Develop Leg Muscles by Jim Haislop

“Keeping the legs in shape should be of prime concern to everyone and especially to the body builder or weight trainee. The legs always seem to be the first thing to go when one gets older. It’s a sad thing to see an elderly person with good eye sight, hearing and sound general condition, but yet using a cane or walker.

Without properly conditioned legs you are like an automobile without wheels. Everything works properly but there is no movement.

If you have been training with weights but have been neglecting your legs, you are making a big mistake.

How often have you seen a person with well-developed legs an a poor upper body? This is almost unheard of in bodybuilding circles. It’s the other way around, why, I don’t know. Physique contests just are not won without well-developed legs.

Leg development has been the deciding factor in many physique contests. I can say this from experience because this once happened to me. The first contest I entered was the Mr. Chesapeake Bay held in Norfolk, Va. I was stationed in Norfolk at this time while serving my tour in the Navy.

As I took off my sweat shirt to prepare for my turn on the posing platform I remember a fellow contestant remarking that I must have good legs after seeing my upper-body. After I removed my sweat pants he couldn’t believe that I had never worked them. Well that’s just a little incident that happened to me and I hope it doesn’t happen to you. Incidentally, I placed seventh in the contest.

The point I’m trying to bring out is that you must have complete over-all development. Many bodybuilders put too much emphasis on big arms, a big chest, or wide lats. This is fine, but don’t forget those legs.

The main reason for this is that the arms, chest and lats are the muscles that show most when a person is in street clothes. The amount a person puts on a pair of posing trunks or goes to the beach, the showy muscles then include the legs.
jim haislop squat bodybuilding legs

One of the most neglected exercises in the young bodybuilder is the full-squat. This is due to the fact that the full-squat is more exhausting than any other exercise. At the same time the full-squat does much more for you than any other exercise. I often hear many bodybuilders say that they don’t squat because squatting enlarges the hips and buttocks area. This is not entirely true. While the full squat does work these areas as well as the thighs, it will not visibly change them.

It will firm the area and improve that soft flabby look that many a trainee has from not squatting. I would say that if I could do only one exercise it would be the squat. Squatting seems to prepare you for your entire workout and actually gives you the warm-up you need to start your training session.

When I mention full-squatting this is exactly what I mean. I don’t mean one-quarter, one-half, or three-quarter squats but I mean all the way down below parallel squatting.

Those who do only partial squats also end up with only partial thigh development.

While squatting is the best exercise for the thigh, it’s not the only one that works that area. There are many other exercises that will work the thigh in a different way, and are designed to put more emphasis on a certain area of the thigh. If you are going to do any or all of the thigh exercises include the full squat and perform it first on your leg program.

The upper leg is the largest muscle group in the body and therefore it can take a lot of work.I’ve had people ask me how to get better thigh development. They claim they’ve been squatting hard and have seen very little results. Actually when questioning them about their leg work, I have found that they have not been giving their legs the workout they are capable of.

I recommend heavy back squatting and then drop the weight down 25% to 35% for front squatting. I will outline this type of routine at the end of this article.

Another point I would like to bring out is that it’s far better to warm-up with about two light sets, increasing the weight only in the warm-up sets and not in your heavy sets.

Most people, however, graduate the weight in every set. Why should you do 10 reps with 200lb., 10 reps with 250lb., 10 reps with 300lb., 10 reps with 350lb., and then 10 reps with 400lb. You should perform your warm-up sets (probably no more than one or two) then do all your heavy sets of 10 reps with 400lb., thus receiving a far better leg workout.

I recommend four to five heavy sets of back squats not including your warm-up sets. Then go on to front squats. Remember to give it all you have and really push for those added reps. I made the mistake of not pushing myself hard in my thigh workouts at first and consequently showed very little progress. I can recall one day while squatting with what I thought was heavy for me (290lb) my gym instructor said I was loafing. He said I could do the same repetitions with 350lb. I said that I couldn’t, but I’d try. I loaded the bar with the additional 60 pounds and began my last set after a brief rest. To my amazement I did the set with my usual 10 reps. This is what I mean by putting out 100%. One word of caution: Always have a couple of spotters while performing your heavy sets. It is a poor practice to squat alone although this is sometimes unavoidable when training at home.

Front Squats

front squat jim haislop bodybuilding

The front squat is another variation of squatting. It is done in practically the same manner as the back squat, but it works the thigh a little differently. This type of squatting works the inner thigh (Adductor Longus) and also brings out the sweep of the outer thigh (Vastus Externus).

To perform the front squat properly let the bar rest upon the shoulders. The bar will have a tendency to roll off if you don’t hold your elbows high with your hands resting on top of the bar.

Some people prefer to actually hold the bar in their hands with a reverse grip but I’ve found this is rather uncomfortable as you increase the weights. When you have assumed this position, squat all the way down and return to the starting position. Perform this motion with 8-10 reps.

Keep a good rhythm while doing your reps in each set, although you may have to slow down towards the last few reps. One thing to remember is to keep your back erect, squatting with your legs only and not your back. Another thing I’d like to bring out at this time is that you should never collapse on the way down but keep a strong tension on the thighs during the entire movement.

Many bodybuilders actually collapse on the way down before they start their drive upward. You may save a little energy in this method, but you run a great risk of a permanent knee injury. When I first started leg work I had a knee problem from the collapse style of squatting.

Always place a board about two inches by four inches under your heels. This will help to keep your balance and also place the work load directly on the thigh rather than the hip area.

Leg Press

jim haislop leg press

The leg press machine is a good piece of equipment but can also be an easy way out of hard leg work if you let it. The leg press is a good thigh exercise but maximum leg development cannot be obtained from leg pressing alone. The legpress machine should be used as an extra exercise in your thigh program or if you’re suffering from a temporary back injury. It will place less pressure on your back than will squatting but it is not as beneficial.

To perform the leg press exercise lie on your back with your legs held at a 90 degree angle to your body and directly under the leg press machine. Lower the weight down and return it to the upward position. Be sure to go all the way down and lock out at the top on completion of each rep.

Leg Extensions

jim haislop leg extension

This is probably the best leg exercise for the lower thigh near the knee area or as some call it, the tear-drop (Vastus Internus). Leg extensions not only give you added leg development, but they also give you that extra definition and shape that you’re looking for.

The leg extension is quite simple and is probably the easiest leg exercise to perform. Enough weight should be used to allow you to do from 18-20 reps. Be sure to get a full movement by going all the way up in the exercise. I suggest that you do from 4 to 5 sets if you are the advanced trainee and from 2 to 3 if you are a beginner. You must feel a burning sensation in your lower leg while doing this exercise or the weight is too light.

Leg Curls

Jim Haislop leg curls bodybuilding

The leg curl is the most ignored (or forgotten) exercise in leg work. Some people will work their legs real good but won’t do any leg curls, therefore getting no leg bicep or hamstring development. This can be seen after the front of the thigh begins to take shape and obtain a little size.

It really looks funny to see a great front thigh and sweep development and the back of the leg straight up and down.

The leg curl exercise is another simple exercise like the leg extensions. It’s done in somewhat the same manner but only in a reverse position. Lie face down on the leg extension and curl machine with your heels under the roller provided. Bring the weight up as far as possible and then lower it to the starting position.

Keep a strong tensions on your leg biceps at all time and never rest between reps.

These are a few of the basic exercise for complete thigh development. I believe these are the best, however and I stick to them always in my leg work.

Perhaps you will also employ these in your leg routine in the future.

Below is an outline of exercises that I have found most beneficial in may past training experience. I suggest that you use only three or four sets at first, until you are used to this type of schedule

jim haislop bodybuilding

Exercises Sets Reps
1. Back full squat 5 10
2. Front squats 4 8-10
3. Leg extensions 5 18-20
4. Leg curls 5 15
5. Running a couple of times a week.

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