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The 2021 New York Pro was already a significant event, but two athletes who left victorious made the contest even more memorable. The Open winner, Nick Walker, received a lot of attention for valid reasons, but another man who stamped his place as an Olympia contender was the winner of the 212 contest, Nathan Epler.
The 27-year-old was able to show up to the competition, go toe for toe with Olympia competitor John Jewett, and secured the victory to snag his qualification to this year’s Olympia in Orlando, FL, in October. The feeling hadn’t quite sunk in for Epler yet.
“It’s pretty surreal, you know, going into my pro debut, my rookie season. Obviously I knew what I had, the potential was there, and I knew we could be a contender. Obviously, there’s always that little bit of doubt, you know, being a rookie, and you don’t know if you’re going to get noticed and those kind of things. So I had to just stick to my guns.”
The “we” he referred to in his statement referred to his wife, Alexa, and his coach Matt Kouba. “My coach is a tremendous asset. He’s also a pro, an open bodybuilder. As for my wife, she is a huge advocate, she is my rock, and she is my No. 1. She’s with me every day pretty much pushing me every step of the way.”
One reason for Epler’s success onstage has been the development of his quads. So it should be no surprise that this is one of his favorite body parts to train. “It’s been one of my strong suits for years,” he said confidently. They continue to get stronger and more deeply separated, and definitely more mature.”
His favorite workout for quads exemplify why they are such a dominant part of his physique. After a few minutes of stretching for the hips and knees as well as back extensions to prepare his lower back, he gets right to work. He emphasizes that he calls this a high difficulty workout. Don’t go into this workout lightly. It will get intense in a hurry, thanks to a set he calls “the dirty 30.”
Epler likes to start with an isolation exercise to prepare the quadriceps for the onslaught that is about to come. He likes kicking off the workout with leg extensions. “It warms up my knees and joints very, very well. It also shuttles a ton of blood and nutrients to the cells, and gets them primed for the compound movements.
After two moderate “build-up sets” of around 20 to 25 reps each, he performs the final set that has the cool name. As you can guess, it is 30 repetitions, but they are not all performed the same.
“It’s three segments of 10 reps each. The first 10 is with a two-second hold at the top of the rep. The second 10 are normal, continuous reps, and the final 10 reps are with a three second negative. So you
actually hit the top and do a three second negative on the way down. It’s high volume, but it’s also high intensity as well.” Give yourself a two-minute rest after this set. “The quads will feel trashed after this.”
After Epler finishes the Dirty 30, he makes his way to the sled hack squat machine for three sets. The first one is a warm-up set at about 60% effort, so he can acclimate the joints to the movement. The final two are what he calls “all-out” sets.
“When I say all-out, I mean they are almost all the way to failure or to failure. I like to hit failure at around a range of 10 to 14 reps.” Epler likes to keep his feet around 12 inches apart, with his toes slightly sticking out. He also wants you to focus on maintaining control of the weight.
“Control it all the way into the hole during the rep, and then explode up to the top.”
The third movement of the day is the leg press. He will use a wider foot placement with toes straight up here than he did with the hack squats to hit the teardrop of the quad as well as the adductors. “I usually do two feel sets because I can go so heavy on this. I do the first set for around 12 reps each, adding weight in between. The second set will be for around six to eight reps. Again, not max effort yet, it’s just you don’t want to jump hundreds of pounds without preparing for it.”
The two work sets will be in a rep range of 15 to 20, going all-out to the brink of failure. “Keep control of the weight, though, even with the higher reps.” Because of the amount of work he had already done, he doesn’t feel using knee wraps are necessary for this. He does understand if others feel they should.
“If you’re getting up to the point that you’re doing super-heavy weight for 15-20 reps, you can definitely put knee sleeves or wraps on.”
The Indiana native concludes his quad training with a superset. He will begin with lunges and finish with adductors, which is a unique combination, doing two or three supersets of 10 to 12 reps each leg for the lunges and 20 reps for the adductors. No buildup sets are necessary here.
“The lunges are hitting the lateralis, the outside, the glutes, and the hamstrings. The adductors gets the inner thigh, so you’re getting the best of both worlds,” Epler explains. He also shares a final hack for this movement.
“Every fifth rep, do a five second hold in the middle. That’s pretty rough.”
There is an elephant in the room, and Nathan Epler wasted no time addressing it. He squatted a lot early on in his career, but he doesn’t feel they help him much today.
“I do mix in Smith machine squats or even a safety bar squat occasionally. However, I don’t get enough bang for the buck with barbell back squatting. I have dealt with low back pain before. Also, you have to have good mobility in your ankles and knees with squatting. For the sake of keeping my body health and safe as well as quad development, I just found better ways to isolate quads.”
As the owner of Epler Elite Training and Nutrition, Epler is now all-in on the 2021 Olympia 212 Showdown thanks to his victory earlier in the season. He won’t take on any other show between now and the Olympia. He now feels a greater sense of confidence now that he has that experience and success. “I just wanted my opportunity, and I knew that if I stayed, kept my head down, and followed everything to a T, and really, really pushed myself to that next level, we could have a potential to battle. All about Orlando now.”
*Hold every fifth rep for five seconds in the middle.
+Rest for 2-3 minutes between sets.