The phrase “leg day” is the bodybuilding equivalent of a four-letter word. So reviled is the squat rack that it has almost become a rite of passage in the world of hardcore training. “Train till you puke,” and other such sayings have become the mantras of the driven set, and you’d have to search long and hard to find a competitor who doesn’t have at least one story about how he couldn’t climb the stairs after a particularly grueling workout.
Possessing a quality set of quads could be what separates the casual lifter from the dedicated bodybuilder. The number of vanity lifters performing curls and crunches in any given gym typically far outstrips the number of people at the squat rack. Yet it’s frequently the sweep of a quad that makes the difference between a first-place trophy and finishing out of the winner’s circle. With that thought in mind I sought out a guy who possesses perhaps the best quads in the NPC: Jose Raymond.
An East Coast bodybuilder who’s been competing for almost 13 years, Jose has notched class and overall wins at every level of competition. He’s qualified for his IFBB pro card three times, the first in 2001, when he won the lightweight class at NPC Nationals, and twice in ’05, when he took the overall at the Team Universe as well as welterweight-class honors at the Nationals. Raymond, however, has decided to decline the invitation. Fortunately for us, you don’t need an IFBB pro card to have pro-quality quads—or to be willing to share the philosophy that helped you build them.
“Warm Up Until You Shake”
“Smoke the quads!” That’s Jose’s overall goal when he trains legs. When he leaves the gym, he wants to know that he’s tapped into every possible drop of energy that is stored in the muscle fibers. What that doesn’t mean is that Jose jumps into the squat rack and starts pounding out heavy reps until he can’t walk. There’s a method to his quad madness, one that’s built around a philosophy of reducing wear and tear on the joints and connective tissue. While deep, heavy squats are a part of his regimen, the warmup is equally important. The first exercise that Jose performs is vital to the success of his workout, and every time he works quads, he begins with leg extensions.
Not just plain-vanilla leg extensions, but a set that’s designed to preexhaust the quads while lubricating the joints for the heavy working sets to come. Jose’s quad routine starts with this barrage of leg extensions. Note that the first number is the poundage.
135 x 2 x 45
200 x 1 x 15
300 x 1 x 15
400 x 2 x 8-10
While the first four sets are important, he stressed that the last set is the working weight, and on it he is extremely focused, squeezing at the top of the contraction as well as using a full range of motion on the descent. Blood flow is the watchword here. “I try to take that approach [increasing blood flow] with every one of my bodyparts,” he said. “Right now I’m focusing more on the technique and focusing through every rep.”
And if, at the end of the leg extensions Jose doesn’t feel he’s properly pre-exhausted? “Occasionally I will add a drop set to the end of that—300 to 200 to 135—to failure. It just depends on how I’m feeling.”
Feel is important to Jose when it comes to workout volume, but he’s also keenly focused on how each rep feels deep within the muscle fiber. There should definitely be a noticeable burn in the heart of each quad by the time the working set of this exercise is complete. If not, you’re not lifting enough weight.
Now that the so-called warmup is out of the way (a process that can take 40 minutes or more), Jose is ready to move to the mass-building sets.
“No Pat Robertson Reps”
When a video goes viral on the Internet, the results can often be humorous. In the most extreme cases a phrase or image from the video is permanently seared into our pop-culture consciousness. I can’t say that the image of Pat Robertson doing one-inch, 1,000-pound leg presses is a pop-culture moment yet, but it’s such a vivid moving image of how not to do leg presses that I wasn’t surprised when it came up in Jose’s conversation. Basically, he feels that a full range of motion is vital to shocking the quads into growth, and there’s no workout that relies on a full range of motion more than squats, the next exercise in his quad routine. Here are the details:
135 x 1-2 x 15
225 x 1 x 15
315 x 1 x 12
405 x 2-3 x 10-12
ALLThe first set or two warm up the hips and lower back. He performs all reps with a full range of motion and an eye on increasing the blood flow. Jose has stopped doing ultra-heavy squats because he doesn’t feel they’re of as much benefit to him as moderately heavy reps done with a full range of motion and in a controlled manner. If he does go heavy as part of a quad shocker, he performs the squats in more of a powerlifting manner to lessen the strain on his joints.
He likes to keep his reps around 10 to 15 to maximize blood flow, again focusing on feeling a burn deep within the belly of the muscle. The burn is key to fiber recruitment and also signifies that the assisting muscles—the stabilizers and the adductors and abductors—are being recruited as well.
You won’t see Jose use adductor and abductor machines or any other isolation device designed to work what he calls “the assisting leg muscles.” He believes in hitting them in tandem with the main working muscles—to save time and stimulate them with a more real-life movement. If squats are performed correctly, there’s no need for additional adductor or abductor work, in his opinion.
Jose stressed repeatedly that he dips below parallel, to the point where his calves and hamstrings are almost touching. If he can’t perform that full stretch with a certain weight, then he won’t use it.
While squats are the mainstay in Jose’s quad workout, he might substitute front squats, hack squats or even leg presses occasionally to keep things fresh. The key to getting successful results out of leg presses, however, is to stay away from “Pat Robertson presses” and make sure you are performing “Jose Raymond presses” instead.
Occasionally, Jose will incorporate what he calls a light squat day, where he foregoes the pyramid style and performs two to three sets 30 to 35 reps each with 315 pounds.
“One Last Push”
Now that his quads are burning and walking is not a given, Jose finishes his workout with something that has almost become required in modern-day quad routines: walking lunges.
Walking lunges are among man’s oldest methods of training quads, but they fell out of favor until recently, when Ronnie Coleman was seen pounding out lunges in the Texas heat. The good thing about lunges is that they are such a practical movement when done correctly. “Correctly” to Jose again means that he uses a full range of motion to ensure maximum fiber recruitment. “Feel the hair on the knee [of the trailing leg] tickle the floor, but try to keep the knee off the floor,” he said. If occasionally your knee touches the floor, as he admitted his does, don’t panic, but work to get as close as you can without contact. Jose’s pyramid is as follows:
135 x 1 x 15
185 x 1 x 15
225 x 1 x 15
The first set is a warmup. The “15” listed for the rep range is somewhat misleading, as it means 15 steps taken by each foot to a point, and then 15 steps on each foot to return to the starting point. So each set really contains 30 steps per leg for a total of 60 lunges. Jose is very careful to not rush this workout and maintain his form. His focus is vital at this point, especially since he’s exhausted. The lunge is another exercise on which using a full range of motion will aid in recruiting the assisting muscles, as well as the glutes, making it a multitasking exercise that maximizes Jose’s time in the gym.
Surprisingly, that’s it. After walking lunges, Jose will stretch, and then he’s done for the day. He feels that the genius of this workout lies in its simplicity. It’s a routine that beginners can add to their training and carry with them for years with little modification. If the workouts are done correctly, he said, there is no need for additional work on the assisting muscle groups that sucks up valuable time.
An important note for beginners: Don’t skimp on the warmup. Start light and warm up as much as you can to reduce the possibility of injury. When you hit your work sets, be sure to focus on form and range of motion and try to feel the additional fibers being recruited.
When I first called Jose for this interview, his hometown of Boston was enduring the heat wave that filled newscasts nationwide last summer, he was looking at having his front yard dug up to replace a ruptured sewer line, and his supplement contract with Instone Nutrition had just been cancelled without warning. Despite all that was going on, Jose gave his all to the interview. I shouldn’t have expected less from a man who has the mental focus necessary to win his weight class at the NPC Nationals twice.
Jose’s focus has kept him training and competing drug-free for more than 13 years with little hope of financial gain. Perhaps that is the real secret to building a set of killer quads: dogged determination.
Editor’s note: Jose Raymond is a lifetime natural bodybuilder who’s based in Boston. To contact him for appearances, sponsorships or training, go to www.JoseRaymond.com. IM