Q: I’m 41 years old, and I’ve been working out for 20 years, mostly three or four times a week. My upper body develops more easily than my lower body. Do I have any hope of putting more size on my legs, or should I just be satisfied with what I have?
A: I’d be interested to know what percentage of those three or four workouts a week is spent on heavy leg work. I never cease to be amazed at how many people will devote an hour or more to the so-called show muscles, like arms, and then spend only 15 to 20 minutes on serious leg work. I’m not suggesting that’s what you’re doing, but I know from long experience that most people view movements like full squats, heavy leg presses, deadlifts and cleans as the grim part of their workouts’something to be endured. In fact, if you conducted a survey regarding the exercise that is least liked by trainees, I’m certain that exercise would be squats. The squat is also the exercise most likely to be scrapped in favor of something easier’the hack machine, leg extension or any of several other innocuous leg movements.
The answer to your question is to learn to love heavy leg work, especially squats. Give them top priority and perform them first in every leg workout. Whether you’re using a split routine or a whole-body program, make squats your first leg exercise. You also want to eliminate all additional quadriceps exercises for a while. Nothing will make your legs bigger and stronger quicker than squats! Because you’re only doing one quad movement, you do more work on it, at least six to eight sets.
There are two ways to make progress quickly on a six-to-eight-set squat program. The first I learned from John Grimek: pyramiding the weight and decreasing the reps on each subsequent set. The reps are 20, 15, 12, 10, eight and six, and all six sets should be hard. So adjust your weights accordingly. After pyramiding your squats for several months, you’ll discover that the heavier, lower-rep sets are taking less out of you than the first three sets. The higher-rep sets condition you, the heavier sets strengthen you, and the two work together to make your legs grow very rapidly.
After about three months you up it to eight sets and change the approach. At that point you’re going to be feeling very differently about leg work’and looking forward to squatting. You’ll be ready, willing and able to perform leg work you weren’t able to handle three months before.
After warming up for three or four minutes, choose the heaviest weight you can squat for 10 reps. Perform two sets with that weight, then take 10 pounds off the bar and do two more sets, continuing with that progression until you’ve completed eight sets. For example, you might perform two sets of 10 with 350 pounds, two sets with 340, two with 330 and a final two with 320.
The two squat programs should work beautifully for you. After three months on the second I suggest you switch back to the pyramids, alternating the two approaches every two months.
The rest of your leg training will be as follows: six sets of leg curls, eight sets of calf work and five sets of six reps of regular deadlifts. The deadlifts help strengthen your lower back, which facilitates your squatting.
Q: In March 1998 I was helping two friends move a portable concrete mixer when the weight unexpectedly shifted to my right hand. I was using an underhand grip, and my biceps tendon went snap. As luck would have it, I’d just begun training for the Mr. Bermuda competition. That was disappointing enough, but then two orthopedic surgeons I consulted discouraged me from having surgery to reattach the tendon. Can you give any advice on the situation?
A: I’m afraid you’ve waited too long to have the tendon reattached properly. You’re correct in thinking that it should have been done immediately. The reattachment surgery should be performed within 48 hours, or the biceps rolls up the arm and shortens the tendon so it can’t be stretched enough to be reattached at its original site. Your injury occurred some 18 months ago. The tendon has long since reattached itself to the humerus in a shortened position.
I suggest you do curls, especially thumbs-up curls, to work your brachialis and fill out the arm somewhat. Warm up, then slowly work the arm back to a position of strength. You’ll be able to do that, but you won’t be able to completely correct the biceps’ rolled-up appearance.
I’ve had seven surgeries over the years for a variety of training injuries, and I always chose to have the corrective surgery when I felt it was necessary. Fortunately, I’ve always been able to rehabilitate myself.
Don’t worry about your biceps, however. It has reattached itself, and the problem is not likely to get any worse.
Q: I’ve been reading your training articles for 25 years in various magazines. I remember one you did in 1978, in which you recommended training the entire body over three days and then taking a day off. You favored training two upper-body parts on day 1, legs on day 2 and two other upper-body parts on day 3. Do you still train that way? If not, how has your program changed?
A: You’ve obviously been around quite a while yourself. It’s nice to have people reading my stuff’and remembering it’over the years.
To answer your question, no, I don’t train the same way I did back then, although I do nearly all the same exercises and try to keep it heavy. My first and foremost requirement for successful bodybuilding has always been to emphasize strength. I do, however, spread the workout over five days instead of four and schedule my rest days differently, as I don’t recover as quickly as I used to. I work the first two days the same as before, training two upper-body parts on day 1 and legs on day 2. Now, however, I rest on day 3, come back for the other two upper-body parts on day 4 and rest on day five. That system gives me approximately six workouts per bodypart a month, rather than the 7 1/2 or so I was getting back when I wrote that article.
The other significant change I’ve made is in the area of warming up and stretching. Twenty years ago I never bothered with that; now I spend 10 minutes warming up and stretching on upper-body days and about 20 minutes on leg day.
I’m getting to be an old dog (I was 72 in January), and it behooves me to take more care than I did when I was a kid.
Q: How do you feel about women’s bodybuilding?
A: I love women’s bodybuilding. Both my wife and daughter train regularly, and my wife won several national qualifiers when she was in her mid-40s. I do not, however, care about women’s bodybuilding contests.
Unfortunately, the type of physique that wins the Ms. Olympia nowadays is judged according to male criteria. Huge muscle size and ripped physiques that are symmetrical but not aesthetically pleasing are the norm. Simply stated, most of the top female bodybuilders look like men’not just muscularly but facially as well.
I like a woman to be in excellent physical shape, but I also want her to be sensual and attractive in a feminine way. I don’t like a woman to look hard in any way.
The responsibility for the demise of big-time women’s bodybuilding lies in the leadership and the idiotic judging criteria that in a scant 20 years have changed what was a well-respected and well-attended part of the sport. The pressure to use drugs in professional bodybuilding has brought the women’s sport crashing down.
If changes aren’t made–and quickly–the men’s pro shows will go next. Trust me on that one!
Editor’s note: For answers to your training questions, for training programs and diets designed specifically for you or for information on group seminars, write to George Turner at P.O. Box 4492, The Main Post Office, 1895 Avenida Del Oro, Oceanside, CA 92054; or call 1-800-731-2990. To order the audiocassette version of George Turner’s book Real Bodybuilding, go to our online store here. IM