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Killer Leg Workout - A Leg to Stand On
By Wesley James
Perhaps the least trained body part on the typical male bodybuilder are his legs. One can only speculate on why this is so. One guess is that the legs are less often visible then most other body parts. The outline of the thighs sort of show through a man's pant leg but weak legs can easily be hidden by loose pants. (So, that's why Baggies are so popular.) Interestingly, by way of confirmation, female bodybuilders are much less likely to ignore their legs. After all, a woman's legs are more often on display. I may be biased, or just heterosexual, but I find a shapely, muscular set of legs among the most appealing features on a female bodybuilder. Since women don't seem to need as much persuading, the first part of this article will be directed to the men. The training advice in the second section of the article is relevant to both genders.
Why Train legs?
If you can't see'em and they get used all the time anyway, why train your legs? "Leg training is painful." "The thighs burn almost as soon as you start to work them." Besides, you may tell yourself, "I'm never going to compete." "My legs shake for hours after I train them." "I feel weaker after I train my legs." "I get nauseous when I train legs." The excuses are many and varied, indeed endless. They are all cop outs. Following these lines of reasoning you would never train at all. Proceeding from the belief that the best way to motivate change is knowledge, let's see if you can be persuaded that it's time to get off your glutes to train your legs.
The largest muscles in the human body are the muscles of the upper leg. They also do more to set the tone for the entire body than any others. This can be illustrated in several ways, the most visually apparent being the relationship between the chest and the legs. (We'll examine this further in a moment.) For the man of forethought, however, there is a more compelling reason. Watch an old person shuffle along the street, barely able to lift his feet, and you'll understand the ultimate reason for training legs. Still, I know this argument means nothing to most younger guys, so consider this. Roughly 25% of the growth of all muscle is regulated by growth stimulus generated by leg training. In other words, one can say, your development is reduced 25% if you don't train your legs regularly and properly.
Perhaps even this 25% figure doesn't convey how crucial leg training can be. Consider this. You may see a rare individual with a large chest and poor legs but you will not see a person with good legs and a small rib box. It may not be physically impossible but it never seems to happen. Furthermore, since an ample rib box is essential to an impressive chest, back and shoulders, the legs are key. Simply stated, great legs are both literally and figuratively the foundation of a great body. Here's why.
Before the long bones of the body finish growing, it is relatively easy to increase the size of the rib cage. The age varies from individual to individual but long bone growth is usually complete by twenty-five. Once long bone growth stops, increasing the size of the rib box is much more difficult. Therefore, for guys under twenty-five, those least likely to train legs, it is of paramount importance that a regular program of leg training be included in their regular training schedule. For guys in the post long-bone-growth period, the further from that period you get without regular leg training, the tougher it becomes to increase the size of your chest cavity. Eventually, it becomes, for all intents and purposes, impossible. I'm quite aware that the trend has shifted from the development of a large rib box to the development of thick pectorals. Still, the combination of both is, was and always will be the way to create an aesthetically pleasing, visually impressive chest and, as a result, shoulders and back. It is no accident that men like John Grimek, Steve Reeves, Reg Park, Bill Pearl and Arnold, who all developed large rib cages, had the most impressive bodies of their time. In sum, the anthropometric correlation between well-developed legs and a well-developed rib box is absolute. You can have it all if you work your legs. That's the good news.
Since Muscle Maker is concerned with truth, I have to admit there is some bad news. The legs demand greater energy expenditure to properly train than any other body part. Proper training is also aerobically demanding. (This is another probable reason for its lack of popularity.) Leg training also burdens our recuperative capacity. This is why it should only be performed once per week. The bad news doesn't end there. For those interested in a symmetrical body, over developed legs can throw your look out of balance more than any other area. Competitive body builders must deal with today's unfortunate trend toward overly massive frontal thighs. You'll have to make the call. If your goal is to have legs like Tom Platz, read somebody else's article. Mr. Platz may be a very nice man; I don't know him. I am, however, opposed to the level of disproportion he displayed in his legs. As impressive as the fact of his development, I believe they cost him what might have been a far more successful career. Moreover, watching him walk cannot be a pretty sight. Improperly developed thighs and/or loss of flexibility-- attributable to insufficient stretching during training-- can lead to a walk that resembles a penguin. This strange walk is part of what is often called "muscle bound".
Now I've asserted that those who rationalize their failure to train legs, haven't got a leg to stand on (I couldn't resist), and with all the issues set forth, I can offer my solution. As I do so, I'll provide the justification behind some statements I've made in my effort to persuade. If I've failed to convince you that you should train your legs more often, I apologize. My failure will cost you dearly. For those that are persuaded, read on. I'm about to give you a routine that will produce better results then you may have dreamed possible. This article will teach you how to develop impressive but reasonable sized thighs. Equally important, your thighs will show balanced front and rear development and good balance between the frontal masses. Finally, training as I'll outline will retain or improve both your linear and radial flexibility. These accomplishments will serve you well through your entire life.
How to Build the Legs You've Always Wanted, but Didn't Lift a Finger to Get.
As usual we need to understand the anatomy of the upper leg to understand how best to train them correctly.
There are a considerable number of muscles that make up the mass of the thighs. These muscles are nearly braided with each other in some areas and become fully joined to each other in other areas. In many instances, these muscles have almost identical functions. In other instances, their distinct functions are clear. For our purposes, since we want to develop them, we will look at them as functional groups. The muscles of the front of the thighs are generally the Extensor group. The back of the thighs contain the Contractor or Flexor group. The inner thighs are the site of the Adductor group. Most of the Abductor group are located in the posterior region (your butt) but some of the Extensors serve double duty. As it happens, nature is not always cooperative in efforts to classify muscles. There is a good deal of overlap between the groups and interaction among the muscles produce rotation as well as their primary function. Nevertheless, we will look at the muscles of each group indicating their positions, origins and insertions. I'll close each section by indicating the functions of the major muscles of the group. Take your time reading this, it is technical stuff but it should clarify some of the critical elements of performance for the exercises that follow.
The Tensor Fasciae Femoris - The uppermost of the thigh muscles, finds its origin on the front part of the groin and the outer surface of the notch below it, between the Gluteus Medius and Sartorius. It inserts between two layers of the fascia lata about a quarter of the way down the outer side of the thigh. From this point of insertion, the fascia continues downward to the tibia in the lower leg as a thickened band called the ilio-tibial band.
The Sartorius - the longest muscle in the body, is flat, narrow and ribbon like as it arises as tendinous fibers from the front (anterior) upper (superior) spinous process of the ilium (the uppermost bone of the pelvis) and the upper half of the notch below it. It then passes obliquely across the upper front of the thigh from the outside to the inside. From there it descends vertically to the inner side of the knee, passing behind the inner condyle (one of the knuckle like knobs on the end of a bone) of the femur. It ends in a tendon which curves obliquely forward and expands into a broad aponeurosis (a flat, thin tendon-like band of tissue). This inserts into the upper part of the inner surface of the tibia.
The Quadriceps Extensor (in gym parlance, Quads) are the remaining muscles on the front of the thigh. They are the extensor muscles of the leg and form the large mass which covers the front and sides of the femur (thigh bone). While they all unite into a single tendon, attached to the patella (knee cap), they subdivide into separate portions which have distinct names and slightly different functions. Of these sub-muscles, one occupies the middle of the thigh. It is connected above to the ilium and is called the Rectus Femoris. Another division lies in immediate connection with the shaft of the femur, which it covers, running from the trochanter (prominence in the upper femur) to the lower condyles. The second member of the group is on the outer side of the femur. It is termed the Vastus Externus. The remaining members were once thought to be a single muscle. One covers the inner side of the femur, the Vastus Internus, the other covers the front of the femur, the Crureus.
The Rectus Femoris is situated in the middle of the frontal thigh. It is fusiform in shape (tapering at both ends) and its superficial fibers are arranged in a bipenniform manner with its deep fibers running straight down to an aponeurosis. In adults, it arises by two tendons: one, the anterior or straight, comes from the anterior inferior spinous process of the ilium; the other, the posterior or reflected tendon, comes from a groove above the rim of the acetabulum (the cup in which the thigh bone swivels). The two unite at an acute angle and spread into an aponeurosis. This band then runs downward on the front surface of the muscle. From this band the fibers arise. The muscle terminates in a broad and thick aponeurosis, which occupies the lower two thirds of the back surface and gradually narrows into a flattened tendon. Both finally insert into the patella along with the Vasti and Crureus.
The Vastus Externus is the largest part of the Quadriceps Extensor. It arises by a broad aponeurosis attached to the upper half of the anterior intertrochanteric line. It also attaches to the anterior and inferior borders of the root of the trochanter and the outer lip of the gluteal ridge. The upper half of the outer lip of the linea aspera is also an attachment site. The aponeurosis covers the upper three-quarters of the muscle. From the inner surface many fibers take origin. A few additional fibers also arise from the tendon of the Gluteus Maximus and from the external intermuscular septum (dividing wall) between the Vastus Externus and the short head of the Femoral Bicep. Together the fibers form a large fleshy mass which is attached to a strong aponeurosis under the surface of the muscle at its lowest part. These fibers become contracted and thicken into a flat tendon. The tendon inserts into the outer border of the patella, blending with the great extensor tendon and forming an expansion to the capsule of the knee joint.
The Vastus Internus and Crureus initially appear to be inseparably united but if the Rectus Femoris were bent backward (as can occur during dissection) a narrow space would extend upward from the inner border of the patella between the two muscles. They could then be seen to be separate. The separation extends up as far as the lower part of the anterior intertrochanteric line.
The Vastus Internus, as I said, begins at the lower half of the anterior intertrochanteric line and extends upward to the inner lip of the linea aspera, the upper part of the internal supra-condylar line and the tendon of the Adductor Magnus and internal intermuscular septum. Its fibers are directed downward and forward and are chiefly attached to an aponeurosis which lies on the deep surface of the muscle and insert into the inner border of the patella and the Quadriceps Extensor tendon, an expansion being sent to the capsule of the knee joint.
The Crureus, however, arises from the front outer area of the shaft of the femur in its upper two-thirds and from the lower part of the external intermuscular septum. Its fibers end in a superficial aponeurosis which forms the deep part of the Quadriceps Extensor tendon.
The Subcrureus is a small muscle, usually distinct from the Crureus but occasionally blended with it. It arises from the anterior surface of the lower part of the shaft of the femur and is inserted into the upper part of the cul-de-sac of the capsular ligament which projects upward beneath the quadricep for a variable distance. It sometimes consists of several separate muscular bundles.
The Tensor Fasciae Femoris is a tensor of the fascia lata, continuing its action. The oblique orientation of its fibers enable it to abduct and rotate the thigh inward. Apart from the muscles of the gluteal region it is the primary abductor, assisted by the Vastus Externus. In an erect posture, acting from below, it steadies the pelvis on the head of the femur and, by means of the ilio-tibial band it steadies the condyles of the femur on the articular surfaces of the tibia. It also assists the Gluteus Maximus in supporting the knee in the extended position. The Sartorius flexes the leg at the thigh, and the thigh at the pelvis. It also rotates the thigh outward. It was once thought to adduct the thigh, so as to cross one leg over the other but it does not. Its name "Sartorius," or tailor's muscle (sartor, a tailor) came about because it was thought to assist in crossing the leg's in a seated position. When the knee is bent, the Sartorius assists the Semitendinosis, Semembranosis and the Popliteus in rotating the tibia inward. When the leg is fixed, it flexes the pelvis at the thigh and assists in rotating the pelvis. The Quadriceps Extensor simply extend the leg upon the thigh. The Rectus Femoris assists the Psoas and Iliacus in supporting the pelvis, or if the thigh is fixed, will flex the pelvis. The Vastus Internus draws the patella inwards as well as upwards. The Vastus Externus, in addition to its extensor function, is also a rotator and abductor.
The Gracilis is the most superficial muscle on the inner side of the thigh. It is thin and flattened, broad above, narrow and tapering below. It arises by a thin aponeurosis from the lower half of the margin of the symphysis (an articulation lacking a synovial membrane, in this case the hip) and the front half of the pubic arch. Its fibers pass vertically downward and terminate in a rounded tendon which passes behind the internal condyle of the femur. It curves around the inner tuberosity of the tibia, becomes flattened, and is inserted into the upper part of the inner surface of the tibia below the tuberosity. A few of the fibers of the lower part of the tendon extend into the deep fascia of the leg. The tendon of the muscle is situated immediately above that of the Semitendinosus, and its upper edge is overlapped by the tendon of the Sartorius with which it is in part blended. As it passes across the internal lateral ligament of the knee joint, it is separated from it by tendinous muscle.
The Pectineus is a flat, quadrangular muscle, situated at the front part of the upper, inner thigh. It arises from the linea ilio-pectinea and, to a slight extent, from the surface of the bone in front of it, between the pectineal eminence and the spine of the os pubis, also from the fascia covering the front surface of the muscle. The fibers pass downward, backward and outward and insert in a rough line leading from the lesser trochanter to the linea aspera.
The Adductor Longus is the most superficial of the three Adductors. It is a flat, triangular muscle lying on the same plane as the Pectineus. Its origin is a flat, narrow tendon running from the front of the os pubis at the angle of junction of the crest with the symphysis. It widens into a broad, fleshy belly which passing downward, backward and outward and inserts by an aponeurosis into the linea aspera, between the Vastus Internus and the Adductor Magnus with which it is usually blended.
The Adductor Brevis is situated directly behind the two preceding muscles. It is roughly triangular in form and arises by a narrow origin from the outer surface of the descending projection of the os pubis, between the Gracilis and Obturator Externus. Its fibers pass backward, outward and downward to insert, by an aponeurosis, into the lower part of the line leading from the lesser trochanter to the linea aspera and the upper part of the same line, immediately behind the Pectineus and the upper part of the Adductor Longus.
The Adductor Magnus is a large triangular muscle forming a septum between the muscles of the inner thigh and those on the back of the thigh. It arises from a small part of the descending ramus of the os pubis, from the ramus of the ischium, and from the outer edge of the inferior part of the ischium. Those fibers which arise from the os pubis are very short, horizontal in orientation and are inserted into the rough line leading from the larger trochanter to the center line, internal to the Gluteus Maximus. Those from the projection of the ischium are directed downward and outward with different degrees of obliquity, inserting by means of a broad aponeurosis into the linea aspera and the prolongation below. The internal portion of the muscle, consisting principally of those fibers which arise from the ischium, form a thick fleshy mass of coarse bundles which descend almost vertically. They terminate in the lower third of the thigh in a rounded tendon which is inserted into the adductor tubercule on the inner condyle of the femur. There they connect by a fibrous expansion to the line leading upward from the tubercule to the center line. Between the two portions a space is left which is tendinous in front but fleshy behind. This space allows for the passage of the femoral vessels into the popliteal space. The external portion, at its attachment to the inner femur, usually reveals three osseo-aponeurotic openings, formed by tendinous arches attached to the bone from which the fibers arise. The three superior of these apertures are for the three major arteries.
The Pectineus and the three adductors adduct the thigh powerfully. They are especially useful when riding a horse. The flanks of the horse are grasped between the knees by the action of these muscles. In consequence of the obliquity of their insertion into the linea aspera, they rotate the thigh outward, assisting the external rotators and when the limb has been abducted, they draw it inwards, carrying the thighs across that of the opposite side. The Pectineus, Adductor Brevis and Adductor Longus also assist the Psoas and Iliacus in flexing the leg and rotating it inwards. If the lower extremities are fixed, these muscles may take their fixed point from below and set upon the pelvis, serving to maintain the body in an erect, balanced posture. If their action is continued forward, they act as assisting antagonists to the contractor muscles.
The Biceps Flexor Cruris is a large muscle of considerable length, situated on the posterior outer part of the thigh. It arises by two heads (hence its name). One, the long head, arises from the lower and inner impression on the back part of the ischium by a tendon common to it and the Semitendinosis, and from the lower part of the great sacro-sciatic ligament. The femoral, or short head, arises from the outer lip of the linea aspera, between the Adductor Magnus and Vastus Externus, extending up almost as high as the insertion of the Gluteus Maximus; from the outer prolongation of the linea aspera within two inches of the outer condyle and also from the external intermuscular septum. The fibers of the long head form a fusiform belly, which, passing obliquely downward and a little outward, terminate in an aponeurosis covering the posterior surface of the muscle. This aponeurosis also receives the fibers of the short head. The aponeurosis becomes gradually contracted into a tendon which is inserted into the outer of the head of the fibula and by a small slip into the lateral surface of the external tuberosity of the tibia. At its insertion the tendon divides into two portions which embrace the long external lateral ligament of the knee joint. From the posterior border of the tendon a thin expansion is given off to the fascia of the leg. The tendon of this muscle forms the out hamstring.
The Semitendinosis (commonly known as the Hamstring) is remarkable for the length of its tendon. It is situated at the posterior, inner aspect of the thigh. It arises from the lower and inner impression on the tuberosity of the ischium by a tendon common to it and the long head of the Biceps. It also arises from an aponeurosis which connects the adjacent surfaces of the two muscles for about three inches after their origin. It forms a fusiform muscle which passes downward and inward terminating a little below the middle of the thigh in a long round tendon which lies along the inner side of the popliteal space. It then curves around the inner tuberosity of the tibia and is inserted into the upper part of the inner surface of the shaft of the bone, nearly as far forward as the anterior border. At the insertion it gives off from its lower border a prolongation to the deep fascia of the leg. This tendon lies behind the tendon of the Sartorius and below that of the Gracilis, to which it is united. A tendinous intersection is usually observed about the middle of the muscle.
The Semimembranosis - is so called because of its membranous tendon of origin. It is situated at the back part of the inner side of the thigh. It arises by a thick tendon from the upper and outer impression on the back part of the tuberosity of the tibia, beneath the internal lateral ligament. The tendon of the muscle at its origin expands into an aponeurosis which cover the upper part of its anterior surface. From this aponeurosis, muscular fibers arise and converge to another aponeurosis which covers the lower part of the posterior surface and contract into the tendon of insertion. The tendon of the muscle at this insertion gives off certain fibrous expansions. One of these, of considerable size, passes upward and outward to be inserted into the back part of the outer condyle of the femur, forming part of the posterior ligament of the knee joint. The second expansion is continued downward to the fascia which covers the Popliteus muscle, while a few fibers join the internal lateral ligament of the joint. The tendons of the two preceding muscles, along with that of the Gracilis, form the inner hamstring.
The Hamstring muscles flex the leg upon the thigh. When the knee is semi-flexed, as a consequence of its oblique direction downward and outward they can rotate the leg slightly outward. The Semitendinosis and to a slight extent the Semimembranosis, rotate the leg inward, assisting the Popliteus. Taking their fixed point from below, these muscles serve to support the pelvis upon the head of the femur and to draw the trunk directly backward as in raising it from the stooping position or in feats of strength when the body is thrown backward in the form of an arch. When the leg is extended at the thigh, they limit the amount of flexion of the trunk on the lower limbs. While these muscles have tremendous elastic potential, the greater mass and strength of the extensor muscles can lead to tearing of the attaching tendons. Because these muscles and tendons are so prone to tearing, they should never be stretched under load.
Back to the Gym
I opened this article stating that the single largest group of muscles in the body are those of the legs. Including the Glutes as part of the group, the leg muscles comprise more than half the muscle mass of the body. When training one body part activates half the muscle mass of the body, the body gets the message that it is being worked. The metabolites of exercise, produced by all the activated muscles, can impel a huge growth hormone (GH) spurt in those young enough to be capable of exercise induced GH release. (This ability falls off at about 50% per decade beyond age thirty-five.) Gym folklore holds that the reason lifters get nauseous from heavy squats is the huge GH release they trigger. I've always questioned the truth of this contention since runners often experience the same type of nausea and aerobic training doesn't trigger GH to nearly the same degree. What is more likely is that the nausea is triggered by the rise in blood acidity resulting from the production of lactic acid. This acid rise is part of the trigger mechanism for growth. The demand-for-growth signal generated by exercise by-products is essential to the growth of not only those muscles that are specifically worked but smaller muscles that produce less by-product and, therefore, a less compelling signal. Stated more simply, leg training tells your body you mean business. If you've become stagnant in your training, as we all can from time to time, leg training will almost surely break your slump. Incorporating leg work in your workouts regularly will go a long way toward preventing these stagnant periods. Finally, to address some of the many lame excuses for not training legs, I can teach you how to reduce, if not eliminate, the nausea so common to heavy leg training. The burn is a good thing but it can be managed and a snug pair of jeans will show off your leg development very nicely. Lastly, as a bonus, the extra power a good set of legs puts in your stride conveys a strength that can go a long way toward communicating purpose and determination. This can lead to greater success in whatever career you pursue. Besides, it takes good legs to carry all the mass you're building in your upper body.
In years past, the only exercise that serious muscle builders used was the squat. Unfortunately, not everyone can perform squats without hurting their knees, back, ankles or arches. Articles have been written that argue that it's all a matter of proper execution. According to these authors, anyone can squat. I'm sorry to say, I'm not persuaded. Not everyone can squat safely. Nevertheless, everyone can work their legs effectively. Those who can't squat can use the Leg Press or the Lunge. Each of these movements can be used as mass builders. I'll use the Leg Press in this article but most of my observations apply to Squats and Lunges as well. Leg Extensions are effective for shaping. The back side of the upper leg will respond very nicely to Dead Lifts for mass and Leg Curls for shape. It isn't my intention to discuss calves in this article. I provided a feature article in Issue 3 that covers that subject in detail. Together they are all the routine you'll need to develop legs you can be proud to have carry you.
The legs need heavy stimulation to respond. This is probably because they receive a good deal of work just carrying you around every day. You have to work them very intensely or you'll improve your definition without increasing mass. Intensely means, all the work you can get them to perform in as short a period as possible. Here we go.
You should work your Leg Biceps (commonly, but somewhat incorrectly, known as the Ham Strings) first. It is almost impossible to bring these muscles to failure with Dead Lifts because other muscles will give out before the legs. Fortunately, this limitation can be offset with Leg Curls. Leg Curls are primarily a shaping movement but they can be made to recruit enough fibers to offer some mass stimulation. Here's how you do it. Set up a pair of dumb bells with enough weight to provide a taxing load. If you haven't worked them before, 80 lb. bells should be enough. If you're accustomed to Bent-legged Dead Lifts, you'll already have a pretty good idea of how much weight you can handle for a minimum of 8 and a maximum of 12 reps.
Before you begin your Dead Lifts you should do two things. First, stretch the back of your legs. You don't need to do anything fancy. With your feet pointing straight forward, slowly bend forward and touch your toes or come as close as possible. Hold the stretch for thirty seconds. Don't hold your breath, exhale fully. Do Not Bounce! If touching your toes is easy, you have good flexibility. You may wish to continue your forward bend to place your palms on the floor. This is fine but you should not stretch beyond that even if you are able. Such stretching may defeat the myotatic response during the set to follow.
After you're well stretched, you'll perform one set of Leg Curls to momentary failure. Most gyms have Prone Leg Curl machines which you use laying on the front of your body. This is not the best way to do Leg Curls for maximum mass stimulation. If your gym has a Standing Leg Curl machine, use it. If they have Iron Boots, use them in a standing position. It is, however, better to use a Prone Leg Curl machine than to skip the exercise. Home gym trainees should acquire and use Iron Boots. Regardless of what you use, the movement should be smooth, even and full range. The last couple of inches of Leg Curl range can be tough but should be accomplished with muscle not momentum. You want to execute 8-12 strict reps. Immediately after you've completed this set of Leg Curls, with no rest, begin your set of Dead Lifts. You should be set-up for them before you begin the Leg Curls. Your knees should not be locked, neither should they be heavily bent. You should keep your feet pointed straight forward. Don't turn them in and definitely don't turn them out. You'll want to get as full a stretch at the bottom of the movement as possible but within reason. Knuckles to toes is quite sufficient. The safest way to increase the distance you can stretch is to perform them on an aerobics step. On a dollars per performance basis, I like the Bodyshaping Step but most any quality Step will do. Be warned, however, some Steps are not intended to support heavy poundage. For years Dead Lifts were performed off the end of a flat bench. This is dangerous. Using a chair is even more dangerous and neither a bench nor a chair should ever be used without a good spotter. Whatever you use, perform your reps slowly and practice keeping your mind in the muscles. Remember, you want to use enough weight to allow you no less than eight, no more than twelve reps. You should not stand up completely nor should you round your back. Once you move past a certain point, the stress shifts from the legs to the glutes, then the quadratus lumborum and finally the spinal erector muscles. You want to take the movement to the point where you feel it in your glutes but not so far that you feel it in your back. As I mentioned earlier, I like to do the movement with Dumb Bells. Depending on the equipment you have available this may not be possible. Doing the exercise with a bar is fine but you may need a higher Step to permit full stretch. It is best not to employ the alternating grip commonly used by Power Lifters. Those with a weak grip can use straps or hooks. They should also work on their grip strength. (That subject will have to await another article.)
Assuming you've reached failure in the Dead Lift, you will immediately shift back to the Leg Curl. Using all the weight you can handle in your pre-exhausted condition, perform another set to momentary failure. The form must be absolutely strict, no cheating at all. Again, don't start the movement quickly to get past the sticking point. Squeeze the weight up from bottom to top in a smooth even curl. You shouldn't be able to handle very much weight but the exercise will be effective. You may want to experiment with keeping your feet flexed or pointed to find which feels like it hits the muscle higher along its length. The belly of the muscle will get adequate stimulation in either case so use the foot position that hits higher. When you've reached failure you've finished the back of your legs. Let your partner perform his sets.
The stretching technique you should use here is a Hatha Yoga posture called, "Supta Vajrasan" which loosely translates kneeling pose. Those experienced in martial arts will recognize the opening position as that known as, "Za-Zen." Older trainees who have not performed this stretch before may find it difficult but its benefits are so great that it should be gradually practiced until it is comfortable. This may take weeks. It is not critical that the technique be performed to its ultimate position for it to be beneficial. Take it to the limit of your comfortable range. That is sufficient.
Kneel on a moderately soft surface. Your feet should be straight, toes pointed, as you sit, if you can, on your heels. Your knees should be together. This position places stress on your feet and ankles. If you have neglected these areas previously, you may find them weak and inflexible. In that case you should proceed cautiously, placing only as much weight on the heels as is comfortable. As little as ten seconds of practice every day will yield benefit. Eventually you'll want to hold the stretch for 30 seconds. When you can, place your hands on the floor. Cautiously inch them backward a moderate distance. A little at a time adding a little each session, work your hands back. Eventually, you will be able to lower yourself onto your elbows and forearms. With continued practice you will be able to lie flat back with your arms folded above your head. In this position you will feel a stretch in the thighs unlike any other. It also stretches the knees and ankles in a healthy manner. Resist the temptation to spread your knees. It makes the stretch easier but it places stress on the knee joints at a deleterious angle.
If you are incapable of taking the above described position far enough to achieve a good thigh stretch, continue to work at it daily but add the following: In a standing position, with your heels together and your feet pointed directly forward raise your right arm directly overhead. Shift your weight onto the right foot. Bend your left knee and raise your left foot so your left hand can hold it just below the toes. If balancing is difficult to maintain, you can use your right hand to steady yourself against a wall or piece of equipment. It is better, however, to learn to balance yourself. Pull up on the left foot. Don't allow your left knee to move away from your right leg. It is perfectly permissible for your left knee to move backward as long as it stays straight. Hold the position for 30 seconds. Repeat the movement on the other side. That's all the stretch you need for the frontal thigh muscles, ligaments and tendons. Part Two of this article, in the next issue, will include some additional stretches for the inner thighs.
Now that you've finished working the backs of your legs and you've stretched, switch to the front of the leg. The routine you will perform is tough. You can expect to be sore the first few times you perform it. If you have access to a Leg Press machine, use it. You will need at least one and preferably two spotters. Load the machine with all the weight you can handle for a minimum of 8 and a maximum of 12 reps. Position your feet so they point straight forward, not in or out. Place them on the foot plate at no more than shoulders width apart. I know you can lift more weight if you set your feet wider but much of the additional weight is handled by the hips. Besides, with the feet pointed straight forward, a wider position would place to much emphasis on the outer thigh muscles. They tend to be over developed anyway. Perform your reps slowly and strictly. At the bottom of the movement your thighs will press against your body but don't rest the weight on your body. Maintain continuous tension in the thighs. Stop just short of locking your knees. Locking out can hurt the knees and it allows you to rest, reducing the effectiveness of the set. When you've completed as many reps as you can (momentary failure), have the weight cut about half. (You'll adjust the weight drop based on experience.) You want to perform another 8-12 reps. Have the weight cut again and press out another 8-12 reps. Have all the weight stripped from the machine and smoothly squeeze out as many reps as you can without stopping, until you reach 15. You're done with the Leg Press!
You may have trouble getting up and walking away from the machine. Take your time, get up slowly. Dizziness is not uncommon. You're about to launch into the second phase of the routine. You will perform a drop set of Negative Accentuated Leg Extensions. A set will consist of up to 20 reps so judge your weight accordingly. Only experience can guide you to the correct weight. You may not have a choice but if you can, use a cable Leg Extension Machine. Generally, these cable based designs provide resistance over a fuller range of arc than plate load designs. Iron Boots can be used but they provide little resistance at the bottom of the movement unless you use a wide decline bench with your knees high and draped over the end.
Look at your frontal thigh mass. Judge it honestly. Rotate your leg (not your foot) out, straight or in to shift the emphasis of the movement to the area of the Quadriceps that needs the most improvement. In most individuals, the inner or frontal masses will lag the outer mass. The upper mass may lag the lower mass as well. We will deal with this imbalance in the Alternate Routine (in Part 2 of this article).
Smoothly straighten your leg. Don't start the movement explosively. When you reach the top of the movement hold briefly and flex hard without hyperextending the knees. This is sometimes referred to as a "peak contraction". Now move your right leg away from the pad, supporting all the weight with your left leg. Rotate the leg so the toes point straight up. The right leg needn't move very far, just enough to allow the left leg to hold all the weight. Slowly lower the weight, resisting the descent with the left leg all the way to the bottom. Repeat the two leg extension, switching to the right leg for the negative phase. Alternate legs through the set. You want to do 20 reps. If you fail with fewer reps, cut the weight and continue. Ideally, you shouldn't be able to do a 21st rep but try. If you succeed, have your training partner add downward pressure as you perform a two legged negative. I don't recommend it but if you must train without a partner, perform the negative portion of this 21st rep as slowly as you can. You want to force yourself to fail in the negative phase. If you execute it slowly enough, taking up to 30 seconds, you should fail. In any case, if you did the positive phase of the 21st rep, you'll need to increase the weight in your next workout. Again, don't try to stand up immediately. You will likely be wobbly-legged. Sit in place for a minute. When you do stand, be careful. You're finished. Your legs should feel "fried", but be happy. You're on your way to an impressive set of legs. Better yet, your knees will be in good shape and you'll be able to walk without the need to move each thigh around the other with every step. Use this routine on a six weeks on, two weeks off cycle and then repeat. That will take you till the next issue of MMJ. In that issue I'll describe an alternate routine. This routine, however, by itself, properly executed, will yield excellent results.
Burn and Nausea
In closing this first part, I have only to expand on the issue of burn and nausea, as promised. Nearly everyone experiences the burn during hard anaerobic exercise. The sensation's intensity, however, varies considerably from muscle to muscle and from individual to individual. I've seen some very scholarly dissertations which purport to explain the phenomenon. None of them successfully prove their case. This is not because the phenomenon is not understood, only that it is not understood completely. The sensation is usually attributed to a localized increase in acid, particularly lactic and acetoacetic acid. This acid increase is associated with the production of energy. The details are the subject of some debate. Another explanation sometimes offered is that the accelerated blood flow of exercise produces friction, stretching and pressure which we experience as the burn sensation. A third, more recent theory, holds that the sensation is produced by pressure exerted by the engorgement of veins, arteries and/or capillaries on nerves. I don't dismiss any of these explanations, or a theory involving ammonia as a by-product of protein breakdown. All of these and others may be at work. They all miss the point. Is the sensation, whatever its cause, harmful and can it be controlled? The exact cause and dynamics would, no doubt, help answer these questions but one need not know the details to provide some answers.
Some experiments have been performed with the use of Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda) as a way of neutralizing some of the acid production. The results of these experiment have been mixed. I believe this is because timing the use of this technique is tricky. Taken too long before, it may make the situation worse. Taken afterward, it is an obvious waste. This would be true of both nausea and burn which probably require different timings to address. Nevertheless, I think there is an easier way. The first technique you may wish to try is increasing your overall water intake. (See my article on Water Loading.) Sixteen ounces of water, no colder than 55 degrees, a half hour before leg training should reduce the nausea considerably as well. It will not eliminate the burn but should delay its onset and hasten its dissipation. If more help is needed with nausea, try chewing on some Rolaids just prior to your leg work. A product some find effective in further delaying the onset of the burn, is Champion Nutrition's Cytomax. I won't get into how it works here but you might want to give it a try. Alone or in combination these techniques should make leg training far less unpleasant. The improvement in your legs and the rest of your body should encourage you enough to persevere. Who knows, you may take to wearing shorts. At least if you have to defend your decision to do so, you'll have a leg to stand on.Copyright © 1996 Physique Tools and Wesley James
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