I believe that it is virtually impossible to overtrain the muscles of the legs. They are among the strongest and most resilient muscles in the entire human body. However, intense training can be limited by the recovery of the joints, soft tissues, neurological components and the muscles of the lumbar spine. Most physiologists agree that muscles tend to recover faster than tendons, ligaments and structures associated with the nervous system. There are times when you want to hit the muscles as hard as possible, while giving the supporting cast a break. I find this to be true when I am working hard on many movements that tax the lumbar muscles such as deadlifts, barbell rows and standing overhead presses, along with the regular squats. There are many ways to do this, but I want to share two unique movements that I have found to be invaluable when I want to add some leg work, but wish to minimize stress on the joints and the lower back.
You will need a solid block or box in order to perform these movements. The block should be about 4 feet in length and about 4-5 inches in height. One of the sides of the block should have a sloping angle of anywhere from 40-5 degrees. The easiest way to make this is to go to a lumbar supply or a home improvement store and purchase a 4" x 6" x 4’ and have them cut a 45 degree angle on one side so that it looks like a ramp. If you don’t want to go to that much trouble, you can usually assemble a block with scrap pieces and a few nails or even some duct tape. It is important that block be sturdy so that it will easily support your weight plus a loaded barbell.
Set the block a few feet in front of your power rack or squat rack. If need be you can place a 45lb plate behind the block in order to brace it. Load the bar to poundage that is less than your bodyweight. 100-135lbs is a good starting weight. Place the barbell on your shoulders exactly as if you were doing a full squat. Take a few steps back and place your feet on the incline side of the block so that your heels are elevated. You want most of your foot on the board with the toes off the board and in contact with the ground. The balls of your feet should be about where the end of the block meets the ground. Perform a regular squat as deep as you can. As you arise, you will notice that you have to fight to keep your balance and stay in an upright position. The biomechanics of this “elevated squat” changes your center of gravity resulting in more work being done by the quadriceps, especially in the lower thigh, right around the knee. As you stand up with the weight, you will notice some degree of difficulty in locking out at the top. This can work to your advantage as well as the tension is maintained on the muscles throughout the entire set. I normally do not even bother trying to lock-out, but rather stop about 2 inches short and then squat back down again. Not a great deal of weight is needed for this movement. The most I have ever used was maybe 240-250lbs, and I did best when the weight was much less. I would recommend doing fairly high reps on this movement, anywhere from 12-20 works fine. At some point in time you will find that it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain an upright posture with the weight and that you want to “fall forward” When that occurs, it’s time to terminate the set. Peform 2-3 sets and then its on to the next exercise “elevated bent leg deadlifts”
Place the blocks beneath the center barbell. Position your feet so that the toes and front part of the foot are on the incline board facing upwards and the back part of the foot is on the ground. Bend over and grasp the bar with a shoulder width overhand grip. Keep your knees slightly bent while doing this exercise and keep a tight arch in your lower back. Look directly forward while you are coming up and going back down. This will help you to keep an arch in your lower back. Squeeze the bar off the ground and perform a bent leg deadlift, keeping the bar tight against your legs. Come down slowly, being sure to keep the arch in your lower back. As you near the bottom, stick your butt out, almost as if you were doing a “good morning” exercise and try to raise your toes as high up as possible. This dramatically intensifies the stretch you put on your hamstrings. If you want to intensify the movement even more, then only pull the bar to the tops of your knees and then return it to the bottom. If you do this movement correctly, your legs are going to be quite wobbly, but don’t worry, the real deep pain will take a few hours to set in.
Do these two movements in ADDITION to your regular leg workouts for about three months and don’t be surprised to see some serious development in the hamstrings and lower quadriceps/knee region. You might also discover some increased strength in all of your leg and back movements,
Enjoy and best of luck