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Split Your Legs in Two

And save your lower back

The idea of dividing leg training into separate days or sessions for quads and hamstrings is nothing new. Like many bodybuilders before you, you probably learned the hard way that tackling hams after many sets of quad exercises have already wiped you out leads to subpar hamstring development.

Here’s another compelling argument for splitting up the two. The most productive movement for the quads is without question the barbell squat. When you squat, your lower back works extremely hard to isometrically contract and provide stability to the trunk. You undoubtedly know that not keeping the back tight while squatting can easily lead to a lower-back injury, and even a thick lifting belt won’t prevent that from happening.

The two most productive movements for hamstrings are leg curls and stiff-legged deadlifts. The stiff-legged deadlift is much like the squat in that it also demands a very tight lower back. Bending over while holding a heavy barbell is one of the most dangerous positions you can put your lower back in, which is why you must always keep a slight arch. Rounding your lower back, which can happen if you relax it either intentionally or due to fatigue, is how thousands of weight trainees have become regular patients of chiropractors, physical therapists and massage therapists. Trust me, I’ve been there. The problem with performing squats and stiff-legged deadlifts in the same workout is that few of us have the endurance in the spinal erector muscles to maintain the requisite tension for both. If you squat first, you’ve probably noticed that you have a hard time going as heavy on stiff-legs, and vice versa.

Some trainees simply skip the deadlifts altogether, which is a huge mistake. The solution is to do the exercises on separate days. There are two ways to do it. One is obvious: Do all your quad-dominant exercises, such as squats, leg extensions and lunges, on one day, and all your hamstring-dominant movements on another. A second option is to do squats and leg curls on one day, then two or three days later come back and do deadlifts, leg extensions and sissy squats or lunges. That way you’re working your entire leg twice a week. I highly recommend the second tactic for those whose legs lag behind the upper body, as hitting them just once a week often isn’t enough work to stimulate growth.

Whatever method you choose, remember that both squats and stiff-legged deadlifts are essential to complete leg development. Doing them on separate days will save your lower back and allow you to train heavier and with higher intensity on both movements. The result is a set of wheels you’ll never want to hide under baggy pants.

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