By Eric Velazquez, NSCA-CPT ProSource
Shock your legs into new three-dimensional growth
Goals: Size, Strength, Details
If you live and die by the squat, we commend you. This exercise, which recruits a huge amount of muscle, is fundamental to total body growth. Starting your routine with the squat is a sure-fire way to push your quads, glutes and hamstrings into getting bigger, stronger and more athletic. But what exercises do you follow that leg-maker with? How you answer that question can say a lot about how far you're able to take your leg growth.
VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF SIZE
Every routine you take with you to the weight room, whether it's working or not, should be swapped out every few months. People new to training find that everything works -- but nothing works forever. So if your leg routine has consisted of exercises x, y and z for as long as you can remember, it's time to shake things up a bit.
Start your leg routine with the front squat. This exercise, which requires you to hold the weight across the front "shelf" of your shoulders, targets your quads to a much higher degree. Because you are forced to keep your body more erect, your quads are much more active than they are on a back squat. You'll do two sets of this move right up front, when you're fresh. This new overload on your thighs will help them grow rapidly, particularly if you're strictly a back squatter.
Your second exercise will be the back squat. We don't want to do away with it because its benefits are undeniable but by moving it down a notch, you challenge your glutes and hamstrings even more. Your quads, slightly fatigued from front squats, will not be able to contribute as much to the move, so don't be surprised if you're not able to move the same amount of weight. You're doing two sets instead of the traditional three or four because you've split the burden of overload with the front squat.
From four sets of standing moves, you'll move to four sets of leg presses in a fixed position. Of course, your inclination may be to load up the plates and press 'til you're blue in the face. But the leg press offers you the freedom to alter your foot positioning to recruit different parts of your legs. Wider foot placement emphasizes your inner quads and glutes more, while a narrow stance bombards the outer sweep of your quads. Higher feet generally means that more glutes are involved while lower foot placement engages your quads more. Position your feet differently, at your discretion, on each set for a total thigh annihilation.
Contrary to your last ten years of training journals, the leg curl is not the best mass-builder for hamstrings. Since the RDL calls for movement at the hip and knee, your hamstring is actively worked from insertion to origin with more weight.
The lunge has been shown to build more strength in the hams than in the quads...who knew? And by stepping at a 45-degree angle, you slightly alter the muscle recruitment, bringing in the under-targeted muscles of the inner and outer thighs. Done with bodyweight only, this serves as a great finisher for this total-service leg day.
* Vary your foot spacing on each set.
**Take 20 diagonal steps with each foot. Use only your bodyweight for this finishing exercise and rest no longer than 60 seconds between sets.