Leg Training Advice for the Beat Up Lifter

Now that a few of my training articles have been published on the interwebz, I’ve been getting a bunch of reader questions as of late.

One particularly well-received piece was a pistol squat tutorial that I successfully implemented in my own training back in the summer of 2012.

If you haven’t read it yet, go check it out here: How to Go From Zero to 15 Pistol Squats in 90 Days

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I may be in the minority among strength coaches but I don’t view training questions from readers as a drag or waste of my time… Actually, I like getting them.

Mainly because it shows me that a) somebody took their time to read what I have to say and b) they’re serious about applying the information in their own training.

The latter is also the reason why very few people make progress in the gym while the majority don’t.

Huh?

Most people skim through training articles as if they were swiping up and down through their Facebook news feed – then do NOTHING with the advice they were given.

Don’t bother wasting your precious time reading stuff that you’re never gonna apply.

That’s like me picking up the latest issue of Cosmo and reading about 263 sexy hair secrets, 21 mind-blowing sex moves or their “awesome leg & butt workout”…

COSMO-COVER

For the record… I never have a bad hair day.

Like, ever.

And don’t get me started on the Brazilian “Sweet Treat”. I’ll pick a Filthy Sanchez or Wrap-Around Butt Grab over that any day of the week.

Also, I’m pretty sure air squats and bodyweight step-ups (or whatever nonsense they print in these magazines) don’t come even close to heavy squats, hip thrusts and rear-foot elevated split squats when it comes to adding size to your legs and badonkadonk.

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See? There’s nothing I could possibly learn from or use in my life by browsing a chick mag. So I don’t.

That’s also the reason I don’t read Muscle & Fitness, Girls & Corpses or The Croquet Gazette at the newsstand.

I may skim through an issue of Playboy from time to time, but only to revel in the invigorating effects brought about by glancing at hot smart and naked sharp females.

Anyways, since we already briefly addressed the topic of leg training, let’s run with that…

Here’s an email that showed up in my inbox shortly after the pistol squat article went live (edited slightly for clarity):

“Hey Yunus,

Great advice and videos regarding the progressions for obtaining pistol squats. I have a question. I, too, have been heavily training barbell back squats for about 2 years. I’m 38 years old, and feeling pretty “beat up.”

I would love to start a strictly bodyweight training program, but am concerned about my legs. Do you feel as though you can build mass as well as strength with pistol squats?

I truly feel that the barbell squats give me strength and mass all over my body and I am reluctant to give them up. However, I don’t know how long / how many years I’ll be able to continue to train them heavy.

Doing dips, pushups, inverted rows, pullups, etc. I believe will definitely increase mass for the upper body. Once again, just worried about the lower body… Thanks again for the great article and any advice you may have to offer.

Joel”

And my response (slightly edited for the purpose of this post):

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Hi Joel,

Yes, you’re totally right… advanced bodyweight training can definitely build some solid muscle in the upper body. Lower body, not so much.

Short answer to your question: no, I don’t think you’ll be able to build mass or strength with pistol squats anywhere near barbell squats.

Here’s my view on this… You basically have three options here:

1. If you want maximal leg development, some sort of heavy barbell squat (front or back) should be included in the program.

2. If your main goal is “health” and longevity but don’t really care about adding more leg mass, go with pistols (preferably performed with external resistance once you get proficient at the bodyweight version).

You’ll notice some strength gains but size increases will be minimal.

3. To decrease injury risk and still gain size in legs, perform heavy single-leg exercises (split squats, reverse lunges, Bulgarian split squats) and do higher rep pump work with leg press and hack squats. Or you can simply choose several different single-leg variations and cycle through them in the 5-20 rep range.

That last option is what I recommend for most people who no longer can’t/don’t want to barbell squat heavy.

You can get quite strong this way and should also gain leg mass. Probably not as much as with barbell squats, but unless you’re planning to enter a squat competition, I’d choose long-term health over a potential injury inflicted chasing PR’s on a lift nobody cares about.”

If you enjoyed this article, please do a brother a favor by liking, commenting and sharing it with others who might dig it as well.

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Thanks!

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Yunus Barisik
 

Yunus Barisik, CSCS, is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for an elite junior hockey organization based in Espoo, Finland. He has trained hundreds of hockey players at the junior, college and pro levels, including NHL Draft picks and World Champions. An accomplished author, Yunus has had articles published on top fitness and performance sites, including STACK and Muscle & Strength. He also wrote Next Level Hockey Training, a comprehensive resource for ice hockey players on building athletic strength, size and power, while staying injury-free.