1. TRY OLYMPIC LIFTING
You may not want to step up on the platform to tackle a 220kg clean-and-jerk, but by occasionally building in the same kind of training used by these platform athletes, you can reap some of the size benefits.
Olympic weightlifting combines the speed of a 100-meter sprinter, flexibility and explosiveness of a gymnast and the raw power of a linebacker. There’s a lot of muscle activity throughout all muscle fibre types when you train the Olympic lifts. When you’re doing a bench press or biceps curl, less goes into that. Every single fibre must fire at one speed for a successful Olympic lift, which means more total muscle is recruited.
2. DECREASE VOLUME
A typical first remedy for people trying to grow legs is to do more: more exercises, more sets, more reps. If you’re having trouble growing, take a page out of the Olympic weightlifting book and do less.
Training more often with less volume can help your body respond with greater size. In a lift like the clean and jerk, you squat down to pull the weight from the floor, then you catch the weight at the top by descending into another squat and then you do a partial squat to explode the weight overhead. That’s one rep. So doing that takes a lot out of a lifter, so understandably, they lower their volume so that they can do it more often. Their legs grow as a result.
When you train a muscle too much, you don’t give enough time for them to rest to allow for growth. If your legs are not growing, train them less. Train 1 to 2 days per week max, with a more tempered approach to volume, then rest. Or stretch your time between leg sessions to 10 days instead of 6 to 7.
3. TRAIN FOR SIZE, NOT STRENGTH
This is an important distinction. Some guys insist on adding weight to the bar every single week. That may be a good approach if you’re training for pure strength, but not if your aim is to add size. When I was competing, my best 1RM on the squat was 600 pounds… at a bodyweight of 135. But we were training for strength every single day, never taking any one set beyond five reps.
If strength is the objective, you want to be increasing your loads every 2 to 3 weeks or less. For mass, it’s more about muscle breakdown and recovery. In my opinion, the best approach is to force your muscles to resist and overcome load with greater time under tension. Completely resist it – 4 to 5 second negatives and positives. Don’t need to lock your knees at the top of a squat – you want to keep the load on the muscles. Don’t focus too much on adding resistance but focus on the resistance itself. If the goal is power or explosion, then train for that – but for size, slow, consistent reps are best. Understand that you may not be able to lift as much but that your legs will probably add size much faster.
No surprise here. Whether you’re training for size, strength, athleticism or just to be respected in a pair of shorts, you have to squat. Squat is the king of all exercises and there is no substitute. I understand that some people may have problems with their back or shoulders but there are other options such as dumbbell squats, machine squats and leg presses.
If you’re serious about size, the squat needs to be part of your programme. Because it recruits so much muscle and triggers such a high hormonal response, it can bring about rapid growth – not just in your legs but in your entire body. If you really want to build championship quads, you do need to squat.
5. SQUAT DEEPER
People who think they’re just going to lift heavy partial squats and get bigger legs are missing out. To get that sweep, that teardrop, great glutes – you’ve got to go down. This is largely based on the flexibility of your hips but if you practice with the bar (or lighter loads) and learn how to go down and position your body properly at the bottom, that will allow you to use the muscles of your quads, inner thighs and glutes. Drop the weight down a bit. To build muscle, we’ve got to use a full range of motion.
Train the squat often. It’s not true that lifting weights limits flexibility. Lifting through a full and proper range of motion, combined with proper warm-ups and regular stretching, can actually enhance flexibility in the long run. Studies show that deeper squats provide greater size gains without increasing your risk of injury.
6. LIMIT CARDIO
Are you one of those guys who’s trying to build bigger legs and a six-pack at the same time? That’s going to be tough because you have to limit how much cardio you’re doing if you expect to get bigger quads.
Remember, recovery is everything and it’s tough to have your legs recuperate if you’re following your leg session with a cardio run. If you’re back on the treadmill the next day, there’s no rest. Bigger muscles take longer to recuperate. I don’t do any traditional cardio.
Take an honest look at your cardio routine. If your legs have been stubborn about growing, then cut back with your duration and frequency a bit to see if that helps. If you keep your diet clean, you don’t need to do as much cardio. Save it for when you’ve added the size you want.
7. FUEL UP
Have you ever gotten halfway through a leg workout, only to collapse onto the floor, dizzy, unable to catch your breath? That may be an indicator of a good workout to some but to me, this is a sign that you haven’t fueled up properly.
The day before leg day I tend to bring my carbs up a little bit – especially the night before. The morning of, I try to eat a high-glycemic breakfast in the morning to bring my blood sugar up because I’m going to be punishing my body in the gym so I need a lot of fuel. I still get my protein in, of course. On leg day, I’ll eat 1 to 1 ½ cups of rice before and after. After a workout, you need to spike your insulin, so I will do something very high in sugar. For me, that means six dates and a protein shake. Dates are very high in sugar.
If you’re going to go hard on leg day, make sure that you don’t skimp on carbs the day before. Also try to take in some fast-digesting sugars the morning of and immediately after your workout.