The Only Two Leg Exercises You’ll Ever Need
Fair warning: you won’t find traditional back squats anywhere in this article.
Yes, I know they’re referred to as the “King” of all movements, but given that so many struggle to squat properly, the shockingly large number of lower back issues, and the fact that this series of articles is about making the most out of your limited time in the gym, I’ve chosen to step away from back squats, and focus instead on achieving total leg annihilation in a condensed amount of time.
Meathead Mullan’s “bread and butter” leg movements
Lying Leg Curls
Why Lying Leg Curls make the cut as my “bread” leg exercise:
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of turning sideways, and not disappearing into thin air – a problem which afflicts many a “bench press bro.”
Adding thick, hanging hamstring meat to your legs will set you apart in the eyes of damn near everyone who looks at you.
Because hamstring meat doesn’t come by accident, and the relentless pursuit of building your legs is something many are unwilling to do.
Here’s how to do ‘em:
Granted, there are many ways you can tweak and adjust how you do lying leg curls. But, this here is my favourite.
Lay down on the pad, then prop yourself up on your elbows, while shoving your hips “forward,” and flexing your glutes as hard as you can. Keep your toes neutral, or dorsiflexed (pointed towards your calfs), and curl up until you feel a strong peak contraction. Hold there for a moment before lowering.
Why Hack Squats make the cut as my “bread” leg exercise:
Once upon a time I ran an 8 month experiment where any time back squats were on the menu, I swapped them out for hack squats instead. This was largely due to a touchy lower back at the time, and the fact that I had access to a well-built hack squat for the first time in years.
So, for 8 months I hack squatted my life away. Session after session, rep after rep.
Well, my legs grew, my lower back healed and strengthened, and I had some of the best damn leg sessions of my entire life.
From the wellspring of sweat and effort of those 8 months, blossomed a deep, lasting love for hack squats. Trust me, you haven’t felt true tension in your quads unless you’ve done 30-rep sets of hack squats (which you’ll find waiting for you down below).
Here’s how to do ‘em:
Thanks to being a machine-based movement, these are self-explanatory. Load up with the weight you need, and get yourself situated. I prefer to use a stance that’s roughly shoulder-width, with toes pointed out 5-10 degrees. Then aim to drop your ass to your heels.
If you’re new to the hack squat machine, it can take a little getting used to the movement, and to get over the feeling that you’re going to be stuck at the bottom. So, ease your way into it.
Tying these two leg exercises together for glorious gains
A1. Lying Leg Curls 6×6
Do a few feeler sets of 8-12 to get blood into your stringham meat before diving into the heavier working sets. Maintain a 4010 tempo on all sets, and prioritize a strong contraction. Take 20-30s as you move to A2.
A2. Hack Squats 6×12-15
These are to be done slowly, painfully, and in glorious fashion. You’re going to use a 5101 tempo here. Focus on flexing your quads, adductors, and hamstrings for the entire set. Adjust your weight as needed to maintain the tempo and stay within the rep bracket. Rest for 60-90s before moving back to A1.
A1. Hack Squats 6×10
A2. Lying Leg Curls 6×8
This is a blood, guts, and iron session. Do a few feeler sets of each exercise to find a weight where you cannot get an 11th or 9th rep, then stay there for all sets. Using a smooth, controlled tempo, give each rep, each set max effort, and push yourself in terms of the load you use. Move right from A1 to A2, then rest for 90s before starting your next round.
A1. Hack Squats 4×30
Do 10 constant tension reps (no pausing at the top or bottom), then break the remaining 20 reps until mini-sets of 5, with 10s rest between each (holding and flexing your quads at the top as your “rest”). Rest no more than 90s between sets.
B1. Lying Leg Curls 6×8-10
Crisp, clean reps here. After the hack squat insanity above, focus on maintaining rep quality across all sets. Adjust your weight as needed to stay within the bracket. Stick to an even 2121 tempo.
A1. Lying Leg Curls
Starting with a 12-15RM, increment up in weight on each set until you hit a tough 8 reps. Then do 4 sets of 6 with that weight. Use a 3111 tempo for all sets, and rest 60s or so between sets.
B1. Hack Squats
Starting with a 15-20RM, increment up in weight on each set until you hit a tough 10 reps. Then 2 sets of 8 with that weight. THEN you’re going to do one massive drop set, taking each drop to muscular failure. Aim for 3-4 drops, of 8-12 reps per drop. Rest 60-90s between sets.
Wondering what’s next?
Well, here’re a few options:
1. If you know of anyone else who might benefit from the words of wisdom you just read, why not share it with them? (made super easy with the links to your left).
2. Looking for more articles like this one? You’ll find a whack just like this one linked about one-and-a-half scrolls below.
3. Frustrated to all hell with trying to build muscle and melt fat on your own? I can help with that.
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