There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to lower body development. Especially if you’re talking to me.
At this time, one year ago, I had legs the size of a flamingo’s due to double knee surgery from a bilateral patellar tendon rupture.
After I got out of the wheelchair, I started the quest to build my legs back up, combining the knowledge I had from before the injury with the new stuff I learned through experience during and after the injury.
There were definitely takeaways.
Squats & Deadlifts
Squats and deadlifts should be your only low rep lower body moves. And even they deserve higher rep ranges now and again. This is as straightforward a rule as one can get.
Heavy, spinal loading can do well for the nervous system, and requires the total body exertion that’s suited for the rep ranges in question. You won’t get too far training leg extensions or leg presses for sets of 3 or 5 reps, since the quadriceps respond very well to higher rep ranges, more lactate production, and more overall volume.
Too often, we get caught up in lifting heavy all the time, in the name of strength and building muscle. In truth, it highly depends on the individual, but even more highly depends on the muscle group in question.
Slow-twitch dominant groups like the quadriceps won’t get as much benefits from low rep, ultra heavy sets day in and day out. In the sporting world, you’ll notice that athletes whose events require plenty of time under tension for the lower body (think downhill skiing, speed skating, hockey, cycling) usually have the quad development to go along with it.
Get Your Rear in Gear
You had to have been living under a rock the past 20 years if you haven’t heard that the key to big arms is actually largely dependent on your triceps development – not your biceps.
Related: The Real Benefits of Stronger Glutes
Likewise, the key to big, strong, healthy legs doesn’t come from all the attention you spend developing the quads (or trying to). If you don’t have a strong and developed set of glutes and hamstrings, say goodbye to leg girth, and say goodbye to long term leg health while you’re at it.
Squats and deadlifts won’t cut it either. They’re great, but both involve so many other muscles to help out that it can dull the effects of building the posterior chain. Some of my favorite go-to exercises that are often neglected:
- Barbell Hip Thrusts
- Reverse Lunges from Deficit
- Reverse Hyperextensions
- Single Leg Deadlifts
- Glute Kicks
Get Out of the Sagittal Plane
The big mistake that most leg training programs make for themselves is keeping 100% of their movement patterns in the sagittal plane. Movements like squats, lunges, leg presses, deadifts and hack squats all follow suit with this, and there’s nothing to train the muscles and joints of the lower body through lateral movement.
That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it really is – and I noticed it the most personally during my knee rehab. After the first year or so, I began incorporating lateral movements into my training and noticed a huge jump in knee stability and turned a corner in terms of leg development as a by product (it had been forever since I’d done anything in this plane).
The best part about these movements is that they don’t take much weight to feel a very good workout. Since we’re moving from side to side, these exploit key stabilizers like the TFL, adductors, glute medius, and vastus lateralis (outer quads).
Key lateral plane movements that helped me (and continue to help me) are:
Adding these movements to even comprise 10 percent of your lower body sessions will make a huge difference, and each of these moves fit as either a way to start your workout or finish it.
Squats & Deadlifts Alone Won’t Cut it
I don’t care if you’re doing it for sets of 3 reps, or sets of 20 reps. Despite all their benefits, most people shouldn’t swear by simply squats and deadlifts if they’re looking for big legs (or even strong ones). It’s just like arm training. If you want bigger arms, you’ll have to isolate them beyond chin ups, rows, and bench press variations.
Related: 4 Training Tips for Massive Quads
Don’t shy away from bodybuilding exercises like leg extensions, leg curls, hack squats, leg presses, and other movements like this. Many powerlifters even realize the importance of adding these movements to their programs to help bolster their strength, and help them through sticking points of their squats and deadlifts.
Beyond this, it’s also important to avoid overlooking single leg training. Not only does this improve knee stability, but helps with balance, mobility, and coordination to properly assist your big prime movements.
Quick Leg Workout
As a bonus, take this sample workout for a spin, to roll everything I mentioned above into one killer session. Get ready for some volume!
|1. Trap Bar Deadlift*||6||3|
|2. Goblet Squat*||4||Ladder Set|
|3a. Band Resisted Standing Abductions||4||10 Each|
|3b. Side Lying Leg Adduction**||4||10 Each|
|4a. Leg Extension||4||20|
|4b. Smith Machine RDLs**||4||15|
|5. Leg Press||1||2 Mins|
*Rest 3 Mins between sets.
**Rest 90 Secs between supersets
Example of Ladder Set
Example of Leg Press Finisher
This was a 1000 word way of saying something really simple: If you want big legs, you need to make sure nothing gets left behind, and that you’re keeping the variety present in your program.
You’re shooting yourself in the foot if you stay married to one set of exercises or school of thought, and the truth is, other “less important” movements that you’ve been neglecting may be the exact movements that will make the difference between chicken legs and a well-developed lower body.
Make the right choice and train smart.