Leg training: the one workout that truly separates the men from the boys. You can bench press your way to infinity, curl your damn arms off, but when it comes to putting together an effective leg training regime, you?ll find few friends willing to lend their hand required to build killer legs.
Here at BodyActive Nation, we?ve got the antidote, with 4 massively under-utilised exercises that will revolutionise the way you train your pins. Get ready to strip off those chicken legs you?re carrying around for a set of monster wheels.
The conventional back squat isn?t the only way to build show stopper legs that define serious lifters and athletes. You will however, consistently notice throughout a lot of references to the conventional squats simply because they?re such a beast of an exercise. This article contains four unique abbreviations of the squat that are also challenging and dramatically effective for a variety of purposes that will leave you feeling enlightened by the time you?ve implemented them into your routine.
Has it ever occurred to you that the reason so many people hate squats, is because they don?t actually know how to perform the movement correctly? I understand that they can also make you feel nauseous, exhausted, and feeling like you want to projectile vomit from every orifice in your body all over the gym, but these factors are usually appreciated by the lifter who gets to shift a ton of weight on this movement in return.
Goblet squats, are where we?ll start with this article. Legendary strength and conditioning coach, Dan John, accredits the goblet squat with single handily changing the way he teaches athletes how to perform the most important movement at all. He says it best: the goblet squat will teach the body how to make this movement feel natural again and remove the thinking element that often plagues the barbell back squat ? you know, keeping the chest up, back straight, knees out on the decent, etc. The goblet squat will rectify all of these ill-trained movement patterns and teach you effective form and technique, whilst simultaneously being a fantastic movement for muscular development. With a whole host of additional benefits to the movement, we better get into the actual form behind it and how to perform it correctly.
As you can see from the video, it?s essentially as simple as holding a dumbbell out in front of your chest, and allowing the body to take its natural movement pattern. I don?t want to publish too in depth thoughts on this movement ? the beauty is in the simplicity of it. It goes without saying though, that this movement will reinforce the necessary skills you must implement on a squat in general: chest up, back arched, knees flares as you descend. You know the drill. Integrate these into your warm-ups or even work your way up to a respectable weight in place of the squat, and you will feel completely revitalised within your leg training.
Suggested plan of attack: Goblets are fantastic for all the previously aforementioned reasons. However, building up to substantial weight on them is difficult due to the restrictions holding a heavy dumbbell or kettlebell upon your chest can hold. A good way to implement them into your routine ? and the method I use ? is to utilise them during warm-ups, before hitting the conventional back squat to reinforce good form and technique before I start lumbering weight on the bar. You will get the movement pattern down swiftly. Want a more challenging route? Use them as part of a superset later in your workout for the same purpose, or even as part of complex?s that don?t tax the body too heavily, with a light dumbbell. Then they can really start to add value to your training!
I?ve written so extensively about Cossack Squats before that I?m surprised my hands haven?t fell off in the heat with which I?m quick to dispense their value. Here is a phenomenal, unilateral lower body movement that provides the following benefits:
There?s a plethora of evidence to suggest that this exercise should be as much as a staple in your routine and if not more when compared to the conventional back squat. For a comprehensive view on Cossack Squats, check out this article I wrote.
A video of the movement can be found below:
Suggested plan of attack: Unlike the video above, not everybody has access to chains and instruments that will really make this movement challenging beyond holding a reasonably heavy weight plate in front of your chest (which is what I suggest doing). However, the beauty in Cossack Squats lies in their versatility, and like the Goblet Squat, they can be a fantastic rehab exercise to warm-up the legs thoroughly (especially the adductors which will be increasingly mobile after doing this movement) before your main movement on leg day. After that, consider adding them using them as your primarily unilateral leg movement (which everybody should have within their workouts), and perform the movement with a weighted vest or dumbbell / weight plate held in front of the body to increase how challenging it is. Done correctly, their benefits are endless, as you will already see. Start implementing them for instant results. You?ll feel a million times better immediately after your first set.
Bulgarian Split Squats (Rear foot elevated)
If you struggle with back issues or have injuries, then you?ll absolutely love ? and hate, given the pain they induce ? the rear foot elevated split squat. I learnt about this movement from the great Mike Boyle, who advocates it over the conventional squat for the majority of his athletes. & it appears that the reasons are plentiful.
As you can see from the video, the set up is extremely simple, yet is will provide an ample platform for progression given the variety of instruments you can utilise to add resistance. Not only that, but they are absolutely brutal and will stress your quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings tremendously. I?m not pulling your leg ? excuse the pun ? when I say I fear this exercise more than normal squats. That?s how challenging they are.
Perform these as seen in the video above, and your leg training will take on a new, exciting dimension given the slew of benefits they offer. A lot less stress and fantastic gains await.
Suggested plan of attack: The Bulgarian Split Squat can compliment squats or another movement as your main assistance movement, or equally be used as the primary leg builder in your workout. Given the consistency of the depth you hit, I would personally keep the reps limited to around 8-10 per leg at a maximum. Anything over that, I have found through experience, results in over exertion and it can leave you extremely restless given how much time you will take, alternating legs. I say this as a positive, by the way! Learn to love the challenge of this incredible movement.
Box squats are magnificent. Similar to the goblet squat, they will teach you how to execute the squat correctly, but these bad boys come with several added benefits: they are less strenuous and CNS taxing on the body than conventional squats, so your recovery will be enhanced. In addition to this exciting component and teaching you perfect form, they also significantly strengthen the glutes and the hamstrings during both the eccentric and concentric part of the movement. The problem most lifters have whilst squatting is that these muscles are under-utilised and not brought into play effectively ? box squatting will rectify this problem. Watch the master and biggest proponent of them of all, Louie Simmons, discuss the theory and reasons to box squat.
Suggested plan of attack: Box squats are not a movement you want to perform in a high rep range. I suggest finding a depth at parallel or below, and then utilising a progression template focused on anything from 2-5 repetitions, and learning how to implement them into your routine effectively.
Remember, that one of the added benefits of box squatting is that they are not as CNS taxing as conventional squats. This makes them an excellent option for those individuals who train legs twice per week, as they will allow you to incorporate them into your routine either twice as often to boost your squat, or in alternate leg sessions to ensure you?re not hampering recovery.
Whichever route you decide is best, including box squats into your routine will reward you with a significant boost to your conventional squat numbers. Watch the poundages fly through the roof.
Glute Ham Raise
Let me tell you straight-up: I saved the most horrifically painful, challenging exercise until last on this list. But if you?re ready to take your leg training to new heights, then you?ll be grateful to have read this far, because the glute ham raise is the most excruciatingly painful (in a good way) exercise that I know of.
In the video, you?ll see the fantastic Martin Rooney demonstrate how to perform the movement correctly and also discussing the benefits of the glute ham raise. I really have not found an exercise that fry?s the whole posterior chain like this one, and also one that correlates so strongly to strength gains into other lifts such as squatting, deadlifts, and overall muscular development. It?s a phenomenal exercise.
Suggested plan of attack: This is a tricky one, because the first time you perform glute ham raises, you should prepare for DOMS that you?ve never experienced before, even in low rep ranges. The reason for this is due to an exaggerated eccentric component of the lift which really stretches your hammies out and causes a lot of damage to the fibers (this is a good thing!).
My personal recommendation is to include them after squats as an assistance exercise. The rep ranges can vary vastly from individual due to strength levels. If you?re a newbie, perform them assisted by pushing yourself up from the bottom position and focusing strongly on control during the eccentric segment of the lift. If you?re an advanced lifter, then you should be able to add resistance to the movement after learning correct form and you can work out your own progression scheme on these bad boys. Also alternating them on a weekly basis with another powerful hamstring / hip movement like Romanian / Stiff-legged Deadlifts is another good choice.
Just writing this article got me extremely excited and was very refreshing, going down memory lane in my own training journey so far. These 5 movements are performed far too infrequently, and it?s about time they started getting the recognition they deserve. Leg training isn?t all about back squats, leg extensions and hamstring curls; you can add some real spice to your training with these movements and revel in the positive effects they induce. Implement them accordingly, and I guarantee your whole posterior chain and other movements, as well as overall performance and muscular gains, will go off the chart. Enjoy.
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