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“I started with six 45-pound plates on each side with collars. I did about 20 reps to failure. These weren’t powerlifting-style squats, but strict bodybuilding-style squats, going all the way down to where your butt touches your calves.
“I racked it, immediately took a plate of, and did as many reps as I could to failure with five plates. Racked it again, rested slightly longer, and did four plates, then I went down to 315, then 225, each time for failure. The entire set was probably a total of 150 reps.
“I was totally exhausted at that point. I remember lying on the floor, and it felt like someone was stabbing knives into my legs. After I retired [from bodybuilding competition], I often thought I was nuts. Who in their right mind would do things like that? As a professional athlete, it certainly isn’t about health, it’s about performance. It’s about being the freakiest person onstage.”
That’s Tom Platz, recalling his all-time sickest leg workout in a 2001 interview as he looked back over a legendary career. That he never won a professional bodybuilding contest and could muster no better than third on the sport’s biggest stage—that was in 1981, one of seven appearances in the Mr. Olympia—hasn’t tarnished his image over time.
Indeed, utter his name among iron fans today, and those who have seen the old grainy black and white training photos of Platz’s heyday vividly remember one thing about him: the incredible, carved-out detail of his dense, freaky, otherworldly legs.
All these decades later, despite the dramatic advancements and enhancements (chemical or otherwise) of today’s bodybuilding stars, Platz’s wheels still reign as arguably the most revered of all time… and this from a bodybuilder who stood merely 5’7″ and topped out around 212 pounds onstage. He stands as proof that legs—perhaps like no other body part—can transcend mere titles and grant one eternal fame.
In the years hence, few have followed in Platz’s tectonic footsteps. The reason is painfully simple, in a literal sense. In order to build incredible, three-dimensional, physics-defying quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, one has to push themselves through excruciating agony few humans can withstand. That is, to the maniacal edge Platz reminisced about above, where you lie on the floor afterward, peering into the dark depth of your soul and wonder, “Will I survive this experience?”
Here, as demonstrated by IFBB pro Lionel Beyeke, one of today’s true freaks—in the best sense of the term—is a workout that can test your mettle and your muscle. In the end, you may not be standing upright necessarily, but you’ll surely be taking giant steps forward in your quest for leg development of historical proportions.
No. 1: BARBELL SQUAT
Sets & Reps: 8 sets; 20, 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 8, 10 reps
INSTRUCTIONS: The squat is listed as your first exercise, but trust us—you’ll want to warm up first, at least with 10 minutes of walking and light jogging on a treadmill. From there, consider a set or two of light leg extensions. Your squat sets of 20 and 15 should be warm-ups as well before climbing into your working weights, going up to your six-rep max by the sixth set, then pyramiding downward for the final two.
The goal? Perfect form as you move as much weight as you can safely handle. This is the exercise that has built champions like no other, so you’ll want to take it seriously and never waste a rep.
START: Stand upright in a power rack or squat rack, holding a bar across your upper back with your feet about shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent and your toes turned out a touch.
ACTION: Keeping your head neutral and core tight, bend at the knees and hips to slowly lower your body, as if you were sitting down in a chair. Go as deep as possible into the “hole”—past a 90-degree angle in your knees if you can—then powerfully drive yourself back up to a standing position, pressing through your heels as you extend your hips and knees.
TAKE IT TO THE EDGE: Remember Platz’s insane strip set? While you may not want to replicate it exactly—if you want to be able to walk sometime in the next week, that is—you can still borrow the concept. With a partner on hand, you’ll combine the last three sets into one mega multi-drop set, doing the heaviest weight to near failure, racking it just long enough for your partner to take a plate from each side, then continuing to near-failure again. Rack it one more time at that point to lose one more plate per side and rep until you simply can’t. Now, lie there and try not to lose your lunch.
No. 2: HACK SQUAT
Sets & Reps: 5 sets; 8–12 reps
INSTRUCTIONS: You’ll be wiped after squats, especially if you follow in the footsteps of madness and do the Platz-inspired strip sets. So don’t sweat it if the weights you can handle as you pyramid up from set to set of hacks are lighter than you’re used to. As long as you’re striving for failure between eight and 12 reps and squatting down as deep as you can on each rep, you’ll be squeezing maximum benefit from this exercise.
START: Step inside a hack squat machine, settling your shoulders and back against the pads. Place your feet narrow and low on the platform, keeping your feet fat throughout the exercise. Maintain good posture, with your chest up and abs pulled in tight.
ACTION: Unhook the safety bars, and slowly lower yourself by bending your knees, stopping when your thighs are well beyond parallel, without letting your heels lose contact with the platform. Pause there to dissipate the energy derived from your muscles’ stretch-shortening cycle, then forcefully press yourself upward, stopping before knee lockout at the top.
TAKE IT TO THE EDGE: Hacks are brutal enough without an intensity booster, but if you’re feeling sadistic, try to hold the final rep of each set at the midpoint for as long as possible in an isometric contraction.
No. 3: LEG PRESS
Sets & Reps: 4–5 sets; 8–12 reps
INSTRUCTIONS: Like hacks, you’ll pyramid up set to set, choosing a weight that causes you to reach failure in the eight- to 12-rep range.
On the leg press, you should try experimenting with different foot placement—feet in the center of the platform, feet in the upper one-third of the platform (which tends to recruit more glutes and hams), and feet in the lower one-third (which focuses more on the quads). You can also vary from wide (hitting the adductor more) to narrow (which may hit the vastus lateralis, or outer sweep, a little more strongly).
START: Sit squarely in the leg press machine and place your feet on the platform shoulder-width apart. Keeping your chest up and lower back pressed into the back support, carefully unlock the sled from the safeties.
ACTION: Bend your knees to lower the sled, stopping before your glutes lift of the pad. Hold for a brief count, then extend your knees to press the weight upward, stopping just short of locking out. Squeeze your thighs hard at the top, then reverse the motion to start the next rep.
TAKE IT TO THE EDGE: Famously, Platz would squat his body weight for 10 straight minutes, which brings to mind a similar tactic—instead of 4–5 sets of 8–12 reps as prescribed, you can try one set of 100 reps. To do it, choose a weight you can get 60 or 70 reps with, and start striving toward that. Once you reach initial failure, stop and rest for as many seconds as you have reps remaining (so if you get to 60, you’ll rest 40 seconds before continuing). To get to 100, stop as many times as necessary, using the same resting rule of thumb. Once you can crack 70 reps with a particular weight, you’ll want to up the resistance the next time you tackle a 100-repper on the same exercise.
No. 4: LEG EXTENSION
Sets & Reps: 4 sets; 15, 12, 10, 8 reps
INSTRUCTIONS: By this juncture of the workout, if you’re not toast, you either hail from Krypton or haven’t been pushing hard enough. Next, you’ll switch from compound exercises to isolation moves, first for quads with the extension and then for your hams with the curl. Pyramid up the weight set to set, pushing for all-out failure on the final set. (Another option, since you’re very warmed up, is to start with your heaviest weight and pyramid down set to set, a pattern that can be repeated with the curls.)
START: Adjust the seat for your body frame, then sit squarely in the machine. Hook your feet under the padded bar. Keep your head straight and hold the handles for stability.
ACTION: With your feet pointed forward, extend your legs out as high as you can, while remaining seated flat on the machine. Squeeze your quads hard at the top, then slowly lower the weight until just short of the weight stack touching down.
TAKE IT TO THE EDGE: On the last set, upon reaching positive failure, have a partner help you with negatives. He’ll assist you in getting the weight up, then he’ll let go of the pad as you try to lower it under total control, taking four to eight seconds on the way down. (No partner? Do unilateral extensions, so you can use the resting leg to help on the ascent when the working quad reaches failure and can’t complete a full positive rep on its own.)
No. 5: LYING LEG CURL
Sets & Reps: 4 sets; 15, 12, 10, 8 reps
INSTRUCTIONS: This workout is admittedly quadcentric, with the first four exercises a murderer’s row for that particular muscle. While you’ll finish with two hamstring exercises, the lying curl and one-leg machine curl, you may also want to consider splitting of hams into their own session at least two days removed from your quad annihilation, adding Romanian deadlifts to the mix for a hardcore trifecta. But if you’re running this particular gauntlet, just be sure to put as much into lying curls as you did the previous moves. Full reps are key—picture your hamstrings expanding outward and filling with blood when you bend your knees, similar to how your biceps blow up when you’re curling.
START: Lie facedown on a leg-curl machine and position your Achilles tendons below the padded lever, your knees just off the edge of the bench. Grasp the bench or the handles for stability. Make sure your knees are slightly bent to protect them from overextension.
ACTION: Raise your feet toward your butt in a strong but deliberate motion, squeezing the muscles when the pad reaches your glutes. From there, straighten your legs under control, stopping before the weight stack touches down and launching into the next rep.
TAKE IT TO THE EDGE: The aforementioned biceps might call to mind a technique often used in biceps training—21s. Those familiar know it means curling a barbell or EZ-bar from the bottom position to the halfway point of the rep and back down for seven reps, then seven more reps from the midpoint to the top of the move, followed by seven full-range-of-motion reps. Now, take that same pattern and apply it to the leg curl for 3-4 sets, doing 7 reps in the bottom half of the range of motion, 7 in the top half, and finishing with 7 complete reps.
No. 6: ONE-LEG MACHINE CURL
Sets & Reps: 3 sets; 10 reps
INSTRUCTIONS: You can see the finish line from here. (Whether you can actually drag yourself over it with legs that have run through hell and back, well…that’s far from guaranteed.) One-leg curls allow you to put each hamstring individually through their paces, meaning a stronger side can’t carry a weaker one. Do three sets of 10 reps with a weight challenging enough to elicit failure right around that target.
START: Position yourself on the apparatus so that the ankle of your working leg is on the support pad, your other foot on the floor or platform (depending on the machine). Grasp the handles for stability.
ACTION: Making sure the only action is taking place at your knee, flex your hamstrings forcefully to lift the lever as high as you can, then return slowly to the start, stopping before the stack touches down to ensure the tension remains on the muscle throughout the set.
TAKE IT TO THE EDGE: On the very last set, when you can’t complete a full repetition, do partials, anywhere from one-fourth range-of-motion reps all the way down to “pulse” reps, where you are only moving an inch or two, until the burn is too intense to continue. When finished, congratulate yourself— you’ve just joined a very elite group of bodybuilders, those who understand the dedication, perseverance, and all-out effort it takes to build legendary legs.
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BEYEKE’S LEGENDARY LEG WORKOUT