Ask The Trainer #45 – Fix Those Lagging Legs (Part 2 of 2)

QUESTION (Continued From Part 1): 

Hi Chad,

I am a 41 year old woman who competes in figure competitions. I have worked really hard on trying to put some size on my legs over the past few years and while I have been able to build them up from the skinny chicken legs they were I continue to struggle on how to put on more size. For awhile I did only one leg day per week with real heavy weights. Then I switched to two leg days per week with one day being intense (for example, heavy squats and leg press) and the other day less intense (for example, lunges, step ups). On both days I do leg extensions and hamstring curls. In both instances I feel like I have not gotten the growth I want. Any suggestions?

Thank you,

ANSWER: (Continued From Part 1):

2. Increase Time Under Tension: This technique involves slowing down the cadence of your repetitions to increase the intensity and muscular tension of the exercise. Generally speaking, the more difficult you can make a set overall, the more productive it will be. This technique does exactly that!

Be forewarned this technique is NOT for the faint of heart! When done correctly it feels like a cruel form of medieval torture! This is a technique where pain tolerance is of utmost significance. How far will your mind allow your body to take the set? How much pain can you tolerate? Your answers to these 2 questions will dictate the effectiveness of this strategy.

Chad ShawDo not overdo this technique. It’s very intense. Doing multiple sets on each exercise will quickly lead to overtraining. In fact, just 1 set performed properly on each leg exercise is all you need!

For the sake of safety and avoiding injury, I would not use this technique on freestyle barbell squats. Instead, I’ve experienced the best results using it on leg presses, certain squat machines, leg extensions, and leg curls.

You’re going to perform your repetitions in a slow and controlled manner. Take 3 seconds to raise the weight, followed by a 2-second pause in the fully contracted position, then 4 seconds to lower the weight back to the starting position. Also, plan on significantly reducing the amount of weight you handle when using this technique. It will make a 500 lb. leg press feel like at least 1000 lbs!

Use a weight heavy enough to force you to reach momentary muscle failure within 12-20 reps. It’s a good idea to perform a couple of warm-up sets to prepare your muscles, joints, and also your nervous system for the coming stress.

For your first warm-up set use about 50% of the weight you plan to use on your main set. For your second warm-up set use about 70% of the weight. DO NOT work to failure on your warm-up sets. Perform just enough repetitions to get everything warm and ready to go to war for 1 brutal set!

3. Incorporate Rest-Pauses: Leg muscles are so large and strong when they contract with extreme force, there’s a profound oxygen debt. In fact, total oxygen uptake by a muscle working at maximum capacity may increase up to 30 times during an intense set!

Muscle contractions can be so intense that it reduces blood flow and oxygen delivery. Therefore, more time must be allowed between reps for the vascular system to refill before the next intense muscle contraction. This is where including the rest-pause technique is beneficial.

You may overcome that diminished capacity of a muscle to engage in further effort by pausing, or “resting”, at the beginning position of an exercise for about 10 seconds. This rest-pause will allow blood to bring fuel to working muscles, as well as rid them of metabolic byproducts.

Based on my own experience, I’ve found rest-pauses can increase the productivity of almost any leg exercise, calves in particular. But, once again, for safety reasons, I would avoid using this technique on freestyle barbell squats.

Normally this 10-second rest would allow me to squeeze out at least 1 additional rep. Since this technique is very intense and adds further strain to all sub-systems within the body, I would never do more than 3 rest pauses following a primary working set.

In fact, I’ve realized my best progress by limiting myself to only 2 rest-pauses upon the completion of a set.

Just to give you an idea of a possible leg workout, here is one I’ve experienced great results with.

PLEASE NOTE: I incorporate all 3 intensity boosting techniques for each exercise listed. Even though this workout may only take about 30 minutes to complete, your legs will feel like pure jelly!

1. Body Masters Power Squat Machine – 2 warm-up sets, then 1 working set of 10-15 reps + 2 rest pauses.

2. Leg Press Machine – 2 warm-up sets, then 1 working set of 10-15 reps + 2 rest pauses.

3. Machine Leg Extensions – 1 warm-up set, then 1 working set of 12-20 reps + 2 rest pauses.

4. Machine Leg Curls – 1 warm-up set, then 1 working set of 10-15 reps + 2 rest pauses.

5. Standing Calf Raises – 1 warm-up set, then 1 working set of 12-20 reps + 3 rest pauses.

6. Toe Press – 1 working set of 12-20 reps + 3 rest pauses.

Since these techniques greatly enhance training intensity, applying them will deplete the biochemical resources in the body required for recovery and growth. They also do it much more significantly than a typical set that involves just completing an arbitrary number of reps at a faster cadence.

This being said, I would limit yourself to no more than 1 leg workout per week. For some people, biweekly leg workouts may be necessary to avoid overtraining. Either way, calves can still be trained every week because they contain more slow-twitch muscle fibers.

Slow-twitch fibers contain a greater number of mitochondria that will allow energy to be restored more quickly, and, therefore, allow them to recover faster than other muscles.

Prove ‘Em Wrong,
Chad Shaw

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