I've been getting a lot of inquires lately from trainees. Judging from the photos they send along, I'd say that 90% of them lack any real leg development.
At first I just assumed these were people training for "beach muscles" and they didn't realize the dramatic effects of lower body training. We're talking about increased workload capacity, neural drive, nervous system adaptation, and improved capacity for intensity. This is where real progress lies.
But once I started doing assessments it was clear that these people were training legs. They were just misinformed about what to do and how to do it. Most were training with very low volume, higher loads (for them), and very low reps. This is not the way to total leg development.
For true and long-lasting leg development, this program is one of the best I've written. Whether it's appropriate for you as a trainee requires an assessment of your conditioning level, current training protocol, and workload capacity.
Amount vs. Duration of Overload
Much has been written on the interplay of load vs. duration of stress. This has led to many of these important elements being taken out of context and viewed in very narrow terms. Because duration is actually more important to elicit an adaptive response, this led to the whole "tempo training" idea that has been wrongly assigned to hypertrophy training.
Artificially increasing the duration of tension on the muscle via tempo actually thwarts the power equation (explosiveness) and needlessly lowers the amount of load that can be employed to performance. This hampers the training response.
The duration of overload on the target muscles must be viewed over the course of a whole workout, not just one set. This is also applied to an entire training protocol, as in using weeks of biofeedback to ascertain the adaptive response. It's not strength that leads to development, aesthetics, and thickness. It's density of strength.
To say development hinges on strength in terms of load is incorrect. To say it centers on strength endurance is also misleading. The path to real effective muscle development, thickness, fullness, and sweep is a matter of strength density.
The true test of whether you're progressing isn't how much you're lifting coming out of the gate. A better testament is the load you can handle at the end of a volume approach.
When you're in a fatigued state (both metabolically and strength wise) and you're able to increase the load, that is the key to productive results. It's your density of strength, and not how much you can lift, that will earn you true hypertrophy and development.
Aspects of Fatigue and Strength
In a program of this nature, both short term and long term fatigue must be acknowledged. In terms of proper recovery, it's important to always address the immediate aspects of fatigue vs. the accumulating aspects of fatigue as the training continues. Also, systemic effects must not be ignored. Specific planes and ranges of motion are important to fatigue as "target training criteria" from one workout to the next.
To properly excite a lagging body part it's important to not only target it specifically, but to force on-going adaptive responses as well. One of the best ways of enhancing the hypertrophy response is to focus on all aspects that contribute to strength. This includes an emphasis on the coordination of muscles within specific movement patterns, the type of muscle contraction, and increasing workload capacity.
This specific leg program is so efficient because it covers all aspects of training: power, speed, plane of motion specificity, and absolute/relative failure. The shortcoming of most training protocols is that they have to neglect many of these elements in order to create an adaptive response in one specific area. In terms of program design, this is very short-sighted.
Let's Get to It
The program below is to be done on a three days on, one day off format. After a break-in period of a few weeks, it can be changed to a three on, one off, three on, two off format. This will add a rotational element, which will influence the adaptive response since the days will always be changing in terms of workouts and recovery.
The most important thing to remember is that it's not the load you use for a given workout that matters, it's the load you finish with.
I'm going to outline the leg workouts here, but Day 2 and Day 4 are to be upper body days divided between an anterior plane (push day) on Day 2, and a posterior plane (pull day) on Day 4.
Day 1: Strength Density
- Warm up: Pyramid 3-5 sets
- Work sets: 10 sets of 10 reps
B. Power deadlifts
- Warm up: 2-3 sets
- Work sets: 5 x 8-10
Note: Use a lighter weight and focus on the speed of execution.
Comments: This workout requires the most mental maturity. Most people will want to measure their strength, but that isn't the purpose here. This day is all about creating strength density, or overall strength, for the duration of a workout and not just within a set.
While this workout looks easy on paper, ten sets of squats can take forty-five minutes to an hour by itself. Remember, this calls for full squats! If you're going to ego train with half or quarter squats, don't even bother.
Next, don't train to failure on Day 1. You need to pick a weight and stay with it. Use self-assessment and biofeedback to determine when you think you have two more reps in you and then rack the weight. The goal is to try to use the same weight for all ten sets, or at least close to it.
As you fatigue around the fifth set or so, you may require longer rest periods between sets. Use your oxygen debt and self-assessment to determine when you should proceed to the next set. If you find you have to lower the load by tremendous margins from sets five to ten, then your strength density is lacking, or you're not resting long enough between sets.
On all days we want to use force decrement analysis as a biofeedback tool to performance. Force decrement analysis is the point at which performance starts to decline and the current rep is performed slower than intended.
You should always try to be explosive with the reps. When you notice that the concentric (lifting phase) is starting to slow down, it's a sign of pending fatigue and shut down. When this happens, fully lock out the next rep, power breathe, and then resume. To power breathe, suck in as much air as possible, as fast as you can.
This means you should never choose a weight that you can just pop off with no effort or concentration. Pick a weight where you notice force decrement around seven or eight reps into the set. At that point, lock it out, breathe, and then get your ten reps. Force decrement analysis is key for this program.
Day 3: Extended Sets
A. Leg press
- Warm up: 3-4 sets
- Work sets: 2 x 50, 2 x 100
B. Leg extensions
- Warm up: 1 slow set
- Work sets: 2 x 50, 2 x 100
C. Duck walks – 1 x 50-100 feet
D. Push-ups between 3 stability balls – 2 x 10-15. Place each hand on a stability ball, with your feet on the third.
Comments: This day crushes people who are used to low reps, low volume training. But it also makes them see the bigger picture once it's performed over the span of a few weeks. Notice that this day completely changes the range and plane of motion from Day 1.
The angle of contraction is even more important than intensity in terms of neurological response and fatigue. This forces a completely different, but synergistic, effect to the previous workout.
Day 3 includes extended sets in order to complete the required reps. With extended sets, once again use the biofeedback of force decrement analysis. When you notice you need to pause, power breathe, and then continue reps until the next decrement, and repeat until you've met the required reps.
This workout allows you to go past relative failure but with lower loads in a more restricted plane of motion. This will help increase the overall density of strength response to the whole program.
For some, the 50 and 100 rep sets may not be possible the first couple of weeks. At this point in the break-in period, it would be fine to do 25 reps in place of the prescribed 50, and 50 instead of the 100.
Day 5: Bodyweight Circuits
Quad Blast Circuit
A1. Speed squats – 25 reps. As fast and deep as possible without bouncing.
A2. Alternating lunges – 24 reps total (12 reps each leg)
A3. Alternating split squat jumps – 24 reps total (12 reps each leg)
Note: Begin in a lunge position. Aim for as much air time as possible and switch legs while in midair. Focus on doing this as fast as possible, but be sure to stick the landing so as to not use momentum. Repeat for desired reps. See the Quad Blast video demonstration for additional instruction.
A4. Squat thrusts – 12 reps or maximum
Note: As powerful as possible. Come down to parallel and thrust with everything you've got. Go right back up with no pause, and repeat. Always aim for "soft" landings, but perform the squat thrusts for maximum air time. Check out the Quad Blast video for a visual aid.
Rest and Progression
- Weeks 1-2: No more than 30 seconds between movements; 3 minutes between circuits; 3 circuits total.
- Weeks 3-4: Try to cut rest down or out entirely between movements; 1-2 minutes between circuits; 4 circuits total.
- Week 5-6: No rest between exercises; 45-60 seconds between circuits; 5-6 total circuits.
- Clasp your hands behind your head for all above bodyweight movements.
Auxiliary Circuit 1
- One-leg anterior reach
- Stability ball leg curls
- Stability ball straight-leg lateral raises
- Stability ball reverse hyperextensions
- Stability ball hip bridges
- Perform 3-4 sets of 15-25 reps each
Note: Start with a slow execution for the first two weeks and then increase speed. Complete Auxiliary Circuit 1 for all sets, then move on to Auxiliary Circuit 2.
Auxiliary Circuit 2
- Vertical medicine ball choppers
- Stability ball skiers
- Stability ball push-ups – Place your hands on the ball, with your feet on the floor or a bench
- Stability ball hyperextensions
- Explosive push-ups for maximum reps
- Perform 3-4 sets of 15-25 reps each
Note: Once again, start with a slow execution for the first two weeks and then increase speed.
Rest and Progression
- You can rest 15-20 seconds between movements at first and one to three minutes between each round of circuits.
- Gradually decrease rest times over each week if possible.
Comments: This is the day that makes the program. Even though it's only bodyweight exercises, the Quad Blast does so much for all the other days. The Quad Blast focuses on power, acceleration, deceleration, stability, balance, and most importantly, absolute failure!
Relative failure is when you can no longer do another repetition. Absolute failure is when the muscles will no longer contract.
Of all the bodybuilders I've had do the Quad Blast, none have made it through two rounds the first time trying it. Their legs completely failed and they were humbled by something that looks so easy. I tweaked the execution a bit by keeping the hands behind the head at all times, and by shortening the range of motion (ROM) on the split jumps.
When you're first learning the Quad Blast, you can reduce the ROM (except for the speed squats and squat thrusts) and perform the movements at a slower speed. Once mastered, the speed of execution and full ROM are key to this day.
The Auxiliary Circuits on this day are added to enhance the conditioning effect and the strength density demands of the program. Everything is placed within the program because of context and not content.
This is one of the more demanding leg programs you'll ever do. It's not meant to be a long term application. Biofeedback will determine when this program has run its course, and that will vary for everyone.
Remember, there's a distinction between surviving a program and thriving on a program. The best program creates a delicate balance between the two: where surviving the workout mentally is necessary in order to increase workload capacity and ensure an adaptive response in both the short and long term.
There are no benefits to "secret" or "special" exercises. Expertise is about proper application and a program should always be based on your current needs. For those of you who keep trying "this and that" every few weeks... how's that workin' for ya?
Give this program a try if your legs need a shot of intensity!