Training legs is like going to the dentist - everyone knows they should but yet some people avoid it nonetheless.
Why train legs if you’re just going to wear leggings under your shorts, right? #shotsfired
Truthfully, there are some slightly crazed individuals out there who actually enjoy training legs.
While I wouldn’t rank myself up there with those sadistic folks, I do enjoy squatting with a fairly high frequency.
Actually, I have a birthday tradition, which involves squatting my current bodyweight times my age for one set. I know a number of other individuals who utilize the same methodology when it comes to “celebrating” another year of life in the gym.
However, that might not be your cup of tea so I’ve devised a few other ideas, which you can incorporate the next time you train legs.
All Show and No Go?
As the saying goes, it’s all about business in the front and party in the back. However, when it comes to the lower body, it’s really more about show and go.
Arguably, the anterior chain (aka your “mirror muscles”) is usually typified as being all show and no go. Where as, the posterior chain is thought of as the primary driver of performance.
Related: Train Like An Athlete, Look Like A Bodybuilder
Realistically though, this is not the case given that the quads assist in both knee extension and hip flexion to drive the simplest element of human performance - sprinting.
Not to mention, if you look through Instagram long enough you’ll find plenty of belfies (that would be “butt selfies” for those of you who are unaware) from attention seeking lifters promoting the “go” components of their physique as all “show”.
But, regardless of whether you only care about the show or the go, I’ve got options for both.
Most "Starting Strength" diehards will tell you that the squat is the only thing needed for big legs - squat deep, crush GOMAD, and forget about the rest. From a functional movement and strength perspective, there’s no debating that the squat is needed.
However, from a hypertrophy and programming perspective, we’re still missing some important components given the bevy of research linking metabolic stress and muscular damage to maximal growth.1
Not to mention, the most recent M&S fitness survey noted that nearly 81% of readers trained in some sort of a bodybuilding format. So, needless to say, there’s a ton of folks reading these articles who care about more than just maximal strength and force output.
|A1. Terminal Knee Extension (TKE)||4||12 per leg|
|A2. Front Squat||4||6|
|A3. Banded Sissy Squat||4||12 (final set to failure)|
If you’re not familiar with TKEs, check out the video above, which should help to iron out any questions. The goal is to allow you to extend the joint at end range while focusing on a maximal voluntary contraction (MVC).
Not only that, adding some pre-activation for the quads prior to squatting can make a drastic difference when it comes to MMC (mind muscle connection) during the subsequent heavier movement.
Do I have any peer-reviewed evidence of this phenomenon? No, but honestly, it’s likely out there if you dig into the realms of neuroscience and biomechanics deep enough. Do I need it? No, just go try it and tell me if you notice a difference (hint: you will).
Why front squats instead of back squats? We’re here to crush your quads; front squats accomplish that by allowing you to stay more upright due to the change in bar position. Follow that with some sissy squats using a band and keep constant tension by avoiding a complete lockout at the top. Mission accomplished.
The best part about this superset is that you can accomplish all 3 parts in the same squat rack with just a band. No need to change locations or wait on equipment to come available in a busy gym.
|1. Pit Shark Belt Squat||5||8|
|A1. Reverse Sled Drag||3||30 steps/leg|
|A2. Paused Leg Extension||3||12|
If you don’t have access to a Pit Shark, just use a simple belt squat instead. Most gyms have a dip belt with various attachments that will allow you to hook on plates. Stand on a set of boxes or raised platforms and descend as would for a normal squat.
If you have a tough time balancing, set up in front of a squat rack and use one of the posts for guidance. Squat normally but keep both hands out in front of you in case you get off balance.
These variations are a bit more back friendly due to the lack of direct axial loading. Similarly, they also allow you to remain more upright as the weight is pulling straight down and located directly between your feet as opposed to on your back.
Make sure you go heavy enough on the reverse sled drags; you should really feel your quads engage with every step as you extend your knees to get the weight moving.
The leg extensions do not need to be heavy, on the contrary actually - place your hands on your quads, avoid complete lockout, and SQUEEZE hard for a 2 count at the top of the movement. There’s no way around it, these will be brutal after all of the other direct quad work.
Go For it!
Before we delve into the next two options, it’s important that we discuss some functional anatomy so that you can fully understand the methodology. Your hamstrings are known as a biarticular muscle group, meaning they cross two joints (the hip and the knee).
As such, they assist with opposing movements at two separate joints - hip extension and knee flexion. Each superset is designed to place the hamstrings under load in a lengthened position followed by an additional movement, which emphasizes hip extension with a static knee position.
|A1. GHR (3 Sec Eccentric)||4||6|
|A2. Banded Glute-centric Hyperextension||4||15-17|
Utilizing a slower eccentric with glute ham raises typically allows one to maintain a better position throughout the course of movement while placing additional mechanical stress (via time under tension) upon the hamstrings.
Be careful with hyperextensions, you want all of the movement primarily taking place at the hip, not the lower back. Most folks simply crank themselves into overextension with these.
Place the band behind your head and keep your upper back slightly rounded to ensure you move through the hips and not the lumbar spine. Squeeze hard at the top and get a good hamstring stretch at the bottom.
|A1. Dumbbell RDL||4||10|
|A2. Barbell Hip Thrust||4||12|
Use straps for the dumbbell RDLs, your grip should not be a limiting factor when you’re trying to target your hamstrings. Why dumbbells? Many find that it’s markedly more comfortable to keep the dumbbells in a slightly diagonal position rather than completely neutral or fully pronated. If you can’t visualize it, this should help:
For hip thrusts, stay lighter and keep the reps higher. We’re here to build muscle, not give you an excuse to post your 1-RM on YouTube. If you find your lower back gets aggravated after a few sets, switch to barbell glute bridges, as they are a bit more lumbar friendly.
Size Up and Show Out
How do you incorporate these within a training session? Choose one option from the list above and supplement 1-2 additional lower body exercises depending upon the emphasis of the super/tri-set.
Related: The Perfect Superset - A Simple & Effective Template
For example, if you chose one of the “go” options (i.e. more posterior chain dominant) then you might want to sprinkle in some single leg work coupled with some direct arm and core work. If you went with one of the “show” options, you could toss in an additional exercise for the posterior chain and call it a day given the higher volume in the available tri-sets.
Think of these tri and supersets as merely rough skeletons, a part of the whole but not the entire picture. The difference between good and great programming is how you fill in the gaps based upon your needs.
One final caveat - if you’re new to training, you must be careful about adding intensity techniques too early as they can incur a large deficit in both neurological and physiological fatigue. However, if you’ve been training for a number of years then incorporating some of these into a mesocycle every 3-4 months might be beneficial but be wise and use them sparingly.
Also, I almost forgot to mention, I did a little Googling on your behalf - the average wheelchair only costs $150-$250 bucks, that’s totally feasible and I’m sure it’ll fit in your trunk. Just looking out for you after reading this article…