed firmly into the roller pads.

The cadence settles into a rhythmic pace, his quads writhing and contorting under his black poly gym shorts to raise the weight via knee extension, then lowering back down in an arc to a point just before the stack touches down. Two seconds up, a slight pause, two seconds down, a slight pause, and onward for 25 total reps.

Between each of the four sets, he rests about a minute, catching his breath and nudging up the resistance just a brick or two. “I’ll pyramid up somewhat here, but it’s really more about getting blood into the muscle and not about trying to get to failure,” Kuclo says.

Ian Spanier

Next, Kuclo heads to the power racks—at 3 o’clock, he can monopolize two stations, side by side, setting up one for back squats and the other for front squats. The only difference? The former will get much heavier as the workout progresses, so two power racks means a lot less plate slinging between sets.

Although he already feels good from the extensions, Kuclo starts at 135 for both movements to further ply the knee and hip joints. “As I get older, I feel I do need to warm up more compared with when I was 21, when I could just slide four plates on the squat bar and go,” he jokes.

Even during warmups, though, he’ll superset the back and front squats. “For the back squat, I’ll do 135 for 15 reps, then 225 for 12 reps, and then 315 would be my first working set,” he says. “On the front squat, I’ll stick with 135 for the first two sets, then go up to 185 for the first working set.”

For each squat, he begins with feet set firmly shoulder-width apart, with the bar either across his upper back or across the front of his shoulders atop his pecs. To start, the knees are slightly bent, the toes are turned out a touch, the head is neutral, and the core is clenched tight for stability. The motion is initiated at the hips and knees as he lowers his glutes downward until his prodigious thighs reach a point parallel to the floor. From here, with an aggressive, grunting exhalation, he presses through his heels and engages his glutes and quads to explode back upward out of the hole, back to standing.

Ian Spanier

Although the five working sets step up in weight, his rep aim remains constant—for him, it’s 10 or bust, even as the eighth and ninth reps become ever more unbearable under the heavier loads. On his strongest days, his final back squat hits 405 for 10, while the front squat often tops out at 225. “You try to add a little weight each set based on how you’re feeling that day,” he says. “If you feel good, go up in weight, but if you’re stalling out before you hit 10 reps, you’ve added too much.”

Although he calls it a superset, the back and front squats aren’t performed in the typical style, with minimal rest in between. Kuclo will rest for 30 to 45 seconds between the two squats and then for 60 to 90 seconds between the supersets. Keep in mind that a spotter is invaluable during high-intensity squats, but if you’re going solo, set the safeties high enough that you can bail safely in the bottom position. 

After his titanic bout on the squat rack, Kuclo’s thighs are pretty cashed—but he’s not done. He’ll next head to the dumbbell rack, corralling a flat bench and a pair of 65-pound dumbbells to pound out four sets of Bulgarian split squats.


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