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Overcoming Injury

Often when bodybuilders with poor leg development offer up excuses, knee injuries are at the top of the list.

By now you’re probably familiar with Germany’s Dennis Wolf, the young upstart who vaulted into the top five at the ’07 Mr. Olympia with a stunning package of size and shape that some felt eclipsed even reigning champ Jay Cutler. Wolf’s shoulders usually draw the most attention and acclaim, but his massive and sweeping thighs are equally impressive.

Often when bodybuilders with poor leg development offer up excuses, knee injuries are at the top of the list. “I can’t squat because I have a bad knee,” they say. Perhaps if they knew what Dennis Wolf went through in 2002, they wouldn’t be so quick to accept permanent defeat. 

While squatting, the Big Bad Wolf tore ligaments around one knee so badly that he couldn’t train his lower body with heavy weights for a full six months. Afterward, he gradually rebuilt the size and strength in his legs and went on to make them worthy of the Mr. Olympia stage. Sharing his advice with others that may have suffered similar injuries, he suggests doing things just a bit differently when it comes to legs. 

“First of all, be sure to take enough time to rehabilitate the injured area with light cardio, such as a stationary bike, then proceed later to bodyweight squats,” he says. “Too many bodybuilders rush back into heavy training too soon, and the injury never heals properly.” 

As for heavy training, that’s another issue to address with intelligence and caution. “You don’t have to use superheavy weights to make your legs grow,” he explains. “By using perfect form and keeping tension on the muscle, it’s easy to make 300 pounds feel like 500.” 

He also alternates between free-weight squats and the Smith machine from workout to workout, which puts less stress on his knees and lower back. One thing that changed forever after Wolf’s injury was his fearlessness on leg day—which he now sees as a positive. “You should not have the attitude that you can lift all the weight in the world, because you can’t,” he says. “A little fear is a good thing, because it makes you use better form and keeps you from doing anything stupid.” 

So even if your knees or lower back won’t let you stand up with a half ton on your back, don’t despair. You can still build a great set of wheels. All you need is a little patience, willpower and smarts. IM

—Ron Harris

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