T Nation

Confused about How to Get Bigger Legs

Why is doing high reps not considered a way of getting strong, even for beginners?

Why is there a rep range associated with technique development?

I don’t get why the thought of doing high reps automatically means technique should be thrown out the window. If performing near failure, there will be a tendency for form breakdown (regardless of rep range) but technique should still be a priority depending on what the lifter wants to get out of their training. If a trainee lacks conditioning to get through 20 reps without being able to focus on technique, then it means they just need more time to build up the conditioning before going full throttle with the program. Giving the OP advice to put in hard work with squats is useful. Telling him that there is a rep range for technique development is not.

OP: If you want to get strong then focus on creating a rigid torso and learn to get your hips involved throughout each and every rep, regardless of rep range. Look around and you’ll see that people with a strong core and hips will have the leg strength to match it. This is not often true the other way around. If you’re only concerned about getting big legs then push yourself with volume work using med-heavy weights and eat a lot of food.

[quote]lift206 wrote:
Why is doing high reps not considered a way of getting strong, even for beginners?

Why is there a rep range associated with technique development?

I don’t get why the thought of doing high reps automatically means technique should be thrown out the window. If performing near failure, there will be a tendency for form breakdown (regardless of rep range) but technique should still be a priority depending on what the lifter wants to get out of their training. If a trainee lacks conditioning to get through 20 reps without being able to focus on technique, then it means they just need more time to build up the conditioning before going full throttle with the program. Giving the OP advice to put in hard work with squats is useful. Telling him that there is a rep range for technique development is not.

OP: If you want to get strong then focus on creating a rigid torso and learn to get your hips involved throughout each and every rep, regardless of rep range. Look around and you’ll see that people with a strong core and hips will have the leg strength to match it. This is not often true the other way around. If you’re only concerned about getting big legs then push yourself with volume work using med-heavy weights and eat a lot of food.[/quote]

Someone published a chart showing people’s ability to maintain form degrades with increasing reps. As it does with increasing intensity. Not sure how scientific this was.

[quote]daltron wrote:
On a side note, it blows my mind how learning these movements and getting strong in them FIRST is not the focus of beginner advice. There is zero point in skipping ahead to high rep squats, TUT techniques, etc when someone doesn’t even have decent strength in the basic squat.[/quote]

This was basically my point.

Yogi may not like the vocabulary I used but the point was about 1) form breakdown in sets of 20 and 2) using simple progression before incorporating more advanced techniques.

By “hypertrophy potential” I just mean what is going to induce more growth, squatting 95 lbs x 20 or 225 x 20?

I would always first recommend a guy asking about bigger legs to focus on getting strong in the squat with simple progression, because 9 times out of 10 the guy asking the question is WEAK IN THE SQUAT – and therefore no I wouldn’t advise him to immediately start doing 20 rep sets. And I have done plenty of 20 rep sets, I’ve done the old school “squats and milk” program, I’ve squatted 275 x 20 at a BW of 175, I’m not “against” 20 rep sets. But ADDING WEIGHT to your 20 rep max is HARDER than adding weight to your sets of 5 – BY A LOT – and cannot be maintained for as long. So no, I think it’s bad fucking advice for anyone who is WEAK in the squat to just “do 20 rep sets”.

Here is my current leg workout, all I do - SQUATS: 3 sets of 6-12 reps, then 1 “burn” set, 15-20 reps. OP, you could do worse than that.

[quote]craze9 wrote:

[quote]daltron wrote:
On a side note, it blows my mind how learning these movements and getting strong in them FIRST is not the focus of beginner advice. There is zero point in skipping ahead to high rep squats, TUT techniques, etc when someone doesn’t even have decent strength in the basic squat.[/quote]

This was basically my point.

Yogi may not like the vocabulary I used but the point was about 1) form breakdown in sets of 20 and 2) using simple progression before incorporating more advanced techniques.

By “hypertrophy potential” I just mean what is going to induce more growth, squatting 95 lbs x 20 or 225 x 20?

I would always first recommend a guy asking about bigger legs to focus on getting strong in the squat with simple progression, because 9 times out of 10 the guy asking the question is WEAK IN THE SQUAT – and therefore no I wouldn’t advise him to immediately start doing 20 rep sets. And I have done plenty of 20 rep sets, I’ve done the old school “squats and milk” program, I’ve squatted 275 x 20 at a BW of 175, I’m not “against” 20 rep sets. But ADDING WEIGHT to your 20 rep max is HARDER than adding weight to your sets of 5 – BY A LOT – and cannot be maintained for as long. So no, I think it’s bad fucking advice for anyone who is WEAK in the squat to just “do 20 rep sets”.

Here is my current leg workout, all I do - SQUATS: 3 sets of 6-12 reps, then 1 “burn” set, 15-20 reps. OP, you could do worse than that.
[/quote]

The problem here is what is considered “advanced” technique. There really is no such thing as advanced technique. It is just a matter of implementing methods in a way that uses reasonable progression.

For a beginner to get used to a 20 rep squat program, they would first get conditioned for it and then slowly work up until conditioning becomes a non-factor and then they can really push to make progress. That’s actually true for anyone. When programming, there is always a progression towards a desired goal, e.g., 1RM, 5RM, 20RM, 5x5, 3x5, Progressive ROM, TUT, etc. It would be stupid for even an experienced athlete to progress toward a 1RM in only a couple weeks if they are conditioned for a 20RM. They need more time to adapt to the chosen style of progression.

An example of an “advanced” technique I’ve used on a beginner to teach them how to use their hips when squatting was to hold a front loaded seated good morning for straight reps and TUT using their exact same body positioning as if they did a squat - the key was to fully contract the lats, abs and hips. After a few weeks, voila, the person could recruit their hips no problem and was ready for “heavy” work. Beginners are only limited by “advanced” techniques if they don’t know how to progress. I feel like this is easy to teach. And I feel like following a laid out 20 rep squat program and starting off slow is reasonable. They just need to eat for it.

There is no such thing as a perfect set/rep scheme for building technique. Technique is the ability to recruit muscles to perform a specific movement. When a person has “form breakdown”, no set/rep scheme will help until they learn HOW to properly execute the lift and HOW to recruit those muscles.

If I have to coach someone one-on-one, I would teach them how to use their body before pushing for strength or size - they actually do compound and isolation work. This means any “advanced” technique could be used to reach the end goal. The process is not as important as the actual result. And by the end, I could care less if they wanted to do 5x5, 20 rep squats, or any other program that’s reasonable for their work capacity because they will make progress when they have a strong foundation.

Since the OP didn’t asked for technique advice, all we can tell him is to be reasonable with how far he pushes to failure.

[quote]craze9 wrote:

[quote]daltron wrote:
On a side note, it blows my mind how learning these movements and getting strong in them FIRST is not the focus of beginner advice. There is zero point in skipping ahead to high rep squats, TUT techniques, etc when someone doesn’t even have decent strength in the basic squat.[/quote]

This was basically my point.

Yogi may not like the vocabulary I used but the point was about 1) form breakdown in sets of 20 and 2) using simple progression before incorporating more advanced techniques.

By “hypertrophy potential” I just mean what is going to induce more growth, squatting 95 lbs x 20 or 225 x 20?

I would always first recommend a guy asking about bigger legs to focus on getting strong in the squat with simple progression, because 9 times out of 10 the guy asking the question is WEAK IN THE SQUAT – and therefore no I wouldn’t advise him to immediately start doing 20 rep sets. And I have done plenty of 20 rep sets, I’ve done the old school “squats and milk” program, I’ve squatted 275 x 20 at a BW of 175, I’m not “against” 20 rep sets. But ADDING WEIGHT to your 20 rep max is HARDER than adding weight to your sets of 5 – BY A LOT – and cannot be maintained for as long. So no, I think it’s bad fucking advice for anyone who is WEAK in the squat to just “do 20 rep sets”.

Here is my current leg workout, all I do - SQUATS: 3 sets of 6-12 reps, then 1 “burn” set, 15-20 reps. OP, you could do worse than that.
[/quote]

I agree 100%.

The OP has been training for several years. He’s not a complete beginner. Nothing wrong with what yogi wrote.

The discussions in this current thread are interesting and all have merit.

Thanks for all the input! I appreciate it.

And you are right. While i have almost no issues doing a somewhat heavy leg press, my squat sucks. I never actually mastered the squat. As a teenager and until now i’ve always had pretty bad knees. For example, i cannot do a fast squat motion or squat jump. My knee will hurt too much. I have to go super slow. That plus a fracture in my lower back disk have always made the squat too painful for me. But i realize tat it is something i should work on. Another issue for me somehow is that since i have very long legs (i am 6’5") i feel like my posture while squatting is off and my knees too far forward.
What’s the difference between a regular bb squat and the goblet squat as far as development? Or would the goblet squat be a good start for me and once i get stronger try and learn the regular bb squat?

Legs in a bottle…


(also great if have bad knees)

If you can’t squat, DON’T SQUAT.

[quote]Philly wrote:
Thanks for all the input! I appreciate it.

And you are right. While i have almost no issues doing a somewhat heavy leg press, my squat sucks. I never actually mastered the squat. As a teenager and until now i’ve always had pretty bad knees. For example, i cannot do a fast squat motion or squat jump. My knee will hurt too much. I have to go super slow. That plus a fracture in my lower back disk have always made the squat too painful for me. But i realize tat it is something i should work on. Another issue for me somehow is that since i have very long legs (i am 6’5") i feel like my posture while squatting is off and my knees too far forward.
What’s the difference between a regular bb squat and the goblet squat as far as development? Or would the goblet squat be a good start for me and once i get stronger try and learn the regular bb squat?[/quote]

You’ll have to be careful not to overdo it if you have a history with injury. If squatting makes things worse, it’s probably better not to do it until you develop better technique for strength, which requires building the muscles necessary and learning to stabilize your shoulders, spine and hips.

Lunges and goblet squats are great training tools for learning how to use your hips. A prerequisite is learning breathing techniques for bracing your abs. Once you’re able to do this, you will be able to set your lower spine in an effective position for recruiting your hip muscles. With shoulder stabilization, the main thing to learn is how to pull from various angles while keeping your shoulder blades down. This ensures that you’re able to use the muscles around your shoulder blades to firmly hold it in place when you do pulling and pressing movements.

When you learn how to do the above, the movement of the goblet squat and bb squat shouldn’t feel much different. When you learn to squat with good technique, the technique carries across squat variations - so different variations and intensities won’t uncover weaknesses that sometimes is hard to observe with submaximal training (or what people can consider as good form). With that said, great technique isn’t necessary to get big or strong for a specific movement. And even lifting very heavy with great technique doesn’t completely eliminate chances for injury.

In your case, I think it would be beneficial to make some improvement in stabilization.

[quote]dt79 wrote:
The OP has been training for several years. He’s not a complete beginner. [/quote]

While that information changes things, it sounds like he was a beginner in the squat. Unless I got that wrong. Regardless, if he can’t squat pain free (is that the new update?), then there are plenty of other exercises he can do like leg press, lunges maybe, leg ext/curls, glute stuff, etc.

As far as the OP goes, he has two options.

  1. Learn to squat properly, pain-free, if possible.

or

  1. Don’t squat, and use other leg movements instead.
  1. would almost certainly require finding a good coach/trainer in real life and working with that person. Internet advice isn’t likely to fix the issues. Re: 2, hack squats or leg press are fine.

As far as the larger debate goes, I don’t think my point applies only to rank beginners. It applies to anyone with a “weak” squat.

Since we’re talking about a tall guy with skinny legs, let’s assume a guy who is over 6 feet tall, weighs 190 lbs and squats his BW for 1 rep. I.e., not a complete beginner, but weak in the squat. He can squat 190x1, 155x5, and half his max, 95 lbs, for a set of 20.

On Monday he goes into the gym and squats 95x20. Then what? How many days later does he come back, how much weight does he add, what does he do?

Has anyone here ever seen someone go from weak in the squat to strong in the squat using only sets of 20? How long would it take to go from 95 x 20 to 225 x 20 using only sets of 20? Would it be maintainable as linear progress? I don’t know - I’m asking.

It may be possible, but I haven’t seen it. What I have seen is guys put hundreds of lbs on their squat in just a few weeks, using multiple heavy sets multiple times per week. I don’t have any proof, but I strongly believe that I could get this hypothetical lifter to a 225x20 squat FASTER by using mostly lower reps – e.g. 3x5, 3 times per week – than by just using sets of 20. I actually don’t think it would be close, at all. (Because I have done sets of 20, multiple times per week, and what happens is you start a little lighter than an actual 20RM, you add weight for a few weeks as you adapt to the specific stimulus, your 20RM increases for a while, and then you stall.)

As much as people on these forums may hate the terms “strength rep range” and “hypertrophy rep range”, and I understand the critiques of those terms, there IS some reason behind them. They aren’t just completely made up fantasy words. The “strength” rep range – heavier weights as a % of 1RM – tend to elicit a better strength adaptation, in general.

As far as hypertophy goes, there isn’t some magical effect when you hit 20 reps. The primary factors are going to be volume and intensity. Doing 3x5, 3 times per week equals 45 reps between 80-85% of 1 RM per week. Even if you can get more total reps doing sets of 20 – though really, I’d ask how many sets of 20 squats you’d have someone weak in the squat do, per week, and how it would affect recovery – they are MUCH lighter, and therefore in my opinion not necessarily more effective at generating hypertrophy, ESPECIALLY for a weak lifter who is not very efficient at recruiting strength for a max effort.

That is why I recommended using 5s at first to build strength – high frequency, high intensity, low per-session volume but still high weekly volume. Then when progress slows switch to a combination of heavier high-intensity workouts and lower intensity higher-volume workouts. For example Day 1 Squat 4x6, Day 2 Squat 20RM. Or check out the 5/3/1 “Building the Monolith” template for a great 3-day week squat protocol that includes low and high reps with fluctuating total volume.

Here’s a link to Thib’s Growth Factor For Legs:

TC: Can you pull a sled?

[quote]craze9 wrote:

As far as the larger debate goes, I don’t think my point applies only to rank beginners. It applies to anyone with a “weak” squat.

Since we’re talking about a tall guy with skinny legs, let’s assume a guy who is over 6 feet tall, weighs 190 lbs and squats his BW for 1 rep. I.e., not a complete beginner, but weak in the squat. He can squat 190x1, 155x5, and half his max, 95 lbs, for a set of 20.

On Monday he goes into the gym and squats 95x20. Then what? How many days later does he come back, how much weight does he add, what does he do?

Has anyone here ever seen someone go from weak in the squat to strong in the squat using only sets of 20? How long would it take to go from 95 x 20 to 225 x 20 using only sets of 20? Would it be maintainable as linear progress? I don’t know - I’m asking.

It may be possible, but I haven’t seen it. What I have seen is guys put hundreds of lbs on their squat in just a few weeks, using multiple heavy sets multiple times per week. I don’t have any proof, but I strongly believe that I could get this hypothetical lifter to a 225x20 squat FASTER by using mostly lower reps – e.g. 3x5, 3 times per week – than by just using sets of 20. I actually don’t think it would be close, at all. (Because I have done sets of 20, multiple times per week, and what happens is you start a little lighter than an actual 20RM, you add weight for a few weeks as you adapt to the specific stimulus, your 20RM increases for a while, and then you stall.)

As much as people on these forums may hate the terms “strength rep range” and “hypertrophy rep range”, and I understand the critiques of those terms, there IS some reason behind them. They aren’t just completely made up fantasy words. The “strength” rep range – heavier weights as a % of 1RM – tend to elicit a better strength adaptation, in general.

As far as hypertophy goes, there isn’t some magical effect when you hit 20 reps. The primary factors are going to be volume and intensity. Doing 3x5, 3 times per week equals 45 reps between 80-85% of 1 RM per week. Even if you can get more total reps doing sets of 20 – though really, I’d ask how many sets of 20 squats you’d have someone weak in the squat do, per week, and how it would affect recovery – they are MUCH lighter, and therefore in my opinion not necessarily more effective at generating hypertrophy, ESPECIALLY for a weak lifter who is not very efficient at recruiting strength for a max effort.

That is why I recommended using 5s at first to build strength – high frequency, high intensity, low per-session volume but still high weekly volume. Then when progress slows switch to a combination of heavier high-intensity workouts and lower intensity higher-volume workouts. For example Day 1 Squat 4x6, Day 2 Squat 20RM. Or check out the 5/3/1 “Building the Monolith” template for a great 3-day week squat protocol that includes low and high reps with fluctuating total volume.
[/quote]
Pertaining to strength… You are not going to grow faster just because the load increases faster from neural adaptations. This is something I’ve been watching people, usually smaller guys lifting much more than they look like they can, realize everyday in the gym.

In contrast, someone already big but lifting lighter weights can easily peak and outlift them.

Does this make sense?

[quote]dt79 wrote:
Pertaining to strength… You are not going to grow faster just because the load increases faster from neural adaptations. This is something I’ve been watching people, usually smaller guys lifting much more than they look like they can, realize everyday in the gym.

In contrast, someone already big but lifting lighter weights can easily peak and outlift them.

Does this make sense?[/quote]

I’ve been observing this as well. People make the reasonable but incorrect assumption that lifting more weight is an indication of increasing strength, and that additionally, the only way to increase strength is via lifting more weight.

In turn, the discussion on “increasing strength” becomes more a discussion on increasing ability to lift more weight, and hypertrophy is no longer considered an aspect of increasing strength.

I fell victim to this for a LONG time.

[quote]T3hPwnisher wrote:

[quote]dt79 wrote:
Pertaining to strength… You are not going to grow faster just because the load increases faster from neural adaptations. This is something I’ve been watching people, usually smaller guys lifting much more than they look like they can, realize everyday in the gym.

In contrast, someone already big but lifting lighter weights can easily peak and outlift them.

Does this make sense?[/quote]

I’ve been observing this as well. People make the reasonable but incorrect assumption that lifting more weight is an indication of increasing strength, and that additionally, the only way to increase strength is via lifting more weight.

In turn, the discussion on “increasing strength” becomes more a discussion on increasing ability to lift more weight, and hypertrophy is no longer considered an aspect of increasing strength.

I fell victim to this for a LONG time.
[/quote]

x2

[quote]T3hPwnisher wrote:
TC: Can you pull a sled?[/quote]

x2

One time I thought I could pull more weight on a sled than someone because I could squat and deadlift more than them. Losing sucked but it changed my view on how to lift. Pulling a sled has so many benefits.

[quote]dt79 wrote:

[quote]craze9 wrote:

As far as the larger debate goes, I don’t think my point applies only to rank beginners. It applies to anyone with a “weak” squat.

Since we’re talking about a tall guy with skinny legs, let’s assume a guy who is over 6 feet tall, weighs 190 lbs and squats his BW for 1 rep. I.e., not a complete beginner, but weak in the squat. He can squat 190x1, 155x5, and half his max, 95 lbs, for a set of 20.

On Monday he goes into the gym and squats 95x20. Then what? How many days later does he come back, how much weight does he add, what does he do?

Has anyone here ever seen someone go from weak in the squat to strong in the squat using only sets of 20? How long would it take to go from 95 x 20 to 225 x 20 using only sets of 20? Would it be maintainable as linear progress? I don’t know - I’m asking.

It may be possible, but I haven’t seen it. What I have seen is guys put hundreds of lbs on their squat in just a few weeks, using multiple heavy sets multiple times per week. I don’t have any proof, but I strongly believe that I could get this hypothetical lifter to a 225x20 squat FASTER by using mostly lower reps – e.g. 3x5, 3 times per week – than by just using sets of 20. I actually don’t think it would be close, at all. (Because I have done sets of 20, multiple times per week, and what happens is you start a little lighter than an actual 20RM, you add weight for a few weeks as you adapt to the specific stimulus, your 20RM increases for a while, and then you stall.)

As much as people on these forums may hate the terms “strength rep range” and “hypertrophy rep range”, and I understand the critiques of those terms, there IS some reason behind them. They aren’t just completely made up fantasy words. The “strength” rep range – heavier weights as a % of 1RM – tend to elicit a better strength adaptation, in general.

As far as hypertophy goes, there isn’t some magical effect when you hit 20 reps. The primary factors are going to be volume and intensity. Doing 3x5, 3 times per week equals 45 reps between 80-85% of 1 RM per week. Even if you can get more total reps doing sets of 20 – though really, I’d ask how many sets of 20 squats you’d have someone weak in the squat do, per week, and how it would affect recovery – they are MUCH lighter, and therefore in my opinion not necessarily more effective at generating hypertrophy, ESPECIALLY for a weak lifter who is not very efficient at recruiting strength for a max effort.

That is why I recommended using 5s at first to build strength – high frequency, high intensity, low per-session volume but still high weekly volume. Then when progress slows switch to a combination of heavier high-intensity workouts and lower intensity higher-volume workouts. For example Day 1 Squat 4x6, Day 2 Squat 20RM. Or check out the 5/3/1 “Building the Monolith” template for a great 3-day week squat protocol that includes low and high reps with fluctuating total volume.
[/quote]
Pertaining to strength… You are not going to grow faster just because the load increases faster from neural adaptations. This is something I’ve been watching people, usually smaller guys lifting much more than they look like they can, realize everyday in the gym.

In contrast, someone already big but lifting lighter weights can easily peak and outlift them.

Does this make sense?[/quote]
To be clear, I’m not disputing anything else other than the part about needing to train for “strength” first, which goes back to the idea of “building a base of strength”, which is nonsense when applied in the context of currently held beliefs in the fitness world.

For an example, see the post from the guy on the previous page who’s under the belief that he needs to squat 405lbs before using higher reps.

And with the OP in mind, I’ll tell you all this. If you have smaller bones/ joints, have pre-existing injuries and/or are older in age, and you just want to build a better body, forcing strength adaptations can lead to lifelong injuries due to gradual wear and tear. Then you’ll join the old big guys in the smith machine squatting with limited range of motion with high reps because they want to avoid hip replacement surgery and lament among each other, “fuck I wish I’d done this when I was young instead of doing dumb ego shit for no reason.”

The last paragraph does not apply to people involved in strength sports or in pursuit of numbers for self-fulfillment, of course. Just make sure the payoff equals the sacrifice if that’s the case.

[quote]dt79 wrote:
Pertaining to strength… You are not going to grow faster just because the load increases faster from neural adaptations. This is something I’ve been watching people, usually smaller guys lifting much more than they look like they can, realize everyday in the gym.

In contrast, someone already big but lifting lighter weights can easily peak and outlift them.

Does this make sense?[/quote]

Yes, that makes sense. But:

  1. We’re using multiple definitions of “strength”, which creates confusion. E.g. Punisher’s claim that lifting more weight on the bar does not equal “stronger.” According to the definition of strength = the ability to exert force against an external resistance, that isn’t correct.

  2. Wouldn’t you agree there is a relationship between neuromuscular efficiency and the “potential for hypertrophy”? As much as someone didn’t like that term, the point is that a skinny guy who has spent some time – even just a few weeks – practicing the squat, loading weight on the bar, getting STRONGER at the movement, is in a better position to build muscle than a skinny guy who has not done that, and just jumps right into higher volume, shorter rest, TUT lifting.

Also, irrespective of the question of how to “maximize growth” – which, you know, is kind of hard to prove either way – is the question of measurable progress. My least productive weeks and months in the gym were when I consciously tried to train for “hypertrophy” by getting a lot of reps with short rests, going for a “pump” – e.g., the old pyramid workout. I’d go hard on the first set with a light weight and then all my subsequent sets would be shit because of cumulative fatigue, even as I tried to go heavier. I was lifting in the “hypertophy rep range” and I was eating in a caloric surplus, but it’s kind of hard to notice 1/4 lb of muscle growth per week in the mirror, and as I struggled to add significant weight or reps to my lifts, it was difficult to know if I was progressing at all.

Obviously, I was doing multiple things wrong, but the point is that measurable progress is really important - and the easiest way to measure progress is weight on the bar. Are you getting stronger? In any given rep range. And yes, you can improve your 8-10RM just by training in that rep range, not the “strength rep range” and you will still get stronger, but certain rep ranges (e.g. 20 rep max) are not going to move up very far just by training in that range.