The Road to Massive Legs
Blow Up Your Wheels In 12 Weeks
Why Legs Matter
Are you a bodybuilder, or just an “upper body” builder? When Men’s Physique came along a few years ago, the new division was the butt of many jokes among the meathead crowd. Those metro “pretty boys” all had stick legs, which is why covering them in board shorts to the knees made perfect sense. Many Men’s Physique Division (MPD) competitors had decent development in the delts, pecs, lats and arms, but lagged behind in the lower body. It’s been a longstanding assertion among grizzled iron veterans that leg training is what separates the men from the boys. When done properly, no other workout is as grueling or intense. Chances are that not many men have ever projectile vomited while training arms. But just about all of us have either puked after a tough set of squats or drops sets of leg presses, or came close enough to taste it making its way back up our esophagus. Leg training isn’t fun, the way congregating around a bench with your buddies on chest day or pumping up your guns is. It’s a struggle and a challenge. A lot of guys put only lackluster effort into their leg training, and it shows. Seeing a man with a powerful upper body, and legs that seem weak and puny in comparison, is a real letdown. Even regular non-lifters have little respect for that look and will make a mockery of it. In contrast, when the legs are thickly developed, the physique takes on a far more rugged and complete look. Even if you don’t compete and have no aspirations to, big wheels still command respect among your fellow lifters and mainstream types alike.
The Power of Prioritization and the Need for Recovery
Prioritizing/specializing on any given muscle group really means focusing on it, giving it extra attention. You take a specific area to focus on for a finite length of time; working it harder, more frequently and with more volume. Typically, blocks of eight to 12 weeks work best. Beyond that, even the most enthusiastic would have trouble maintaining the degree of effort and concentration needed to see appreciable results. It must be said that in the case of any prioritization routine, volume needs to be curtailed from other body parts. You can’t simply take your current routine, add more frequent and intense leg workouts to it, and expect to see the best gains possible. The reason is that doing so would severely compromise your recovery. As greats such as Dorian Yates, Lee Haney and Mike Mentzer stressed, muscle growth only occurs if the muscle is both stimulated to grow and subsequently allowed ample recovery via sufficient rest and proper nutrition. Think about it this way. Let’s say we all have 100 units of recovery available to us, and let’s assume we are using them all to recover from our current training programs. Should we amp-up our leg training as outlined soon in this plan, there may suddenly be a need for 125 recovery units. Even if you are able to add naps and bump up your calories of clean food, odds are you will still fall short and will fail to recover completely from your workouts. So with that in mind, the wise course of action is to cut back a bit on what you are doing for your other muscle groups for 12 weeks. You’ll still be doing more than enough to maintain them while you bring your legs up to match. And in situations where some of you might be overtraining without realizing it, the reduced volume may actually spur new growth if those areas are now able to fully recover between workouts.
What Can Be Done in 12 weeks?
I would never try to make you believe that you can go from stork legs to Platz-like tree trunks in 12 weeks— or even a year. The quads, hams and glutes make up an enormous amount of muscle tissue, and as such they take time to build. However, if you have not been putting the time and attention and most of all, the effort into building your legs up to this point, make no mistake. You can potentially make a very significant and visible difference in the overall size and shape of your lower body in just three months. If you do and want more, you could go back to this routine again after taking eight to 12 weeks away from it. Over the course of a year or two, it’s a very reasonable expectation that you could turn your legs from a weak point to something pretty special. And because exceptional legs are never a common thing, you can bet this will make you stand out from the herd.
The Leg Specialization Split
To make serious improvements to your wheels in just 12 weeks, you’ll be training them every third training day on a six-day cycle that looks like this:
Day 1: Chest and Back
Day 2: Quads and some hams
Day 3: OFF
Day 4: Shoulders and arms
Day 5: Hams and some quads
Day 6: OFF, repeat
Notice a few key elements here. The first is that there are two different leg-training days. One focuses more on your quadriceps with some work for hamstrings, while the other is hamstring dominant and also includes some quads. The rationale here is that most of us have a tendency to favor the quads, and typically expend most of our training time and energy on leg day to them. This leads to hamstrings that lag behind, often very far behind. By splitting them up into two distinct training days, both the quads and the hams get the energy and attention they need to deliver maximum performance in the workout, and thus maximum gains. You may wonder why there is any quad work included on ham day, and why I have you doing some hams on the quad day. Wouldn’t it make more sense to keep them fully isolated? Not really. When we are talking about compound/multi-joint movements like squats, leg presses, hack squats and lunges, the concept of isolation doesn’t truly apply. There is no way you can do those exercises without involving the hams and glutes. Only leg extensions, a single-joint movement, truly isolate the quadriceps. It would be far easier to only work the hams on the hamstring-dominant workout day, but we’d be missing out on some valuable movements that hit the hams hard, like high-platform leg presses.
You probably also noticed that the entire upper body has been combined into just two training days: one for chest and back, and the other for shoulders and arms. This might seem like a lot to do in one workout, and it sure would be— if you did your normal volume of work for each muscle group. Don’t do that! Either do 30 to 50 percent fewer exercises per body part, or do no more than two work sets of each. If you attempt to continue doing your usual full workouts for all these muscle groups on top of the extra leg work, I guarantee you will not see the results in your lower body gains that you should and would otherwise. Never underestimate the critical role of recovery in this or any muscle-gaining scenario. Final note: at least for the duration of this program, do not perform deadlifts or rack deadlifts for your back. We need your lower back, quads, hams and glutes to be fresh and ready to crush it when you train them.
Nutrition for Big Wheels
You don’t need to change your diet around a whole lot, but I would insist that you make both your pre- and post-workout meals high in carbs. You want to have a full tank of muscle glycogen to fuel these workouts (especially on the quad-dominant day), and you want to refill that empty tank after you’ve destroyed those wheels in the gym. If you train after breakfast/meal one, good sources for a pre-workout meal are oats, cream of rice or even pancakes. Good post-workout carb choices are rice, potatoes or sweet potatoes. Avoid fats in that post-workout meal and go for leaner protein sources so the nutrients get right into those starving muscles. If you can handle it metabolically without gaining fat, you may also consider a cheat meal the night before the quad-dominant leg day. I would go with a good pre-workout product that serves to boost energy and pumps, and finish the workout with 50 grams of whey isolate and 100 grams of cyclic dextrin.
No matter what body part you happen to be training, you should know that you never want to jump right into heavy weights without first performing anywhere from two to four progressively heavier “warm-up” sets that are not especially challenging or taxing. Their purpose is to both bring blood flow into the area you will be training, which is critical for injury prevention, and to prepare the neurological system to perform at peak capacity. In other words, it takes a few sets for the body to “remember” how to do squats or bench presses perfectly. In the case of leg training, I also believe it’s wise to precede the weight training portion of the workout with five to 10 minutes of cardio on the stationary bike, treadmill or elliptical trainer. The legs comprise a great deal of muscle tissue, as stated earlier, and thus require substantial warming up. Don’t worry that 10 minutes of light cardio is going to hamper your workout in any way. It will actually do just the opposite. In fact, Kai Greene has been observed to do anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes on a StepMill before commencing his leg workouts. I wouldn’t go that far, but definitely don’t skip the cardio warm-up before these workouts.
Below are two workouts, to be alternated each time you do them.
Quad-Dominant Workout A
Cardio, 5-10 minutes
Leg Extensions 3 x 20-25
5 x 10-12
Hack Squats 5 x 10-15 (add weight each set)
Leg Extensions 4 x 12-15
Walking Lunges 4 x 10-12 steps each leg
Lying Leg Curls 4 x 10-12
Quad-Dominant Workout B
Cardio, 5-10 minutes
Leg Extensions 3 x 20-25
Front Squats 3 x 10-15 (warm-ups)
5 x 10-12
Leg Press 4 x 12-15, 1 double drop set of 12, 12 and 12 reps
Leg Extensions 3 drop sets of 12+12 reps
Sissy Squats 3 x 20
Seated Leg Curls 4 x 10-12
Ham-Dominant Workout A
Cardio, 5-10 minutes
Romanian Deadlifts 3 x 10-15 (warm-ups)
5 x 10-12
Lying Leg Curls 5 x 10-12
Adductor Machine 4 x 12
Standing Leg Curls 5 x 12 each leg
Leg Press, feet wide and high 4 x 15-20
Standing Calf Raises 5 x 10-15
Ham-Dominant Workout B
Cardio, 5-10 minutes
Seated Leg Curls 2 x 15 (warm-up)
5 x 12+12*
Dumbbell Stiff-Leg Deadlifts 5 x 10-12
Lying Leg Curls 5 x 10+10+
Step-Ups Onto Bench 4 x 10 each leg
Sumo Squats 3 x 15
Seated Calf Raises 5 x 10-15
*12 full-range-of-motion reps, and then 12 just emphasizing the contracted segment of the rep.
+10 full-range-of-motion reps, and then 10 just from full stretch to halfway up.
Form and Intensity Pointers
Firstly, never sacrifice form and feel for weight. Compound movements such as squats, hacks and leg presses should be taken down to at least parallel. Taller trainers with longer legs usually find that’s quite far enough, while those with shorter legs often get their best results from going below parallel. Leg presses should not be lowered so far that your tailbone curls up off the backrest. At all times, strive to feel the legs working. You won’t be able to “squeeze” the quads during something like squats the way you can with extensions, for example, but you should feel the quads under tension throughout the set. Strive for a full range of motion on all movements unless otherwise indicated. As for how many sets to take to failure, you can take all work sets to failure. If you find yourself feeling burnt out doing this, you can curtail it to the final two work sets of any given exercise. No work sets should ever feel easy. If you hit a target rep range of 10-12 and it was a breeze, add a bit more weight. Regarding weight progression, by all means endeavor to add weights to all exercises in very small increments, week by week. But again, don’t do so at the expense of form and feel.
A Final Word on Recovery
You are going to be pouring out a tremendous amount of effort into your leg training for three months. Leg training is extremely demanding on your body’s CNS, or central nervous system. In addition to aiming for a solid eight hours or more of sleep every night, try to limit any other physical activity— particularly if it involves your legs. You may not want to play hoops or hike the mountains, at least not if you want to see the best possible results from this program. Finally, try to relax and stay free of stress and worry, as much as you can. All that supports an anabolic environment.
12 Weeks to Wicked Wheels!
So that’s it. You now have a solid blueprint to follow— one that I can guarantee you will have your quads and hams swelling up to new dimensions. All you need to do is follow the plan as it’s outlined in all aspects, and it’s a done deal. Your legs will be thicker and more muscular in 12 weeks!
Great post! I'm always looking for ways to blow up the wheels... but in the end I think a huge factor is being able to put in tons of time and super high levels of hard work into making this large Muscle group grow. Pushing past all levels and into another level of intensity.
It can be downright grueling and alot of people don't have the ability to go above and beyond like they should.
I know when I do some heavy leg work I give up up and say enough when probably I can do another set or 2.
But if you can handle the ordeal you will see promising gains!