Friday, February 24, 2012

My Beef with YOUR Legs

All right, this here's my blog, and though I'll almost always give helpful, hopeful, kind and informative information, a guy's gotta blow off steam sometimes, right?  

I've recently had a string of circumstances in which I've overheard people discussing the infamous "leg day" in the gym.  Oh god, LEG DAY!  HOW AWFUL!  It's been nothing but moaning, groaning, and whining at how sore they are after their LEG DAY.  "Aw man, I hate walking up stairs after LEG DAY..." or, "Man I think I'm going to take my rest day today, I just hit LEGS yesterday and I can barely walk."  I usually just stand there, fuming a little bit, trying not to scream out at them that they have no idea what a real leg workout really is.  Luckily though, self control is one of my better qualities.

So what's my big issue with LEG DAY?  Well, while I can agree with a lot of bodybuilding philosophies, the dogma behind leg day is NOT one of them.  Sure, I can understand you may be sore after some high rep squats, leg presses, and lunges, but I won't tolerate the whining for days on end that follow such a "high intensity " workout.  I put high intensity in quotes because it's all really a matter of opinion, and I hate to say it, but most gym rats have no idea what some top level athletes go through to force their legs to the next level.  Allow me to explain, but before I do, understand that I AM going to bring up Olympic lifting and power lifting yet again, and because I am training for Olympic weightlifting you may think I'm biased.  You're entitled to that opinion, and you probably are right in a way.  I'm biased, sure, but for sound reasons.  Anyway....

Let's look at an amateur Oly weightlifter.  Do you bodybuilders have any idea what they're training entails?  Let's go through the motions of how their training progresses.  When they're  a stark, raw beginner, they're squatting moderately heavy/ heavy twice a week, and probably pretty light for one more day on top of that.  They'll then progress to at least four days of squatting per week, increasing both their volume and weight.  Pretty soon they'll be hitting at least 80% of their 1 rep max every one of their training days.  Once their body adapts, they'll increase the frequency of their training sessions.  A good amateur will be training about 6 days a week, with one double session thrown in there, in which they'll squat in BOTH sessions.  After that?  You guessed it, they'll add one more day.  At first they'll only squat light on this 7th day, but after a while this workout will build up to around the same level as their other ones.  They'll be hitting at least 85-95% of their max almost every day, for doubles and triples.  But this isn't even close to the end.  Oh no.  A professional, world class weightlifter will squat every day, two to three sessions, in which they'll max out multiple times on singles, doubles, triples, 5's, and sometimes even 10's.  On top of that, they'll be using weights that regularly exceed 500 lbs.  And that's just for squats.  Did I mention they do the same thing with snatches and clean/jerks?  Yeah, your leg day doesn't seem so hard anymore, does it?

Now THAT's some depth!
A common powerlifting workout schedule may not be as squat oriented as Olympic style weightlifting, but they're still working legs multiple times a week with far more intensity than you can really fathom.  They usually have one to two days entirely devoted to the heaviest squats they can muster, and usually one day devoted completely to deadlifting (again, at maximal loads).  These guys are the strongest of the strong when it comes to moving heavy stuff around, and they're doing reps with weight I couldn't move in any way, shape or form.  Do that multiple times a week, then complain about those lunges you used to do.

Bottom line, you'll build strength squatting heavy and squatting often.  You may think it goes against conventional knowledge of muscle recovery, but that's exactly the point.  You force your body to adapt to heavier weights, because you're lifting them so often.  Even me, the skinny kid from Vermont, has put about 100 lbs on his squat so far with the Olympic lifting technique, and it's only been about 6 months of serious training.  And that's self coached.  There's a reason the greatest Olympic athletes were squatting over 500 lbs by the time they were 19.  I think John Broz, one of America's finest weightlifting coaches, puts it best:

"If your family was captured and you were told you needed to put 100 pounds onto your max squat within two months or your family would be executed, would you squat once per week? Something tells me that you'd start squatting every day. Other countries have this mindset. America does not."

Now I don't mean to take anything away from serious bodybuilders.  Judging by the size of their legs, they know how to train to get what they want.  But that's just it.  They want size, definition, vascularity.  Strength comes in behind those.  Again, that's fine if that's your goal, but it certainly isn't mine.  I'd rather squat super heavy weight with big legs than medium/light weight with GIANT legs.

One more issue I have with a bodybuilder style leg workout, is the depth of the squats.  What the HECK are you guys thinking?  I regularly see these big fools get under a bar with WAYYY too much weight, groan as they barely manage to lift it onto their back (or neck if they're REALLY inexperienced), hunch right over and squat a full 4 inches.  WHAT ARE YOU DOING?  You're killing your knees, getting no real leg workout, and most likely destroying your lower back.  To get strength, you need to squat deep.  To squat deep, you need flexibility.  Look at any Olympic lifter, or even power lifter, they have ridiculous hip flexibility and can maintain a tight back even into the deepest of squats.  They're building solid legs.  Why aren't you?

Anyway, there's my little rant.  To anyone around me, don't complain about leg days.  I may be a skinny kid with pretty skinny legs, but I'm still squatting 6 days a week, with double sessions every other day.  I don't find anything difficult about your stupid lunges, quarter squats, or leg presses.  And next time I see you straining to push 500lbs on the hack sled a full two inches, don't be surprised if you hear me chuckle just a little bit.

If you're looking for strength, squat heavy, squat deep, squat often, and don't cry about it.  GOOD LUCK!

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