Despite the myriads of articles and books written on the topic of training legs, a well developed pair of wheels is still a very rare sight in most gyms on North America. Why is that?
I can think of several reasons, one of them being general unwillingness to work and the lack of instant gratification that stems from leg workouts.
But fear not, I will try not to engage into another "you are pathetic if you don't squat" debate but instead offer some (hopefully) new insights on training the lower body.
First things first. You must train your legs. By that I mean you need to dedicate one or better two days a week to develop your legs for several reasons.
- Aesthetics. Don't be a flamingo. Enough said.
- It will make you better at training your upper body. Think overhead military press or bent over rows.
- The legs are almost 50 % of your muscle mass, so if your goal is to get leaner you do not stand a chance in hell neglecting them.
So how should you go about training them? Conventional wisdom has it that barbell squats rule supreme and there is a certain truth to that. Barbell squats have built thousands of great physiques, but there is more to training legs than shut up and squat. (Even though this does go a long way!)
Barbell squats work extremely well for the majority of people as long as you have proper form and do not make them into a really heavy good morning. I have short legs and a low center of gravity, so squats have always worked really well for me. Too well, in fact, when it got to the point that I could not find pants anymore.
However, for certain athletes the barbell squat might not be perfect. For instance, if you are very tall or have long legs you will have a harder time controlling the knees from experiencing shearing forces.
In addition, this person will spend more energy on balancing then on contracting muscles. (There is a reason most top powerlifters are rather short) Here, dumbbell or trap bar squats might be more beneficial.
Now that I killed the holy cow that is the barbell squat, let's look at some things that might help you with your leg training.
6 Squatless Leg Training Tips
1. Do single leg work.
This is one of the things I wished I had known 20 years ago. Single leg training is an excellent way to fix structural issues such as balance, flexibility or finding out which leg is stronger.
When training with machines or a barbell the dominant leg can easily provide up to 70% of the overall force, so the weaker leg will always be exactly that: weaker. Single leg dumbbell squats, step ups, Siff lunges are all great tools to have.
2. Train legs twice a week.
This makes sense for several reasons. First off, the legs can handle and need a very amount of volume/stimulation to grow so it is tough to cram it all into one session. They also recover rather fast, so if you spread the workouts in a Monday Thursday fashion you should be fine.
How should you split it? There are different ways to do it, most popular seems to be the hamstring vs quad workout. I am not so convinced that this is the best course of action for the simple reason that most trainees are not advanced enough to warrant an extra hamstring day. I would rather opt for a dumbbell/barbell vs machines day or power vs high rep split.
3.Goblet squats are awesome.
Even though you can not squat as much weight as you could in a traditional barbell squat, the goblet squat still provides a lot of advantages. It will teach you to squat with proper form since you have to sit back. It works the so-called core to its fullest extent and you even get an arm/shoulder workout.
4. Revive the Zercher squat.
Zercher squats have been all but forgotten but I shall make a point in bringing them back to life. Doing the zercher squat is an excellent whole body workout and one of the best glute/quad exercise I know of. Plus, it is a great way to make yourself the center of attraction in the gym.
5. Learn to feel the hamstrings.
Once again, Arnold was right. Tapping the muscle will increase your output dramatically. IF your training partner lightly taps your hamstrings when doing a leg curl, you are more likely to fire correctly.
I find it beneficial to play with different variations during the exercise such as relax the feet/flex the feet or drive the hips into the cushion vs lifting them upwards.
The same goes for stiff legged deadlifts. Placing a 5 lbs plate under your toes will change the exercise dramatically.
6. Stop skipping calves!
I can not tell how often I have heard the statement "I have high calves, nothing be done." Even if that was true, how many people have high biceps insertions and are still pounding away on their arm workouts?
Calves, on the other hand, are being tossed on the genetic garbage pile never to be trained again. The reason, in my opinion, is pure laziness. Calve training is very painful and demanding, but anyones calves can be improved.
From my experiencing the calves need volume, weight and integrity to grow and they need it multiple times a week. SO you can schedule one day where you work with a triple drop set, another day where you use 100s and a third day where you take a look at my piece on mechanical dropsets. I guarantee you that you will be on your way to diamond calves in no time!
Embrace training the legs
Tom Platz spoke about this in one of his seminars I attended. He discussed how he would get nervous before his leg workout. Training legs is very rewarding, yet a difficult undertaking and should be approached as such.
I personally find it helpful to have certain rituals in place before a leg workout. These could include having a certain pre-workout drink prepared for that day, making sure you are properly hydrated and nourished or wearing your Metallica shirt.
That sums up my take on training legs, speak soon!