Miscellany on Lower Body Strength Training

The following is a guest post by Lee Boyce, CPT. One thing I respect about Lee is that he continues to get stronger year in and year out, and he offers great practical information. He’s also a fellow tall lifter, and he’s got some crazy dance moves at the end of each YouTube video. Lee’s bio is below if you want to learn more about him. 

When Bret gave me the OK for this article, I started brainstorming and had no idea what direction to go with it. The possibilities were endless. I’ve written a lot on squatting before, along with strategies to get a set of more impressive wheels. I decided to use this to list arbitrary thoughts on lower body training that need to get out there.  This will turn into a bunch of mini-articles all rolled into one.

Why and How to Squat More than Once Weekly

I’m a big believer in getting under the bar more than once every week. Currently, with the type of training I’ve been doing, I’ve been squatting fairly heavy 3 times per week.  One would think that this would completely fry the nervous system, but it’s all about cumulative volume, and making sure you don’t exceed your limit. Another point on that is that if you’re a trained individual, the body is very adaptable. The SAID principle refers to a specific adaptation to imposed demands. In short, if you’re subjected to multiple times per week squatting, your body will eventually get stronger and recover faster to endure it the next day around.

We all know the benefits to squatting in terms of strength gain, hormone release, and spinal loading. So there’s no question there’s plenty of muscle to be gained and fat to be lost from squatting frequently.  Instead of grabbing the bar and doing the same kind of squat every time, it makes most sense to break things up into a knee dominant and hip dominant day. This way you’re not only training for posterior chain recruitment as an emphasis, but also for leg development too.

squat

On the knee dominant lower body day, focus on front squats. You can also use other movements that make the quads do plenty of work to get stronger. On the hip dominant day, use back squats with a slightly lower bar position. That will place more emphasis on taut hamstrings and glute activity.  The geometry between the two movements differs so much that the training effect gathered from each has many differences. Take a look at the videos below for the differences in geometry between the two. In the videos, I’m performing the exercise with the same weight.

Back squat

Front squat

The front squats have a much more vertical torso, creating more knee tracking over the toes, which equals quad activity galore. Especially for a taller lifter with long femurs like myself, this is your moneymaker for blasting away at quad strengthening.

Back squatting (and box squatting, for that matter) bring my torso much further forward, meaning a greater degree of hip flexion. More hip flexion equals more hip extension from the posterior chain to get out of the hole.

Quick note: For back squatting, if you want to really hit the posterior chain, think of the Rippetoe style. Lift the hips out of the hole first to pull on the hamstrings and potentiate even more hip drive to finish the lift.

RDL’s vs. Conventional Deadlifts for Glute Development

I’m sure Bret’s done some form of EMG study to get a scientific answer on this, but here are my thoughts, for what they’re worth.  Both the RDL and the conventional deadlifts will activate the posterior chain – that’s what they’re for. There’s plenty of debate as to whether the glutes do more work with the RDL or the regular style.  First things first. We tend to only look at the glutes as hip extensors, and sometimes an external rotator also.  When it comes to deadlifts and proper hinging, we have to remember that they also counter the hip flexors as a posterior pelvic tilter.

RDL

Knowing this, the less antagonistic contribution we can get from the quads, and especially the rectus femoris (since it acts as a hip flexor as well) during the movement itself, the less likely we’ll have issues countering a co-contraction and successfully using the glutes in the movement.

But if you can lift more weight in the regular deadlift, wouldn’t that mean more muscle stimulation overall?”

The reason why lifters can generally pull more weight in a conventional deadlift is because of the bent knee position, which encourages more quads. Based on what I said above, it could be beneficial, or it could come in to further promote excessive back extension (also known as a “false” extension) and an insufficient hip drive – it really comes down to just how good you are at finishing the movement. In my experience as a trainer and a lifter, I know that the heavier the weight becomes, the less control lifters usually have in activating the right muscles at the right time. Getting the glutes to fire efficiently is truly about movement quality.

The hamstrings are pulled tighter via a higher hip position, but proper flexibility work can reduce how taut they remain in your start position.  If you ask me, my go-to deadlift variation to hit the glutes is the RDL.

The RLESS – The Best Single Leg Exercise You Can Do

Single leg exercises may be over-hyped when it comes to their direct translation into strength gains in their bilateral equivalents, but they’re not over-hyped when it comes to improvements on muscle recruitment, leg development, and hypertrophy.

The rear leg elevated split squat is my number one tool for single leg exercise development. The trailing leg gets the chance to actively go through greater ROM which can act to make the hip flexors and quads more flexible – especially if the torso is kept completely vertical during the exercise. It’s a great way to restore mobility and flexibility to the muscles you’re working between sets of squats or leg press.

Bulgarian split squat

The ongoing debate has been whether or not RLESS exercises are usable for hypertrophy training. I vote yes. They beat regular split squats because there’s a greater ROM, and they also beat walking lunges because the time under tension is constant, and not broken up from leg to leg as you take steps forward. We also know that building muscle isn’t always about moving the most weight – in this case, getting the pump matters.  Use RLESS for sets of 10 reps per leg.

Summary

Lower body training seems to have the most “rules” that haven’t been challenged or broken.  It’s okay to train the legs multiple times weekly, just like it’s okay to use lighter weights to recruit the right stuff and get stronger overall. Overall, it’s important that you use the right tools that work for you to elicit the best responses in strength and development for the lower body. If you hit a plateau, it’s time to come out of your comfort zone – that’s where I hope the above tools could come in handy.  Let the games begin!

BIO

Lee Boyce is an internationally known fitness writer and strength coach and owner of Boyce Training Systems, based in Toronto Ontario. His work is published regularly in many major fitness magazines including Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, TNATION, Muscle and Fitness, Bodybuilding.com and Inside Fitness.  In 2013, he was named to the Team Jamaica training and treatment staff for the Penn Relays international track meet. Currently Boyce works with clients and athletes for strength, conditioning, and sport performance. Visit his website  www.leeboycetraining.com for more content, and follow him on twitter @coachleeboyce and facebook www.facebook.com/lee.boyce.52.

Lee Boyce

7 Comments

  • Verena says:

    Great article!! I just have a quick question re: RLESS vs. FLESS – what’s the difference in glute activation/ROM/hip flexor stretch?

    Thanks!

  • Iris says:

    Thank you! It answers a lot of questions for me as well. As I only strength train for 2-3 days/week I am happy to learn that it is okay to train the legs more often than once a week! I would like to ask a question concerning the rear foot elevated split squat: Every time I try them I get bad cramps in the elevated foot due to the stretching of the back of the foot. Because of this I place the foot the way I stand on my toes which doesn´t seem optimal as too much weight is now supported by this foot. Any ideas what I could do? Thank you very much!

  • The points Lee gets for the slick dance moves are negated by tucking his tech t-shirt into his track pants. Seriously though, great article Lee.

  • Bret says:

    Lee, there’s an older lady doing a unique exercise in the background during your set of front squats. Is this something I should be doing? 😉

    • will says:

      Bret, Which front squats, man? I was too busy appreciating the person next door. So distracting. By the way, What’s the problem with the 3-on-1 “Cableflyes-Pushdown-Hinge”? Apart from being very popular among busy people keen to finish their “training” ASAP, i heard the CFPDH (Cable Flies Push Down Hinge) is a very advanced technique, very functional for daily life situations, such as greeting grandchildren when they run to give you a hug but hit you in the nuts instead. Who needs a coach, for god sake! Forget what Dan John or Cook have to say about the hinge. This is the way to go. However, the use of a mirror is paramount so as to stimulate the high kinaesthetic sense required by such a complex compound movement…
      Finally, you “might” disagree with my comment. However, definitely, the performer is not a lady but an older dude…

  • christer says:

    This is for brett or lee..What is your take on butt wink? When that happens is it possible that the neuromuscular control of the lphc lead to uncontrolled trunk displacement and then place the lower extremity in a valgus position? ( femoral adduction or internal rotation and tibial external rotation occurring during knee flexion)

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