Big Wheels: Top Bodybuilders Talk Leg Training

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Ronnie Coleman

Leg training magic secrets?

“There are no secrets or magical training plans when it comes to legs or any body part for that matter. Train heavy, train hard, consume enough protein and be consistent.”

Squat or you don’t train legs

“If you tell me that you train legs but don’t squat… then you don’t train legs.”

On slow and controlled form as opposed to Ronnie’s “reckless” form

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Old school leg movements

“I believe in the core “old school” movements for leg growth. Train these with consistent intensity and you will grow. All that other fancy stuff is cool but this is what works. Squat (front and back). Leg press. Hack squat. Straight leg deads. Ham curls (standing/lying). Walking lunges ( even if it is snowing outside).”

The trend of wearing tights

“Tights for leg day? I got them for free from some company and I guess I started a trend!”

On not locking out movements fully

“I never fully lock out any exercise. I go right to the point before locking out but never actually lock out, keeping the pressure off my joint. The only time I locked was when I had to for a powerlifting competition. For daily training though I never lock. First of all, it’s bad for your joints. Second, that brief lock gives you muscles a split second to rest. I like to keep constant pressure on my muscles and never give them even a split second of rest.”

Kai Greene

Training weak to strong

“I work in a specific order that addresses body parts from weakest to strongest. This creates harmony in my physique. I start with glutes, then calves, then hams because that is the order of needed improvement. My quads are superior to the other parts of my legs, so I prefer to address those other parts when I am most energetic and alert. This is the formula for improvement.”

Feeling the hamstrings

I think about my hamstrings as piano wire throughout the entire range of motion. That feeling is the tell-tale sign that your hamstrings are responsible for moving the weight. This is just a great move for me to get deep into my hamstrings and feel every fiber working.

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Taking lunges to the parking lot

“A lot of gyms are not equipped with glute kickback machines and lunge machines [although this one is]. The solution is walking lunges, but they are only effective when done over a great distance [at least 40 yards or 20 yards each way].

Most gyms don’t have the space unless you can get onto a basketball court or large aerobic studio. So I just decided to head outside and have all the space I needed.

Besides, I saw some awesome footage of Ronnie Coleman doing parking-lot lunges, so I had to do them myself.”

Dorian Yates

Pre-exhaust with leg extensions

“I like to start with these (leg extensions) as a way to pre-exhaust my quads before jumping into the heavy compound thigh exercises. Extensions are also great for building separation into the front of thighs. Be sure not to jerk or throw the weight up when performing these. A slow controlled movement is what you should strive to achieve.”

On squats as a macho exercise

“Well, I was a big squatter in my early days. That’s what everyone did and it was macho exercise as well. It was like if you don’t squat then you are not even a real man. That was the attitude in the gym. And, of course, Tom Platz was the big guy around back then, with his massive legs and his preaching about squats. But there were times when I was forced to look at alternatives – from the free weight squat anyway.”

Exercises for better quad development

“I would always pre-exhaust before I got onto the compound exercises, but I did leg press, and hack squatting, or squatting on a Smith machine instead of going to squats. And I found I got much better development from these exercises than from just heavy squatting. It depends a lot on your structure, but it (the squat) didn’t suit me. So hack squats, leg presses and pre-exhaustion with leg extensions.”

Tom Platz

Tom Platz

The high of high rep squats

“My heart rate soared upward and I found myself gasping for air. In a way, that sensation frightened me. I would fall to the floor, place the magical towel over my eyes, and ask myself, what if my heart does not slow down. I saw stars. My legs felt as if someone was stabbing knives into them.”

How much leg work do you need?

“If you are able to walk out of the gym on leg day – get back in there!”

On the sound the plates make while squatting

“I used to like putting a little space between plates on the bar. They’d jingle when I came up out of a squat, making a deep-throated roar. The old 45s were the best. The sound would pass through my spine and ears. It was like a car engine revving up. It would help me time my movement. A cue to go down for the next rep.”

Squat training intensity

“Some people like to live without too much risk. They’re satisfied leading a safe existence. This attitude of caution infiltrates into their goals. Every successful athlete – or businessperson – enjoys taking calculated risks. You have to. Especially in the gym when you’re squatting 500 for reps and you can’t get one more but grunt out ten. Your nose starts bleeding, you fall into the rack and that’s set one.”

Jay Cutler

Squats for leg mass

“Nothing builds quad mass like heavy free-weight squats. A lot of experienced guys tend to stay away from them for various reasons, but I would recommend that all bodybuilders squat. Pyramid up to heavy sets of six to eight reps. I squat using a shoulder-width stance and with my heels elevated on 10-pound plates to move the stress away from my glutes and on to my quads. I also angle my toes out slightly. I go very deep, and I pause at the top of each rep and then flex to fully contract the quads. I usually pyramid up to five plates on each side.”

Tag team of leg presses and hack squats

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“I do leg presses in every quad workout, starting with one or two warm-up sets of 10 reps. Then I do two or three full-on working sets of seven to nine reps. I try to drop the backrest as far back as it’ll go to get the deepest rep possible, and I like to keep my feet at a shoulder-width position.

I move through each repetition very quickly, but I sometimes pause at the top for a count of one or two. I always get a full extension–I never do halves or quarters. Full reps build maximum muscle. I also always do two or three sets to failure of hack squats. For these, I keep my feet at shoulder width, toes pointed out slightly. I really try to go deep and stretch my quads to focus on building the lower area near the knees.”

Targeting the outer quads

“I point my toes outward to throw stress to the outer sweep. I find this is also the most comfortable position for lifts such as hack squats and leg presses. Everyone has a position where he feels the tension on the quads the most, and that seems to be the best for me. You have to experiment a little with leg exercises, because subtle differences in positioning can make major differences in how the lifts affect you.”

Branch Warren

Leg training and drop sets

“I do dropsets year-round; my training doesn’t change from precontest to offseason. The biggest benefit of dropsets is that you work that muscle to complete failure and exhaustion.”

The importance of high volume

“Every athlete that has ever had the best quads has taken this kind of approach (high volume) with sets and reps. That includes Tom Platz, Ronnie Coleman, and myself. It’s total annihilation because, by the end of the workout, you shouldn’t be able to do anything else—nothing! As far as training through the pain, you have to man up.”

His use of safety bar squats

“That really helps take the back out of it. That way you can stay upright and concentrate on firing with the quads. For me not to squat at all would be just ridiculous,” he explains. “Even with the injury, which is fine now by the way, to me you’re not training legs if you’re not squatting. With the safety bar squats, I can go down slowly and really focus on making sure the right leg is working just as hard as the left.”

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Name: Steve Shaw

Bio: I don’t believe in magic training systems or rep ranges. My philosophy is simple: remain consistent, use the best possible exercises, focus upon progression and enter the gym looking to maximize each set. When you maximize each set, you maximize progress. Easy, obvious, insanely effective.