With the right plan and the right discipline, you can get seriously shredded in just 28 days.Read article
One of the workout strategies that helps Steve Kuclo, IFBB Pro League contender and former Dallas firefighter and EMT, ready himself to hit the stage is a quad-day favorite he has used to great success in the past.
“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.
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.
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.
To do these, he’ll stand facing away from the bench, with one foot elevated behind him and with the top of that foot resting on the bench, knee soft and partially bent. The initial position is key, Kuclo says—you want to be close enough to the bench that the back leg isn’t excessively stretched out, so that when you go up and down into your squat, the hips can move vertically (and slightly rearward) without straining the groin area. Your back knee should descend toward the floor (but not touch it), and the knee of your front foot should not track out past your toes.
“Getting your foot in a comfortable position to where you’re not putting a lot of strain on your knees is the most challenging part of learning this exercise,” Kuclo says. “You want to feel it in your quads and your glutes. If you’re getting down low enough and feeling the contraction in your glutes, you’re likely doing it right. You want to keep your chest up and maintain the arch your lower back as you’re squatting.”
For each leg, he’ll do 10 to 12 reps per set, keeping the movement deliberate and controlled throughout, resting about 45 seconds to a minute between sets. “I’ll usually stick with the same weight for all four sets,” he says. “But if you feel like you can go up a little, push yourself. Say I’m doing 65 pounds for the first set or two and feeling good. I may go to 70, but I’ll stay there.”
With Bulgarians in the books, Kuclo returns to where he started, the leg extension, blood sloshing inside his heavy, pumped-to-the-skin quads with every step toward the machine. Here, he’ll finish them off with a burnout set, starting at the heaviest weight he can handle for 10 reps, then immediately dropping the weight a pinhole or two for another 15, followed by one more drop for 20 arduous reps, pausing for a couple of seconds of rest midset if needed in order to hit that total.
“Two or three of those dropsets, and my quads are spent,” he says. “This isn’t a workout I’d use every single quad session, but I pull it out whenever I really want to push my quads to their limit. This is definitely one that afterward, I think, ‘Damn, that taxed me.’ It feels as if I did hard cardio on top of training legs.”
KUCLO’S PRE-CONTEST QUAD WORKOUT
*Not including at least 2 warmup sets.
**These are triple drops, starting with a heavy weight for 10 reps, then immediately lowering the weight and doing 15 more reps, and dropping one more time and pushing out 20 reps.
KUCLO’S PRE-CONTEST TRAINING SPLIT