Legs can be a difficult bodypart to build. They’re made up of huge muscle groups —quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes — and unless you really focus you’re training on each muscle, you’ll never develop an impressive set of wheels. That’s why many guys split their leg training into two days.
But what if you don’t have that kind of time? Enter giant sets.
What The Hell Are Giant Sets?
A giant sets consists of four or more exercises paired together, usually to target one bodypart. One set of each is performed without resting between exercises, and each such sequence counts as a giant set.
Done intensely enough, giant sets will even provide cardiovascular benefits. They also cause a spike in production of growth hormone and IGF-1., and they increase metabolic stress because of the continuous sequence. Because the muscle is hit so hard and at so many different angles, exercise-induced muscle damage results, a key element in becoming large and in charge.
One of the best things about giant sets is that you don’t have to camp out in the gym all day—instead, you can get in and out in no time at all. Although, you may not be able to walk out after this leg thrash!
Move from exercise to exercise as fast as possible. Take a rest interval of five minutes between giant sets (all four exercises).
Setup: Set the barbell on a rack that matches your height. Load the bar, and bring your arms underneath it, while keeping elbows high and your upper arms slightly above parallel to the floor. Rest the bar on top of your delts and cross your arms to hold the bar under control. Lift the bar off the rack by pushing with your legs while you straighten your torso. Step away from the rack and stand with a shoulder-width stance, toes slightly pointed out. Keep your head up at all times as looking down will get you off balance and also maintain a straight back. This is your start position.
Execution: Inhale and slowly bend your knees and descend your hips until thighs are parallel to the floor. Keep your chest lifted and head up. Pause at the bottom of the squat and then quickly drive hips back to starting position. Your heels stay grounded throughout the exercise.
Josh’s Notes: Many strength coaches consider the front squat their go-to exercise, and numerous bodybuilders credit this exercise with developing shapely, robust quadriceps. Start with your four-rep max, do as many reps as possible (if you can do more than four, keep on trucking). On the second giant set, do the same thing. More than likely you will do fewer reps BUT that doesn’t mean less effort, go balls out.
Setup:Stand erect holding a bar across your upper back with your feet about shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent and your toes turned out slightly.
Execution: Keeping your head neutral, abs tight and torso erect, bend at the knees and hips to slowly lower your body as if you were going to sit down in a chair. Pause when your legs reach at least a 90-degree angle, then forcefully drive through your heels, extending at your hips and knees until you’re standing again.
Josh’s Notes: Many times the limiting factor in the back squat is the lower back. With legs pre-fatigued from the front squats this issue is nearly eliminated. Perform this movement with your 8RM for both sets, but if you can do more, do it! If you do less, that’s fine, assuming you are giving a full effort.
2-up-1 down Leg Curl
Setup: Lie facedown on a leg curl machine. Position your Achilles tendons below the padded lever and place your knees just off the edge of the bench. Grasp the bench or handles for stability. Make sure your knees are slightly bent to protect them from overextension.
Execution: Keeping your hips down on the bench, use your hamstrings with both legs to flex your knees and raise your feet toward your glutes. At the top contracted position release one leg and lower the weight to the starting position, following a strict five-second tempo.
Josh’s Notes: This move is performed on a lying leg curl machine. Pick the heaviest weight you can possibly handle without sacrificing the tempo. Hamstrings are primarily a fast-twitch muscle group so they react really well to lower reps and particularly eccentric overloads.
Setup: Adjust the seatback and footpad of a leg extension machine so when you sit your knees are at the edge of the bench and your ankles are just below the footpad. Sit back with your back pressed firmly against the pad.
Execution: Grasp the handles and keep your upper body stable as your extend your legs in a smooth movement until fully extended. Contract your quads at the top and slowly lower the weight under control to the start position.
Josh’s Notes: Perform the leg extensions in a slow, rhythmic style. Achieving all 40 reps is the purpose. Focus on the mind-muscle connection and continuous tensions. Your quads have already handled the heavy pig iron, so this move is applying the finishing touches. The leg extensions artificially isolate the quadriceps unlike any normal human movement; this is why we do them. The artificial isolation provides an overload stimulus to the quad, particularly “the sweep.”
This workout was inspired by my mentor, Fred Hatfield, who used a similar approach while working with Lee Haney. I have performed this workout, but just thinking of it now, I'm as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs! The results are worth it, though.
Enough talk! Time to hit the pig iron!