Here's what you need to know...
- The best way to bring up a weak point is through a well-designed specialization routine.
- Auto-regulation and the use of the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale is extremely important.
- If you're pushing the intensity on this program, three days per week is plenty.
A few months ago, I was in a training quandary. I'd spent three months working hard to improve my movement quality. I firmly believe that dedicating a block of time to this goal every year will keep me (and you) training longer and harder than the competition.
As I came out of that "movement" program, I wanted to focus on getting stronger in the big lifts like back squat and deadlifts, but I also wanted to make sure I got some front squats in as well. Secondly, time was an issue. As a husband, dad, and owner of two businesses, I don't have the time to be in the gym five or six days per week.
To make it happen, I created a three-day per week leg specialization program. This allowed me to hit one big lower body lift daily (front squat, deadlift, back squat), while simultaneously doing a bunch of smaller accessory lifts to get my size and strength back up to snuff. Here's the program.
3 Days of Fun
You'll be training three days per week. If you're pushing yourself on the big lifts, recovery could become an issue. Be smart and listen to your body. Auto-regulation will help here.
Some of you may be thinking three days per week just isn't enough. Trust me, if you're pushing the intensity on this program, three days per week is plenty. Furthermore, the goal isn't to peak out in the first week. It's to slowly but surely accrue volume and intensity over the course of the training cycle.
Learn to Use RPE's
The key to this program is using RPE's, or Ratings of Perceived Exertion, to help auto-regulate your training. Here's a general guide to how I use RPE's with my clients:
- RPE of 8 You have approximately two reps left in the tank.
- RPE of 9 You have approximately one rep left in the tank.
- RPE of 10 A max effort lift, or no reps left in the tank.
As you'll see, I use RPE's to crank up the intensity over the course of the training cycle.
It's important to focus your RPE's on how you're feeling that day. Most of us get caught up on the external load, or the weight on the bar. Instead, RPE's help us gauge what's called internal load, or how heavy a weight feels on any given day.
Here's an example. Let's say your best raw squat is 405 pounds. On a day you're feeling spry, 315 might feel like something you could do for 10 reps. However, on another day, 315 might feel like a ton of bricks. The goal is to use auto-regulation to get an optimal training session for that particular workout.
Use Back-Off Sets for More Volume
You know your body better than I do, so let's say you follow the program but need a bit more volume on the main lifts.
One of my favorite ways to do this is to work up to your heavy set, and then drop the load 10% for an additional 1-3 sets. This can also be regulated on how you feel as well. If you're feeling good, take advantage and get the extra volume in. If you feel like poop, just work up to the main set and call it a day.
Some Upper Body Work
Unlike most leg specialization programs, this one is going to include a small amount of upper body work to make sure you keep the upper body strength, mass, and size you've spent all that time accumulating. I've also thrown you a bone on Wednesday where you can get a short arm circuit in if you really need to get your fix.
Here's the thing, though: use this upper body work as maintenance, not as a means to crush your upper body. (The Eastern Europeans would call this a retaining load versus a stimulating load.)
Don't Be an Idiot
If you've got some sort of lower body injury, don't start this program. If you feel the incessant need to throttle yourself in the gym every single workout, don't follow this program. But if you play it smart and follow the program as written, you'll see some nice gains in the process.
Okay, you've waited this long, so here goes.
|Romanian Deadlift||201||2-3x8||3-4x8||3-4x6-8||3-4x6||90 sec.|
|Split Squat||201||2-3x8||3-4x8||3-4x6-8||3-4x6||60 sec.|
|Core-Engaged Dead Bug||3x8||3x8||3x10||3x10||60 sec.|
Here are some notes on the first workout:
This is our primary lift for the day and you'll be working up to a set of 5 at the prescribed RPE and then you'll drop the load by 10% and do 1-3 additional sets of 5. Focus on maintaining solid technique and don't cheat the depth. Whether the goal is strength or size, quarter squats are out!
You'll also notice I've given a star (*) for the rest period. If your goal is more size oriented, take short rests in the 60-90 second range. If your goal is more strength focused, take more rest, between 3-5 minutes.
This is your big upper body lift for the day. Go through a full range of motion, getting a good stretch in the bottom and squeezing the scaps down at the top. The goal should be to touch the chest to the bar on every rep.
Romanian Deadlift (RDL)
This is our big bang accessory lift of the day. Focus on keeping a neutral spine from top to bottom and really key in on the neck. Keeping a neutral neck position in the bottom of an RDL will allow you to maximize hamstring development.
This is our single-leg/stability exercise for the session. Set-up in a 90-90 position, stay tall throughout, and think about pushing through the front heel to engage the posterior chain.
Core-Engaged Dead Bug
Your anterior core can never be strong enough, so you're going to get a heavy dose of this in the program. For the core-engaged dead bug, lie on your back with the hips and knees flexed to 90 degrees, and then pull a light band over your core/torso to engage the abs.
Exhale hard to get the ribs down, and think about "rolling" the pelvis back. Your back should be flat and pressed into the ground. From this position simply extend the hip and knee, focusing on keeping the back flat throughout.
|Bench Press||201||2-3x6||3-4x5||3-4x5||3-4x4||2 min.|
|You Choose||2-3x8||3-4x8||3-4x6-8||3-4x6||60 sec.|
|3-month PNF||3x8||3x8||3x10||3x10||60 sec.|
Here are some notes on the second workout:
The deadlift is our big lift this session, and you'll be working up to a set of 3 at the prescribed RPE and then you'll drop the load by 10% and do 1-3 additional sets of 3. (I've chosen sets of 3 instead of 5 because when you work up to doing heavy sets of 5's on the deadlift, things get screwy fast and form tends to break down.)
Also, no bouncing those deadlifts! Make sure you're breaking the momentum on every rep.
Last but not least, there's another star (*) for the rest period. If your goal is more size oriented, take short rests in the 60-90 second range. If your goal is more strength focused, take more rest, between 3-5 minutes.
This is your big upper body lift for the day. You don't have to go crazy here. Use this time to work on technique, maintain your strength, and move on.
To reduce total leg volume on this day, we only have one lower body assistance lift, the step-up. The fact that it's typically a lower load exercise while focusing on the concentric versus the eccentric makes it a great choice for this workout.
Think about keeping the foot, knee, and hip in alignment throughout. Another cue I like to use is to think about finishing simultaneously with hip and knee extension to "finish tall" through the stepping leg.
You Choose: Gun Show or 8-10 Minutes of Close-Grip Bench Press.
Here's what you've all been waiting for – some legit meathead work! In this case, you can either do 8-10 minutes of isolated arm work (triceps and biceps), or you can simply do 3 sets of 5 reps of close-grip bench presses. I'd go with the latter, but it's your choice.
3-Month Position PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation)
Here's another anterior core exercise that feels way harder than it looks. Lie flat on your back, flex the hips and knees to 90 degrees, and reach long with both arms to get set in the starting position.
Exhale hard to get the ribs down, and think about "rolling" the pelvis back. Your back should be flat and pressed into the ground. From this position take one arm towards the opposite hip with the palm down, and then reverse the motion and take it up and away from the bottom, finishing with the palm up.
|Dumbbell Row||211||2xAMAP||3xAMAP||3xAMAP||3xAMAP||90 sec.|
|Good Morning||201||2-3x8||3-4x8||3-4x6-8||3-4x6||90 sec.|
|Glute-Ham Raise||201||2-3x6||3-4x6||3-4x6-8||3-4x8||60-90 sec.|
|3-Month Pullover||301||3x8||3x8||3x10||3x10||60 sec.|
Here are some notes on the third workout:
This is our big lift for the day, and again you'll be working up to a set of 3 at the prescribed RPE and then you'll drop the load by 10% and do 1-3 additional sets of 3.
Big technique cues here include bracing the core, driving the elbows up as you squat down, and pushing the knees out so they track over the foot.
Again, you'll notice the star (*) for the rest period. If your goal is more size oriented, take short rests in the 60-90 second range. If your goal is more strength focused, take more rest, between 3-5 minutes.
This is your upper body lift for the day. Most people need more upper/mid back work, and there's no better lift than an old-school dumbbell row. Focus on a full range of motion, getting a stretch in the bottom, and squeezing the shoulder blades back at the top.
Kind of like the RDL, the good morning is a compound lift that's virtually guaranteed to put muscle on your backside.
To do this correctly, maintain a neutral spinal alignment throughout, push the hips back to get a nice stretch, and finish tall on each repetition. Last but not least, don't worry about weight as much as dialing in the technique and seeking out that stretch on every rep. Do it right and you'll be rewarded with more muscle growth and strength while reducing the likelihood of injury.
Up to this point we've hit virtually every movement pattern (quad dominant, hip dominant, single-leg, split-stance, etc.), so we need to throw in a knee flexion exercise for good measure.
But rather than doing something completely non-functional like a leg curl, we're going to use glute-ham raises instead. These will smoke your hamstrings and they're far more functional if you engage the core and glutes as well.
3-Month Position Pullover
One of my new favorite exercises, this works to balance stiffness between the lats and the anterior core.
Set-up in 3-month position with the back flat and hips/knees flexed to 90 degrees. Hold a kettlebell over your torso, and slowly lower it overhead. Make sure not to allow the back to arch or come up off the ground. Hold for a one count, and then return to the starting position.
I guarantee that if you push yourself with this program you're going to see some serious strength and size gains.