Arguably, my legs are my best developed bodypart. Thanks to my dad, I have been blessed with very fortunate leg-muscle genetics. This means that opposed to my upper body, especially my quads respond very well to exercise.
The following list of biohacks is for those with shitty genetics and those struggling to build size and strength in their wheels:
1. Using Compoud Lower Body Exercises
Doing endless sets of leg extensions and lying leg curls can be useful but will only go so far in terms of adding real strength and size to the legs. The meat & potatoes of advancing your leg development must come from Big Compound Movements. There is no substitute for doing these and I don’t care how great the pump feels after you get off the leg extension machine. Simultaneously transmitting forces through your knee and hip joint using a challenging load sets the foundation of building impressive legs. I train at my home basement gym with no access to fancy machines but only free weights. In #3, I discuss my favourite compound exercises.
2. Bike Every Day
When I built my first roadbike back when I was 16, little did I know that it would add so much size to my legs. Back in the days, I would cycle to and from school giving me a total mileage of around 30 km/day around Berlin. At first, it wasn’t easy and I was exhausted from this excessive volume I was throwing at my body. However, after a few months my body quickly adapted by growing bigger quads and gastrocs. I sometimes challenged myself with bouts of bike sprints that pumped legs up so much that I thought my trousers would explode. At any rate, my example goes to show that by greasing the groove through daily cycling my adapted by becoming bigger. Leave your car at home, and cycle to work or wherever else your car would have taken you.
3. Praise the Front Squat & Trapbar Deadlift
Easily these two exercises are my most favourite. I am not built for back squats and I found that heavy back squats give me left knee pain. The beauty of the front squat is that it forces you upper body to stay upright and it hits your quads much more effectively than the traditional back squat. If your form breaks on the front squat (i.e. too much forward lean with caved-in chest and elbows down) you will have to drop the bar in front of you. That’s why it’s a exercise teaching the trainee how to stay tight and upright. With the low-bar squat you can sometimes cheat your way out of the hole. This usually results in shitty form.
There is no reason I need to deadlift with a straight barbell. I was deadlifting with a barbell when I fucked up my lower back. The barbell deadlift definitely has its place in powerlifting (bench, squat, deadlift) but I am not planning to powerlift any time soon. That’s why I much more prefer the trapbar for deadlifts. Less skill and technique required, more neutral arm alignment and less strain on the lower back.
4. Train Legs 2 x Week (Heavy/Light)
My heavy leg day is usually on a Friday. That’s where the shit hits the fan and I go balls out. However, I found success integrating a lighter squat day usually 3 days before or after the heavy day. I will work on squat technique and just activate my leg muscles with lighter loads. My heavy sets on Friday feel kind of better whenever I incorporate my lighter leg day.
This lighter workout sometimes involves a fun (=torturous) high volume workout such as the „Bring Sally Up Squat Challenge“.
5. Don’t Neglect the Hamstrings
Similar to the imbalanced Push:Pull Ratio in the upper body, the posterior site of the legs often gets neglected in an effort to build a more impressive anterior site. I used to be guilty of this too myself where all I focused on for leg development was my quads. Ever since, I started incorporated more exercises for my hamstrings. I particularly like the Romanian Deadlift (RDL). By using a fairly light load you can get a crazy stretch out of your hamstrings. This is really useful as a way to balance your quads but also to counteract the negative effects our sedentary lifestyle has on our hamstrings.
6. Move Through a Full Range of Motion (ROM)
When a guy tells me he can back squats 405 lbs for 10 reps or leg press 10 plates on each side, I am always a little bit skeptical. I don’t care how much weight you are exposing your body to, if you can’t use a FULL RANGE OF MOTION it simply doesn’t count in my book. The legs are designed to move through full flexion and extension. If you don’t have the knee and ankle mobility to go Ass-To-Grass (ATG), fixing this should be your primary goal before adding weight to the bar. Also, I have a theory that ATG squats will keep my knees healthier than doing parallel squats. Clarence Bass seems to agree – he has been ATG squatting for 50+ years with no knee problems. I also like what Rob Faigin has to say: „“Half squats produce half results“
7. Build A Stronger Core
Anybody who has ever been in the hole of a squat and relaxed their core for just a split second will have felt the tension deflate like a punctured balloon. It was probably much harder or even impossible to complete that rep. If you didn’t have a strong core you would just fold up like a Swiss Army Knive during a squat/leg press.
Building a stronger core means you can support bigger weights when squatting. This will eventually help build bigger legs. I personally don’t use a weightlifiting belt for squats or deadlifts. I believe that building a strong beltless foundation teaches you how to keep your core tight during daily activities and how not to get injured. I mean have you ever seen a gymnast wearing a lifting belt to help him keep his core tight? Neither have I.
Instead of using the belt, I sometimes like to do use my gymnastic rings to build core strength or occasional ab rollouts.