The No-Squat Solution to Bigger Legs

March 13, 2012

By Joel Stubbs, IFBB Pro

[Q] Joel, do you ever recommend using different foot placements or toe directions on the leg press to target different parts of your quads with heavy weight?

[A] As far as foot placement goes, I do believe in using different variations and taking full advantage of them, especially on the leg press. Doing so allows you to place stress on different parts of the quads and hit each of those muscles from just about every angle possible. I perform three different variations of the leg press: I do them with my feet pointing forward and just about shoulder-width apart, which hits more of the overall thigh for mass. I also do them with my feet a little closer together and lower on the platform, which helps to place more emphasis on the outer sweep of the quads. I also perform them with my feet spaced a little wider than shoulder-width apart and my toes pointing outward, which helps to build more adductor and inner thigh thickness. I sometimes use all of these different foot placements in one workout or I’ll pick one variation each workout to stick with. With all of this said, the key point to remember is variety, so keep mixing it up and doing them all to get the best possible growth and development.

[Q] Joel, I’m 6'5" and the barbell squat is very uncomfortable for me but I know I need some kind of squat to build big legs. Is the Smith machine a good alternative?

[A] Well, frankly there’s no substitute for the traditional barbell squat however I do understand your concern. The Smith machine is a very valuable and useful tool when it comes to squatting, particularly for taller individuals who have trouble achieving good depth or those who have balance and stability issues. Smith machines offer more balance because it tracks along a set path. Thus it allows you to sit nice and deep into the squat and just concentrate on firing the quads without having to worry about balancing and stabilizing the weight as with a barbell. As with the leg press, foot placement forward or back, narrow or wide, will allow you to hit the muscles differently. For tall guys looking to build big legs, the Smith machine can be a very useful tool.

[Q] What’s your preference for hack squats — the machine version or the old-school barbell version in which you pick up the barbell from the floor behind you?

[A] As far as hack squats go my preference is with the machine. I find this does a much better job in helping me to focus on my quads (particularly the outer sweep) without putting my back at a high risk of injury. This is especially important as I keep increasing the weight to ensure that I hammer the quads. With the barbell hack squat, a relatively difficult movement to do, which puts you at a greater risk for injury because of the lack of back support. Remember safety and injury prevention are important; if you’re injured you can’t lift!

[Q] Do you think it’s dangerous to perform leg extensions with heavier weight?

[A] Just about any exercise you perform becomes potentially dangerous as the weight increases, leg extensions are no exception to that rule. My advice to you with leg extensions or any other exercise for that matter is to use a weight that’s manageable yet at the same time challenging, making sure to use proper form and technique. Also ensure you use a full range of motion, controlling the negative phase of the movement and squeezing and contracting the muscle as hard as you can on the positive. If you’ve already got sore knees, you may want to pass on, or go very light with, leg extensions.

Joel's No-Squat Mass Routine

Can you build big legs without the squat? Here’s how Joel Stubbs does it.

 Sets  Reps
 Leg Extension†
 3-4  12-20
 Leg Press‡
 4  10-15
 Vertical Leg Press
 3  10-15
 Machine Hack Squat
 3  10-12
 Leg Extension
 3  10-12

Perform these with lighter weight, focusing on the peak contraction and a slow descent on each rep. Don’t take these sets to failure.
Use varying foot spacings from set to set.