TweetWorking out with an injury can be dangerous and you should see your doctor before starting. Leg extensions often gets accused of causing knee injuries and so it is mistakenly avoided. Using a single leg exercise will put your body in better technical position to avoid injury.
You’ve tried to leg press, but the movement is near impossible. What now? Use these 5 leg exercises to minimize knee problems and maximize gains. Learn more.
Dynamic Leg Training In Spite of Injury
Leg training. Ugh! I see more people ignore their lower body than a meat lovers pizza! The beauty of leg training is that it gives the body a fuller look and puts you far beyond the competition on the amateur level.
For argument sake, let’s pretend that you love leg training. The feeling of not being able to walk for a minute or two after a set of squats makes you want to push yourself into the ground with more intensity.
Now there is just one problem. Your knees feel like they are shot to s***. You’ve tried to squat… out of the question. You’ve tried to leg press… but lowering the carriage is about to send you wailing like a banshee. The competition is 12 weeks away and you’ve already committed to it. What now?
What Doctors Say
When I first hurt my knees I went to the doctor. In all truth and honesty, I just wanted to hear that I didn’t have any tears in my tendons and ligaments and I would take it from there.
Thankfully I just had a slight build up of calcium just above my knee caps. It was interesting that my doctor told me it was okay for me to squat and leg press. He explained leg extensions were totally out of the question and bad for my knees. I begged to differ with him.
The knee is the most complex joint in the body. As complex as the knee is, it’s an amazing stabilizing joint in certain exercises, even after injury. As a former Division 1-A track athlete, I learned more about how to train legs than anything else. So the workout I’m going to propose to you will not only give you the edge in the competition, but it will also show you the brilliance of the human body to overcome a physical setback.
Of course I’m not going to put any running exercises or speed drills in this article. We are bodybuilders not malnourished rabbits trying to outrun everyone. I’ve combined the knowledge of muscle development with that of pushing through pain as an athlete to give you an understanding of what we want to accomplish… beautifully shredded legs!
Leg extensions have been given a bad rap by doctors saying it destroys the knees. This exercise alone saved me from having diminutive legs on stage for my first show. If you use this exercise wisely and follow the prescription of what most of the pros do, it will be the staple of your leg workout.
This exercise warms up your quads and get what little blood you have in your joint flowing with the intent on working the legs to their full potential. Now I will stress you must be careful to not go heavy in the beginning. When bringing the weight up make sure to lockout your knees with controlled descent.
You will use this exercise to warm-up initially then move more into quad/ham/glute development from there.
Here is a sample of what you will be doing…
Leg Extensions: 2 warmup sets of 40 reps
Leg Extensions: 4 sets of 30 reps, 60-90 seconds rest
High reps really prepares your quads for the leg workout to follow. You’ll have so much blood flowing through your legs you’ll be ready to tackle the big exercises, accelerating your leg development extremely. It will be well worth it in the end.
After you have finished leg extensions, your knees should be cooperating fully with blood, adrenaline and excitement flowing through them. Okay so the easy part is done. Now let’s get to the real workout.
Stabilization Is The Key!
As I said earlier the knee is a marvelous joint in stabilization and for some people you’ll be able to get more done on one knee at a time than two knees at the same time.
If you are having knee problems the best thing you can do is choose exercises that require you to be on one leg at a time. I know what you are thinking, “But doesn’t that put more pressure on the joint than using both knees?” I use to think that too, until I realized the human body is meant to be symmetrical in both look and strength.
Being on one leg allows people to put their bodies in a better technical position to perform a movement properly without further injuring themselves.
Another reason these particular exercises were chosen is because of the dynamic function of all the muscles involved. All of these exercises will hit the quads, hams and glutes in a maximum effort, so be prepared to be uncomfortable when you sit down.
Many beginning and amateur bodybuilders need to develop a lactic acid pain threshold. This workout is not for the weak, but if your knees are giving you problems then this workout is for you. Even if you just want to do something different, this workout will be more of a challenge than you think for you healthy people also.
The Actual Workout
Squatting, leg press and hack squat were out of the question for me. So here is where I pulled out some of the old track weight training that helped me to three 1st place trophies in my first show. This workout is only to be done once a week.
The first exercise is step-ups. You take the bar (or dumbbells) put it on your shoulders in the high bar position and step up on a bench with one leg and bring the other leg up all the way up into a 90 degree angle, stepping back down to the floor with the 90 degree angle leg, switching legs the next time you step up.
Barbell Step Ups
Step Ups: 4 sets of 15 reps, 60-120 seconds rest
Rest between these exercises is crucial because most people are not use to working their legs like this. The cardiovascular system plays a major role in this exercise because you have to keep moving and it involves the whole body. Breathe deeply while doing this exercise to fill your body with oxygen…otherwise you’ll be done before you get through your second set.
Single Leg Squat:
The next exercise is single leg squat. To execute this movement properly you will do the version that will require you to put one leg back and rest your foot on a bench behind you so your forward leg will come down in a perfect 90 degree angle.
When going down in this movement your hamstring and glute involvement is crucial and you will not be able to perform this exercise correctly if you are only focusing on your quads. The key to this exercise is constant control of the movement. You will feel every part of this exercise from top to bottom so be prepared mentally going into it. See yourself doing this exercise in its entirety before executing it.
Single Leg Squats: 2-3 sets of 15 reps, 60-120 seconds rest
The next exercise in this intent on great leg development despite injury are lunges. This is my personal favorite. After Leg extensions, step-ups and single leg squats you’d think you’d be done. Oh please! We are trying to win a competition! We need some tears and you might have been crying at the single leg squat so this exercise will put an exclamation point on the workout!
I prefer using the barbell on these but using dumbbells is fine also. Perform this exercise by lifting one knee high in the air and stepping out as far as you can to insure a 90 degree angle on descent. Some people prefer to use the quicker shorter version by taking smaller steps.
In our case because of knee problems I strongly recommend stepping out as far as you can. By the time you get to this exercise your legs are going to be wobbly so 2 sets will be sufficient in finishing off your leg routine.
The separation you will create in your glutes and hams will be phenomenal.
Lunges: 2-3 sets for 10-15 reps, 90 seconds rest
I prefer direct hamstring work and I feel implementing the lower back is crucial in getting the separation bodybuilders need to have total symmetry. The best exercise for the hams is the straight-legged deadlift.
A major point I must make here is the need to go heavy in this exercise. I mean heavy! If you are a guy and you weigh at least 170lbs you should be able to straight-leg dead 285lbs. I’m not playing! When this exercise is done right your hams will pop out like rows of corn.
Plus the benefit of lower back development and showing striated glutes when you hit a side chest shot, side triceps, rear back double biceps and rear back lat spread will be insane!
Start with your feet about an inch apart, toes facing forward. The barbell should be resting in front of you on the floor. Grab the barbell with one hand as a underhand grip and the other hand as a overhand grip. Keep your back straight with a slight bend in your knees and pull the bar with your hams, glutes and lower back. Hold at the top of the movement for a second and descend the weight down in full control.
Straight-Legged Deadlift: 4 sets of 8-12 reps, 60 seconds rest
Developing great legs is hard enough, but when you have an injury to your knees it feels like it is impossible. Thankfully the human body is built for compensation.
Use this to fulfill your goals in bodybuilding and do not be afraid of training through injury, discomfort and pain. In the end the only thing that separates champions from the wannabes is the will to do what your competition will not do. Good luck.