Recently, I fulfilled a dream of nearly two decades by crossing the Atlantic Ocean to Birmingham, England, to train legs with six-time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates at Temple Gym, the hardcore dungeon that has attained mythical status among bodybuilding fans. It was an experience I’ll never forget. I returned to the States with not only enough motivational ammunition to tear up the weights with unbridled zeal for months but also a few excellent tips from a man who dominated his chosen sport for much of a decade—because of both his superior genetics and his superior intellect and discipline.
Preexhaustion makes sense. By working very hard on leg extensions before doing any type of leg press or squat, you’ll certainly reduce the amount of weight you’re able to use on those compound movements. That’s bad, right? Not if you want the quadriceps to be stimulated far more directly than the hips, lower back and glutes. For someone who simply wants greater overall mass and power, squatting or leg pressing first makes sense. For a bodybuilder who wants to target the quads, though, hitting extensions first is a smarter strategy.
You can train harder than you think. Critics have long questioned the wisdom of Dorian’s practice of doing just one working set. Until you’ve experienced one of those sets, however, you have no concept of just how demanding they are and why additional sets aren’t needed. Hitting positive failure is far from the end of a Yates work set. A couple excruciating forced reps follow, after which it’s not uncommon to be assisted into the top position of a rep and fight for a couple of slow negatives. I’ve trained very hard for many years, but I can honestly say I’ve never been as wiped out after just one set as I was training with him.
Quads and hams belong together. Currently, many bodybuilders split their quadriceps and hamstring workouts, as they feel that it gives them better focus on each. The hamstrings in particular often seem to suffer when tacked on to the end of a long and grueling quad session. If the quads are hit hard and fast, though, there’s still plenty of juice left to nail the hams properly. Moreover, they’re already well warmed up from the compound movements and require less direct warmup before you get into the swing of things. Dorian himself tried splitting quads and hams at one point but quickly concluded that he had better hamstring workouts when he did legs all in one shot.
High reps aren’t necessarily the key to bigger calves. Years ago I read somewhere that because the soleus muscle of the calf had more slow-twitch fibers than the larger gastrocnemius, seated calf raises should be done with a minimum of 15 reps, and a range of 15 to 25 was ideal. My calves are good, but they hadn’t grown at all in well over a decade. Dorian told me the soleus actually needed heavier weights and fewer reps to respond. When I got home, I started doing sets with up to five plates on seated raises instead of my typical three and kept my reps at eight to 10 instead of 15 to 25. After only three workouts the tape measure showed an increase of a full half inch. That’s a half inch more than they’d grown since Clinton was president.
Editor’s note: Ron Harris is the author of Real Bodybuilding—Muscle Truth From 25 Years in the Trenches, available at www.RonHarrisMuscle.com.