Johnnie Jackson's Size & Strength Leg Workout

IFBB Pro Johnnie Jackson, the strongest man in professional bodybuilding, explains how to train legs for maximum gains in both power and mass!

October 31, 2013

By Steven Stiefel; Photos By Steven Stiefel

Johnnie's Strength and Mass Leg Routine

“I work in both heavy and light days for leg training,” Johnnie says. The biggest difference between the two is how he approaches squats. On heavy days, he uses much heavier weights for six reps per set, increasing his poundages each set in pyramid fashion. On light days, he performs 15–20 lighter reps per set but still increases the weight on each set. “I’ll do 2–3 consecutive heavy leg workouts, then one light leg session,” he says. “I decide whether to do a heavy or light day depending on how my body feels.”

Leg Extensions:

2 Sets x 25-30 Reps (warm-up)
4 Sets x 15-20 Reps

Barbell Squat:

2 Sets x 30 Reps (warm-up)
5-6 Sets x 6 Reps (heavy days)
5-6 Sets x 15-20 Reps (light days)

Hack Squat:

1 Sets x 20 Reps (warm-up)
3 Sets x 10 Reps

Leg Press:

2 Sets x 30 Reps (warm-up)
4 Sets x 25 Reps

Lying Leg Curl:

4 Sets x 15 Reps

Leg Extension

Strategy: Johnnie uses this move to warm up his quads, and to isolate them for greater separation and detail.

Start: Sit erect on the seat, aligning your knees with the edge of the pad. Position the ankle pad at the curve between your shins and ankles.

Execute: Raise your lower legs using your quads. “Your legs should be straight at full extension, and you should feel a deep contraction in your quads,” Johnnie says. Hold for a count, then return to the start slowly enough that you feel the stretch and burn. Stop before the weight touches the stack and go directly into your next rep.

Caution: "Don't let your lower back round or arch off the pad during the set," Johnnie advises. You may think this my net you more power, but it actually reduces the load on your target muscles and dramatically increases the risk of injury."

Change Up: “There’s only one way to do this exercise, and you want to do it properly.” The most significant change Johnnie makes is in the number of reps he performs per set, using higher reps for warm-ups and moderately high reps (15–20) for working sets.

Barbell Squat

Strategy: “This is a great move, whether you’re just beginning or an experienced trainee,” Johnnie says. He places it second in his workout to maximize muscle-building. “Squats engage all lower-body muscle groups: glutes, hams, quads and calves.”

Start: Place the bar as low as you comfortably can across your shoulders for better balance. “Stand with your feet a little wider than shoulder width and turn your feet slightly outward to release your hips,” Johnnie recommends.

Execute: Bend at the hips first, then your knees, holding your spine in its neutral position as you lower your body. Maintain control until your thighs are parallel to the floor or deeper.

Change Up: “I like to use box squats every once in a while,” Johnnie says. Place a bench or a box behind you where your glutes will touch at the bottom of the move. “Just allow your body to touch the box or bench,” Johnnie says. “Don’t allow the weight to compress your spine.” Driving up from a static position through the hardest part of the rep helps you gain more power.

Hack Squat

Strategy: “Hack squats maximally stimulate your quads,” Johnnie says. He uses them to target this muscle group after barbell squats to bring out as much detail as possible.

Start: “Even though I’m only 5'8", I still place my toes a little over the top of the platform to protect my knees,” Johnnie says. Position your feet about shoulder-width apart and turn them slightly outward. Press your lower back into the pad.

Execute: Bend your knees to lower the weight until your thighs are parallel to the platform or below. Press back up using the power of your legs, keeping your back in contact with the pad.

Change Up: If you want to place more emphasis on the outer sweep of your quads, stand with your feet a little closer together.

Leg Press

Strategy: “I use this move to bring in the outer sweep of my quads,” Johnnie says.

Start: As with barbell squats, Johnnie stands with his feet just beyond shoulder width and points them slightly outward. “Some leg presses have a flat platform and some have a bent one,” he notes. “On the angled one, I place the balls of my feet in the spot where the two planes of the platform meet.”

Execute: Lower the weight at a slow to moderate speed, keeping your lower back flush against the pad. “Bring your knees toward your chest until your thighs are a little deeper than parallel to the platform,” Johnnie says. Press out of the bottom to full leg extension, exhaling once you pass the toughest part of the rep.

Caution: “Don’t let your lower back round or arch off the pad during the set,” Johnnie advises. You may think this nets you more power, but it actually reduces the load on your target muscles and dramatically increases the risk of injury.

Change Up: “If you want to target your outer sweep more, bring your feet closer together,” Johnnie suggests. To emphasize your inner thighs, place your feet a little wider.

Lying Leg Curl

Strategy: “While the hamstrings get worked to some degree during the eccentric phase of traditional quad/glute exercises, you still need to include dedicated hamstrings moves to optimize growth,” says Johnnie.

Start: Lie facedown on the bench (an angled bench is preferable because it positions your hips so the hamstrings are put on stretch). The ankle pad should rest on the back of your lower legs, just above your Achilles tendons.

Execute: Hold your breath as you curl the pad toward your glutes under control. “You’ll work your hamstrings more effectively if you use a slower contraction,” Johnnie says. Exhale toward the top, then lower the weight slowly, emphasizing the stretch in your hamstrings.

Change Up: For better isolation of the hamstrings, perform this move one leg at a time. “Complete a full set for one leg and then switch to the opposite leg and repeat the same number of reps,” Johnnie says.