One of the very foundations of a sound body-building program is a group of exercises which, while exercising all parts of the body, emphasizes the exercises for the legs. Taking into consideration the importance of leg development, I am devoting this article to the development of the UPPER LEGS ONLY, and in the next article will talk about the development of the muscles of the calves.
I have found from personal experience, and in talking with other body-building enthusiasts, that the upper legs have never been particularly difficult to develop if one goes at it intelligently -- and diligently. Bulk can be easily acquired in comparatively short time, but shape and contour will take a little time to develop.
There are numerous exercises which can be used to very good advantage for thigh development, but there are also a few basic exercises which should be a must in every body-builder's program. It is a proven fact that exercises which work the major portions of the body have a definite effect on the weight of the body. The legs and hips constitute almost half the muscular bulk of the body -- therefore, to gain weight and to build greater strength, it is necessary to develop the legs to the limit. Every ambitious body-builder should have at least half his program devoted to exercises for the legs. In any sport, as long as the legs are strong and alive, the athlete can still continue to maintain his peak. But the moment his legs begin to weaken and lose their spring and elasticity, the athlete will be can be said to be on the decline. That is why, in all major sports, the athletes take great pains to keep their legs in top condition.
Too many body-building enthusiasts, I believe, devote more time to the development of their upper body than they do their legs. I guess one of the reasons is that it is perhaps easier to exercise their arms, chest, etc., it is perhaps more interesting to watch those muscles in action. The legs require more weight than the other parts of the body, and many fellows don't particularly like the idea of piling more weight on the bar and using it for the exercises. However, the legs are worth every bit of extra effort you put out with all the modern conveniences such as iron boots, leg pressing, machines, etc., you have all the advantages.
There are any number of exercises for the legs, too many to describe in one article. I will mention the more important ones, and a few that happen to be my particular favorites.
I try to schedule, so as to give them a bit of rest between exercises.
The most important leg exercise in any schedule is the Deep Knee Bend. Without a doubt this has proved to be the most popular exercise with body-builders throughout the years. Everyone has his own pet schedule, but I am sure that the deep knee bend holds a high place in all of them. This exercise not only proved itself to be the best leg builder, but it also has a marked effect on the whole body . . . especially the chest.
The exercise itself is performed quite simply. Place a fairly heavy barbell across the shoulders. With the feet about shoulder width apart, and keeping the back flat, lower the body into a full squat. Rise, and repeat. There has been quite a bit of controversy about this simple exercise, regarding the position of the feet, breathing for best results, etc. As for me, I do as follows: I inhale deeply, then lower the body into a full squat. I work up to 15 repetitions, and perform 2 or 3 series [sets]. I would like to impress upon my readers the importance of maintaining a flat back. Remember, if you should round your back, you are liable to place a severe strain on your lower back. As you squat, curve-in your back, lean forward as little as possible and hold your head high.
Some fellows I know find it a bit difficult to squat on "flat" feet. I suggest for those who agree with them, try squatting on a thick block of wood, then gradually use thinner blocks, and eventually you'll find yourself able to perform the exercise flatfooted. Try and use as much weight as possible, and remember, if you are not "breathless" after the exercise, the weight is not enough for you.
Next comes the Leg Press, which is a very popular exercise with me. I guess every gymnasium these days has a leg pressing machine, but if you don't belong to a gym, it's still not too difficult. Just have a couple of your training mates place the barbell across your feet (and stand by in case it slips off). I do this exercise for 12 or 15 repetitions for three series.
Another exercise that I am very fond of is one that I call the "continuous split." Placing a barbell across the shoulders, I split the feet fore and aft, and then without pause reverse the position of the feet . . . continuing until breathless. Try to split as wide as you can, and work up to about 40 splits.
Next comes the Deep Knee Bend on Toes, with dumbbells held at the shoulders, pressing the dumbbells while squatting. This exercise is one of the best, and should be performed for 12-15 repetitions, and for two series.
The exercise which is my special favorite, and which I always include in every workout . . . even if it has to be the only leg exercise in the workout, is another form of the deep knee bend. It is performed as follows: I first clean a barbell to the shoulders, where it stays in the racked position. Next I rest my heels on a thick block of wood (legs slightly apart). Taking a deep breath I now squat on my heels and bounce back to the upright position, exhaling as I come up. I use a good weight on this exercise, and do 15 repetitions for 4 series. Remember, the weight in this exercise is held in the Clean position throughout. Also, breathe deeply and forcibly between repetitions. I normally do this variation of the Deep Knee Bend instead of the regular method. Sometimes, when I feel like handling more weight, I do the regular deep knee bend. Remember, there are many variations to this exercise, and they could all be used for good results.
The exercises I have described will build for you big and strong thighs, but as you go along, you might fit in some work with the iron boots, also.