Thursday, May 2, 2013

High-Tension Multiple Sets for the Lower Body - By Ken Mannie

Ken Mannie is the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach, Michigan State University. (Originally published May 1999)

Strength-training routines for the lower body are often difficult to design due to the lack of exercise choices and/or equipment. As a result, the workouts for this area may easily disintegrate into a monotonous endeavor-dampening enthusiasm and hampering progress.

If variety is the spice of life, it is truly the underpinning of a demanding year-round activity such as strength training. Having accepted this fact over the years, we've developed a lower body training system that provides our trainees with numerous options and fresh challenges on a daily basis.

Before presenting routines, however, it would be helpful to describe our approach to exercise execution:


Within safe limitations, all of the exercises that follow are taken through a full range of motion (ROM). This concept ensures the strengthening of the target musculature - both concentrically (raising the weight) and eccentrically (lowering the weight) - throughout the biomechanical ROM of a specific exercise.

One exception to this rule is the individual who experiences pain or discomfort at certain points in the ROM due to past injuries or related problems.

Another exception is with the squat movement, where we teach a parallel position (i.e., top of the thigh parallel to the floor) at the mid-range posture.


As much as possible, we teach our athletes to reduce unneeded momentum and potentially dangerous jerking and bouncing, regardless of the type of equipment being used (free weights or machines). Our general guideline for movement speed stipulates a 1-2 second concentric contraction and a 3-4 second eccentric contraction.

We also recommend a brief pause (1 second) at the mid-range position, which enables a smooth transition between the concentric and eccentric contractions.


It is wise to avoid various forms of cheating (e.g., twisting the torso when it should remain erect, abnormally arching the low back, "throwing" the weight instead of lifting it, and "dropping" the weight instead of lowering it) in order to accentuate efficiency and be attentive to safety concerns.

Coaches should always emphasize the importance of quality over quantity, as certain trainees will always operate under the "more is better" mentality, even when doing more means doing it improperly.


Accurate records must be kept of all exercises done in these routines. As we have mentioned here before, our primary overload system is the Double Progression Plan. This involves establishing a rep range (e.g., 10-15), finding a weight that allows successful completion of the set at the lower end of the range and staying with that weight until the high end of the range is attained.

When this is accomplished, the weight is raised by a predetermined amount (usually 5-10 pounds for lower body exercises). Only properly performed reps should be recorded. This prevents an unwarranted increase in the weight, which can exacerbate the problem of improper form.


The majority of the exercises to be described here are taken to the point of momentary muscular fatigue (i.e., until no further properly performed reps are attainable). This technique stimulates maximal muscle fiber recruitment in the target area in a highly efficient manner.

(Note: Due to safety considerations, we do not employ this methodology for the squat exercise, as it would place the trainee in a compromising position.)

We should also mention that all sets listed are "work sets" - they do not include any "warm-up" sets the athlete chooses to perform.

With these suggestions in mind, we can now take a closer look at the specific routines.


Leg Press Descending Pyramid

This routine involves three sets of the leg press, which is a compound movement - a double-joint exercise involving both the leg and hip musculature - separated with the three isolation movements, single-joint exercises such as leg curl and leg extension.

The leg press sets are performed in a "descending pyramid" fashion. In other words, the weight and reps are reduced for each successive set. These reductions are necessary due to the work intensity and fatigue incurred from the cumulative effects of the routine.

Drawn-up, the entire routine looks like this:

* Leg press, 12-15 reps

* Leg curl, 8-12 reps

* Leg press, 9-11 reps

* Leg extension, 8-12 reps

* Leg press, 6-8 reps

* Hip abduction (outer hip/thigh) 8-12 reps

* The approximate recovery time between sets is 1 and 1/2 to 2 minutes.



This routine is brutally difficult, involving two rounds of three exercises done in succession with minimal recovery time. Two isolation exercises are performed first, thus fatiguing the quadriceps and hamstrings.

A compound movement immediately follows the second isolation movement to work not only the fresh muscle fibers of the hip area, but also the already spent posterior and anterior leg musculature.

Following is the routine:

* Leg curl, 8-12 reps

* Leg extension, 8-12 reps

* Leg press, 8-12 reps

These exercises are done in immediate succession, with only as much recovery as is needed to proceed to the next exercise. All of the weights should be pre-set so that no time is wasted in beginning the next movement.

Upon completion of the leg press set, allow for a recovery, then repeat the sequence. Understand that the weights will be significantly lower on all three exercises the second time around, though the loads must still be as heavy as possible for the given rep range.


Double-Double Single-Single

As indicated, this routine begins with two successive double-joint movements followed by two successive single-joint movements. For our double-joint movement in this routine, we like to use a modality known as the "Tru-Squat" (check photo.)

This machine allows us to perform the squat movement with firm back support and proper leg and hip position.

The isolation movements used in conjunction with the Tru-Squat are hip flexion (drawing the thigh toward the abdominal region with either machine or manual resistance placed just above the knee area) and hip adduction (drawing the legs together from an abducted (spread) position with either machine or manual resistance placed in the inner thigh and ankle regions).

The routine sequence looks like this:

* Tru-Squat, 12-15 reps

* Tru-Squat, 8-10 reps

* Hip flexion, 8-10 reps

* Hip adduction, 8-10 reps

We suggest a Z-minute recovery after each Tru-Squat set and a 1-minute recovery between the hip flexion and hip adduction sets.

We like to use this routine on a day on which our intention is to "lighten-up" our lower body work, but still provide some strength stimulation to the area.

(Note: The leg press, deadlift, or conventional squat can be substituted for the Tru-Squat.)


These routines can be rotated throughout the training week in a multitude of ways. Whether your current philosophy calls for total body workouts, upper/lower split routines, or a combination of both approaches, these routines can put a little variety into your workout plan.

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