Never in the history of picking shit up and putting it down have we had more access to various squat bars and leg machines than we do now. But bird legs are still an epidemic. If that's you, then allow me to dish out some tough love. If your legs are lagging then most likely it's because...
- Your work ethic is small.
- Your pain threshold is low.
- You don't realize that women like legs and ass on a man just as much as big biceps.
Here's a fun fact: Anyone can improve their asparagus-legs and shovel ass if it's a priority.
In my article about Instafamous glute girls, all of them started with poor glute development, then built their glutes to such a degree that hundreds of thousands of males wanted to look at them. Daily.
They built amazing glutes because it was a priority. If your leg development sucks, then your legs probably aren't a priority, and you don't enjoy training them because, well, it's hard.
"Hey Paul, you don't know where I've been. You don't know my struggle!"
Ok, Rambo. Listen, I get it. You took two in the knees back in 'Nam and broke your back falling out of your convertible in college. So squats are out. So are leg presses. Why? Because you put on every plate in the gym, which takes an hour, to do 1/100 inch reps with knee wraps on. So we're nixing that too.
What I'm going to give you here is a low impact, highly effective way to build the quads, hams, and man-buns... and not the kind that coffee shop hipsters and surfers from Australia have.
You can build a great set of wheels without ever needing to strap yourself into that Quad-Blaster 9000 machine. In fact, this program doesn't require a single barbell, dumbbell, or machine. Well, mostly.
Do this program for 8 weeks. Instead of increasing the weight like you would for traditional progressive overload, you're going to increase reps at each session.
There are two ways you can plan this no-weights training day:
- You could use it as a "day 2" option during the week, a few days after a normal leg workout.
- Or you could divide it up into two days during the training week, where you do the quad-based movements on one day and the hamstring and glute-based movements on the other. Up to you.
There's a foundational movement to the program: the walking lunge. It's the most underrated, yet most economical exercise you can do for the entire lower body. Few movements blast the quads, hams, and glutes like the walking lunge.
It's also a highly effective mobility exercise because it brings balance into the equation for most of the kinetic chain. The ankles, knees, and hips all need a functional degree of flexibility to perform it efficiently. In this context, I'm defining mobility and functionality as the ability to perform the movement through a full range of motion, pain free.
But you actually need to be strong enough to hold a proper position in the lunge. People often think they need more mobility, but the truth is they just aren't strong enough to hold an efficient position.
The great thing about the lunge? It'll give you feedback. If it's any of the problems above, and you know what you're looking for, then you'll understand the imbalances and weaknesses you're struggling with.
A. Walking Lunge
Since the walking lunge covers the quads, glutes, and hams you'll start each training session with it. Yes, that means if you split this up into a quad day and a ham/glute day, you're still gonna lunge.
Since this is "big wheels, no weights" these are bodyweight lunges. That means... you just use your bodyweight.
For the rep and set scheme, use the "total reps performed" method. Just keep lunging until you get all the reps done. Take mini-breaks as needed. Yes, this will vary from workout to workout.
Also, count the reps correctly. This drives me nuts. Left leg lunges, count to one. Right leg lunges, count to one again. That's not two reps. That's ONE rep. One rep, which each leg has to complete.
I'm also going to be kind and take into account that beginners and intermediates probably won't be busting out hundreds of lunges at a time on the first day. I'm splitting the foundation movement into two phases. A beginner to intermediate phase, and an advanced phase.
"How do I know if I'm a beginner to intermediate?" Because you just asked that question. That's how you know.
Sets & Reps
Beginner to Intermediate:
- Week 1: 50 lunges
- Week 2: 75 lunges
- Week 3: 100 lunges
- Week 4: 125 lunges
- Week 5: 150 lunges
- Week 6: 200 lunges
- Week 7: 225 lunges
- Week 8: 250 lunges
- Week 1: 300 lunges
- Week 2: 325 lunges
- Week 3: 350 lunges
- Week 4: 375 lunges
- Week 5: 400 lunges
- Week 6: 425 lunges
- Week 7: 450 lunges
- Week 8: 500 lunges
B. Bodyweight Leg Extension (For Beginners)
This exercise is reserved for the beginner to intermediate group. If you're advanced, skip to the next exercise.
I like these for beginner and intermediate lifters because it gives them a chance to find their workable range of motion, puts the quads in a great stretch (if you're getting deep enough), and it's knee friendly. Once you've got these mastered, you can move on to traditional sissy squats.
The key is to press the shins into the floor to drive the upper body back into the starting position. Try to keep the torso as straight as possible. With this movement, the torso is the resistance. When you lean forward you're lessening the resistance and making the exercise less effective.
Sets & Reps
Do 4 sets of as many reps as possible, then try to beat that total rep count every week.
B. Sissy Squat (For Advanced Lifters)
Now that your legs hate you, Mr. Advanced Guy, we'll put the quads into a fully lengthened position and make them scream all by their lonesome.
Now, someone with weak-sauce sprinkled all over his knees is going to complain about how sissy squats are bad for the knees. Wah.
Have you taken any time to think about why they hurt? It could be because your VMO is puny and can't tolerate the tension of this movement. When you've got big strong muscles it's crazy how they will mitigate the pain in that joint. It's also crazy that most of the guys I know with amazing VMO development can do these without pain.
There's probably some relationship here with the fact that they didn't spend decades wearing knee wraps, and actually allowed the VMO to fully develop by using a full range of motion in their quad-dominant movements. Crazy talk, I know.
One complaint about the sissy squat is that it's unloading the posterior chain completely and shifts the loading (bodyweight) entirely to the quads. And this is bad how? Yeah, it's called a quad-dominant movement for a reason.
Sets & Reps
Perform 4 sets of as many reps as possible, trying to beat that total each week.
C. Swiss Ball Leg Curl
These are super hard and will expose your spaghetti hams. No matter how much curling you do in a machine, these will be a challenge. The feedback they give is fantastic.
If you can get yourself on video doing these, pay attention to your hips. It's important that your hips stay high through execution. This is how you get the hamstrings into a fully shortened position, and it'll help you find out if your hammies are super weak.
If you can't keep the hips high, your hams are weak. Since this is another movement where you can do as many reps as you can and go to failure, it's going to be the same for everyone.
Sets & Reps
Do 6 sets and as many reps as possible each time. Hold the contracted position for 2 seconds before doing the eccentric (negative).
D. Straight Fire Glute Raise
Ok, I lied. You'll need a barbell and weights for this, but only to anchor yourself down. I got this movement from Eugene Teo. He had no name for them so this is what they ended up being called. And for good reason. There's a ton of cool things going on with these that make them an awesome ham and glute movement.
To start, get the toes in a pronated (pointed out) position which means you've got some external hip rotation going on. This is a requirement for a full glute contraction.
Next, you've got to keep an isometric contraction in the glutes virtually the whole time because you're having to execute hip extension into the bench to hold yourself there. Remember, the toes are pronated, and we've got isometric hip extension. That means bad-ass glute contractions.
We've also got the hamstrings working under constant tension at every inch of every rep because the knees stay in a position of flexion. And with the feet pushing into the bar, the hams literally get no break. That means a metric butt-ton of metabolites in there for each and every rep of every set performed.
Sets & Reps
Do 4 sets and as many reps as possible each time. Try to beat the total number of reps you can do each and every workout.
For some people, the walking lunge or any type of forward lunge can cause knee pain because the working leg is absorbing impact forces on each rep.
For people who have a weak VMO or legit knee or patella problems, the solution here is to start with the reverse lunge as a preparatory movement. With the reverse lunge, the working leg stays in a static position as the non-working leg steps behind you, thus there's no impact occurring on the working leg.
So why not just stick with the reverse lunge? Because with the walking lunge (or forward lunge) you have to be more cognizant of foot placement and the feedback it's giving you about the state of the lower extremities.
For those who find that their foot is constantly landing in a supinated position (toes inward) this could be a sign of tight hip flexors and/or a weak glute medius. If you find that you avoid deep squats or get valgus when you actually try to do deep, heavy squats, then overactive or dominant adductors with tight hip flexors and weak glutes could be the culprit.
Luckily one of the great benefits about unilateral leg work like split squats and lunges is that the non-working leg puts the hip flexor into a stretch while also causing the glute medius to stabilize the pelvis. See how much ground we're covering here?
So if you have knee pain, spend a few weeks starting with the reverse lunge for 5 sets of 10 reps and then see how your geriatric knees are feeling with the walking lunge.