Question: I'm 41 years old, and I've been working out for 20 years, mostly three or four times a week. My upper body develops more easily than my lower body. Do I have any hope of putting more size on my legs, or should I just be satisfied with what I have?
Answer: I'd be interested to know what percentage of those three or four workouts a week is spent on heavy leg work. I never cease to be amazed at how many people will devote an hour or more to the so-called show muscles like arms, and then spend only 15-20 minutes on serious leg work. I'm not suggesting that's what you're doing, but I know from long experience that most people view movements like full squats, heavy leg presses, deadlifts and cleans as the grim part of their workouts - something to be endured. In fact, if you conducted a survey regarding the exercise that is least liked by trainees, I'm certain that exercise would be squats. The squat is also the exercise most likely to be scrapped in favor of something easier - the hack machine, leg extension or any of several other innocuous leg movements.
The answer to your question is to LEARN TO LOVE HEAVY LEG WORK, ESPECIALLY SQUATS
Give them top priority and perform them first in every leg workout. Whether you're using a split routine of a whole body program, make squats your first leg exercise.
You also want to eliminate all additional quadriceps exercises for a while. Nothing will make your legs bigger and stronger than squats!
Because you're only doing one quad movement, you do more work on it, at least 6 to 8 sets.
There are two ways to make progress quickly on a six-to-eight-set squat program. The first I learned from John Grimek: pyramiding the weight up and the decreasing the reps on each subsequent set. The reps are:
AND ALL SIX SETS SHOULD BE HARD.
Adjust your weights accordingly.
After pyramiding your squats for several months, you'll discover that the heavier, lower rep sets are taking less out of you than the first three sets. The higher rep sets condition you, the heavier sets strengthen you, and the two work together to make your legs grow very rapidly.
After about three months you up it to 8 sets and change the approach. At that point you're going to be feeling very differently about leg work - and looking forward to squatting. You'll be ready, willing and able to perform leg work you weren't able to handle three months before.
After warming up and some warmup sets, choose the heaviest weight you can squat for 10 reps. Perform 2 sets with that weight, then
take 10 pounds off the bar and do 2 more sets, continuing with that progression until you've completed 8 sets. For example, you might perform 2 sets of 10 with 350, 2 sets with 340, 2 with 330, and a final 2 sets with 320.
The two squat programs should work beautifully for you. After three months on the second one, I suggest you switch back to the pyramids, alternating the two approaches every two months.
The rest of your leg training will be as follows:
6 sets of leg curls
8 sets of calf work
5 sets of 6 reps of deadlifts.
The deadlifts help strengthen your lower back, which facilitates your squatting.
Question: I've been reading your training articles for 25 years (this article published May 2000) in various magazines. I remember one you did in 1978, in which you recommend training the entire body over three days and then taking a day off. You favored training two upper body parts on Day 1, Legs on Day 2, and the 2 other upper body parts on Day 3. Do you still train that way? If not, how has your program changed.
Answer: You've obviously been around quite a while yourself. It's nice to have people reading my stuff - and remembering it - over the years.
To answer your question, no, I don't train the same way I did back then, although I do nearly all the same exercises and try to keep it heavy. My first and foremost requirement for successful bodybuilding has always been to emphasize strength. I do, however, spread the whole body over 5 days instead of 4 and schedule my rest days differently, as I don't recover as quickly as I used to.
I work the first two days the same as before, training 2 upper body parts on Day 1 and legs on Day 2. Now, however, I rest on Day 3, come back for the other 2 upper body parts on Day 4, and rest on Day 5. That system gives me approximately 6 workouts per bodypart a month, rather than the 7-1/2 or so I was getting back when I wrote that article.
The other significant change I've made is in the area of warming up and stretching. 20 years ago I never bothered with that; now I spend 10 minutes warming up and stretching on upper-body days and about 20 minutes on leg day.
I'm getting to be an old dog (I was 72 in January), and it behooves me to take more care than I did when I was a kid.
Photo Courtesy of Joe Roark