From Charles Poliquin
Do full squats to build stronger, bigger legs. Everyone knows that the squat is one of the best exercises because it trains the whole lower body, activating the hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps, calves, and the erector spinae of the trunk. However, to reap the full effects of the squat, did you know that load and squat depth dictate how much strength and muscle you will develop?
A recent study that tested electromyographic muscle activity in the squat showed that the best way to train the gluteus and hamstrings of the posterior chain is with a heavy load over 80 percent of the 1RM and to squat ALL THE WAY DOWN below parallel. As both load and squat depth increased, the glutes and hamstrings performed more work.
For the quads, squat depth was most important for maximal muscle activation. The load lifted didn’t influence the contribution of the quads, whereas for the calves the greatest muscular effort was with the heaviest 90 percent load when trainees squatted all the way down below parallel.
Practical studies prove the point that heavy load and maximal depth will give you stronger legs. Researchers in Germany compared the effect of training heavy full squats with heavy partial squats on maximal strength and vertical jump height. The full squat group increased strength and jumping ability much more than the partials, making them the preferred lift for everyday trainees and athletes.
The bilateral squat is the “king” of all exercises, contributing to superior lower body muscle development, yet unilateral squats are a vital lift that should not be ignored. Single-leg squats allow you to train for optimal structural balance—an often ignored weakness that will keep you from reaching your genetic potential.
A recent study of male college football players showed the value of unilateral squat training: A group who did unilateral squats had a slightly greater increase in testosterone than a group that did bilateral back squats. Researchers think the single-leg squats produced a more favorable muscle-building hormone because they require equal or slightly greater neuromuscular activity due to the extra stabilization demands.
To build the strongest, biggest legs, include both single-leg squats and full barbell squats in your programs. Be sure to always train the lifts that maximally activate the largest amount of muscle mass first for a bigger elevation in testosterone. Greater muscle growth will come if you activate as many androgen receptors in muscle tissue as possible through training, and then spike testosterone early in your workout to enhance muscle growth.
Jones, M., Ambegoankar, J., et al. Effects of Unilateral and Bilateral Lower-Body Heavy Resistance Exercise on Muscle Activity and Testosterone Response. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2012. Published Ahead of Print.
Matuschek, C., Schmidtbleicher, D. Influence of Squatting depth on Jumping Performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2012. 26(12), 3243-3261.