Tuesday, March 2, 2021

12 Keys to Lower-Body Training - Richard Winett (1992)


From This Issue (July, 1992)

Ask dedicated weight trainees the following questions, and their answers will invariably be the same: 

What are the hardest exercises for you?
 - Legs and lower back exercises. 
What are the most productive exercises in your entire routine 
- Squats, leg presses and deadlifts. 
What exercises present the greatest risk of injury?
Squats, leg presses and deadlifts. 

When your training isn't going well, what exercises do you dread? 

Squats, leg presses and deadlifts. 

It's not hard to see the pattern here. The basic lower-body movements are both revered and dreaded - and with good reason. Over the years I've had a lot of success with lower-body training, and I'm probably one of the few longtime bodybuilders who can honestly say (well, most of the time) that I look forward to a hard lower-body training day. "I'll admit that the ability to use heavy weights and higher reps on lower-body exercises came pretty naturally to me. Even so, in my middle-40s I seem to be getting stronger in that area.
During the past year I've done the following top sets at a bodyweight of 145 pounds: 
Squat: 300 x 31
Safety Squat: 430 x 8
Old Style Vertical Leg Press: 750 x 20
Stiff Legged Deadlift: 300 x 20
Nautilus Leg Extension: 250 x 10. 
In addition, and  probably more important, is the fact that I've had only one injury from lower-body exercises in more than 30 years of training. 

Based on these experiences, I've developed the following step-by-step guidelines for effective lower-body training sessions. I believe that this approach will work for everyone regardless of present ability level or aspirations. 

1) Schedule Specialization Days
For hard workouts, I prefer to do lower-body exercise only and not work any other bodyparts. Although some people favor full-body routines, even this low volume, half-body workout leaves me with little or no desire to do anything beyond my squats, leg presses and deadlifts. Dividing up my bodyparts this way also enables me to get in very hard, focused lower-body sessions in 45 minutes total. That is the major advantage of split routines. 
2) Focus
Lower-body training is difficult and requires a lot of concentration if you're going to accomplish more than just going through the motions (a practice that's not productive and is, in this case, dangerous). I'm not suggesting a long period of deep meditation before each session, just that you use whatever tactics  help you to get relaxed and focused. If on any given day you're distracted and disinterested, you're probably better off postponing your workout.
3) Warm Up Carefully
Lower-body training requires a well-planned warmup because most people use very heavy weights in lower-body movements. A warmup like the one I use, which proceeds from general to specific, should prepare you physically for the heavy session as well as enhance your concentration. 
For lower-body sessions I generally extend my usual warmup practice, starting with four easy minutes on the Air-Dyne. Next I do 20 reps with just an Olympic bar on four movements - overhead presses, squats, stiff-legged deadlifts and rows. All this provides a good general warmup, and I follow it with a few simple upper- and lower-body stretches.

Now I move into my more specific warmup. I do a lot of sets here, but use descending reps. After all, the purpose is to warm up but not drain yourself. Here's an example of my warmup sets if I'm planning to do 350 x 10 in my work set: 

135 x 10
205 x 5
275 x 3
305 x 2
320 x 2
335 x 1
350 x 1.

Notice that I end by doing a single rep with the poundage I'm going to handle in the work set. This really prepares me for the heavy weight. After this warmup I'm sure I can handle it, and I get my position just right. If I have any doubt, though, I'll either repeat the one-rep warmup or reduce the weight I'll use that day. This final one-rep warmup is so important that I'll even include it in sessions at which I plan to do 15 to 20 reps on my work set. Note also that if I wanted, I could claim that I perform seven sets of squats (six warmup sets, one real work set) while doing high-volume training. If you warm up properly, however, your warmup sets will be very different from the one or two real work sets you do.
4) Find Your Best Squat Position
Although there are ideal positions for doing squats and related exercises most effectively for our purposes, keeping your body very straight and squatting deeply, not everyone has a physique that can fit into these ideal positions comfortably or safely. While you should never sacrifice form for the sake of adding more weight, it also doesn't make sense to attempt to use a form that feels unnatural to you.
A more general rule of thumb is to avoid very exaggerated movements. For example, you're better off keeping your upper body relatively straight when you squat and only squatting to slightly below parallel rather than squatting very deeply and not holding your body so straight.
To this end you also want to avoid using lifting suits, wraps and other paraphernalia. These accoutrements only allow you to lift more weight than your structure can support. Of course, you can lift more - but with a much greater risk of injury. The only exception to this guideline is the use of a lifting belt, which can help hold the torso straight.
Training experts debate the merits of using footwear with an elevated heel for keeping yourself more upright vs. squatting flat-footed. If you can stay relatively straight in the flat-footed style and attain the appropriate depth, you're better off. 

5) Limit Your Work Sets

Since lower-body work is so hard when done correctly, one or two sets on any major movement is enough. There's an old adage that I think makes this point very well. If in a hard workout you really want to and can do another very hard set of squats or deadlifts, then you probably haven't done the first work set hard enough! 
If you've been doing a lot of multiple-set routines on lower-body movements, try reducing your session to one hard set of several quad exercises and one hard set of one or two lower-back exercises. The shorter routine means more focus and effort and probably better results.
6) Warm Up for Every Exercise
Movements are very specific. Even if you start your leg routine with squats and a similar warmup to the one described above, it's still a good idea to do one or two warmup sets on your other quad movements as well. For example, if I'm planning to do leg presses and leg extensions after the squats, I do one or two warmup sets of two to three reps for each exercise.
The brief time spent on these warmups adjusts your body and mind to the movements and also reduces your risk of injury. Although the rep range I use for quad exercises depends on the training cycle I'm in, for the sake of safety I usually do somewhat higher reps for quad and lower-back work than I do for my upper body. For example, I often do 20 to 25 reps for lower body when I'm in the endurance phase, 15 reps in the strength/endurance phase, and 10 reps in the strength phase.
7) Rest Between Sets 
If your training goals include strength, it doesn't make sense to limit the time you take between sets of heavy lower-body work. I'm not suggesting that you rest 5 or 10 minutes between sets, but I am advising a two-to-four minute interval. Besides enabling you to use more weight, taking a rest of that length offers another advantage. Your training won't become painful and something you begin to dread. Any benefit of taking minimal rest time between sets will be negated by your unwillingness to continue that kind of intense training for very long. Keep things hard and focused - but not aversive. 
8) Include Stiff-Legged Deadlifts
I almost always deadlift after quad exercises and, except on rare occasions, I do the stiff-legged variety. Compared to the regular deadlift, it provides greater range of motion with the added benefit of hamstring involvement. If you bend your knees slightly, you avoid most of the injury potential of this movement while still getting most of the benefits. In addition, unless you can easily touch your palms to the floor with your knees slightly bent, do not perform stiff-legged deadlifts while standing on a bench or block. If you don't have the required flexibility, forcing yourself into an exaggerated position by using the weight to extend your range of motion sets the stage for a very major injury.
Because deadlifts follow quad work and because they are so difficult, I use a different type of warmup for them. I only do one-rep sets when warming up. For example, I might do 200x1, 250x1, and then a work set of 300x20. 
I do use grips for deadlifts. I guess this breaks the paraphernalia rule, but with small hands and wrists I'm pretty limited in what I can do without grips in a heavy high-rep set. The grips allow me to deadlift more weight so I can better develop my lower back and hamstrings. Deadlifts are so hard that I almost never do them in easy workouts. Instead I do nothing for my lower back at easy workouts, or perhaps do hyperextensions. 
9) Move on to Leg Curls
Not surprisingly, I do leg curls for hamstrings after my deadlifts. Form and feel are everything on this exercise. You must feel yourself perform a very full, complete movement. Otherwise it's a waste of time and effort. Furthermore, incorrectly performed leg curls - for example, when you use too much weight - inevitably result in strained or pulled muscles.
Another great exercise for hamstrings is the glute/ham bench. This is probably the only way to get an absolutely complete hamstring movement; that is, a full stretch and a full contraction. The movement resembles a hyperextension but involves your hamstrings in propelling you from a complete stretch position, as in the start of a hyperextension, to a point where your upper body is at a right angle to your lower legs. This is a difficult exercise at first and, again, if not performed correctly can easily lead to injury. For this reason I only use the glute/ham bench in easy workouts when I'm very focused on form.
10) Use the Same Approach on Your Calves 
I believe in training calves the same way I train all my other bodyparts. The old argument that calves need very high volume sessions because they get a lot of work in everyday activities doesn't make sense. Everyday activities may provide considerable low-intensity volume work, but they just don't entail periodic calf raises with heavy weight! 

My advice is to train your calves exactly as you train your quads. Warm up thoroughly on your first exercise and then do one very hard set with strict form - all the way down, all the way up, no bouncing. Next, move on to two or three other calf exercises, performing a one- or two-set warmup and then one hard work set for each. You'll be surprised at what three or four strict, hard sets of calf raises can do for your lower legs.

11) Include Obliques on a Lower-Body Training Day

Obliques are tied into the lower back, and by doing deadlifts I've already warmed up for the major oblique movement, heavy dumbbell side bends. I used to perform multiple sets of this exercise, but it's a very difficult movement, and I've found that I can put more into it by just doing one hard set. Then I move on to one or two other oblique movements, such as twisting cable crunches. A recent addition to my workout is the twisting side hanging crunch. This is a difficult exercise, but when you learn to feel and control it, it's very effective. 
12) Cool Down When You're Finished
A hard lower-body session also needs to end in a special way. I go back and ride the Air-Dyne at an easy level for four minutes. After that I slowly stretch for at least five minutes. A lower-body day actually gives your whole body a pretty good going-over. Therefore, it's important to stretch your whole body. If you have time, I also suggest a slow, brief walk of 10-15 minutes. This cool-down and stretching will really facilitate your short- and long-term recovery.
Enjoy Your Lifting!


Sunday, February 28, 2021

Abs in Three Moves - Sarah L. Chadwell (2021)

 Thierry Pastel 

Face it: Core training shouldn't just be a staple because you want a hot body. Your core is your centerpiece. Think of playing Jenga. The blocks in the middle that keep the tower from certain collapse represent your core. It's your stability center, and when your core is strong, the rest of your body can become even stronger. 

As you know, all training movements and variations of these movements work in different ways to help develop your muscles. All targeted core exercises help to strengthen your abs, but there are exercises that are better suited for density, and still others draw your abs in tightly around your spine which makes your midsection visually compact. Gaining all three of these benefits from your abs regimen is our goal for you.
If you're hardcore about maintaining a rock solid body, we have the moves that will make your core strong, three-dimensional, and compact. What follows are three moves you can do anywhere, the why behind performing these exercises, and the frequency at which you should be training.  
1) Strengthen With the Double Crunch
Abdominal crunches are an exercise specifically designed to strengthen the core muscles of the body. The overall impact of performing crunches is that you'll strengthen the muscles of your core, improve your posture, and you will increase not only the mobility, but also the flexibility of the muscles trained. 

The double crunch is a calisthenics move that involves a regular crunch combined with a reverse crunch. It's one move that serves as a two-for-one deal. By combining two crunching movements into one hardcore (no pun intended) exercise, you will effectively work more muscles at once. In fact, this combined movement works to strengthen your obliques, rectus abdominus and hip flexors. You efficiently work your entire core, top to bottom and side to side, in one fell swoop.

How to Do a Double Crunch
Step 1: Lie on your back. Bend your knees and cross your ankles, but don't press your knees together. 
Step 2: Place only your fingertips behind your ears to lightly support your head. You won't pull with your hands/arms at all. Throughout the exercise, keep your chin down toward your chest to maintain a neutral spine, but don't let it touch.
Step 3: Contract your abs and exhale. Using your core, lift your head, neck, shoulders and torso up and forward toward your bent knees. Simultaneously lift, or curl, your hips up and bring your glutes up toward your head. Continue up until both your shoulder blades and glutes lift up off the floor. 

Step 4: Pause for a 2-count and then slowly lower yourself back into the starting position. 

2) Build Density With the Weighted Crunch

The weighted crunch is yet another variation of the crunch; however, because it involves weight, it's a progression from crunches that's best for building both strength and density. The result of using the weighted crunch is building a core that's thick and three dimensional in appearance, which also allows for more separation to show when at a low bodyfat level. 
How to Do a Weighted Crunch
Step 1: Lie on your back in a relaxed position with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle held up in the air, or you can rest your heels on a flat bench with your legs still bent at 90 degrees. 
Step 2: Hold a plate, a pair of dumbbells, or a medicine ball directly over your chest. Press the weight up to arms' length directly over your chest. 
Step 3: While keeping the weight extended, contract your abs and lift like you would for a crunch, until your upper back is off the floor. Squeeze your abs for a 2-count.
Step 4: Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position. You can keep the weight extended or bring it back down to your chest between reps. However, if you lower it for each repetition, don't use momentum to push yourself into the next rep.
3) Get Compact With Planks
Planks are one of the most effective exercises for strengthening your core. The added bonus is that they also strengthen just about every other muscle in your body because you need all of them to stabilize yourself during this exercise.
The major benefit of doing planks that we're focusing on is that they strengthen your transversus abdominis, the deepest core muscles in your body. The transverse abs wrap around your torso. Picture an internal corset that compresses your abdominal wall. When you strengthen your transverse abs, that corset an cinch down, or hold, tighter.   

Not only do stronger transverse abs better protect and support your internal organs, but they also cinch in your waistline making your midsection compact and tight. You must also strengthen the transverse abdominis to properly build your rectus abdominis or six-pack. 

How to Do a Plank

Step 1: Place the palms of your hands on the ground directly under your shoulders. Position your feet hip-width apart and push up until your spine is completely straight. You should be balancing on the balls of your feet. Make sure your body is down and in line with your spine. 
Step 2: Draw your belly button in toward your spine. This keep your core up and tight. Squeeze with your glutes.
Step 3: Squeeze your lats as if your were pulling away from the ground. Keep your chin down and toward your chest. REMEMBER: DON'T FORGET TO BREATHE.
Step 4: Hold! 
The Workout
Just as the exercises you choose are significant for seeing results, so is your frequency and volume of training. Keep in mind that the core muscles need recovery time just like all other muscles, and you don't have to work them every day to see fantastic results [Diet, duh, what diet. Where's the damn abs you promised!] 
We propose that you train two or three times per week at the end of your workout and use progressive overload each week to ensure your abs continue to develop. 
Week One
During the first week, complete two rounds [tri-sets] of each exercise for the specified reps. Take a 30-second rest between exercises and one minute between rounds.    

Double Crunch: beginner, 15-20 reps; advanced, to failure
Weighted Crunch: same as above
Plank: beginner, 30-60 seconds; advanced, to failure

Week Two
During the second week, you can progress your workout by increasing repetitions. Another way to progress is by completing additional rounds, and you can also increase the amount of weight used for weighted crunches. For example: 
Double Crunch: beginner, 20-25 reps; advanced, to failure
Weighted Crunch: same as above
Plank: beginner, 45-75 seconds; advanced, to failure.
If you're advanced, you should work to increase the point at which you reach failure. Push for the extra repetitions on the crunches and longer holds for the planks. You should also be completing more rounds than a beginner. 
All of these exercises are to be performed slowly, and you should be squeezing your core and feeling the muscle contractions. This is not a race to the finish line. Quality is king!  

The core of anything is an essential component. When it comes to your body, your core is the centerpiece for both strength and aesthetics. You need to give it the proper attention. Using these three moves along with a clean-lean diet will allow you to show off your abs in no time. 

Enjoy Your Lifting!





Blog Archive