It's leg day.
The choice is clear.
You either dig in and accept the fact that to obtain more thigh size you'll have to endure some pain, or you wimp out and take it easy . . . work 'em light . . . do a little bit.
Any way you choose to rationalize the latter option, it'll still spell the same result. No growth.
Yup, you're just going to have to face the consequences. No other bodypart requires you to put out more effort than the legs.
The legs are able to withstand the greatest amount of stress. A successful leg workout requires a poundage overload that not only will force them to work harder but will also tax the entire adrenal system. Equally distressing, achieving a pump in the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes requires a drain of blood from the rest of your body. This drain produces that queasy feeling in the stomach so familiar to those who regularly experience the torture of heavy squatting.
Okay, so it's gonna hurt. But leg growth does not occur through pain alone. Training smart is just as important as training hard. To work the legs effectively, you may be cheating yourself out of optimum results by following rarely addressed misconceptions or by not taking advantage of some little known yet highly effective strategies.
To get the most out of these heart-pounding, nausea-inducing leg workouts, the following 10 tactics will provide a guide toward achieving optimal growth in minimal time.
1) One-and-a-Half Squats
Use a slightly lighter weight than you would normally choose for squats until you get the hang of this movement. Descend in the normal fashion, but on the way up stop at the midway point. Hold this position for four seconds. Now return to the bottom position. Come up through a full range of motion until you're standing erect.
This movement puts tremendous stress on all the muscles of the legs as well as the glutes. You won't be able to use quite as much weight as with standard squatting, but what do you want -- to impress the other guys at the gym with how much you can lift, or pack on more muscle?
2) Use the Leg Extension Sparingly
No one ever build massive quadriceps with leg extensions. Have you ever tried cheating your way through a leg workout by doing only leg extensions? If so, I'm sure you realize the results are far from impressive. The leg extension is great as either a finishing movement or as a pre-exhaust exercise.
To achieve the best results, you must do leg extensions in conjunction with a compound movement. The main reason why the leg extension is not effective on its own is that it's essentially an unnatural movement. (Where in life do you extend your leg against resistance in that manner?) The squat, on the other hand, is the basis for all leg movement.
Don't neglect leg extensions completely. Just keep in mind that they should be an adjunct to some variation of a squat movement and not the major part of any leg extension.
3) Partial Reps
All too often partial reps get a bad rap. The thinking is that they limit range of motion, preventing the muscle from working to its utmost. This theory would be true if partial reps were all you did, but using them in addition to full-range exercises can prove very beneficial. Another advantage of incorporating partial reps is that they allow you to use heavier weights. They are especially valuable in leg training.
Partial squats with a workload beyond what you usually use can more intensely work the lower quadriceps as well as get the body accustomed to experiencing the feel of more weight. In this way you send a signal to the brain that it must adjust to a newfound stress. That, in turn, prepares the endocrine system to endure heavier loads. By doing partial reps with increased poundages, you can increase strength within the full range of motion.
This is a good technique to try with the Smith machine where you can better gauge the depth of the squat by setting the pins so that your knees won't bend past parallel. Try adding an extra 20% to your squat and knocking out a few sets of short squats.
Partials also work well after you have completed a regular set when you can no longer do full squats but can manage a few little ones. This technique can provide something extra that'll blow up those thighs like never before.
4) Skip the Knee Wraps
Unless you're attempting a one-rep max (a dubious endeavor unless competitive powerlifting is your goal), wrapping your knees provided no benefit. Many people look upon knee wraps as protection when in fact wrapping the knees causes compression and consequently abrasion between the vastus medialis and the patella. True, wraps will allow you to use more weight, but once again, what's the goal? Lifting more weight or working the thighs as effectively as possible?
5) Supersetting Stiff Leg Deadlifts With Leg Curls
If you're truly serious about hammering those hamstrings, try this merciless superset combination. Do a set of stiff-leg deadlifts with a weight that will bring you close to failure after 10 reps. As soon as you finish the set, go to the leg curl for a set of 10 reps. After resting as little as possible, repeat the process. This superset is particularly effective because it works the muscles with contrary motion in that one exercise (deadlifts) causes the hamstrings to work from a stretched to a relaxed position. Complete 4 total sets of this deadly duo and you can expect some soreness in the backs of your legs that might have you walking a little wobbly for a while.
6) Know the Difference Between One Machine and Another
Very often bodybuilders use a shotgun approach to leg training. They use a variety of exercises in an effort to hit the muscles from every possible angle, but if a specific exercise isn't targeting the area you're looking to work, it can wind up being nothing more than exhaustive wasted effort.
For example, the hack squat machine and the leg press may appear to be similar versions of a squat-like movement, but they're extremely dissimilar in function. The hack machine will put exceptional stress on the lower quadriceps and inadvertently the knees. The leg press allows for a much deeper bend in the legs which hits the glutes to a greater degree. In many ways it's much better than those butt-blaster machines specifically designed to target the glutes.
If you have bad knees, stay away from the hack. If your glutes are growing more than you would like, go with the hack and avoid the leg press.
7) Static Lunges
When you think of a lunge, you probably think of stepping into or back into the lunge position. Why not stay in the lunge and work one side at a time? Stretch into position, making sure your front knee doesn't extend too far over your shin. Now, remaining in that position, dip down until your rear knee just touches the floor. Continue with this mini knee-bend movement and soon you will feel as if your legs are on fire. Talk about a vicious pump! Repeat with the other leg outstretched. You can do lunges either with a barbell across your shoulders or with a dumbbell in each hand. For an additional stretch elevate your rear foot on a bench.
8) 20-Rep Squats
Also referred to as "breathing squats," 20-rep squats are thought by many to be the most anabolic of all exercises. Most people think of high reps as a defining technique, but when you're doing squats, the stress to the quads can get mighty intense by the time you hit that 15th rep. High rep squatting is also excellent for inducing the natural release of growth hormone.
Rest as long as you need to between sets. You may also need to take in a few deep gulps of air between reps (hence the term breathing squats). Do 20-rep squats as a sole leg exercise. You'll find doing 6 sets of 20 reps with a moderate weight is a lot tougher than it sounds. These squats are hard, but they work.
9) Use a Variety of Squat Stances
A narrow stance will put most of the strain on the front quads (the vastus laterals and the rectus femoris). A wide stance will abductors and the sartorius, which give that full sweep to the inner thigh. Experiment with different widths and see what works best for you.
10) Train Hard or Don't Bother
When it comes to training legs, if you're not feeling up to a hard workout, don't go to the gym. I wish I had a dollar for every time I've heard someone say he didn't have the energy to work legs so he did another bodypart instead. Do that often enough and you'll wind up working legs half as much as you should. Stay consistent. Keep a regular rotation of training each bodypart once a week and stick with it. If you need an extra day of rest, take it, but come back the next day and hit those legs with a vengeance!
Follow these 10 tips and you'll soon be on your way to stronger, beefier thighs. Some of these suggestions sound difficult? Damn straight! Hey, I only said they'd help. I never said it was going to be easy. Then again . . . easy isn't synonymous with successful leg training. It's still gonna hurt, but at least you'll have something to show for your effort.
Leg day is near. Will you ignore the challenge? Or will you do whatever it takes? The choice is clear.
Enjoy Your Lifting!