Thursday, October 1, 2009
Leg Work for the Olympic Lifter - Carl Miller
Leg Work for the Olympic Lifter
by Carl Miller (1974)
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What I am about to explain is relatively new in the United States but it is not new overseas; it has long been used by the Europeans. They believe in working around the spine and knees so they will remain fresh and not get injured. An example in the United States is the work of Bob Hise with Roger Quinn as they perform manual isokinetic exercises for the legs. Both men have indicated in conversations with me that Robert’s leg strength is better than before and his knees feel much better.
To do squats, squats, and more squats in the same manner is really debilitating to the spine and knees. After all the pulls and low positions a lifter hits it’s a wonder his spine and knees can take any squats at all. Certainly after a few years something will eventually give. Why not vary the routine? By varying I don’t mean alternating light, medium and heavy squats, although this is a better variation than none at all. I mean doing something like speed squats, leg work that isolates the muscles of the knees and hips without straining the knee and spine, and such work as pre-exhaustion leg work which accomplishes the same thing.
For example, let’s say you are going to work legs four times a week. On day one you might do your regular squats. You may be doing fronts or backs for 3’s or 5’s, but let us assume that you will get in 4 weeks of day one squatting during a month. One week you should work up to 70% of your best FOR THE AMOUNT OF REPS YOU ARE DOING. During week number two, do 80%. During week number three, 90%. Then during week four try for a record.
Continuing the example, on day two you might do speed squats. You should take 80% of your best for the number of reps you are doing and see how fast you can do these. The Russians were using a form of these 10 years ago. For this you need someone to time you because you are only going against yourself; your down rhythm should be kept constant so that only your up or rising rhythm is the one that gets faster. If you increase your lowering speed you will bang into the bottom – a NO NO! Do 7 sets in the following manner: Warm up for 3 sets and then on the 4th, 5th and 6th sets have yourself timed, using 80% of your best for the number of reps you are doing at the time. A 7th set can be added using a lighter weight and doing it without being timed, just as a cooling down set. This really adds power to your legs. And that is what lifters want. They should not be trying to see how much they can front squat with. They need to be able to use their hips, legs and lower back with explosiveness. These speed squats build that explosion, that power.
On day three you can work around the knees with such leg exercises and hip exercises as leg presses, hack work (for the front of the thighs, which really play an important role in rising out of a heavy clean of dipping with the rear end when in when jerking), leg extensions and even leg curls. These can be done on conventional machinery or some of the more advanced forms of machines being developed lately. Or they can be done manually as Bob Hise advocates. Never let lack of equipment hinder your enthusiasm. With the exception of doing these manually and on isokinetic machines, for which 3 to 5 reps for 1 or 2 sets is sufficient, usually 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps is recommended when blending into the total four days of leg work.
On day four the pre-exhaustion leg work can be done. Other people have found, as I myself did in a study of the front squat, that only about 20% of the strength in the front squat comes from the quads. The rest comes mainly from the lower back. So imagine what this percentage would be if one did BACK squats during which even more weight is borne by the spine! Therefore, what tires first is the lower back and the legs don’t really get fully worked. The theory of pre-exhaustion in leg work is that the lifter completely exhausts the quads and then squats. This can be done by doing a set of leg extensions, a set of leg presses, and then squatting. Again, with the exception of manual and machine-isokinetic work during which lower reps will exhaust the quads sooner, a set of 8 to 12 reps each is recommended. Then choose a weight that is about 60% of your best for 5 reps in the squat and do as many reps as you can. Once 10-15 reps is reached, increase the weight for the squat.
Does all this sound strange? Really, it isn’t.
As I said, foreign lifters have been doing variations of this for years. Some lifters may think that in some cases the reps are too high, but some of our best lifters have said that they made their greatest leg gains with high reps. The above leg routine is only one of many possible variations. My main concern is that some such variation be used as a change from the constant blasting of the spine and knees which leaves them dead or hurting after a few years. For an Olympic lifter there are better ways of training the legs than to continue doing squats workout after workout. With those better ways come better progress, a spine that is alive and has whip, and knees that have spring instead of pain.
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