The Perfect 20
Per Bernal

Barbell Squat 

“I like to try new things.” So says nearly every awkward dating-site introduction, a meaningless statement that says almost nothing about the nature of the person who typed it into the tedious online form.

After all, it doesn’t take much courage to be up for the new sushi joint that just opened on the corner. No one is going to look at you much differently if you boldly decide to opt for Via instead of Uber or sign up for tennis lessons. Bravo.

No, to really give life to that statement, you’re gonna need to be a little more extreme in your thinking. Like, for instance, David Henry, 2008 Olympia 202 champion and winner of nine IFBB pro titles. The Arizona resident and U.S. Air Force master sergeant has tried not one but two radical training approaches during his 13-year career, both of which were well outside the traditional bodybuilding approach.

The first was born of a post to an Internet discussion board in 2000 by Dante Trudel, a post he nonchalantly titled “DoggCrapp.” The unfortunate moniker stuck as his philosophy gained immediate traction. One of those early readers, ravenous for a new approach, was Henry, who proceeded to pack on 30 pounds of lean muscle in just under three years using Trudel’s strength- focused style, a concoction of seriously heavy weight coupled with rest-pause to push through at least three failure points in an all-out effort.

david-henry-leg-press
Per Bernal

Leg Press

A few years later, Henry—now a decorated IFBB veteran and a threat to win any 212 show he entered—switched it up again, this time jumping headfirst into Fortitude Training. Taking some cues from Leo Costa’s Titan Training principles, Henry’s nutritionist, Scott Stevenson, devised the Fortitude regimen to hit every body part several times per week, with rest periods of only 10 seconds between sets.

As Henry told FLEXonline.com: “It takes a lot of guts to get through this training. Everyone who’s contacted [Stevenson] has wussed out. You see what you’re really made of when you do this program. If you can do DC, you might be able to do this. I have the mentality to endure it. I’m a glutton for punishment.”

See what we mean about trying new things? Here at FLEX, we’ve taken inspiration from Henry’s willingness to radically revamp his approach, and we’ve designed a leg workout that—like the impetus behind DoggCrapp and Titan Training—is radically different from the typical bodybuilding fare.

 

david-henry-vertical-leg-press
Per Bernal

Vertical Leg Press

MIND GAME

The session begins simply enough with warmups. Although plenty of people skimp on this part of the workout, it really can make a ton of difference in your performance on the bigger lifts to come. The secret is doing enough to get the muscles primed without fatiguing yourself.

Start with a five-minute walk on a treadmill, low speed. Discard the magazines and click off the TV during this time. Instead, you’ll want to think. Consider your breaths—a deep inhale in, a long exhale out. Feel your legs—the knees bending and extending, the contraction and relaxation of the muscles at the hip—as you settle into a comfortable stride.

Got it? Now you can let your thoughts drift to your workout. The first time through, it’ll be all new to you, of course, but as you become more familiar with it, use this time to visualize each lift, imagining the perfect execution and how you’ll feel as you move the weight.

After five minutes, you’ll do a set of 10 slow, controlled, deep ass-to-grass squats, just your body weight. Take each rep slowly, pausing in between, working to keep your balance on the way up and down by exerting full control over the motion. With that, it’s time for the first exercise.

david-henry-leg-extension
Per Bernal

Leg Extension

THE PRICE IS PERFECTION

This workout doesn’t go off the grid when it comes to exercises. You’re not going to find any radical, esoteric movements in the mix—just squats, leg presses, hack squats, curls, and extensions. Instead, it’s how you’ll do each one that will veer from the ordinary.

Your goal is simple yet challenging: For each exercise, your only goal is 20 flawless reps. This doesn’t mean picking an easy weight, doing a set of 20 reps, and calling it a day. The reps should be performed with your 10RM max, which means the amount of weight you can handle for 10 reps exactly—no more, no less. It will take some trial and error, but once you’ve determined your 10RM for each lift, you’ll have the benchmark to base future increases on.

First up is the squat. (You’ll rotate your starting exercise week to week between the squat, leg press, and hack squat.) You’ll begin with three to four warmup sets to gradually advance to your 10RM. Do no more than 10 reps per set as you work your way up. Once you’re there, it’s time for the working sets, where you’ll do as many reps as you can with 10RM.

The key? Be picky about form. It helps to have a partner judge for you, but if you’re alone, you can still determine in your mind what a perfect rep is. No cheating, no bouncing in the bottom, no stopping short before your thighs go parallel to the floor.

This means, if a rep isn’t perfect, you don’t tally it. Your first set may hit 11 reps, but only eight may count toward your goal of 20. That’s OK. You have as many more sets as it takes to reach that overall total.

Rest between sets is up to you, with two to three minutes being a fair guideline. You may go a little less, you may go a little more, but your aim is to recover enough mentally and physically to be able to do another round of solid, textbook reps.

For example, if your 10RM squat is 225 pounds, your working sets might end up like this: 

  • Set No. 1: 11 reps (9 “perfect”)
  • Set No. 2: 8 reps (6 “perfect”)
  • Set No. 3: 5 reps (3 “perfect”)
  • Set No. 4: 3 reps (2 “perfect”)

Total: 27 total reps, 20 “perfect” 

Getting the most out of this requires you to be especially honest with yourself. A nit picky partner is a solid weapon, but if you don’t have that, you’ll need to seek out your inner perfectionist and let him run wild.

 

Bodybuilder Phil Heath doing a lying leg curl exercise
Per Bernal

Lying Leg Curl

THREE-HEADED BEAST

Over time, you’ll be striving to handle that 10RM weight, taking fewer and fewer sets to get to 20. Once you can do 20 pristine reps without rest, you’re ready to bump up the poundage by 5% or so.

As mentioned earlier, you’ll be rotating your first working exercise between three main leg moves: the squat, the vertical (or traditional) leg press, and the hack squat (machine or free weight). Starting with a different one each workout means each gets you at your freshest and strongest and helps keep your workout from getting too stagnant. Additionally, if you find three to be too much, you can drop it to two, even one movement at a time as you teach yourself to focus on quality, not quantity.

FINISHING TOUCH

As for the remainder of leg day, you’ll want to balance out the slow, steady, controlled reps of your first three moves with some more explosive training. “Explosive,” of course, not being code for “sloppy.”

The tools of choice are the leg extension and either the lying, seated, or standing leg curl machine. For these, your goal on each is 100 reps apiece—counting them all—doing a hard, strong, yet still controlled positive contraction followed by a slow eccentric release.

You don’t have to do all 100 reps in one set. Instead, do as many as you can of extensions, then switch over to curls and do as many as you can, then return to extensions for another round of reps, continuing onward with minimal rest until you finish 100 on each machine. For these, pick a challenging weight with which you could normally get no more than 15 to 20 reps. Try to remain at that weight throughout, although if necessary, you can drop 15–30% or so as you hit failure in the latter stages toward 100.

If you’d like to include calves—which we recommend—you can include a similar 100-rep superset that pairs standing or donkey calf raises with seated calf raises. If you’re up for it, finish off the day with walking dumbbell or body-weight lunges, going for up to 30 to 50 deep steps, accentuating the stretch with a deep stance on each rep.

 

single-leg-curl
Per Bernal

One-Leg Curl

A NOT-SO-GENTLE PUSH

You’ve probably never done a leg workout like this before. But that’s the point. Instead of reckless annihilation, it’s about a more measured approach to gaining leg size and strength.

The “Perfect 20” workout isn’t meant as some sort of new alternative to DoggCrapp or Fortitude Training. Those systems are well regarded for a reason— they work. Still, the reality is that the human body has the ability to respond to many different approaches to training, but as a wise old FLEX editor constantly reminded us writers long ago, “Everything works, nothing works forever.”

It’s not meant to be taken literally—not just “anything” you do in the gym will make you bigger—but the underlying idea is sound. Just as David Henry sought out new, out-of-the-box thinking to reimagine his progressive overloading methods, we all need to be open to “trying new things” now and again when our body needs to be shoved out of its comfort zone.

VERTICAL LEG PRESS The vertical leg press is all too uncommon at gyms, but if you have access to one, embrace it. The design pits you directly against the pull of gravity, reducing the mechanical advantages of the typical leg press. It means you can handle less weight, but you’ll get more bang out of every rep.

LEG EXTENSION The leg extension is far from perfect—it applies some awkward stress to the knee joint—but you can dial back the negatives by adjusting the seat correctly so your knees align directly with the machine’s pivot point, as well as by controlling the motion so you don’t forcefully lock out at the top of each rep.

LYING LEG CURL As with the leg extension, you’ll want to take the time to correctly adjust the lying leg curl for your frame. Your knees should be positioned just off the bottom edge of the bench, and during each rep, they should never go fully straight—keep the knees slightly bent at the start of each rep to protect against hyperextension.

donkey-calf-raises
Per Bernal

Donkey Calf Raise

STANDING ONE-LEG CURL Think of the standing one-leg curl as a concentration curl for your hamstrings. It’s an opportunity to focus entirely on each ham individually, taking the muscle through a full contraction and extension, for development along its whole length.

STANDING CALF RAISE To get the most out of the standing calf raise, you’ll want to accentuate the stretch and contraction— lower your heels as far as you can, avoiding bouncing, then push yourself up as high as possible on the balls of your feet. (By the way, to alleviate pain caused by the heavy weight pressing into your shoulders, you can extend your elbows and reach forward, grasping the machine—this flexes your delts and helps cushion the pressure point.)

DONKEY CALF RAISE The donkey calf raise offers a solution to the limitation of the standing raise machine—you should be able to handle more resistance in this position than on your shoulders. To make sure the exercise still hits the larger, meatier gastrocnemius muscle instead of the smaller soleus targeted by seated raises, you’ll want to keep your knees straight as you rep. 

LEG PRESS The leg press requires lower-body flexibility to do it right—you want to be able to bring your knees toward your chest without your lower back lifting off the seatback, which puts your lumbar area in a vulnerable position. If you can’t do it, you’ll need to add some serious stretching to your regular post-workout agenda.

 

standing-calf-raise
Per Bernal

Standing Calf Raise 

 PERFECT-20 LEG WORKOUT 

  • Barbell Squat | SETS: 3-6* | REPS: 20 (total)
  • Leg Press | SETS: 3-6* | REPS: 20 (total)
  • Hack Squat | SETS: 3-6* | REPS: 20 (total)
  • Leg Extension | SETS: 6-8** | REPS: 100 (total)
  • Lying, Seated, or One-Leg Curl | SETS: 6-8** | REPS: 100 (total)
  • Donkey or Standing Calf Raise | SETS: 6-8** | REPS: 100 (total)
  • Seated Calf Raise | SETS: 6-8** | REPS: 100 (total)

NOTE: Start with a five-minute treadmill walk and 10 body-weight squats, ass to the floor, under full control. From workout to workout, rotate the starting exercise among the first three. The listed sets for the squat, leg press, and hack squat do not include warmups, three to four sets of 10 reps to pyramid up to the working 10RM weight.

*Sets are estimated; you’ll do as many sets as it takes to finish 20 perfectly executed reps in total.

**You’ll superset extensions and curls, going back and forth, doing as many reps as possible per set until you hit 100 reps total for each exercise. Same goes for the donkey/standing and seated calf raise.

 FLEX