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Low Reps for Leg Mass?

ironmanmagazine.comQ: I’ve been reading a lot about natural bodybuilding and really enjoying your articles and the info that you share. When I started bodybuilding in January 2013, I had a fit background from playing basketball and running track and cross-country. So I didn’t have muscle mass, but I had good abs and general fitness. I began by using movements such as dumbbell chest presses, squats and deadlifts as my main lifts. If you want to look at the routine, it’s called “Body Beast” by Sagi Kalev. I got really good results from the program, and I still love it, but I hit a point where my results weren’t coming very fast, and I started looking for one that was focused on gaining muscle. I have stressed legs a lot and was working them two times per week. I got fairly good results by doing that. In the beginning my legs were small but could endure a lot, thanks to my cross-country background.

So, based on all that information, I have some questions. I read about doing a push/pull routine to train the muscles more frequently but still focusing on the big, core lifts. My concern is about using rep schemes in the eight-to-10 range for legs. I feel I need to go lower, maybe two to five reps, to hit them really hard. My legs measure 26 inches, which isn’t bad, but I would like them to be a strong point for me. Thanks in advance for your reply.


A: You bring up a good point about repetition ranges and what makes a muscle grow. I’ve always believed that the best rep range for building muscle is six to 10. Using a resistance that limits you to six to 10 reps will make the muscle fibers themselves thicker. Doing a moderate number of repetitions like that will also enhance blood flow to the muscles to create a good muscle pump. That increases the sarcoplasm portion of the muscle cell, inducing swelling and fullness.

You ask about using heavier resistance and doing reps in the two-to-five range. Very low reps will build more strength than muscle mass. If you look at some of the best powerlifters, many of them don’t look as big as bodybuilders even though they are much stronger.

What builds bigger muscles is progressive resistance. The more weight you can use for the growth reps—six to 10—the more muscle you will build. That said, you bring up a great point about building size by doing reps in the two-to-five range. Although you will probably develop more strength by going that heavy, it can still be beneficial.

Because you are building your strength and power with the low reps, you will be able to use more weight when training in the six-to-10 range. Remember, the more weight you can use for the growth sets, the more muscle mass you will build—progressive resistance.

My current strategy for adding muscle is to cycle my training. I alternate periods of power training with mass training. I perform each cycle for six weeks so I have enough time to focus on building strength before trying to build mass. Doing an occasional power workout here and there is not nearly as effective as doing a full six-week cycle. I call this new program the “MP6 Training Program.” “M” stands for mass, “P” means power, and each cycle is six weeks long.

What I suggest for your leg workout is to pick two mass-building exercises—compound movements on which you can use a lot of resistance. I recommend either barbell squats, front squats, leg presses or hack squats. Do three heavy work sets each for the two you pick.

In addition, you can add one shaping movement, such as leg extensions, to further develop your quads. That will be plenty for your legs. You don’t need to do more than three exercises if you’re training hard enough.

In addition, you will need to train your hamstrings for complete leg development. I like doing at least two exercises for the hams. I do one type of leg curl exercise (machine leg curls, dumbbell leg curls or seated leg curls) and stiff-legged deadlifts (with a barbell or dumbbells). Three work sets of each will be enough to make the hamstrings grow.

So try alternating cycles of power training with mass training. The increased strength from going heavier with three to five reps will make you stronger when you switch to training with six to 10, a repetition range that is better at making the muscles bigger.

Editor’s note: John Hansen has won the Mr. Natural Olympia and is a three-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. For information on his exciting new program, The MP6 Cycle Training, check out his Web site at and become a memeber. To attend the Natural Olympia Fitness Getaway, go to Send questions or comments to [email protected]. Look for John’s DVD, “Natural Bodybuilding Seminar and Competitions,” along with his book, Natural Bodybuilding, and his training DVD, “Real Muscle,” as well as his new DVD “Natural Bodybuilding Seminar and Competition” at his Web site or at Home Gym Warehouse,  IM


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