The Natural Competitor: Training Legs
By Brian Wiefering,
No Nonsense Newsletter Volume 12 #4
‘Chicken Legs‘ and What to do About Them.
Q: Hi, I enjoyed your article, "On the Road", in the No Nonsense Newsletter, enough to clip it and add it to my reference journal.
My question for you concerns ‘Chicken Legs‘. I have possibly the worst case of this ... ever. I'm fine at the gym; sweat pants hide them, but let me tell you, the pool is not my friend.
Do you have any suggestions or recommendations for Gym-Rats like me "afflicted" with this condition?
Gary A: Gary, let me begin by telling you about my own quest to rid myself of "chicken legs".
This photo was taken during my junior year. I got serious about lifting that same year.
As a kid, I practiced basketball everyday preparing for the time when I could suit up in a Highlands varsity uniform and play in front of a packed gymnasium. I went to all the games and idolized the players. When my time came, I made varsity and started. We had a great team and were ranked first in our region. It was a dream come true. I loved everything about basketball, except... those darn old-school short-shorts that showed off my own pair of chicken legs! I played soccer throughout high school too. Well, at least the soccer shorts hid a little more than those stupid basketball shorts – see accompanying photo taken my junior year – in my soccer uniform, I probably threw away any basketball photos just because I was so embarrassed of those darn skinny legs.
Why couldn’t I have graduated a few years later, after those long, knee length shorts that they wear now had come into style?
But, maybe my ’chicken legs’ were a good thing. I know they were one of the reasons I started lifting in high school, and unlike my friends, I did more than just chest and arms. Yes, I have to give a little positive credit to those words, ‘chicken legs‘. They got me under the squat rack and leg press during my very first workouts. From then on, I made sure I never neglected my legs.
Don’t think that my legs just grew, either. I’ll admit that my upper body and arms responded pretty well. But, genetically, my legs were my most undeveloped part and the hardest for me to build.
Once out of college I had to make a tough decision. By then I knew enough about lifting to know that participating in too much basketball and soccer took away from my ability to gain muscle. I still loved basketball, but I knew that playing pickup games four days a week was too much if I ever was going to get rid of those ’chicken legs’. And, I chose to put bodybuilding first. Now, don‘t get me wrong. I didn’t quit sports activities all together. I really like playing, and as I always say, you can be a bodybuilder and still enjoy life. I just realized that too much cardio seriously depletes fast twitch muscle fibers—thus giving you those thin calves, hams and quads. Your endurance fibers might benefit, but remember, we are talking about putting size on! So, I joined a team that played once each Sunday night. I did that for the past ten years. I’ve since hung up my basketball shoes, and now play on an outdoor soccer team once a week.
I usually squat free style, but this photo gives you an example of the form I use.
Another change I made was to break up my leg training into 2 or 3 workouts. Considering that legs make up half your body, and for many people (like myself) are the hardest to build, then why do we break upper body into 3 or even 4 workouts, but try and do all of our legs on one day? Really, think about it. If you squatted like you’re supposed to, would you really have anything left to effectively train another body part?
Let’s take a look at your squat routine. Are you counting your warm-ups as sets? I mean, it takes me 4-5 sets to get up to the weight I need to be effective in promoting growth. See below...
Warm up 1: 1x15 (135lbs)
Warm up 2: 1x10 (225lbs)
Warm up 3: 1x8 (275lbs)
Warm up 4: 1x5 (315 lbs)
Warm up 5: 1x4 (365 lbs)
Now is when I start counting my sets...
Set 1: 1x5 (405 lbs)
Set 2: 1x4-5 (465 lbs)
Set 3: 1x5 (405 lbs)
Set 4: 1x5 (405 lbs)
Set 5: 1x? (315 lbs) (? means as many as possible—barf bag anyone?)
Now, if you are taking these deep and controlled, do you really think you have anything left for your hamstrings and calves? I mean, at this point, I am literally lying on the floor just waiting for that nauseous feeling to leave so I can crawl over to the leg extension and bust out 4 sets of 12 reps, squeezing hard at the top. And, that’s it for quads.
Now, is that all I ever do for quads? No. There are times when I cut the work sets in half and go to the leg press for 4 more sets. Or, I might not squat at all. In that case I do 5 warm-up sets of leg press, followed by 5 work sets. Next comes leg extensions, or instead of the leg extension, I’ll do sissy squats (not too "sissy" if you know what I’m talking about...).
So, that pretty much raps up quads. Then, I’ll do hamstrings and calves on a separate day. Don’t do hams the day before quads because tired hamstrings will make it impossible to get the most from your squats. I usually do hams and calves a few days after quads. Yes, and even though your quads are really sore, you can still do hams and calves—suck it up.
If you’ve read my past articles, you know that I put in an extra day for calves. I’ve found that I can do my other calf workout before training quads. It actually serves as a warm-up and I haven’t noticed it to affect my strength. Now, I do two different calf workouts. I do just one exercise per session for calves. One day I do standing calf raises (usually before squats), the other day, seated calf raises.
I prioritize calves because I believe that three minor body parts play a big role in how you look on stage or in front of the camera. When I look at a physique, whether I start from the top or bottom, I see the neck (and traps), then go down to the waist (abs), then down to the calves. Having any of these body parts out of whack can really throw off your symmetry much more than say your biceps or triceps would. So, it’s important for me to hit my calves fresh at the beginning of my workout to get the most out of them (just like I hit my traps first on shoulder day!).
Ok, here are my calf workouts...
STANDING CALF WORKOUT - 5x30.
Here’s how I do it: After a few warm-up sets, I put on a weight that limits me to 15-20 good reps in the standing calf raise. Once I hit the point where I can’t get to the top and squeeze like I want, I put my hands on the machine and pull myself up the last 10 reps. I think those last 10 forced reps on each set is the difference between building your calves or wasting your time.
Calves are stingy when it comes to growth. If there is one muscle that "no pain – no gain" is most true, I’d say calves are that muscle group. You have got to learn to ignore the burn. Lactic acid buildup comes quick with sets of 30 reps. I see people in the gym every day that quit just as they approach the burn. On calves, you’ve got to go beyond the burn. Now think about it. When you do bench presses, you almost always quit due to muscle fatigue/failure, not the burn, right? So, why don’t you do the same with your calves? Yes, calves start burning way before you reach failure, but you just have to ignore it and go past it until you hit actual muscular failure.
SEATED CALF WORKOUT – 3x100.
Here I am 3000 workouts later. I hope my training suggestions in this article help you defeat your "chicken leg" syndrome.
Note: Do this workout on hamstring day, not on squat day.
I put two 45 lb plates on the seated calf machine and do 30 controlled reps on my own. Next are negatives, my partner pushes down while I resist for 20 more reps (now we are at 50). At this point my calves are seriously burning and most sane people would quit, but I get 20 more on my own (not so controlled as the first 30) with my partner assisting me so that I can get the weight up to its highest point. Finally, I do 20 more negative resistance reps. At this point my feet ache, and my calves feel like the muscles are peeling off the bone. But, I’m only at 90. So, I do my best to finish the last 10, but again, my partner is helping me on the positive reps.
You’ll need 5-10 minutes rest before your next set. You want to come in strong each set and be able to feel the contraction of each rep. Oh, yeah. Don’t plan on walking normal for a few days once the soreness sets in (and that soreness might not set in for a few days).
Lastly, don’t forget hamstrings. Look at the bodybuilders with the best legs. From the side, their legs look enormous. And if you really notice, you will see that most of that stems from their bulging hamstrings. My favorites are:
- Straight legged deadlifts
- Leg curls (with added resistance from your partner on the way down)
- Standing leg curls
- Leg press with legs positioned at the very top of the sled
Gary, by following these principles, you will see great improvement in six months. Your new found development should motivate you to continue getting those legs bigger and bigger. It’s not going to be easy, but if you do it right, you will succeed. So, let me sum it up for you...
- Reduce cardio or athletic activity.
- Separate legs into at least two workouts (quads and calves on one, and hams and calves the other).
- Make sure that hams are done a few days after quads (never before).
- Ignore the pain on your calf workouts.
- Don’t overlook hamstrings—they are critical to the overall appearance of your legs.
And lastly... Eat the chicken—don’t be the chicken!
30 Day Calf Blast This workout will BLAST 2" to your calves in just 30 days!
Exercises For Quad Sweep Sample Leg Workout
Richard Jackson Richard Jackson's leg training bombarding the quads