by Charles Poliquin
In 1938 Bert Goodrich won the first Mr. America competition. Although Goodrich was the first, the man who initially made the strongest impression in the iron game was John Grimek, who won in 1940 and 1941. Grimek’s physical superiority was such that after his second victory, which he won by a score of 146 (out of a possible 150) over his closest competitor’s score of 125, a rule was created that a competitor could win the title only once. When it comes to Grimek’s physique, no one specific body part comes to mind, as he was considered to have perfect symmetry.
Consider that at bodybuilding competitions of the time there were subcategories, such as awards for “most muscular” and for various body parts, but the focus was on symmetry first. That trend continued among the professional ranks, as evidenced by Frank Zane’s victories in the 1977, ’78 and ’79 Mr. Olympias. Although Zane was unquestionably the competitor with the least amount of muscle, he had unparalleled symmetry. That environment, however, slowly started to change.
If you can get a copy, check out a great special-edition magazine that was published in fall 2010 by MuscleMag called “Legends of Bodybuilding.” It contains an interview with Lee Labrada, who placed second in the 1989 and 1990 Mr. Olympias and was known for his exceptional shape – he had no weak points. Here is what Labrada said about the changes in judging criteria between his era and the current bodybuilding scene:
“It should be called professional mass building,” says Labrada. “Symmetry and aesthetics went out the window a long time ago. In my day you could put any of the top physiques behind a screen in front of a light and 90 percent of the audience would know instantly who that bodybuilder was from his silhouette alone. Arnold, Zane, Franco, Makkawy, Platz or whoever – the outlines of their bodies were unmistakably individual. Today, with little or no exception they all look pretty much the same.”
Labrada makes a good point, because despite winning three Olympia titles Zane would have a difficult time today even earning a pro card. While this debate on mass versus symmetry has created a rift in the bodybuilding world, it really hasn’t trickled down to the typical bodybuilder.
Generally, most men who go into a gym focus on their upper bodies. The result of such specialization is that many trainees have weak legs. As a source of inspiration, consider that former IFBB pro bodybuilder Francis Benfatto, who competed internationally for 25 years and placed sixth in the 1990 Mr. Olympia, had a longtime problem making his legs grow. Why? Because he was using the same loading parameters for his legs as he was for his arms, which were his strong point. Once he started training his legs completely differently from how he trained his arms, they responded. In fact, they grew 5 centimeters larger in only six weeks. Then there is the case of Tom Platz.
To this day, when you think of big legs, the first name that usually comes to mind is Tom Platz – his legs have become the standard that all others are measured against and which few, if any, have equaled. As opposed to Arnold, who used a high volume of training, Platz said, “I was better suited to shorter, more intense workouts with a lot more recovery time.” At his best, Platz placed third in the 1979 Mr. Olympia, and in an exhibition in Germany in 1993 Platz beat the world record holder in the squat, Fred Hatfield, squatting just over 500 pounds for 23 reps to Hatfield’s 12 reps. However, Hatfield did lift more than Platz for a single, 865 to Platz’s 775 pounds.
Although not everyone has the same ratio of muscle fiber types, the muscle fibers activated in squats are predominantly slow-twitch (Type IIa fibers). There are bodybuilders who have grown on 30 reps per set. In fact, one popular quad-building program has trainees perform leg presses for two straight minutes, no rest, with a full range of motion but not locking out at the finish so as to keep continual tension on the muscles. Before you tackle that brutal program, try the following routine that will produce enough myofibrillar damage to keep you limping for days and growing for weeks.
This program includes two supersets of leg exercises – the first superset for quads and the second for hamstrings – so that you perform a total of four exercises. Two supersets may seem relatively easy on paper, but don’t be fooled. This is unquestionably one of the toughest leg specialization programs you can perform; it’s demanding both physically and mentally. With that warning, here you go:
A1. Back squat, 4 x 5-8, 5011, rest 60 seconds
A2. Alternating lunge, 4 x 10-12, 20X1, rest 180 seconds
B1. Leg curl, prone, 4 x 5-8, 5011, rest 60 seconds
B2. Romanian deadlift, 4 x 10-12, 3011, rest 180 seconds
This program creates a considerable amount of lactic acid that can cause nausea, so it would be best not to consume anything other than a light meal two hours before attempting it.
If you’re serious about building up your legs fast, give this program a shot. It’s a fast track to achieving a balanced physique – just like the greats in the golden days of bodybuilding.