Sunday, March 18, 2018

Shape Training the Total Leg - Steve Davis (1979)

This Article, from Musclemag International (January 1979)
Courtesy of Liam Tweed

Sure, it's easy for me to talk about training the legs for shape since my mother's calves are an easy 17 inches. With heredity like that it's no wonder my sister Nancy has been a featured performer with many of this country's top ballet companies, including the New York City Ballet Company. 

After years of track, football, and snow skiing my calves measured an easy 18 inches and my thighs 25, without any serious weight-training for those areas. Once I did start training my legs in earnest, my calves hit the 20 inch mark and my thighs 27. So I certainly had no real trouble achieving size, but in my early competition days I was never a consistent "Best Legs" winner. Invariably, my legs had more size and better shape than the other competitors, but I wasn't winning this subdivision. What I needed was actually a reduction in mass and more obvious clarification and muscularity. This realization, that it was quality and not quantity that wins contests, would have saved me the time I wasted training my legs for size at the expense of quality. 

The point of this article is the old cliche: Train for shape, and size will surely follow. 

A smaller but more shapely leg will win out over leg size without quality, and the aesthetic appearance of such a leg needs no defense or explanation, I am certain.  

To begin, let's examine the qualities that make up the ideal leg. The frontal thigh of quadriceps should have the following characteristics:

First, when seen from the front, the width of the upper thigh should be only slightly wider than the area just above the knee.

Second, the inner and outer frontal thigh should have as similar a "sweep" as possible.

Third, the innermost part of the thigh, the sartorius area, should be developed to match the muscularity of the side of the thigh. Usually this area of the thigh is totally neglected, but not so in my routine.

Finally, the frontal and side thigh should exhibit maximum separation.

The leg bicep, or femoral bicep, should balance the frontal thigh, even if you have to stop training the quadriceps while the leg biceps "catch up" to them. Once balance is achieved  between these two areas of the upper thigh, your efforts should be directed towards developing the leg bicep "sweep", which gives the upper thigh that quality look from the side.

There are three main areas of concern when describing the ideal calf:

First, the inner-calf or gastrocnemius should be developed to the maximum. When a high level of development achieved in this area, your calves will take on the "diamond shape" when viewed from the front or rear.

Second, the outer calf must show maximum separation. The outer calf, or soleus, is a muscle you can train directly, but is an area often neglected. By developing the outer calf's separation, your whole leg will look more finished when seen from the side.

Third in my list of requirements is the noticeable development of the tibialis muscle which starts below the knee and sweeps to the side and down the middle of the lower leg. By contrasting the sweep of the tibialis with the mass of the inner-calf you will create the ultimate diamond-shape.

So much for the "ideal." Now let's examine the routine I have designed to create the ideal leg. I suggest you implement this routine for a least a year before gauging its effectiveness.   

A quick note on the "off season" may be of use here. The name itself is a mystery to me, since 99% of the muscle gains you make are during the time when you eat more carbohydrate for added training strength. Obviously, you will sacrifice some muscularity during this time, but it is impossible to maintain maximum definition and training strength at the same time.


It is during the "off-season" that the bodybuilder specializes on his weakest bodypart links. If you can plan one year in advance, and spend the first nine months pounding your weak points, the last three months before peaking can be spent dieting and creating overall muscular balance instead of worrying about weak bodyparts. Doesn't this make sense?

The total leg routine is formulated for the kind of specialization I mentioned above. You may want to perform this routine three times per week the last three months before peaking, in which case you should drop the sets from 5 to 4. However, during the specialization period use it twice weekly.

I recommend you warm up with some abdominal work, but do not train any other body parts on leg days when specializing on them. This will allow for maximum energy on the days you work them, and optimum recuperation time between leg training sessions. You may consider the following routine split:

Monday/Thursday: Chest, Back and Lower Back
Tuesday/Friday: Shoulders, Biceps, Triceps and Forearms
Wednesday/Saturday: Abdominals, Thighs and Calves.

Spend at least two weeks perfecting your form and breath pattern in each exercise, then begin to add weight. Maximum gains are made by using as heavy a weight as you can in strict form, not by cheating with huge, inappropriate exercise poundages. So concentrate on learning how to train before you ever start adding weight. Remember, you are training for quality shape, not random size. Emphasize isolation and purity of movement in your training.

I begin leg days with an abdominal tri-set consisting of Hanging Knee-Ups, Bent-Knee Incline Leg Raises, and Roman Chair Situps. I go through six complete tri-sets with no formal rest between either specific sets or the tri-sets themselves. I use a minimum of 20 reps, and a maximum of 30 reps per exercise. I perform the reps in a smooth, but moderately fast tempo. Also, I exhale as fully as possible as I contract the abs on each rep. This practice enhances the creation of the smallest possible waistline.  

With the completion of my abdominal work, my entire body is warmed up and ready for resistance training.

To avoid unnecessary hip and buttock development I limit my squatting to the Hack style. My first hack squat movement is done on the hack squat machine with my feet in a toes out position. Doing the movement with my feet in this position develops the sweep of the outer thigh. Rather than do regular reps, I do a half-rep followed by a full-rep, which amounts to 1-1/2 reps. Of course, I never extend the thighs to complete extension (lockout) since this practice will reduce continuous tension on the muscle. Instead, I raise up to the two-thirds position on the full rep and the one-half position on the half rep. I do 5 sets of 8 one-and-one-half reps.

My next hack squat movement e with a curved 4 inch block and a pulley. I position my feet 8 inches apart and parallel. I go down to the lowest point and extend upwards to a maximum two-thirds position. I do 15 reps, then without resting I drop the weight 10 pounds and do 15 more, and then again drop 10 pounds and do 15 more reps. That makes 45 consecutive reps. I go through this cycle three times. Doing hack squats with my feet in a parallel position develops the area just above the knee, and balances the inner thigh sweep with that of the outer section.

Leg Extensions are next. This exercise is the best I know to separate the muscles of the frontal thigh. To get the absolute most contraction on each rep, I extend the legs to the full lockout position and then without letting the weight drop back a fraction of an inch I hold this position for two long counts while contracting strongly. Leg extensions should be done slowly and in strictest form. If you use the old style leg extension table, place a 2 x 4 under your legs to improve the leverage. I do 5 sets of 15 reps.

The most direct leg bicep exercise is, of course, the Leg Curl. However, when you train your lower back by doing stiff legged deadlifts and hyperextensions, this area will receive some indirect work. As you do leg curls concentrate on these two points:

One, do not let the bar roll up and down on your leg, keep it in one place.
Two, keep your hips flat on the bench; do not raise your buttocks as you8 contract on each rep.

To finish off the inner thigh, I do Cable Squeezes. This is a fantastic way to bring out the separation of the sartorius muscle. The only requirement is to have access to two "low" opposing pulleys. I slowly squeeze out 5 sets of 30 reps.

For complete calf development, I do both Standing and Seated Calf Raises. In the standing raise I position my feet with the toes apart 12 inches in a "V" position. This stance directly focuses the work on the inner calf. One word of caution applies to any calf raise done in the standing position. You must keep your knees locked in the straight position or the thighs will share some of the work that should be reserved for the calves. Lower your heels to the maximum "down" position, and then with the majority of the pressure on the balls and toes of the feet, press the heels to the highest position and repeat. I do 8 sets of 20 reps.

The Seated Calf Raise is the best exercise available for the development of the soleus or outer calf. The toe position should be between parallel and "pigeon toed" depending on what is comfortable for you. The problem inherent with the standing calf raise obviously does not apply to the Seated Raise (i.e., keeping the legs locked straight), but you must nevertheless seek a maximum stretch and extension with each rep. Again, I do 8 sets of 20 reps.

As a "polisher" to my calf work, I perform 4 sets or Toe Swings. This movement works the tibialis muscle of the lower leg that I mentioned earlier. Stand on a 6 inch calf block, resting the weight of the body on the heels only. Grasp a stationary object for balance as you swing the toes up to the highest position from the floor. I do sets of 50 reps.

Change is necessary if you are to develop the body to is muscular potential. But once you begin to this routine, stay with it it for one full year without any basic alterations, save those I mentioned with regards to pre-contest training for a peak. I have complete faith that in one year's time you will see the kind of improvement in your leg development that may have otherwise taken up to three years.          


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