In sailing vernacular, “heaving to” is the act of slowing a boat’s forward progress, essentially stopping the vessel so that it doesn’t travel forward or backward. It’s a tactic often used to “ride out a storm.” You simply float on the waves in place while waiting for calmer seas to prevail.
For sailors, staying put by “heaving to” can be lifesaving. But for bodybuilders, the concept of slowed progress is never a good thing. Think about it: If your workouts have only served to keep your thighs the same size — and at the same strength levels — for a lengthy period, it’s time to stop “heaving to” and give your current regimen a “heave ho.”
The workout we’ve constructed can help seafarers and landlubbers alike unfurl the growth potential of their legs. It’s a powerful collection of basic, sturdy movements, anchored by the front squat and supported with a crew of dependable exercises: the hack squat, Romanian deadlift, lunge and leg curl. Climb aboard, and we’ll walk you through it.
The Workout, Step by Step
You’ll start this regimen with front squats. While you’ll find that you can’t handle quite as much weight as you can doing traditional back squats, it does have some noteworthy benefits. The front squat is more unforgiving as far as exercise form, keeping you honest because you have to maintain better vertical body posture during the lift — lean too far forward and the bar is going to slip. This upright stance also serves to heavily engage the quadriceps muscles, a bit more so than traditional squats. (Having said that, you should consider rotating between front and back squats as your leadoff exercise workout to workout because that strategy will give you the best of these valuable lifts.)
After six sets, pyramiding up the weight each time, you’ll head to the hack squat machine. Within the relatively safe confines of the apparatus, be sure to go deep on each rep — although you’ll want to tackle increasingly challenging poundages from set to set, don’t load up on plates and sacrifice your range of motion in the process.
Romanian deadlifts follow, giving your throbbing quads a short break while you focus on your hamstrings. Avoid the tendency to round your back — tighten your core and protect the integrity of the arch — and keep the bar close to your body all the way up and down. From there, you’ll wind down with walking lunges up and down the gym floor, which engage your glutes, quads and hams, and complete your session with standing leg curls. If your gym doesn’t have a standing curl machine, feel free to do lying or seated leg curls instead, either bilaterally or one leg at a time, your choice. When your done with full intensity, all will target the hamstrings and leave you grasping the handrail as you attempt to climb or descend stairs for the following few days.
Whether your current regimen grew too complicated over time, or if you just lost your enthusiasm and started to rely too heavily on the same old routine, this regimen can serve as a well-stocked port in a storm. The keys are intensity and consistency: To the former, make sure you are pushing your thigh muscles to failure in every workout and not just stopping short as the inevitable burn builds to uncomfortable levels; and to the latter, you’ll want to do this workout once a week (and twice if your training split is more aggressive and you’re taking care of recovery with ample nutrition, supplementation and rest). Take care of those, and it should be smooth sailing ahead to new gains.
Destination Leg Workout
Standing One-Leg Curl
* Use a light weight and treat this set as a warm-up; add a second or third warm-up set, if needed.
Targets: Quadriceps, gluteus maximus, hamstrings
Start: Stand inside a squat rack and step under a barbell set just below shoulder level on the safeties. The bar should sit across your front delts and upper chest as you cross your arms to build a “shelf” for it. Extend your knees to free the bar from the supports, and take a step back into a shoulder-width stance. Keep your chest up and back flat, eyes focused forward.
Action: Holding your core tight, bend your knees and hips until your thighs are parallel to the floor or just below (think of it like sitting in a chair). Reverse the motion by driving through your heels and pressing your hips forward to return to a standing position.
Targets: Quads, glutes, hamstrings
Start: Situate yourself faceup in a hack squat machine so your shoulders are squarely under the pads, feet narrow and low on the platform. Flex your core, and maintain the arch in your lower back (keeping your glutes in contact with the back pad). Extend your knees to release the safeties.
Action: Slowly lower yourself into a squat position, stopping when your thighs are at or just below parallel to the platform. Pause, then forcefully press yourself upward to the start position, being careful not to lock out your knees at the top.
Start: With your feet shoulder-width apart and a slight bend in your knees, stand upright holding a barbell in front of your upper thighs with an overhand grip. (You can take the bar off a rack set at hip level or lift the bar into position deadlift-style.)
Action: Keeping your chest up and abs tight, and maintaining the natural arch in your lower back throughout the exercise, lean forward from your hips, pushing them rearward until your torso is roughly parallel to the floor. As you lean forward, keep your arms straight and slide the bar down your thighs toward the floor until it reaches your shins. From there, flex your hamstrings and glutes while shifting your hips forward to return to a standing position.
Targets: Quads, glutes, hamstrings
Start: Take a standing position, feet shoulder-width apart, and hold a dumbbell in each hand.
Action: Take a long step forward with your left foot and descend into a lunge position — front knee bent to 90 degrees, back leg straight with that knee at least an inch or two off the floor. Make sure your front knee doesn’t track out beyond your toes in the bottom position. Next, extend your front knee and push through your back leg to step forward so your right foot takes the lead, again dropping into a lunge position. Traverse the floor in this manner, one step with each foot equaling one “repetition.”
Standing One-Leg Curl
Start: Place the ankle of your working leg in position behind the ankle roller, and grasp the handles for support. Keep your abs and lower-back musculature tight and your head up.
Action: Without twisting or contorting the rest of your body, bend your knee to raise the ankle pad toward your glute, flexing your hamstrings hard to do so. Pause for a second in the fully flexed position, then extend at the knee. Don’t let the weight stack touch down between reps.
LEG TRAINING TIPS
* Go deep. You’ll often see lifters stopping short during squatting movements. In order to handle more weight (or to compensate for tight hamstrings and calves), they’ll work through a smaller range of motion. Instead of worrying about the amount of weight lifted, focus on reaching “parallel” with every rep — your thighs in a parallel position to the floor — and include lower-body stretching as a regular part of your workouts.
* Balance is key. The typical quad-to-hamstring strength ratio is 2-to-1 (i.e., the hamstrings can handle 60 percent to 70 percent of the resistance of the quadriceps). Letting that ratio get out of whack can put the knee joint at risk for injury, so you want to be sure to give your hamstrings the attention they deserve. If you find that after heavy exercises like squats and leg presses that you can’t give enough energy and effort to ham-specific exercises, try moving them to another day in your training split.
* Fail. Training legs is brutal, gut-wrenching work. These are big, strong muscles, and it takes a lot to train them into submission. Go into your workouts with a focused mindset and have the fortitude to push your working sets to the point of muscle failure; it’s the only way to prompt the gains in muscle growth that’ll make a difference in your physique.