T Nation

Leg Training Question for Bill Roberts

Bill, I was interested in what you do for your leg workouts. You said that you just do leg extensions and leg curls and don’t do squats, deadlifts nor leg presses. I had injured my left knee doing heavy triples in the squat and I have not been able to squat painfree for the last year or so. However, I can do leg extensions without pain. Strange, huh? I find your claim really encouraging because I think I have been mentally sabotaging my leg development by thinking that I won’t be able to develop my legs until I can squat again. Of course, I should find the cause of the pain and correct it, and I’m about to go see my doctor for the fourth time, but I was wondering if you can tell us what you do in your “heretical” leg workout? The main limitation of leg extensions that I found was that if I attempted to do really heavy weights, the stress on the patella was tremendous. How do you get around that? Thanks in advance for your reply.

I use an unusual warm-up method that I also use for many other exercises. I don’t know whether it would help you – I suspect not because it isn’t even intended to work around a pain problem. I do singles with progressively heavier weight, starting from very light and
working up to not far off of 1RM, with 20 seconds rest between singles until the weight starts getting heavy-feeling, then 40 seconds. Then I rest two minutes and do my first actual set. I am quite unable to do a good first set of leg extensions if I don’t go through this or a similar routine, and unlike any other exercise, it’s quite typical for my second set, after 4 minutes rest, to give more reps than the first.

I do the same thing for leg curls.

How many sets I do is quite variable. At times,
even as little as 2 sets has felt right and
has given fast gains (when, uh, chemically assisted.) More typically though I will do
about 40 total reps, so how many sets that is
depends on the weight and the number of reps
that weight allows. When possible I like to alternate sets of leg extensions and leg curls, but when the gym is crowded that is not feasible, and so for some time I have just been doing them as straight sets so as to be consistent. I use a periodization plan where I start with about 60% 1RM and go up each week until I reach about 90% 1RM, then go back down and start the cycle over.

However, I’ve never had a problem with patellar pain, and can’t advise there really. One thing
that might help is if you can limit how far
down the leg extension goes. I use the Med-X
leg extension, which allows you to adjust
the bottom position. I don’t let the knees
bend more than 90 degrees. I feel this helps
though it also could be argued that it results
in training the muscle through a (slightly) lesser range of motion. That doesn’t seem to adversely affect results however.

And a key thing about these warmups: they’re done so as to induce minimal fatigue. The positives are done at whatever speed is easiest, and the negatives are almost dropped.
There’s no point in fatiguing the muscles while warming up. (This principle applies
to all warm ups that I do, actually.)

Bill, I too would like to hear more details on your leg workout, such as # of sets, rest periods, days between workout, and intensity techniques (drop sets, etc.). To toss out a vocabulary word, I’ve got a very “callipygean” rear end, meaning rather effeminate and droopy. I am actually very encouraged to think that it would be possible to build decent quads and hams without squats, deadlifts, etc.

Thanks for the detailed reply, Bill. When you go up to 40 total sets, is that even when you are not “chemically enhanced?” Also, that sort of workout would take forever if done one leg at a time, so I’d assume that you do them bilaterally? I’m glad to hear that one can get good leg development without squat and deadlift. I will continue stiff-legged deadlifts for my posterior chain, but I’m going revamp my workout to eliminate squat and bent-leg deads, at least untils the docs finally decide to fix my knee (damned HMO’s!!). Again thanks for breaking me out of my stifling paradigm. Sometimes the body can only achieve what the mind can conceive.

Hyok, he actually said he went up to 40 total reps, not sets.

I have enough trouble with getting through my own leg workouts. Don’t scare me like that.

Bill, is local catabolism possible? I have heard people go through their rants about how aerobics are catabolic but I’m curious about this one. I want to start getting in shape by doing some running and/or some of Matt Furey’s bodyweight exercises and I don’t think these will contribute to the size of my legs but is it possible that they will rob me of some of my leg muscle?

Hey thanks DrT for the reading lesson. Phew! I was getting worried there. Now his post make a bit more sense.