Planning out your gym time in advance (even if it’s just scribbling something on a sticky note while sitting in the parking lot) will do incredible things for your physique and truly ramp up the effectiveness of your sessions.
Walking into the gym and just doing whatever catches your eye is a great way to make sure that you only ever train your arms, and even better, ensures that you maintain a merely average physique.
That said, constructing a training session that’s suited to your goals isn’t as easy as it sounds.
With multiple variables to consider, it’s easy to see why many lifters say fuck it and head straight to the preacher curl.
Today, that ends.
Since I run around with a massive nerd-boner for leg day, I’m going to walk you through the components to constructing the perfect leg session (keep in mind that these principles apply to all body parts).
Let’s get to work.
While there’s a select time and place for both high volume and high-intensity training, that’s not something you should keep up long-term.
You’ll have run yourself down into a puddle of useless goo before you know it.
Before we get into the thick of constructing the perfect leg session, let’s quickly define what volume and intensity mean for our intents and purpose.
Volume is defined as how many sets and reps you perform in a given session or spread out over the week.
Intensity is essentially how hard you push yourself, and how hard you work. For example: resting for 45 seconds instead of 90 seconds will create a higher intensity, as will using supersets or implementing intensification techniques such as drop sets or iso-holds.
For the purpose of today, we’re going to pick and design a medium volume, high-intensity session.
When all’s said and done, this will fall around 25-30 working sets with a few nasty tricks thrown in for funsies and extra stimulus.
Aiming to increase strength and build muscle are typically two goals that are dictated by your programming. More often than not, they’re best suited to each being the focus of a unique session.
You can work through rep ranges that press both buttons within one session, though in my experience, I’ve found it to create a greater training stimulus when you focus on one or the other.
You can always hammer away at strength for 4 weeks, then do the same for hypertrophy. But, I digress.
For the session we’re building today, we’re going to key in on hypertrophy (and we’re going to have a lot of fun with it).
Strength: The focus is on improving raw or relative strength. Characterized by lower reps, higher sets, explosive tempos and longer rest times.
Hypertrophy: The focus is on pure muscle tissue growth. Characterized by a low-to-moderate amount of sets (per exercise), higher rep ranges, and creating a) intramuscular tension, b) hyperemia/occlusion, or c) muscle damage.
Let’s do a few more definitions so we stay on the same page:
Intramuscular Tension – Tension is the product of weight x acceleration. This is typically heavy work. Often characterized by lower reps, explosive tempos, and a lower overall training volume.
(I will admit that this is a change in my train of thought on what I previously understood tension to be. Actually, let me rephrase that. It’s not so much a change in my thought process, as it is the fact that I’ve gained a better understanding of what intramuscular tension is.)
Hyperaemia – An increase in blood flow to the target muscle(s) (AKA the pump).
Occlusion – A decrease in oxygen availability to the target muscle(s).
Both hyperemia and occlusion fall under the classic bodybuilding style of training. Often represented by lighter loads, higher reps, and a higher intensity.
Muscle Damage – This is essentially the stuff that makes you see God during your session. Think of vicious drop sets, muscle traumatizing isometric holds, partial reps, loaded stretches, and the list goes on.
Alright, alright, alright. Onward.
Choosing your design for the session at hand is much like reaching into Batman’s precious armory and pillaging it for the most applicable tools to your goal.
At your disposal you have:
Straight Sets: Perform a set, rest for the prescribed time, repeat until all sets are completed.
Super Sets: 2 exercises are paired with little rest (10-20s) in between.
You can pair antagonist muscles (biceps/triceps, chest/back, quad/ham) or double down on the same muscle (agonist), but use different angles, emphasis, and implements (rope press-downs/EZ bar skull-crushers, incline barbell press/flat dumbbell flyes, lat pulldowns/dumbbell pullovers).
Giant Sets: This takes pairing agonist exercises to a whole other level. Giant sets are typically 5-10 exercises down in sequential fashion with little rest between movements. 3-5 rounds is the norm.
Check out this example.
A1. Straight Arm Rope Pulldown
A2. Leaning Dumbbell Row
A3. Snatch Grip Deadlifts
A4. Away Facing Lat Pulldown
A5. Wide Grip Lat Pulldown
A6. Seated Cable Row
A7. Dumbbell Shrugs
…now just imagine a legs giant set. It’s a delightful muscle building mixture.
Lastly, as we’re going to do today, you can take bits and pieces from all 3 and mesh them into an exquisite muscle building training session.
Sequencing is an important aspect to any training session.
In my experience, I’ve found it to be doubly so when it comes to training legs. For the purpose of hypertrophy, you’re not going to start with squats or a big compound movement.
In the interest of protecting your lower back, lubricating your joints, and making sure you’re ready for heavy loads, you’re going to start with some hamstring and adductor work to prepare for the session at hand.
4 sets of 20 on the adductor machine with a 1 seconds squeeze in the contracted position and 4 sets of 8-12 on the lying leg curl with slow eccentric works absolute wonders at greasing your joints, activating your hamstrings, and warming up your lower back.
It’s not always what you do, rather it’s how you do it.
Enter the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE).
The following chart is one I’ve adapted from John Meadows, and using in conjunction with much of my programming.
1-5 – don’t waste your time.
6 – this would be a typical warm-up set.
7 – you’ve got 4-6 more reps in the tank.
8 – you’ve got 2-4 reps in the tank.
9 – you could have done one more rep.
10 – hit perfect form failure.
11 – achieved muscular failure (perfect form, and then a few loose reps).
12 – failure, and then an intensification technique.
13 – failure followed by multiple intensification techniques.
Just as you can’t treat each session like a Sunday stroll through the park, you can’t go balls to the wall for every one.
By assigning an RPE to each piece of your session, you can mitigate running yourself into the ground, while also ensuring you still achieve a strong training effect.
Now you get into the fun stuff.
To recap: You’re going to build a moderate volume (25-30 sets), high-intensity leg session with a focus on hypertrophy. There will be a mixture of straight and super sets, and you’ll begin with adductor and hamstring work to ensure you’re warmed up and ready to rock.
Here’s what we got.
A1. Adductor Machine 4×20
Use an even, controlled tempo and hold the contracted position for 1s on each rep. Rest no more than 30s between sets.
B1. Lying Leg Curl 4×8
You’re going to do these 1&1/4 rep style. Meaning curl all the way up into a full contraction, and slowly lower until just shy of full extension. Pause for 1s before curling up 1/4 of the way. Lower into full extension. That’s 1 rep. Rest as needed between sets.
C1. Leg Press Xx10
You’re going to build up in sets of 10 until you hit a tough 10. Then do more one set with that weight, followed by a double drop set, shooting for 6-8 reps on each drop. Take 30s rest as you make your way over to the leg extension.
C2. Leg Extensions Xx12
Nothing special here. Just 12 smooth, crisp reps with a 1s spent in the flexed position. Rest for 60-90s before starting back on the leg press.
D1. Barbell Back Squat 15,12,10,8,8
Pyramid up in weight on each set, and take 3-4s to squat all the way down. Pause briefly before flexing your glutes and hams hard and driving up. Rest 2 minutes between sets.
E1. Single Leg Press 4×6
You’re going to take a super slow eccentric here (5-6 seconds), before driving up as quickly as you can. Do all reps on one leg before moving to the next. Move immediately into the lunges.
E2. Dumbbell Walking Lunges 4×20/Leg
Your typical dumbbell lunges. Take long steps and move at a fairly quick pace. Only 60s rest before diving back into the single leg press.
F1. Dumbbell Stiff Legged Deadlifts 3-4×8-12
Keep your knees nearly-locked and push your hips back as you lower over 3-4s. Pause in the stretched position for 2s before flexing your glutes to drive back up.
Welp, have fun.
As you can see, there’s a certain degree of insanity and attention to detail that goes into building training sessions that will truly challenge and change your physique.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past couple years (even being a coach myself), there’s massive upside to having your programming taken care of by someone with an outside perspective and a greater degree of experience.
Doing so allows you to get outside of your own head, integrate a degree of accountability, and actually do some of the exercises you hate (like glute/ham raises).
Because the exercises and movement you hate doing are often the ones that need the most work.
It’s with this concept in mind that I threw caution to the wind and created a leg specialization program to show you how to:
I’ve even thrown extra accountability and support into the mix by creating a coaching group exclusive to the valiant lifters taking on the 8-Week Leg Assault.
To wrap this up, let’s hear from the Austrian Oak himself.
“It’s as satisfying to me as, uh, coming is, you know? As, ah, having sex with a woman and coming. And so can you believe how much I am in heaven? I am like, uh, getting the feeling of coming in a gym, I’m getting the feeling of coming at home, I’m getting the feeling of coming backstage when I pump up, when I pose in front of 5,000 people, I get the same feeling, so I am coming day and night. I mean, it’s terrific. Right? So you know, I am in heaven.”
If you want to experience a piece of Arnold’s heaven, then hop on over and check out the 8-Week Leg Assault.