Back when I was beginning my undergraduate work at Northwestern University, my then training partner, Tom Deters (who went on to become the Editor in Chief of Muscle and Fitness Magazine), and I would regularly challenge each other to ever more intense leg workouts. We would meet in the bowels of Patton Gym which had a Spartan weight room in its basement. This weight room was largely uninhabited during most hours of the day, especially before the lunch hour, which was the time during which Tom and I regularly trained.
We performed all of our leg exercises to the point of momentary failure (the point at which we could not perform another unassisted repetition). The highlight of our leg workout was the leg press exercise, which we did on an archaic leg press constructed of steel tubing and wood.
We would begin by loading the old leg press up with as much weight as we could handle for 8-10 repetitions. We never stopped when we said we would. We would egg each other on to push well beyond the point of failure by performing forced reps.
The workouts were brief and intense – usually lasting no longer than 30 minutes – but very effective. Our legs usually felt like rubber by the end of the session, which made the post-workout climb up the stairs from the basement to the main lobby of Patton gym very interesting some days.
I remember one particular leg training session in which Tom came off the leg press, ambled over to a bench, paused, and sat down with his head hung low and his arms resting on his knees, panting and attempting to catch his breath from the hell set that he had just performed.
I was psyching myself up for my turn, and casually glanced up at Tom just in time to see his eyes roll into the back of his head as he passed out and fell off the bench. Fortunately, he didn’t hurt himself and he came to immediately, but it was a scary moment.
By pushing ourselves mentally and punishing ourselves physically to the limits, we each managed to pack two inches on our upper thighs that school year.
Leg work of this kind is not for the weak of heart or the weak of mind. Certainly I am not recommending this type of intensity for all of the readers of my Lean Body Coaching Club weekly newsletter.
I merely point this particular example out to emphasize that maximum results from leg training can only be garnered through exceptional effort. Not everybody’s goal is to put two inches on their upper thigh measurement in one year or to squat 600 pounds.
How hard you push yourself is entirely up to you and depends on your goals. Regardless of your goals, you need a good solid leg program to follow, and I am going to get into my leg workout soon. But first, for those of you who are new to my weekly tips, welcome. Here’s the breakdown of my general program:
Workout Training Split
Workout frequency: 2 on, 1 off, 1 on, 1 off
This means I workout for two days followed by one day of rest. Then, I workout another day followed by another day off. Then I repeat this pattern.
I never train with weights more than two days in a row because I find that I build muscle faster if I have enough time to recuperate. (If you’re not making steady gains with your program, try adding a few extra rest days each week. You may actually build more muscle by training less!)
Here’s how my typical workout schedule looks:
Day #1: Chest/Shoulders/Triceps
Day #2: Back/Biceps/Abs
Day #3: Rest Day
Day #4: Quads/Hamstrings/Calves
Day #5: Rest Day
Now, you can certainly adapt this workout schedule to fit your specific needs. For example: If you want to take the weekend off from weight training (and many people do) then try 2 on, 1 off, 2 on, 2 off.
This way you’ll have Wednesday along with Saturday and Sunday off each week. (The extra day of rest may be good for you!)
How to Make Your Workout More Effective
Moving along, here are 8 things which you must do to make your workouts as effective as possible:
1. Use a training log.
2. Use as much weight as possible for the number of prescribed reps.
3. Take each set to the point of muscular failure–the point at which you cannot perform another repetition.
4. Strive to increase your training poundage each week.
5. The length of your workout should not exceed 60 minutes (including initial warm-up.)
6. Use strict form on all exercises.
7. Minimize stress and rest completely on days off. Try to get 8 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
8. Follow a proper nutrition and supplementation program. Check out the diet programs page below:
Got it? Good. Onward and upward!
1. Use a 3-1-2 tempo (three seconds to lower the weight to starting position, one second pause at bottom of movement, and two seconds to raise the weight). This is important!
2. Take two-minutes of rest between sets.
3. If you’re going to complete failure, you will need to drop the weight by 10% after each set in order to get all the reps.
4. If you’re a beginner, drop one set from each exercise and concentrate on form instead of going for the heavy poundage. (You’ll thank me later!)
5. As you perform each exercise, stop just short of locking out so that you keep constant tension of the leg muscles.
Now that we have covered these important points I will disclose my leg workout in the video below. I also wrote down the routine right under the video so that you can print it out and take it to the gym.
Exercise #1: Leg Extensions
I’ve found that starting my leg routine with an isolation exercise really helps me warm up while stimulating the muscle. A strict movement like leg extensions also forces the quadriceps to work with little assistance from any other muscle group.
After warming up, perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions. On the last set, drop the weight by two pins then perform as many reps as possible.
TIP: Point your toes outward to work more of the medial part of the upper leg (the tear drop shaped muscle located above the knee and to the inside).
AVOID: Cheating or swinging throughout the movement or not working throughout the entire range of motion (especially the lower half).
Exercise #2: The Squat.
The squat is really the best exercise to develop impressive power and muscle size in the lower body.
Perform 3 sets of 10, 8, and 6 repetitions respectively. After reaching failure on the last set, have your spotter decrease the weight my half and do as many reps as possible. (I can practically feel the burn just writing about it!)
TIPS: With a slightly wider than shoulder-width stance; toes pointed slightly outward; keep your shoulders back, eyes looking slightly upward, and sit-back into the movement as if you were going to sit in a chair to keep your knees from coming out too far over your toes.
AVOID: Rounding your back during the movement or holding your breath.
Exercise #3: Leg Press
Perform 3 sets of 10, 8, and 6 repetitions, respectively. After reaching failure on the last set, have your spotter decrease the weight by half and do as many reps as possible.
TIPS: Keep your feet at shoulder-width with toes pointed slightly outward; push with your heels-instead of your toes–while pressing the weight.
AVOID: Rocking excessively or bringing the weight back too far in the movement–don’t let your lower back come off the support pad as your knees move towards your chest.
Exercise #4: Leg Curls
Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions. On the last set, drop the weight by two pins then perform as many reps as possible.
TIPS: Try altering your toe position slightly during this exercise to focus on the inside or outside of the hamstring. Try alternating leg curls with straight-legged dumbbell dead lifts, every other week for variety.
AVOID: Rocking or letting the front of your hips arch excessively during this movement. It’s easy to do.
So there it is-your blue print for thick and powerful legs!
Until next time, I am
Your Lean Body Coach™
About the Author
One of the world’s most well-known and celebrated bodybuilding legends, Lee Labrada holds 22 professional bodybuilding titles, including the IFBB Mr. Universe. He is one of few pro bodybuilders in history to consistently place in the top four at the Mr. Olympia competition (the “Super Bowl” of bodybuilding) for seven consecutive years—a feat he shares with Arnold Schwarzenegger. He has appeared on the covers of more than 100 bodybuilding and fitness magazines and has been featured on CNBC, FOX, NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN and ESPN as a fitness and nutrition expert. Lee was also inducted into the Bodybuilding Hall of Fame, is an Internationally known best selling fitness authos and holds a Bachelors of Science Degree in Civil Engineering. For more about Lee please visit his page here: Lee Labrada’s page.