Q: I just stumbled across your leg workout 10x10 post on Bodybuilding.com and thought it was awesome. I’d like to give it a go, but I have a couple quick questions:
1) Were you only training once every seven days, or were you doing it more frequently, like once every five days?
2) Were you doing any other accessory work for legs aside from the squats; e.g. leg extensions?
I am having difficulty wrapping my head around how only one exercise done one time a week can possibly yield such great gains.
A: The leg routine you’re talking about is where I did 10 sets of only one exercise for my quadriceps and 10 sets for my hamstrings. It was not a 10 x 10 routine per se, however, because I was not doing 10 sets of 10 reps each week. While I was doing 10 sets, the rep range was different each week.
I picked barbell squats for my quadriceps exercise and dumbbell leg curls for my hamstrings. I did both exercises in the same workout, and I actually did the leg curls first because I knew I would be too tired to do them after doing 10 sets of squats.
The routine is based on volume. By gradually increasing the volume of the workout each week over a six-to-eight-week training cycle, you can increase the size of a muscle group. That’s in contrast to training more intensely at each workout by pushing the muscle to total exhaustion and actually cutting back on the volume by reducing the number of sets you do.
It was a hard concept for me to grasp at first because I was always accustomed to pushing each set to the limit. With this training program, I had to stop at the prescribed number of reps. As I mentioned earlier, it’s the total volume of sets and reps performed that is responsible for the gains you will make.
The reason I decided to try this volume workout is that I was getting burned out training heavy. My training partner and I were using very heavy poundages on squats and leg presses each week, which was starting to affect our joints. The quadriceps tendons in my knees were inflamed after each workout to the point where my knees would be sore for almost a week. They would just start to feel good when it was time to train them again. I knew I couldn’t keep going on like that or I wouldn’t make it through to my contest, scheduled for much later in the year.
With the routine I used, I picked a starting weight that I could do 10 reps with, but I did only five; however, I did five reps for all 10 sets. Each week the weight gradually went up, but my repetitions went down. After three weeks the cycle started all over again, but beginning with a heavier weight. Here is the cycle my training partner and I used for squats:
Week 1: 365 x 5 reps x 10 sets
Week 2: 385 x 4 reps x 10 sets
Week 3: 405 x 3 reps x 10 sets
Week 4: 385 x 5 reps x 10 sets
Week 5: 405 x 4 reps x 10 sets
Week 6: 425 x 3 reps x 10 sets
Week 7: 405 x 6 reps x 10 sets
By week seven we decided to do six reps instead of the scheduled five because we knew it was our last week on the program and we were feeling strong that day.
This was a very, very tough routine to follow because, even though the reps are limited, it’s brutally hard to do 10 sets of squats with a heavy weight week after week. It starts to become tough mentally as well as physically.
To begin the workout, I did two supersets of incline situps and incline knee raises. After that warmup I started with hamstrings.
I picked dumbbell leg curls. I did one or two warmup sets and then 10 sets with my designated weight for that week. For the hamstrings we did slightly higher reps:
Week 1: 65 x 6 reps x 10 sets
Week 2: 70 x 5 reps x 10 sets
Week 3: 75 x 4 reps x 10 sets
Week 4: 70 x 6 reps x 10 sets
Week 5: 75 x 5 reps x 10 sets
Week 6: 80 x 4 reps x 10 sets
Week 7: 75 x 6 reps x 10 sets
After I finished 10 sets of dumbbell leg curls, I started warming up for the squats. I began by doing three sets of leg extensions for 15 to 20 reps just to warm up the knees and quads. After the extensions came two to three sets of leg presses with a light weight to warm up my hips and knees.
When I moved to the squats, I obviously wouldn’t start off with my target weight. I had to warm up first, so that would take several sets. I would typically do a set with 135 pounds, 225 pounds and 315 pounds before starting my 10-sets routine with the weight I was supposed to use that week.
We did the workout only once every seven days, so we were training legs on the same day each week. Believe it or not, I was not even getting sore from the workouts. My legs would get pretty pumped from the high set volume, but it wasn’t like a typical leg workout where I would push each set to failure.
The results, however, were incredible. After seven weeks of following this program, my legs grew almost two inches. I couldn’t believe how big they got just by my changing the training program. Best of all, my knees did not hurt once during this entire cycle.
If you look at the weekly volume, you can see that this program is designed to increase gradually over the total cycle by going up and down and then finishing with a peak. That’s how many powerlifters design their training cycles so the body can adapt and grow over a short period. Here’s the total weight lifted each week for squats:
Week 1: 365 x 5 x 10 = 18,250
Week 2: 385 x 4 x 10 = 15,400
Week 3: 405 x 3 x 10 = 12,150
Week 4: 385 x 5 x 10 = 19,250
Week 5: 405 x 4 x 10 = 16,200
Week 6: 425 x 3 x 10 = 12,750
Week 7: 405 x 6 x 10 = 24,300
Editor’s note: John Hansen has won the Mr. Natural Olympia and is a two-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. Check out his Web site at www.NaturalOlympia.com for more information about how you can be a part of his exciting, new Natural Olympia Fitness getaway. Send questions or comments to John@NaturalOlympia.com. Look for John’s DVD, “Natural Bodybuilding Seminar and Competitions,” along with his book, Natural Bodybuilding, and his training DVD, “Real Muscle,” at his Web site or at Home Gym Warehouse, www.Home-Gym.com. Listen to John’s radio show, Natural Bodybuilding Radio, at NaturalBodybuildingRadio.com. IM