Q: Is it okay to do back squats and front squats in the same workout? Would it simply be better to superset leg extensions with leg presses or squats? I’m a junior in high school and want to bulk up my legs for football.
A: Consider that weightlifters do front squats and back squats in the same workout all the time. A typical workout for a weightlifter might consist of clean and jerks, which include a front squat movement, followed by back squats. In fact, weightlifters with relatively weak leg strength often perform squats before practicing the snatch and the clean and jerk.
Supersetting leg extensions with leg presses was a favorite method of the late Arthur Jones of Nautilus fame. Because he believed the lower-back muscles were the weak link in working the legs, he recommended “preexhausting” the quads with leg presses and leg extensions before squats. About 40 years ago Jones took Mr. America Casey Viator through such a workout, and to my knowledge that session has never been equaled.
At a bodyweight of about 218 pounds, Viator performed 20 reps on the leg press with 750 pounds, followed immediately by 20 leg extensions with 225 pounds, followed immediately by 13 full squats with 502 pounds! Sergio Oliva, a former weightlifter for Cuba who could clean and jerk 360 pounds and who won three Mr. Olympia titles, tried that same workout under Jones’ supervision. The first time Oliva attempted it, he did 17 reps with 460 on the leg press and 16 reps with 200 pounds on the leg extension—but when he tried to follow that with 400-pound squats, he dropped straight down and couldn’t get back up. He had to knock 100 pounds off the barbell, and even then he managed to grind out only seven reps.
Although the supersets and Jones’ tri-set are designed to produce maximum muscle hypertrophy in a bodybuilder, they would not be considered “functional hypertrophy” for a football player. Let me explain.
The muscle fibers hypertrophied in bodybuilding programs are primarily type 1 muscle fibers, whereas the muscle fibers hypertrophied in weightlifting programs are the much more powerful type 2 fibers. In a study that was published in 2004 in the respected journal Sports Medicine, Dr. Andrew Fry and his colleagues found that bodybuilders had more type 1 fibers than weightlifters, but weightlifters had more type 2 fibers.
Using the preexhaustion format, here is a tri-set I found effective for increasing lower-body mass. One way to describe this type of program is that it’s an “improved-leverage set,” because you pair an exercise in which leverage forces you to use lighter weights (e.g., front squats) with an exercise that enables you to use heavier weights (e.g., back squats). Note that the rest after the first exercise is only 10 seconds, which essentially serves to extend the duration of the set and increase the time the muscles are under tension.
Lower-Body Functional-Hypertrophy Workout
A1) Front squats, 4/0/1/0 tempo, 5 x 3-4
Rest 10 seconds
A2) Back squats, 4/0/1/0 tempo, 5 x max (probably 1-4)
Rest 120 seconds
A3) Leg curls, 3/1/1/0 tempo, 5 x 4-6
Rest 120 seconds
Select a weight you can lift for your three- or four-rep max on the front squat. For example, if your best front squat is 220 pounds, your best for three to four reps might be 200 pounds. Using the weight you selected, perform the exercise until you reach positive failure, return the weight to the rack, and then count for 10 seconds as you prepare to perform back squats. At the end of the 10 seconds, you should already be in position to begin the descent of the back squat. Now perform as many back squats as possible with the same weight you used for front squats. Rest two minutes, and then perform a set of leg curls for four to six reps. Rest another two minutes, and repeat the entire series for four additional sets.
If the weight you used on front squats was light enough that you could get five or more reps, you need a heavier weight. If you got only one or two reps, the weight was too heavy and you need to lighten it up. As you get used to this workout, you will find yourself better able to predict the weights you should use to stay within the rep range.
The key to developing functional hypertrophy is keeping the time under tension to 20 seconds or less. On the front squats you are putting the muscles under tension for 15 to 20 seconds; on the back squats it’s five to 20 seconds. With this protocol you can use relatively heavy weights, so the intensity is greater and you stimulate primarily the type 2 fibers.
Although just about any muscle-building protocol will improve leg power for football, the methods used by many professional bodybuilders often do not produce the desired gains in strength and power specific to most sports.
Editor’s note: Charles Poliquin is recognized as one of the world’s most suc-cessful strength coaches, having coached Olympic med-alists in 12 different sports, including the U.S. women’s track-and-field team for the 2000 Olympics. He’s spent years researching European journals (he’s fluent in English, French and German) and speaking with other coaches and scientists in his quest to optimize training methods. For more on his books, seminars and methods, visit www.CharlesPoliquin.com. IM