Q: I’m having trouble bringing up my legs to match my upper body. What would you suggest?
A: I had the same problem the first year that I competed. I entered four bodybuilding contests that year and collected one second-place and three third-place trophies. After the last one I took a close, objective look at the photos and realized that if I was ever going to win a show, I’d need to grow some legs.
I knew exactly why my thighs were lagging. I didn’t like training legs, and I hated doing squats. When I joined my first gym, there were no personal trainers, and I’d never received any instruction on training with free weights. I just watched guys in the gym and read the bodybuilding books and magazines. After assessing my weaknesses and coming to the realization that my approach to leg training was grossly inadequate, I purchased Tom Platz’s book Pro-Style Bodybuilding. I wanted to see how Tom had built his freakishly massive, ripped legs. What I learned was that, compared to Platz’s butt-to-heels squats, what I’d been doing amounted to about a quarter squat (maybe even less).
I also read an article about Tom’s workout that described him performing 50 reps of superdeep squats with 315 pounds—after which he racked the weight and proceeded to pass out. I knew then that both my technique and my intensity were woefully lacking, In order to bring my leg development up to par, I had to swallow my ego and reduce the weight I was using on squats by about 66 percent so that I could go all the way down. Dipping well below parallel put so much more stretch on all the muscles involved in the squat, it felt as if I was doing a totally new exercise. Performing sets of eight to 10 with 135 pounds in that first deep squat workout set my legs on fire, and they didn’t function well for days. I could tell immediately that those “new” squats were going to make a huge difference.
The other adjustment that I had to make was my mental approach. I needed to attack my leg training with even more vigor than I attacked the bodyparts I enjoyed working (chest and biceps, as for most guys, and, for me, abs). I started training legs on Mondays, spending a considerable amount of time on the weekend psyching myself up for it. I vowed to make friends with my leg workout, with the squats and with the pain that I knew I’d have to endure.
At every workout I attacked my legs with a vengeance. To get myself in the right frame of mind, I even started working legs at a gym that didn’t have air-conditioning: Gregory Gym at the University of Texas. When I stepped into the weight room in its basement, it was primal, totally hardcore. It stank of sweat and rust, and if you sat down on the floor, you’d get a splinter in your ass—but I loved it and thrived on it. And guess what: Before I knew it, leg training was my favorite workout and squats my favorite exercise. What else happened? I got the trophy for best legs at my next competition.
Just a few weeks ago I was involved in a bodybuilding camp in Evansville, Indiana, with Dr. Joe Klemczewski and Pro Natural World champions Jim Cordova (’07) and Jonathan Harris (’06). Assisting in instruction and directing a video was Layne Norton, who reminded me that we’d first met in 2001 at a show where I was guest posing and he was competing for the first time. Although he won the show’s teen division, his legs were lagging behind his upper body, and he asked my advice. I told him that if he wanted to succeed in bodybuilding, he’d have to come to terms with tolerating a lot of pain, particularly under the squat bar.
Clearly, Lane took my words to heart: He’s earned pro cards in two separate drug-free-bodybuilding organizations. The point is, hard leg training is brutal. It’s much more physically and mentally demanding because you work a much larger cross-sectional area of muscle than you do when training your upper body. That’s why you see so many guys walking around the fitness centers in tank tops and sweat pants. They have big upper bodies but skinny legs because they don’t want to pay the price.
So wrap your mind around the idea of squatting well below parallel, and make friends with the pain. Try the leg workout here, and let me know how it goes:
Squats (warmup) 1-3 x 8-10
(10RM poundage) 3 x max
(20RM poundage) 1 x max
Leg presses (warmup) 1-2 x 20
(20RM poundage) 3 x max
Lying leg curls
(10RM poundage) 4 x max
(10RM poundage) 4 x max
Standing calf raises
(warmup) 1 x 15
(15RM poundage) 4 x max
I also suggest taking two to three capsules of Red Dragon (beta-alanine) and two to four capsules of Cort-Bloc about 30 minutes prior to your leg workout. The first buffers muscle burn, giving you more growth reps at the end of a set, and the second controls muscle-cannibalizing cortisol.
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