A: The legs were designed to carry us around all of our lives, so they are accustomed to withstanding a heavy workload. They can take a lot of punishment, so they need to be trained very heavy and with both high and low reps.
Squatting with heavy weights is one of the best methods of building more mass in your legs. Doing a full squat with good form will work your quadriceps—as well as your hips, glutes and hamstrings—harder than any other exercise. Newcomers to weight training will be exhausted from doing a full squat movement even if they are using light weights.
When you build up your strength on the full squat, you are also building more mass in your legs. I used to do at least five sets of squats, increasing the weight on each successive set and using 12, 10, eight, six, six reps. My goal was to get stronger on those last two heavy sets of six.
Eventually, I built up my strength to where I was doing five or six reps with 500 pounds on the squat. The goal is to build up your strength so you can squat more weight in the six-to-eight range. Consider how much bigger your legs will be when you can squat 400 pounds for six to eight reps instead of 200?
Tom Platz, who had enormous thighs, alternated heavy weights for low reps with higher reps and a lighter weight on squats. He felt that his legs improved to their biggest and best shape ever with that approach.
One week Tom would go very heavy for only five reps, using as much as 600 pounds on squats. At the next workout he would drastically reduce the weight but push himself to do as many reps as possible. He would do 20 reps with 400 pounds or 50 reps with 300 pounds. Tom even squatted 225 pounds for 10 minutes straight at one workout!
If you are new to training, I recommend that you focus on building up your strength on the squat. Spend a few years getting stronger on this primary exercise for the legs, and then you can start doing higher reps with less weight. But be sure to put in the legwork (so to speak) first, and build up the basic strength and muscle mass you need before you take it to the next level.
Editor’s note: John Hansen has won the Mr. Natural Olympia and is a three-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. IM