by Chris Marzarella
Legs aren’t the toughest body part to grow, but they do require some dedication. Not everyone enjoys training legs, especially since the day after and a set of stairs can be a challenge. Disregarding the bitching out, if you truly want to add size to your legs, suck it up and train your legs top to bottom!
If they are lagging or you just aren’t happy with how they look and want to add some serious hurting to them in the quickest amount of time possible, follow this eight week fun-filled trip to Hurtin Town USA. Trust and believe me, you will be uncomfortable, you will hurt and you will curse me out. You will want to quit. But hold steady and you’ll reap the benefits of stronger and better designed legs-think Quadzilla v2.0
The following workout calls for 3 days of total leg training and a day of “everything else”. The exercises, repetitions and sets will vary during the week, but rest assured this will add size to your wheels. On some days, the volume will be higher, on other days, the intensity will be higher and the overall volume lower. On other days we will use metabolic stress to induce damage and create an environment for hypetrophy. The upper body day will give the legs a chance to rest and you won’t have a back ache from too much stress on the lumbar area and low back. You will do mostly compound work for the upper body so that you can cover all of the bases more effectively. Don’t worry about losing size, the focus and concentration will only be growing your legs. The upper body won’t shrink because of the lower body work done which will also stimulate the upper body.
Use the Perceived Rate of Exertion (PRE). It is needed to gauge where you should be. In a nutshell, if you can do more than 9 reps, that’s a 1. If you couldn’t do another rep with good form or complete failure, that’s a 9-10. It’s important to know your 1 rep max for the squat and deadlift. So be honest, and if you need to record it, do so before starting. There are a ton of online “safe” one rep max calculators so getting a rough estimate can be a good start.
Increase the weights ONLY when you can get the required amount of sets of all the sets and repetitions needed.
The days will follow this pattern:
Day 1: Squats (quadriceps concentration)
Day 2: Recovery (stretching and mobility work-I suggest the DeFrancos Agile 8)
Day 3: Deadlift (hamstring concentration)
Day 4: Upper Body Day
Day 5: Combination Leg Day (final hit on legs)
Day 6/7: REST and low impact cardio
Squats 5 sets of 3-5 repetitions (read 3×3-5); PRE: 8, rest 90-120 seconds.
Hack Squats 4×6-8; PRE: 7, rest 60-90 seconds.
Rack Pulls 5×3-5; PRE: 8, rest 90-120 seconds.
Deficit Deadlift 4×6-8; PRE: 7, rest 90 seconds.
A1) Leg Extension 3×15-25; PRE: 6, rest 45-60 seconds after superset.
A2) Lying Leg Curl
Leg Press Calf Raise 4×12
Deadlift 5×3-5; PRE: 8, rest 90-120 seconds.
Hack Squat with Smith Machine: 4×6-8; PRE: 7, rest 90 seconds.
Good Mornings: 4×6-8; PRE: 7, rest 90 seconds.
Walking Lunges 4×8; PRE: 7, rest 90 seconds.
Seated Calf Raise 3×12-20
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press 3×12
Lat Pulldown or Chin Ups 3×12
Standing Overhead Barbell Press 3×12
Barbell Curl 3×12
Close Grip Bench Press 3×12
A1) Cable Crunch
A2) Weighted Leg Raise
A3) Dumbbell Side Bend
Lying Leg Curl 3×10
Cyclist Squat 3×12-15 PLUS a 15 second rest/pause set on the final set.
Stiff Leg Deadlift 3×12-15 PLUS a 15 second rest/pause set on the final set.
Step Ups-complete each set on one leg, then move to the next leg. 3×12
Hip Thrust 3×12
A1) Bodyweight only Bulgarian Split Squat 3×12-25
A2) GHRs or Weight Plate-Held Back Extensions 3×12-15
B1) Standing Calf Raise 3×12
B2) Farmer Walks on Front Balls of Feet with weight, walking 30 yards. Add weight as necessary, three rounds each.
If you examine the amount of time from when you do your squat day to the time you are about to do deadlifts, the amount of time allotted is 36 hours, ensuring the best use of muscle protein synthesis. Even though it can be a challenge to do legs all three times during the week, you’re getting close to being fully recovered. Then, you are going to stress the muscles again. It’s a matter of frequency in training and muscle protein synthesis (MPS). In a study (1) that hypothesized how long before a muscle or bodypart had recovered, it was determined that an average time of 36 hours post exercise, MPS in the exercised bodypart had returned to within 14% of the control bodypart value. It was concluded that following a bout of heavy resistance training, MPS increases rapidly, is more than double at 24 hours, and thereafter declines rapidly so that at 36 hours it has almost returned to baseline. We are using this to our advantage to grow.
The above protocol meets these requirements and offers other ways to stimulate a group of muscles that will provide enough recovery and MPS, hence the differing quadriceps/hamstrings days.
On the final day of leg work, we aren’t trying to annihilate the muscle fibers. We are only trying to induce slightly more damage so that they have ample time to recover. After the final leg day, you will have two days in which to recover, the first rest day being a light cardio day. In no way am I advocating standing still or doing completely nothing after the final leg day no matter how sore you are. The less blood flow instilled into the damaged bodypart, the more you’re going to feel the effects of the previous days’ work. Therefore, either perform mobility and foam rolling or perform a low intensity cardio session.
When doing a protocol like this, it isn’t the time to skimp on calories. In fact, I wouldn’t do this protocol if you are about to go on a cut. You need the brick and mortar to build the house. If you’re in a caloric surplus, the body will respond favorably. If you are unsure of what to eat or how much, try this rough formula to know where you should be headed and make adjustments accordingly. At the very least, get a baseline of your caloric intake and find out what it takes to just maintain your present body weight.
This is a very simple starting point that you can use to count calories and manage your macronutrients. This is only a rough estimate. Give it two weeks before making changes. I should mention that when I train my clients, both online training and in-person training, I do a lengthy week-long assessment.
Choose which characteristic your body leans towards from the body type below. The shape of bodies are called phenotypes. It’s okay to be a combination of two, but pick the one that best suits you.
Calorie Counting Formulas
There two ways to figure out your caloric baseline. These are only estimates so a little tweaking may be necessary. Again, pick the body frame that best suits you.
Mesomorphs: bodyweight x 15
Ectomorphs: bodyweight x 16-17
Endomorphs: bodyweight x 13-14
Add some calories (350-750 calories are a good start) in the form of carbohydrates if needed. If this the first time you are establishing a baseline, I suggest using a calorie counter app like Fat Secret or My fitness Pal to ensure proper macro intake, and track everything you eat for a period of one to two weeks steadily. If the number doesn’t change within the tracked time of one to two weeks, short of a one to two pound gain or loss, you have the most accurate baseline. I would weigh yourself regularly, usually two to four times a week, after waking and after a bathroom break. Have a good scale in the bathroom ready and waiting.
Protein: Make it a priority to shoot for a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. This isn’t set in stone, as I have had individuals go from 0.9 to 1.2 grams x bodyweight. Unless you’re on anabolics, where you can probably go up to 1.5 grams, more is wasteful; even worse, this is a pretty expensive way to convert protein to excess glucose, and if it isn’t used it will be stored as body fat.
Also, try to divide the protein amount equally between all meals. For example, a 200 pound bodybuilder requires 200 grams of protein daily. He eats 5 times a day. Thus, breaking his meals up, he’ll use 40 grams of protein per meal. This also helps facilitate satiety, which is important throughout the day as either fats or carbohydrates will be used in various amounts, especially at night and during workouts. A good recommendation is to eat tuna, steaks, chicken, whey protein, salmon, chicken thighs (my favorite poultry source!) eggs, egg whites, etc.
Fats: The other essential nutrient that is important to the task of repair, recovery and survival. I recommend 0.4 to 0.6 grams x bodyweight to manage the needs that we will be undertaking. Use a good mix of fatty animal sources (steak, fish oil, beef, bacon, salmon, etc.) and plant fats (olives, olive oil, real butter, hard cheeses, etc).
Carbohydrates: These are not essential for survival, yet the play a major role in our quest for size. They are also protein sparing and great for adding size as they can be anabolic (2). I would take the amount of carbohydrates as such: Given a caloric intake of 2700 calories for our 200 pound bodybuilder, who has a protein requirement of 200 grams or 800 calories, a fat intake of 100 grams or 900 calories, for a total (so far) of 1700 calories, which leaves him a residual of a carbohydrate requirement of 1000 calories (or 400 grams).
After the first 3 weeks, it might be a good idea to take a deload. Subtract 40% off all weights and sets, and just go for the required minimum. This will help with recovery and avoids burning out. At the end of 8 weeks, take a full week off and enjoy your new wheels, resuming regular training afterwards.
I’m sure you can’t wait to get to training, so plan out the next two months and go food shopping. The stay in Hurtin Town will be a while, so stock up on protein, carbs, fats and creatine!
1.) Can J Appl Physiol. 1995 Dec;20(4):480-6.The time course for elevated muscle protein synthesis following heavy resistance exercise. MacDougall JD1, Gibala MJ, Tarnopolsky MA, MacDonald JR, Interisano SA, Yarasheski KE