Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Aggressive Strength Training For The Lower Body - By Ken Mannie

Ken Mannie is the Head Strength/Conditioning Coach at Michigan State University.

"The Filthy Five" provides a high level of stimulation for all of the key muscle groups in this area. The major muscle groups of the legs, hips, and lower back are extremely important to all athletes in the development of strength and power, joint stabilization, and efficient skill execution.

All of these areas demand a year-round conditioning program. One of our more intense routines for the lower body is called "The Filthy Five" by our athletes. It consists of a sequence of five exercises that provide a high level of stimulation for every key muscle group in this area: the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals, and low-back region.

When performed properly in sequence, the exercises provide a very demanding (some call it "brutal") leg/hip/low-back workout in a minimum amount of time. Before delving into the actual exercises, we would like to lay down the four basic guidelines for the administration of the workout.

* Proper Weight Selection: A weight is selected for every exercise that causes the trainee to reach momentary muscular fatigue - that is, the inability to perform another full-range rep with correct technique. Though this initially is a trial-and-error process, it rarely takes more than two workouts to determine the correct weight.

* Smooth, Controlled Reps. Controlled movement speed is (as I have discussed in previous SC articles) is safer and at least as effective as any other training methodology.

We do not necessarily place a strict cadence (e.g., two seconds for raising the weight and three to four seconds for lowering it) on the reps, but we do insist on eliminating needless momentum during the concentric phase (raising) and the eccentric phase (lowering). We also want a slight pause at the mid-range point when possible. Basically, we instruct our athletes to lift the weight rather than throw it, and to lower the weight rather than drop it.

* Short Rest. We ask the trainee to move to each exercise (in the routine) as quickly as possible to intensify the demand on the involved musculature.

. Whenever possible, all of the weightloads should be pre-set on the bars/machines to avoid wasting time.

* Frequency. Due to the high muscular and metabolic demands of this routine, we suggest its use only once per week. A less intense, more conventional workout can be performed on the other training days, utilizing different exercises in a varying sequence.

We also recommend that "The Filthy Five" be reserved for off-sea-son periods, as the soreness incurred (at least in the initial phases) might pose a problem in practice situations.

Finally, we suggest that the workout be done on the last training day of the week to allow for a longer recovery period (e.g., do it on Friday of a M-W-F lifting schedule). Make no mistake - this is a very difficult routine that is designed for the seasoned, mentally and physically tough strength trainee. Beginners would be well-advised to get a few weeks of "basic training" under their belts before tangling with "the filthy five"!

* Progression. As with any type of strength training-scheme, progressive overload is vital for success. Once our athletes achieve the high end of the rep range, they will add at least five and sometimes 10 pounds to the exercise on the next workout. All of our workouts are charted, nothing is left to chance, and we maintain the all-important element of accountability.

* Supervision and Spotting.

Supervision by a knowledgeable coach and correct spotting procedures by training partners are extremely important. Persistent communication in proper techniques, safety considerations, and encouragement to the lifter should always be evident.


With these guidelines, suggestions, and points of emphasis in mind, the following lower-body routine will provide an intense stimulus to the aforementioned muscle structures in an efficient, productive, and safe manner.

* Deadlift: The trainee is told to perform one or two warm-up sets before placing the maximum amount of weight possible on the bar for a 12-15 rep range. We demand strict technique. This includes placing the feet at or slightly wider than shoulder-width, maintaining the natural curvature of the low back (not "rounding" it), and positioning the head so that the eyes are in what we call a "conversational plane" (i.e., looking straight ahead at eye level).

The head and shoulders should always lead the raising phase of the exercise. The trainee will know that technique is being compromised when the buttocks raise first while the head and shoulders tilt downward and forward.

When lowering the weight, the knees should bend with a gradual lowering of the buttocks, while still maintaining the same lower back and head position. The set should be terminated whenever you detect the shoulders and head tilting over the feet with little or no knee bend and the low back beginning to round.

We choose to use what is known as a "hip bar" (photo) or dumbbells for our deadlift work, as they help us ensure proper technique. Regardless of the tool you decide to use for this exercise, insist that the athletes adhere to proper form throughout the set.

* Leg Curls:

The deadlift set is immediately followed by a set of leg curls, again using the 12-15 rep range. Once the lifter fatigues, the spotter must assist with the execution of 2-3 "forced reps," to help the lifter with the raising phase of the exercise (providing only as much help as is necessary to make sure the lifter is still "working hard").

* Leg Press:

Immediately follow the leg curls, again taking the set to fatigue in the 12-15 rep range with the inclusion of 2-3 forced reps (if possible) to complete the set.

* Leg Extensions:

Now hustle to the leg extension machine and crank out 12-15 strictly performed reps, again with 2-3 forced reps at the end.

* Leg Press (again!):

Rounds out the routine. Obviously, the weight will be reduced quite significantly from the first set, but it will still range in the 12-15 area.

The forced reps at the end will complete as grueling (and productive) a lower body workout as any of your athletes have ever experienced. They will be completely spent and filthy to the bone.

Conclusion: Remember, the intensity of this program dictates its use only with individuals who have been training for at least a few weeks. It would not be advisable to throw this at your players during their first week of the winter strength-training program. They might throw you into a mud hole (or a snow pile, at least)!

Ken Mannie can be reached for further information at (517) 355-7514 and by mail at Michigan State University, Duffy Daugherty Football Building, East Lansing, MI, 48824.
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