Leg training is punishing, unforgiving and, at times, painful. But it’s in that pain that the chaff is separated from the wheat when it comes to lifters. The truly dedicated realize that building a better physique is not solely a waist-up endeavor. In the interest of symmetry and totality, right-minded lifters hit the squat rack with the same kind of will-shattering intensity as they do the bench.
For those looking to exhaust every possible technique to elicit the greatest leg gains possible, here are five ways you can build wide-swept quads and strong, shredded hams.
1. Giant Sets
Do each exercise in each workout consecutively, the only rest being the time it takes to move to the next exercise. When you complete the last exercise you have completed one giant set. Do 3-4 of these giant sets per workout.
2. Extended Set Squats
This technique is a way to extend a typical set (i.e. complete more total reps) by moving from the hardest version of an exercise to an easier version. For example, front squats are harder than back squats, the same way close-stance squats are harder than wide-stance squats. So one way to extend a set of squats is by starting with close stance front squats, then moving to wide stance front squats, then racking the weight and immediately moving to close-stance back squats and then finishing with wide-stance back squats—that’s one extended set.
This essentially makes the weight easier to lift on each successive position change, allowing you to continue doing more total reps per set. Not only does this allow one to train with more intensity, but the change in body position increases the number of muscle fibers targeted in each specific muscle group.
To do an extended set of squats first choose a weight that normally limits you to 4-5 reps on the close-stance front squat (even though you will attempt no more than 3-4 reps). For each change in exercise movement for that extended set you will attempt 3-4 reps. Do not do more than four reps on any exercise except the final movement of the extended set. You can work to failure on the last exercise of all extended sets. Since you will do four exercise changes per extended set on the squat, you will sum up a total of about 12-16 reps. So in essence, you are using a weight on each different squat movement that is best for strength gains, but at the end of the extended set the total reps that the muscle group has performed fall in the range that is best for muscle growth and getting ripped. Rest between extended sets for 3-4 minutes. Perform between 3-4 sets for each extended set.
This is an extremely advanced training technique because it involves heavy weight with very little rest.
3. 5-10-20 Training
5-10-20 Training is a method that has you perform three sets per exercise with specific reps performed on each set. The first set is done for just five reps. This is a good rep range for boosting muscle strength. The second set is done for 10 reps. This is the ideal rep range for building muscle mass. The last set is done for 20 reps. This rep range enhances muscle endurance and can help to drop body fat. Combining all three of these rep ranges gives you a program that trains the muscles in every aspect necessary to get them big, lean and strong.
4. Speed Sets
Speed Sets Training is a system where you change the speed of the reps within the set. You will do 15 reps per set. The first five reps are done at a very fast and explosive pace (less than 1 second). The next five reps (reps 6-10) are done very slow (5 seconds on the positive and 5 seconds on the negative). The last five reps are done at a normal pace (or roughly 1-2 seconds on both the positive and the negative). Because of the intensity of this regimen, you’ll pick a weight that you could normally do 20-25 reps with.
By combining fast reps, slow reps and normal reps into each set, your benefits are three-fold: you reap increases in strength and mass and decrease body fat.
The fast reps, like all explosive moves, build power, or the ability to generate strength very quickly. Speedy reps also enlist the growth-prone fast-twitch fibers. The slow reps build strength by keeping muscles under tension for a longer period of time. The longer they have to support the weight, the more damaged they get, and hence the more muscle they will develop. And ending each set with the normal reps serves to increase muscular endurance. Because you’re doing 15 reps nonstop over a number of sets, you’ll also get a bit of a cardio workout in and burn bodyfat.
This is an advanced method of training that will challenge the leg muscles in three different ranges of motion within a single set. Its name comes from the total number of reps per set you perform with this training technique. In each set, you do a total of 21 reps, but as three separate sets of seven reps. You may have used this technique before on curls.
You do seven reps through the first half of the range of motion, seven reps through the second half, then seven reps through the full range of motion. Using the leg curl as an example, you start with your legs fully extended with your ankles beneath the ankle pads. First you curl the weight up seven times only to the point where your legs are just short of perpendicular to the floor. Then you curl the weight up seven times from the point where your legs are just short of perpendicular to the floor to the point where they are close to your glutes. After these seven reps you perform seven standard leg curls going through the full range of motion.
21s can be done with virtually any exercise, but are most sensible with single-joint isolation movements. Multi-joint exercises, like the squat, involve so many secondary and stabilizing muscles that straights sets prove the most effective. You’ll need to use lighter resistance than usual when doing 21s, since your muscles are unaccustomed to the increased number of reps.
With 21s you can most effectively work on flexibility within the joint during the first seven reps, since you begin each rep with the working muscle in a fully stretched position. The middle seven reps are most productive in terms of muscle growth and development, because you’re stronger in the second half of the movement and you can squeeze the contraction at the top for maximum peaking. The last seven reps essentially serve the purpose of burning out the muscles, which is great for initiating new growth.