By Coach Scott Abel Generation Iron
Coach Scott Abel gives his unique take on a great leg workout.
Inevitably, several times per year I get the statement or question from someone about “training heavy.” Almost always people perceive “training heavy” by how much weight is on the bar – an external cue. But when your goal is size and development how much weight is on the bar is a relative point, not an absolute one. When training to gain muscle size and development “heavy” resistance has to do with how much stress a muscle is under and for how long – and this has little to do with maximum loads for low reps. In fact breaking into new growth realms after a period of plateauing requires re-thinking loads and rep ranges.
Thinking outside the box has never been a problem for me as an expert. I’ve just been exposed to so many training variations from so many different fields of training over the decades. When the discussion turns to “training heavy” and what that means – One case in point that I discuss all the time in my workshops and seminars is Eric Heiden. Erik Heiden is to this day widely regarded as the best winter Olympics athlete in history – having won 5 Gold Medals in both long-track and sprint-distance events in speed skating. His leg development was incredible and his outer-thigh sweep would be the envy of any physique enthusiast even to this day.
But his legendary training back then was just as impressive – and this is going back a lot of years now. You see Erik Heiden would do leg press with 500 lbs. Many bodybuilders and other strength trainees scoff at that number and say, “So what, I can leg press 500 lbs.” But Erik Heiden did leg press with 500 lbs – for sets of 100 reps! He also squatted with 205 lbs. – a lighter weight – but he did it for 300 reps! In the context of “heavy” being equated to how much stress muscles are under – these 100 reps and 300 reps sets are “heavy” by any understanding of the terms “muscle overload and adaptive response.” You need to learn and embrace that “heavy” is a relative term in the iron game: And this has a great deal to do with neurophysiology and understanding “the size principle” of muscle fiber recruitment: More on that another time.
After witnessing feats like this – I wanted to implement the “tactic” of ultra-high reps with my own high-performance clients and physique competitors. But there was an obvious problem from the get go. Guys who could squat 500 lbs. – couldn’t do 100 reps squats even with their own body weight! For some of them it was a conditioning thing for sure – crashing and burning after 30-40 reps; even with bodyweight as resistance – tisk, tisk! But for others I noticed a different but common pattern. Bodybuilders and other who train like them are so used to training body-parts in isolated ways and usually within a very confined repetition scheme. Their bodies are not used to any kind of kinetic chain expression that spreads the work over several joints. So in these high rep attempts whether on the squat or leg press, their lower backs would seize up and spasm, limiting the effectiveness of my intentions with the ultra-high-reps protocol for breaking through a plateau for leg development.
But training expertise means knowing there are ways around almost everything: I realized I could create iso-complexes that keep the overload on the target bodypart but spread the angle and plane of contraction out to prevent muscle spasms that were occurring when attempting one single exercise for 100 reps or more. One of these solutions is the now very popular Abel-Leg-30’s I’ll discuss the actual application in a minute but here is the sequence:
Leg Press (in extended set fashion) X’s 30 reps
Barbell Walking Alternating Lunges X’s 30 reps (15 per side)
Barbell Front Squats (butt to heels depth of course) X’s 30 reps
*Seated Leg Curls Machine or BW Gliding Hamstring Curls X’s 30 reps
Total repetition upon completion – 120 reps – PER SET – so if you do two rounds, then it’s 240 reps etc. I know some guys whose leg training doesn’t complete that many reps in a month!
*For the fourth and final exercise in the sequence I would prefer you use the resistance offered by the seated leg curls machine. The gym I was in at the time of this workshop video had sold their seated leg curls machine the week before the workshop. Now, this selection works because front squats have far less spinal compression in the hip drive than formal barbell squats would have. Therefore it is less likely that any well-conditioned trainee will experience back spasm in this sequence (as long as the Front Squat is full-depth) Furthermore, going from the leg press position to the locomotive nature alternating “walking” lunges movement also now dissipates any lower back isometric contractions occurring during the previous leg press. And the walking version of the lunges adequately prepares the knees for the front squats to follow. It’s “sequential” exercise selection on purpose – not random. Finally the sequence finishes by overloading the hamstrings with a high-reps leg curls movement – so that the whole sequence of Abel Leg 30’s capitalizes on stimulating both hamstring functions – 1) hip extension (the proximal function) and 2) knee flexion, (the distal function) – what you call a leg curl of any kind.
(Note: The hamstrings will always have a two-fold main function – 1) to extend the hips, and 2) to flex the knee)
Abel Leg-30’s can have a two-fold general application – but lots of variations as well. Within a leg workout it can be done for one or two sets; because the biofeedback “feel” of this sequence lends well to executing it in the middle or end of a leg day workout (but certainly not every week) And secondly Abel Leg 30’s can be done a few days after your usual leg workout as a metabolic isolation blast. The rationale here is that for so many of you – training legs only once per week on a “bodypart day” just simply isn’t enough for you anymore and your body has adapted to that training structure. However, fully training legs twice per week is at the same time “too much” and your body ‘can’t’ adapt to it. So by doing two sets of Abel Leg-30’s on a separate day from your normal leg work – this ‘coaxes’ your body to adapt to this new form of high-reps stress without overtraining in the process – and with the added benefit of the metabolic conditioning that Abel Leg 30’s provides. Trust me – if you do this sequence for a few weeks the metabolic benefits of it will be obvious. For example some of my trainees simple take out abs work or calves work from “the end” of their workout for a different bodypart – like say chest day or shoulder day. And instead they insert “Abel Leg 30’s”
The third “non-general” application of Abel Leg 30’s is do the sequence “as” your leg training day and that would mean doing the sequence for an exhausting 3-4 rounds – with full recovery between each round. And doing it this way for 4-6 weeks, should take leg development and adaptation to a new level.
Seeing is Believing
So here is what the Abel Leg 30’s blast looks like in real time. Forgive the 50 yrs. old trainee demonstrating the sequence (yours truly) – but if I can do it at age 50 – you can do it too.