Developed by best-selling fitness author and strength and conditioning expert Mike Volkmar, Strong Legs contains everything you need to know to fine-tune your regimen for the ultimate in lower body fitness. Below, check out Mike’s thoughts on two effective methods to train your lower body.
Last time, I talked about how rotations can be used to switch up your exercise routine and provide a more effective training for your lower body. The second method would be performing your favorite Barbell and Dumbbell exercises in a circuit fashion while the third method would be to DIY/experiment with working backwards and changing a traditional exercise order. See how I recreate Barbell Squat in the following examples via both of these methods.
Strength Training Circuits
Also known as metabolic resistance training (MRT). These sets are a new-school version of traditional circuit training with a greater emphasis placed on heavier weights. Keeping with the Back Squat in this example, each workout begins with a max effort (ME) Back Squat, working up to 8, 5, or 3 reps, whichever is programmed for that week. This rep scheme mimics a powerlifting program in that you work up to one heavy set each day for an ME exercise. The Back Squat then becomes the first exercise in your MRT circuit, which allows for more volume. The MRT circuit is programmed to alternate push and pull exercises to allow for a bit of active rest and maximum fat burn!
Here is an example workout using the Back Squat:
Dynamic Warm-Up: Activate
Mini Band or Sling Shot Diagonal Walk – 2 sets of 20 reps
Glute Bridge – 2 sets of 20 reps
Dynamic Warm-Up: Mobilize
Banded Hamstring Stretch – 2 sets of 12 reps each leg
Cossack Squat – 2 sets of 8 reps each side
Max Effort (ME) Exercise
Barbell Squat – Work up to a heavy set of 5 reps
1A. Barbell Squat – 3 sets of 12 reps (work at about 60% of your last ME set)
1B. Barbell Sumo RDL – 3 sets of 12 reps
1C. Dumbbell Bulgarian Squat – 3 sets of 12 reps each leg
1D. Body Weight Hip Thrust – 3 sets of 12 reps
MRT workouts allow to train for strength, size, and burn fat all in one workout!
Keeping with our theme of the Back Squat, Mechanical Drop Sets and Pre-Exhaust Sets, see how experimenting can take the intensity to the next level!
#1 Mechanical Drop Sets
These sets are a version of Drop Sets, but instead of simply dropping the weight to continue the set, you “drop” to an exercise with more mechanical advantage. Essentially, you chose a version of Squat (Front Squat) that you are weaker and perform the set when you are fully rested. Then with minimal rest (2 deep breaths), switch to a version of Squat (Back Squat) you are traditionally stronger when you are fatigue.
Check out the example using the Back Squat to illustrate:
Squat Mechanical Drop Set:
1A. Barbell Front Squat x 3-5 reps
-Rack the bar. Take two deep breaths. Switch to Barbell Back Squat and go for 5 more reps.
1B. Barbell Back Squat x 3-5 reps
Repeat for 3–4 sets.
#2 Pre-Exhaust Sets
This a classic bodybuilding technique. This is also a smart way for older lifters with cranky joints to get more blood flow in the knees before Squat Day. Simply put, perform an isolation exercise first in your workout. This fires up underactive or plateaued muscles by breaking the rules. Machine-based exercises are my favorite choice for the easy set-up in a standard gym. Free weights-based exercise may be easier for a CrossFit or Garage Gym set up.
The following are examples of Pre-Exhaust Sets:
Pre-Exhaust Set (Machine)
Super Set the following exercises:
1A. Machine Leg Extension – 3–4 sets of 12–15 reps
1B. Machine Leg Press or Hack Squat – 3–4 sets of 6–8 reps
Pre-Exhaust Set (Free Weight)
Super Set the following exercises:
1A. Backward Sled Pull – 3–4 sets of 20 yards
1B. Walking Lunges – 3–4 sets of 12-15 reps each leg
By now, I hope you see the magic that can happen when you experiment all the variables the gym can offer. For more programs specifically designed for building a big Squat or Deadlift, or plug and play workouts using sled or targeting the glutes, please check out my book, Strong Legs.
MICHAEL VOLKMAR, MS, CSCS, PES, CPT, received his master’s degree in Exercise Science with a specialization in Exercise, Nutrition, and Eating Behavior from George Washington University (GWU). In 2001, Mike started his well-traveled path in Sports Performance Training at the Junior College level (OCC, Onondaga, NY) working with the baseball team. He worked for three years as the Strength and Conditioning Coach at GWU, first with the Single A affiliate (High Desert Mavericks) of the Milwaukee Brewers, and later season with the Double A affiliate (Harrisburg Senators) of the Washington Nationals, before moving on to spend one year at the International Performance Institute of IMG Academies, FL. Mike continued his professional development by becoming the Director of Strength and Conditioning at the APEX Academies. Currently, Mike is the strength and conditioning coach at the Peddie School. A Division I baseball player during his undergraduate career, Mike is an amateur powerlifter with a passion for all things fitness. Mike has advanced specialty certifications in strength and conditioning, post-rehab exercise, athletic development, and sports medicine.