You know, for some guys, comparing their legs to an ostrich is way too kind.
I mean, ostriches have pretty strong legs, right? And there's some appreciable muscle near the hip insertion point.
That's why I think we should refer to these legless humans as "Flamingo legs."
Who's with me?
Alright, alright, I'll stick with the ostrich analogy for the time being.
The following routine is a pure hypertrophy-based program that will increase leg size and strength potential and allow you to finally quit wearing sweatpants to the beach.
In order to maximize leg development, you must stimulate and fatigue as many motor units as possible. Sounds simple on paper, yet the prevalence of impressive leg development is pretty scarce at the local fitness center. I suspect the sheer willpower and effort required to create an adaptive response along with a well-designed plan are the missing ingredients.
Requirements for Building Bigger Legs
Increased leg development is a result of maximal activation and fatigue of a wide corridor of muscle tissue. An effective protocol to increase leg size is to target the quad dominant and hip dominant musculature on separate days, while performing 8-12 work sets of 4-12 repetitions within a 45-minute training window. Appropriate loads would be between 60%-85% of your 1 RM.
This leg routine is especially beneficial for the drug-free non-competitive athlete because of the increased work capacity and muscle hypertrophy that's produced. You see, inadequate work capacity is commonly the limiting factor for the average trainee who wants more muscular development.
Simply put, if you are unable to train with enough volume, intensity, and time-under-tension, you won't activate and fatigue the maximum number of motor units.
The beauty of this routine is that the work capacity component is built into the repetition sequences by utilizing a tried and true bodybuilding rep sequence: pyramid training.
The old school pyramid may seem like a step back to some of you, but for pure hypertrophy and work capacity, it's extremely effective. And as an added bonus, the work capacity improvements achieved will increase potential for gains on the more intensity-based training cycles to follow.
• Free of low back, hip, or knee injuries
• At least 1 year of continuous strength training
• You've trained legs consistently for the past 3 months
• You can legitimately squat at least 1.5 times your bodyweight. (If not, the frequency of training may not be sufficient to achieve desired results).
Recommendations to Maximize Recovery
• Be in bed with lights out no later than 9:30pm, even on the weekend, you Bar-Star.
• Sleep quality and quantity has a tremendous impact on androgen (Testosterone, DHEA) levels, immune function, and sense of well-being.
• Abstain from alcohol for the next 4 weeks.
• Follow pre and post-workout nutritional protocols as recommended by T NATION.
• If you can afford it, get a deep tissue massage once/week.
Granted, you're probably not going to do half that crap, but it was worth a try.
The Bodybuilder's Pyramid
The two primary exercises of each day utilize two variations of the pyramid-loading pattern advocated by Vladimir Zatsiorsky. The advantage of the pyramid is that it guarantees the activation of most, if not all, of the motor units being trained.
As is standard for pyramid patterns, the load progressively increases as the number of repetitions decreases.
The first exercise of each day makes use of the pyramid rep pattern using the sub-maximal effort method. In other words, you'll complete every rep of every set with 1 or 2 reps left in the tank. This method will increase conditioning as well as stimulate and fatigue a wide range of motor units.
All the remaining exercises are taken to failure using the repeated-effort method. This means that you'll take each set to concentric or technical failure, i.e., the point at which the trainee can no longer maintain ideal exercise technique.
This training regimen addresses common weak links.
Hip Flexors (rectus femoris, psoas, iliacus) are important stabilizing muscles that are typically underdeveloped in non-sprint athletes and trainees.
The typical gym rat (you), rarely if ever trains the hip flexors (rectus femoris, psoas, and iliacus). This is a shame as strong hip flexors help maintain hip stability during squat, lunging, and bending exercises, and also has a huge impact on squat ability.
I've personally trained sprinters who had sub-par core strength but could safely squat double bodyweight, and I believe this was due to their good hip range of motion and extreme hip flexor and leg strength.
Likewise, the Erector Spinae muscles are also a common weak point. These muscles can be considered omni-muscles due to their contribution to all movements and exercises, and weak low back muscles will hinder your ability at every level of physical activity.
According to spine expert Dr. Stuart McGill, low back isometric endurance is a direct indicator of low back health. If you have a job that requires you to sit for extended periods of time, you need to train the low back for endurance!
Hamstrings are also a common problem. Hamstring range of motion determines the ease at which you achieve optimal body postures during the squat, lunge, and bending exercises. A tight antagonist can decrease motor unit activation of the agonist. In other words, shortened hamstrings will not only decrease your ability to maintain a neutral spine during a barbell squat, they can decrease your ability to activate the quadriceps.
As I said, this program addresses all those weak points, and don't tell me you don't have any of them!
You'll perform two leg workouts per week: one quad dominant and one hip/hamstring dominant. The ideal training split for this program is as follows:
Monday: Upper Body
Tuesday: Quad dominant
Thursday: Upper Body
Friday: Hip/Hamstring Dominant
Perform 4-5 warm-up sets prior to the first work set of the first exercise. Perform no more than 8 reps for each warm-up, but keep in mind that warm-up sets aren't necessary after the first exercise.
(Sets indicated in the program refer to work sets only. Warm-up sets do not count.)
Tuesday: Quad Dominant workout
A. Squats, medium stance, bar low on traps
Barbell on lower traps, feet shoulder width apart, toes pointed out slightly. Initiate descent by bending the knees, keeping feet flat on the floor. Keep chest up and elbows pointing down.
Squat down until thighs are at least parallel to floor. Focus on maintaining a slight arch in the low back. Explode out of the bottom position. Do not bounce or bottom out. Return to start position. If squat technique is an issue, correct any problems with the help of a qualified coach before commencing this routine.
Reps: 12, 10, 8, 6, 4 (use a load that allows you to complete every rep of every set)
Rest: 3-4 minutes
Note: Increase load 5-10 lbs per set each week.
B1. Split Squat, Dumbbell
Hold a pair of dumbbells and assume a split stance with front foot flat. Keep shoulders back and chest up; stay on ball of foot of trailing leg. Initiate descent by bending front knee and pushing knee over the toes. Be sure to keep front foot firmly on the ground throughout duration of movement. Explode back to start position.
Reps: 12, 10, 8 (all sets to failure)
Rest: 90 seconds, then go to B2
Note: Increase load 2.5 - 5 lbs per dumbbell each week.
B2. Cable Hip Flexion
Keep toe flexed towards knee throughout movement. Maintain neutral spine position.
Reps: 10-12 (all sets to failure)
Rest: 90 seconds, then go back to B1
C. Donkey Calf Raise
Reps: 15- 20 (all sets to failure)
Rest: 90 seconds
Cure for Ostrich Legs Day 1
|A||Squats, medium stance||5||12,10,8,6,4||2011||3-4 min.|
|B1||Split Squats, Dumbbell||3||12,10,8||2011||90 sec.|
|B2||Cable Hip Flexion||3||10-12||2010||90 sec.|
|C||Donkey Calf||4-5||15-20||2110||90 sec.|
Friday: Hip/Hamstring dominant day
A. Kneeling Leg Curl or Single Leg Curl
Toe is pulled towards shin, keep thigh in contact with support pad. Perform one leg at a time.
Reps: 12, 10, 8, 6 (use a load that allows you to complete every rep of every set)
Rest: 2 minutes
Note: Increase load 2.5-10 lbs per set each week.
B. Good Mornings, medium stance
Wide grip on the bar, bar resting on lower traps; place a pad or towel around bar if necessary. Feet hip-width apart, knees flexed 15°. Maintain an arch in low back. Initiate descent by pushing hips back without bending knees any further than 15° and keeping weight on the heels. Descend to the limit of your hamstring flexibility. Explode up to start position.
(Perform this exercise in a power rack with safety pins set high enough to catch the bar if you fail.)
Reps: 10, 8, 6 (all sets to technical failure, end set when you can't maintain low back arch)
Rest: 2-3 minutes
Note: Increase load 5-10 lbs per set each week.
C. Back Extensions with isometric hold
Adjust bench so the edge of pad is in line with the hip-bone (greater trochanter). When adjusted correctly, you'll be able to bend forward with minimal rounding of the low back. Keep head in alignment with spine and initiate concentric contraction by squeezing glutes. Hold extended position for a 1 count before returning to start position.
Reps: 12-15* with 1 second isometric hold in full extension (all sets to failure)
Rest: 90 seconds
* Hold additional weight across chest if you can complete more than 15 reps.
D. Standing Calf Raise
Reps: 12-15 (all sets to failure)
Rest: 60 seconds
E. Hamstring Stretch, Active-Assisted
Lie supine (on your back) with a small rolled-up towel under your low back. Actively initiate hip flexion; once you reach the limit of your active range of motion, use the strap to deepen the stretch by pulling leg a few inches farther. Hold for 2 seconds; repeat until 6 reps are complete.
You'll feel mild pain in the hamstring on each rep. Your non-working leg should be in contact with the floor and completely straight with toe pointing towards ceiling.
Sets: 3 per leg
Cure for Ostrich Legs Day 2
|A||Kneeling Leg Curl or Single Leg Curl||4||12,10,8,6||2011||2 min.|
|B||Good Mornings, medium stance||3||10,8,6||3011||2-3 min.|
|C||Back Extensions isometric hold at top||2-3||12-15||2011||90 sec.|
|D||Standing Calf||4-5||12-15||2110||60 sec.|
|E||Hamstring Stretch, Active-Assisted||3||6|
You're done! Literally.
Perform each routine once per week for 4 weeks. This program should be used sparingly, and don't repeat it more than once every 4 months.
At first glance, this routine may seem pretty generic to the seasoned T NATION reader. Please, don't be fooled by its simplicity. The principles that form the foundation of this workout have stood the test of time and have never failed to produce results...as long as you hold up your end of the agreement and supply the necessary effort.
Don't let Ostrich Leg Syndrome force you to spend another summer hiding your scrawny chicken legs in baggy sweat pants.