Leg training is the most demanding and strenuous exercise in all of bodybuilding. Consequently, many bodybuilders are outright scared of it. I’ve yet to speak to any bodybuilders’pro or amateur’who actually enjoy training their legs properly. And while it’s very taxing and brutal, it’s also the most productive way to build a big, muscular and powerful lower body’when you use the Max Contraction System.
Nevertheless, because the Max Contraction System is so demanding and because the leg muscles are so large, MCS training creates a great energy debt. So the leg routine must be brief to ensure that you don’t cross the fine line between maximum growth stimulation and overtraining. The leg-training routine this month will foster maximum growth with minimal depletion of the body’s energy reserves.
It’s important to remember that with MCS training you can stimulate maximum muscle growth only through maximum intensity of effort. You simply must be willing to fight through the pain that comes with proper performance of an MCS set.
But First, a Little Anatomy and Kinesiology
You should train 12 muscles that, excluding the calves, make up the leg. On the front thigh is a group of four muscles known as the quadriceps: the vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, vastus medialis and rectus femoris. The vastus lateralis is on the outer side of the thigh, the vastus medialis is on the inner (or medial) side’just above the kneecap’and between those muscles is the vastus intermedius. All of the tendons attached to the quadriceps cross the knee joint, and, when they contract, the shin extends and the leg straightens. For that reason a leg extension is best for training these muscles.
Five muscles make up the inner thigh, and the largest is the adductor magnus, which originates on the pubis bone and inserts along the entire length of the femur, or thigh bone. When the adductor magnus contracts, it, along with the other four medial-thigh muscles, draws the legs from a spread position to one in which the legs are crossed. Such a movement’from an open to a closed position’is called adduction. To my recollection, Nautilus was the first company to provide effective resistance machines for these five muscle groups, with its hip adduction machine, introduced in January 1980. Now, of course, myriad other companies have similar machines. And you’ll need to use one, as barbells and leg-extension machines don’t provide effective resistance for these muscles.
The hamstrings are on the backs of the thighs. This is probably the most underdeveloped group on all bodybuilders’including those in the professional ranks. The hamstrings comprise three separate muscles: the semitendinosus, the semimembranosus and the biceps femoris, the tendons of which cross over the back of the knee capsule and cause the knee to bend when contracted. Although stiff-legged deadlifts do activate the hamstrings somewhat, it’s not a direct enough exercise to serve the exacting standards of Max Contraction System training. Only one exercise will effectively stimulate this extremely important muscle group: the leg curl.
Max Contraction: Theory Review
Bodybuilders are forever counting repetitions to gauge their progress. ‘Three more reps!’ screamed the headline of a popular trilogy of bodybuilding books coauthored by ex-bodybuilder Rick Wayne some years back, and that’s how bodybuilders have conditioned themselves to think about training. That’s a pity. Instead of counting reps, they should be intensifying their efforts with the Max Contraction System, so they’re fully loading their muscles for a prescribed period and terminating their set not at some arbitrary number of repetitions but at the point where maximum muscle stimulation has taken place.
We need to generate progressively stronger muscular contractions to stimulate maximum increases in size and strength. At the position of max contraction, no further movement is possible, and the maximum number of fibers have been activated. What makes max-contraction training so productive is that it’s the only training system that engages a targeted muscle group in its fully contracted position for a full 45 to 60 seconds, the amount of time a muscle can operate within its anaerobic pathways. Other systems work a muscle with a varying degree of intensity’as they must, given that movement is involved in their execution’while the MCS involves them in the one position where the maximum number of muscle fibers are both involved and activated, namely, the fully contracted position, for the entire set. Results in bodybuilding are always proportionate to the level of intensity applied to the target muscle group and, with MCS training, there is no way the intensity can be increased’it’s 100 percent.
When you perform an MCS set, you must take special caution not to throw or thrust the resistance into the position of full muscular contraction. Instead, slowly initiate the lift, using only the muscle fibers of the target muscle group itself. Any time outside forces, such as momentum, are brought into play, the involvement of the targeted muscle group is proportionately diminished. Once in the fully contracted position, hold the contraction for 45 to 60 seconds, until muscular failure.
When a muscle group is made to contract maximally against resistance for an extended period of time, the most muscle fibers it can activate will be recruited and subsequently will fatigue until, finally, they will all be called upon and taxed to the point where the muscle group can no longer support the resistance. At that point you will have exhausted all of the fibers involved in the contraction.
‘ Leg extensions
‘ Adductor machine
‘ Leg curls
‘ Standing calf raises
‘ Nautilus pullovers
‘ Dumbbell shrugs
‘ Lateral raises
‘ Pec deck flyes
‘ Dumbbell kickbacks
‘ Undergrip chinups
Leg extensions. Sit down on a leg extension machine and place your feet behind the roller pads so that your knees are snug against the seat. Keeping your head and shoulders straight, slowly straighten both legs until you reach the fully contracted position and hold for a full 45 to 60 seconds. As soon as you’re forced to break the lock on your contraction, reduce the resistance by 20 percent and repeat the movement for an additional 45 to 60 seconds. Immediately move to your next exercise.
Adductor machine. Sit in the machine (Nautilus or other) and place your knees and ankles on the movement arms in a spread-legged position. Make sure that your inner thighs and knees are firmly against the resistance pads, and keep your head and shoulders against the back of the seat. Slowly draw your knees toward each other, remembering to pull with the thighs and not the lower legs, until your knees are as close together as possible. Hold that fully contracted position for a full 45 to 60 seconds’or until muscular failure, whichever comes first. When you can no longer sustain the contraction, slowly lower the resistance back to the starting position and immediately reduce the resistance by 20 percent and repeat for another MCS set before moving on to your final leg exercise.
Leg curls. Lie face down on the leg curl machine and place your feet under the roller pads with your knees just over the edge of the bench, and slowly curl your lower legs up until they’re almost touching your buttocks. Once in this fully contracted position, hold the contraction for a full 45 to 60 seconds and then reduce the weight by 20 percent and perform a second MCS set.
At this point in the routine, your legs are bound to feel rather wobbly’and for good reason. You’ve just exposed them to repeated bouts of maximum muscular contraction. Nevertheless, you still have the rest of your physique to deal with, and we’ll train it with only one Max Contraction set per bodypart with the following exercises. Perform one set of each, holding the contraction for 45 to 60 seconds:
Calves: Standing calf raises
Lats: Nautilus pullovers
(or, if you do not have access to such a machine, perform chins in the fully contracted position)
Traps: Barbell or dumbbell shrugs
Delts: Lateral raises
Pecs: Pec deck flyes
Triceps: Dumbbell kickbacks
Biceps. Undergrip chinups
All of these exercises place a constant stress/tension on the target muscle groups from beginning to end of each set and are the most productive exercises for these muscle groups.
Your workouts should be structured so as to allow for adequate recovery between workouts, particularly with leg training. That can be anywhere from four days to two weeks, depending on your personal rate of muscular output and recovery ability. If you follow the leg-specialization routine exactly as described, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your legs will grow bigger and stronger.
Next month we’ll explore the tried and true approach of split-system training. Train hard, get adequate rest, eat a well-balanced diet, and keep growing!
Editor’s note: John Little is a leading innovator of bodybuilding training. Watch for his latest book, Fast Mass: The Max Contraction System, in early 2004. IM