Prime and Pump Leg Training
PRIME time for sliced Hams and PUMPED quads!
by Jared Smith
How a person trains can tell you a lot about that person. There are always the guys and gals who only train the “beach” muscles and seldom pay attention to the really important things such as legs and back. You can also tell when someone has spent too much time doing the “more bang for your buck” movements without properly preparing themselves for it. I have fallen victim to the same thing in the past. I was so excited to get under the bar that I all but ignored the preparation aspect of training, and, after a while, I started feeling the effects. I have no intention of being that old man who still packs a little muscle, yet can hardly get off the toilet without the joints sounding like someone pouring milk over a bowl of Rice Crispies! There is a way to keep pounding at the king of all exercises while preserving your knees and hips—and I will show you how.
If you have read the previous installments of Prime and Pump, you know that I am an advocate of pumping antagonistic muscles to get the connective tissues pliable and ready to train hard. With leg training it is no different. We will start our session by getting those knees and hips ready for the assault in the squat rack. The first exercise will be lying leg curls. These will be done in two different variations. The first three sets will be done with a "piston-like" cadence while you elevate your torso off the pad, thus putting your hips in a slight position of extension. Perform three sets of these for 10-12 reps. At the top of each rep, you will feel a slight tug at the very top of your thigh, and that’s exactly what you want. The next three sets will be done in the "traditional style", keeping your torso on the pad and trying to push your hips through the apparatus as you curl upward. Lower the weight slowly and squeeze at the top for a count of two. After your third set of 8 reps, it is time to move on.
One often-overlooked and neglected preparatory measure is making sure that the calves are limber enough to allow for one to keep his or her heels glued to the floor when squatting. We will accomplish this while simultaneously prepping our lower backs for the squat. Start by placing two ten-pound plates on the floor, at around shoulder-width. We will use these to elevate our toes and perform straight-leg deadlifts. By elevating the toes, you will place the calves under a stretch, and semi-stretch the hamstrings, thus recruiting them more than with the traditional version. Make sure that you descend slowly, and initiate the concentric by contracting your hamstrings. The descent should be deliberate, and you should attempt to touch your backside to the wall behind you. Push back with your hips, then push through with them. This will really get your hamstrings "firing", and your lower back should be warm and ready to go after three sets of 10-12 reps.
Now we are ready to get down to business! After a couple of warm up sets to get the nervous system kicking in, we will pound out four sets of squats. Imagine trying to pull yourself to the floor with your hamstrings. This will keep your descent slow and controlled. The concentric shouldn’t be explosive. We are trying to squeeze the muscle as if it owes us money, even though it's a compound movement. We are after hypertrophy, pure and simple. After four sets of 8-10 with only a minute of rest between sets, you should feel pumped.
Next up, we have leg presses. If you think that since squatting is done the hard part is over, you are very sadly mistaken. We will do seven “doubles” as I call them. (These will be far less enjoyable than a double you would order from the local bar tender.) The first half of each set will be done with a narrow stance for ten reps, the second half will be done with a wide stance for another ten. We are essentially cramming 14 sets into a very short period of time. Rest only 40 seconds between each double, and keep the tempo smooth and piston-like, with no stops at the bottom or top of the movement.
Next on the agenda will be drop-set leg extensions. These will not be the traditional drop sets you might be used to. These will be mechanical drop sets. This means we will do a more difficult version of the lift first, then, keeping the weight the same, we shift our “mechanical” advantage and continue repping out. The first part of the set will be done with your chest held up high, and a slight forward lean off the back pad, allowing your torso to be at exactly 90 degrees to the thigh, thus shortening the quad from both the hip and the knee. When you reach failure, lean back against the pad which will place the muscle in the midrange where it is strongest. Continue the set until you fail again. Three rounds of this torture, with a minute rest in between, with a controlled negative and a two-count squeeze at the top of each rep, and that is all she wrote!
By this point, your legs should be pumped and, if you pushed your sets to failure, you should be feeling a little shaky—perhaps even a bit nauseous. If you feel like death warmed over, I applaud you for a job well done!
Stay tuned for the next installment of Prime and Pump, where I will carve out your path of destruction through a back/triceps workout that will get you grabbing attention even when your back is turned to the “cardio bunnies”!