Those who are aware of my earlier lifting career will know that first years in weight training were devoted strictly to Olympic weightlifting. I was Cuban and Pan-American 198-lb champion. Weightlifting was my sole interest . . . the development of strength in the lifts rather than a combination of power and symmetrically pleasing physical development which I am striving for now. This was due in part to Cuban propaganda of the time, and partly to my own ignorance of bodybuilding . . . I simply didn't know it existed!
Luckily, I have natural power and muscle thanks to heredity. All the other members of my family are large and strong, and my brother Diego is a really strong lifter. With this background I took to lifting naturally and easily, and enjoyed every moment of it. I trained hard and worked for maximum power, while still concentrating on lifting style, and in time I won my share of contests.
But with the political climate of Cuba being what it was, most of my lifting team and I defected several years ago while we were at a meet in Jamaica. Soon I made my way to the United States and settled in Chicago, where I began training at the Duncan YMCA.
My background had made me gung-ho as a lifter, and in some ways scornful of bodybuilders as weak sissies . . . not really powerful weightlifting he-men. I saw how bodybuilders worked devotedly to develop a classically perfect physique . . . when I saw how tough it was the challenge of it really interested me.
My naturally good bone structure and muscular shape (which I must have been told of a thousand times when I first got to Chicago) had a bit to do with it, too. I began to realize that my natural equipment was actually much better for bodybuilding than lifting. In the latter I would be at a disadvantage to many America lifters. Therefore, I would become a bodybuilder.
Olympic Weightlifting Helped Improve My Development
Now, switching to bodybuilding was no problem In fact, my Olympic weightlifting past made the transition amazingly easy for me in many ways. First, my natural power helped me adjust to bodybuilding exercises easily. Second, the degree of strength and development which I already had gave me a solid base to work from, so added muscle came easily. Moreover, my natural structure and weightlifting-acquired power gave me extra advantages over other beginning bodybuilders.
Third, my training in weightlifting style made correct exercising technique quite natural when I began bodybuilding, therefore I have always worked hard to perform all exercises correctly and for maximum benefit . . . no headlong rush to bulk up . . . to get massive beyond my bone structure . . . no frantic efforts to cheat excessively in every exercise in an effort to handle more and more weight. Since I was already fairly large, what I needed most was shape and definition. Thus I concentrated on the style of exercise movement . . . fully utilizing peak contraction and continuous tension methods.
The hard facts of weightlifting are that style and technique are as essential to success as strength. The crude lifter who has power without style is certain not to reach his best performance. As a bodybuilding novice, then, I made fewer of the mistakes most beginners do, and this too helped me reach my level much more rapidly than others.
I got off in good style from the beginning when training my thighs. I worked carefully for shape and overall development by doing my exercises correctly and keeping an eye on appearance as well as mere size.
Because I had always performed Squats properly, without excessive forward lean, my thighs, not the hips and back, got most of the work. In doing Squat Cleans or Squat Snatches I dropped into the movement easily and properly, making for good all-around thigh development before I ever began bodybuilding.
My Bodybuilding Methods
I don't want to convey the impression that the transition to bodybuilding from weightlifting was an easy one where I did a few curls and bench presses, then went up to accept my trophy! Far from it. I had to change my entire approach to training. No more "just strength and technique" . . . now I had to consider shape, muscle size, cuts and separation of the various muscles. What I had to work for was muscle density and try to reach my best possible bodyweight, while building my muscles to their limit.
This, too, wasn't easy, yet my background in good exercise style and hard training helped me over the transitional hump until I discovered advanced bodybuilding training techniques through Bob Gajda. I learned all the techniques others were using . . . flushing, quality training, PHA, instinctive training, burns, etc.
I find I can fully use power exercises to gain maximum size, while still maintaining my ideal shape. I must again admit that muscle shape and bone structure, naturally inherited, helped me. But without exercise techniques to develop my thighs completely, in a shapely manner without overdeveloping my hips, I wouldn't have the development I now possess.
With appropriate exercise style to develop my muscle shape and power exercises for maximum size I believe I have a complete routine. Quality Training insures maximum pump and maximum work in the allotted time. It simply means taking the shortest rest pauses between exercises, and supersets and tri-sets help me do just that.
My Thigh Training Routine
My thigh exercises are performed on Wednesdays and Fridays in conjunction with abdominal and calf work. Since the legs must be worked as a whole for truly symmetrical development, I combine some of my thigh exercises with calf movements. Each exercise has a specific purpose, as you will see.
Thigh Superset One
For maximum thigh size (my thighs at the Mr. Universe competition in Montreal were nearly 29 inches), I still believe the best single exercise is the Squat done to below parallel position with the back straight, not bent forward or hunched over. I start with 225 and do 10-15 reps. Next, I steadily increase the weight until I hit 550, doing a full set of as many reps as I can with each increase in poundage. This adds up to a total of 10 to 15 sets. At the end of these sets I decrease the weight to 225 for a final 3-set pump-out. Throughout these and with as little rest as possible I go into . . .
2) Leg Curls.
To fully develop the thigh biceps, and all-important sector of the thighs that, when well developed, complete the overall package, I do 6 to 8 sets of 15 reps each with 100 pounds on the lying leg curl. In order to complete this exercise and not interfere with maximum squatting, I combine the two as I feel like it . . . about one set of Leg Curls for every two sets or so of Squats. In this way I get the exercise done, with all of its benefits for the back of the thighs, without cutting into my squatting power and frontal thigh development.
Leg Superset Two
1) Leg Press.
To obtain a good, overall pump and assure shapely inner thigh development, I do Leg Presses, 6 sets of 15 with 350 to 400 pounds. This is really a moderate weight, and I make sure to do the exercise properly, using leg power alone and placing my hips not too far under the board. This exercise should be done moderately slowly from the very beginning of the movement to the very end.
2) Calf Raise on Leg Press.
I combine calf work with thigh work by simply moving my feet to the edge of the leg press platform and doing toe raises. The same weight/sets/reps are utilized as in the leg press, with a minimum of time and movement lost between sets. In fact, it is possible for you to continue this superset without the usual rest/pause at the end of Exercise 2 because the alternation of movements affects such vastly different muscles (not sectors of the same muscle group).
Leg Superset Three
1) Leg Extension.
Here I use a light weight -- 100 pounds or so -- for 6 sets of 15 reps. I concentrate fully on slow and deliberate leg movement, going from full resting position to knee-locked position each and every rep. Concentrate completely on the delineation between the frontal thigh muscles, and with each rep try to bring the separation into full bold relief. Cut up those thighs! Then, without rest I immediately do a set of . . .
2) Seated Calf Raises.
To further develop the calves I use around four to five hundred pounds and move my heels up and down through a full range of motion for 6 sets of 15-20 reps. I hold the lowest bottom 'stretch' position for a few seconds on some reps.