Leg Training is for many people the most challenging body part to train. This is because the Legs are the largest muscle group and require the most amount of Intensity to grow and adapt. The high Intensity factor is largely due to the heavier weights needed for Leg Training and the added cardio vascular output it requires. It's for these reasons that when you commit to training your legs you want the very best results from your efforts. Knowing you're doing things correctly and soliciting growth will help you channel more desire towards your leg sessions. If you can except and implement the points below you will be on your way to building much bigger, more muscular Legs!
1. Accept That Leg Training Will Always Be Intense
This is easier said then done, but it is this fact that you must become intimate with over time. Most people 'skip Leg Day' for this one reason alone, not because of the time it takes to train legs (no more that 45mins anyway), not because they 'don't want big legs' (most Men looking to get in shape would choose big strong legs over skinny weak ones), BUT because it is simply too hard and uncomfortable to train them. The list of benefits from Leg Training is so long that if you truly knew how beneficial it was you would want to train them every single day! The main benefits are Central Nervous System related (not necessarily Hormonal) which WILL drive you forward in your upper body training as well; by raising nervous system tolerance to heavy loads and muscular tension throughout the entire body, as well as increased cardio vascular output.
2. Don't Always Go With Convention
Everyone always says 'Back Squats' are the best exercise for building Legs. Why don't you ask the question, "Why?". Not many people will be able to justify that claim. This is because it is simply an untrue statement. Back Squats can be excellent for some people to build muscle and excellent for some people to build strength and power, BUT they are not excellent for everyone. Most people have poor biomechanics for performing the squat in a way that isolates the Quad muscles, instead the movement is performed using primarily the Glutes (bum) and Lower Back muscles. Add in the free-weight factor and lots of Cardiac output and you are left with a very technically difficult exercise (working mainly the Glutes), which also requires a lot of balance and prior cardio vascular fitness to even perform well. Try using alternative machines like the Linear Leg Press and Hack Squat machines, where the movement is more controlled and isolation of the Quads can occur, resulting in more growth. This is a tip many people fail to employ, and thus vastly limit their leg gains.
3. Change Up Your Stance
Just like changing up your grip during upper body movements, you must also experiment with changing up your stance during Leg Training. In general a wider stance will emphasise the inner Quad muscle (Vastus Medialis) while a narrower stance will target the outer Quad (Vastus Lateralis), but individual experience may differ so it is important to experiment and vary how your muscles are receiving stimulation. This is great for improving strength as one stance can normally supplement another to help push through plateaus. Varying your stance in this way will solicit more changes and adaptations, just remember to go low and keep your knees pointing in the exact same direction as your toes no matter what.
4. Use Different Set Variations
The 'straight set' will be the set you perform most in all your workouts - but you must include some more variations to further increase Intensity. One excellent Set Protocol is called the 'Rest-Pause' Set. This is better suited to Leg Training rather than Drop Sets as slightly more recovery is needed for Legs compared with upper body muscles. During a 'Rest-Pause' the set is performed to failure, then a very short rest period of 10-15 seconds occurs before continuing a further few reps to failure again. This approach is both useful when training with a partner as well as when training alone. Pyramid Sets are also excellent for Leg Training. Click here for more Set Variations.
5. Stick With What Works.
You must experiment to see what exercises are best suited to your own anatomy and biomechanics, and this can take a while. If you are new to training then it will be a year or so before you have had a chance to find some real intensity on most Leg exercises. You must go with what feels the best when training and what solicits the best results in muscle size and shape. Never continue to perform an exercise you truly hate just because it's in your plan, you must only perform the exercises you love and feel the best contraction on, and then take them to the limit with Intensity. For example, you can just do 8-10 sets on Linear Leg press if it is the only exercise that is truly changing your body. No need to force yourself to leave an exercise just for the sake of tradition. Never be afraid to subtract exercises from your program.
Linear Leg Press: 4 Sets x 8-12 Reps - 'Rest-Pause' last two sets. Rest 90 secs.
Hack Squat: 4 Sets x 8-12 Reps - 'Rest-Pause' last two sets. Rest 90 secs.
Leg Extension: 4 Sets x 8-12 Reps - 'Drop-Set' (3 drops) last set. Rest 90 secs.
Hamstring Curl: 4 Sets x 10-15 Reps - 'Rest-Pause' last set. Rest 60 secs.
See here for full definitions of all Set Variations.
BONUS: Never Lock Out
Locking out is for powerlifters and olympic weight lifters. When the knee is locked there is every chance of your leg muscles disengaging and losing tension. Building muscle is about maintaining high tension for as long as possible, and intermittent rest periods for your leg muscles will compromise this principle. Locking out means you are essentially doing 'singles' with a kind of Rest-Pause element. This trains your muscle recruitment system rather than creating micro-tears in the muscle, which is the driving force behind its growth. The over-compensation phenomenon behind increasing muscle cell size via micro-tears is what bodybuilders rely on, and although some growth may occur from strength training, the most consistent way to solicit growth is via constant tension sets. It may mean lowering the weight substantially when first employing the non-locking rule, but you will have a much more effective workout!
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