Go Heavy or Go Home?
What's the best rep range to use for optimal leg development? We know that heavy lifting is a great way to stimulate the nervous system, especially when using big movements. Stimulating the CNS helps trigger more activation of high threshold motor units, fast twitch muscle fibers, and also releases more HGH and testosterone to help muscles grow.
This is all well and good, and I agree with it. A number of coaches, though, are coming on board with the idea of a higher lactate, less anaerobic approach to training the quadriceps to trigger growth.
From a skeletal perspective, walking, standing, and doing basically anything on the feet requires the quads to be relatively active all day. The muscles are geared towards endurance-based work, and it's safe to say they have a higher distribution of slow-twitch muscle fibers.
Furthermore, in the athletic world, speed skaters, skiers, and cyclists – or athletes in sports where the legs use prolonged efforts instead of short bursts – often have proportionally massive quad size. What's going on here?
Higher Reps for Legs
It's safe to infer that increased time spent under tension, higher reps, higher lactate, and even an aerobic angle to leg workouts can all drive quad growth, so think of using higher-rep sets on leg day.
For example, breathing squats are grueling sets using your 10-12 rep max for up to 20 reps (you're allowed to stop and breathe between reps but not put the weight down.) The energy expenditure is high, but the payoff is fulfilling. Use them with the squat or leg press.
If that's too tough, try adding more reps to the mix by using ladder sets. These allow a lifter to perform 20 reps with their 10 RM with brief breaks of 10 to 15 seconds, enough rest to restore a bit of ATP. Check out the video to see my anguish.
Squat: Ladder Sets
As an empirical example, look at the bodybuilder whose leg development set the standard by which all others would be judged: Tom Platz. His wheels were one of a kind, and his training frequently used very high rep ranges for the big lower body movements, such as 225-pound squats for 10 straight minutes. That's not a misprint!
Take a page out of his book and add more sets, higher volume, and more time spent under tension to make the quads grow.