Heavy training for the hips and thighs gives the trainee the most return for the effort expended, but is usually not at the top of the list of “Favorite Modes of Training” due to the discomfort one is subjected to if the training is intensive enough to stimulate gains. The earliest lifting advice I received as an aspiring football player was to train the hips and thighs heavy, hard and consistently, even if it meant reducing the work done for the other body areas. Great gains in “overall body strength” come not from bench press specialization programs but from thigh, hip and lower back work. The proviso is that one train in a meaningful and productive manner, truly taking each set of each exercise to the limits of one’s momentary ability.
In addition to the high-rep squats that were always a part of my regular program, I would occasionally attempt to specialize on my lower body so that my leg drive and ability to run “harder” on a football field would improve. One of the more beneficial, but nearly impossibly difficult programs that I used twice per week, for approximately six weeks, went as follows:
1. Squat: a warmup set of 8-10; 1 x 20
2. Stiff-legged deadlift (on high block): 1 x 30 3. Squat starts: 1 x 10
4. Weighted walks
5. Dumbbell stair climb
After a warmup set of squats and a general overall body warmup, I would do one all-out set of squats for 20 reps. This in itself is a great growth stimulator for the hips and thighs, and usually made up half of my lower-body training, with the stiff-legged deadlifting comprising the other half. The stiff-legged deadlift is a very beneficial movement if done correctly, and in my opinion, a much better developer of the hamstring group than standing, supine or side-lying leg curls.
Knowing that one could suffer damage or stretching of the ligaments in the knee if the lowest position of the squat was held for a number of seconds, as in the so-called “pause squat,” I would set pins in a power rack so that I could begin the squat at a position where my hamstrings were pressed against my calf muscles. I would begin the first rep, rising to a position approximately five or six inches short of a completed squat, and then return to the starting position; but instead of pausing, I would immediately begin my ascent as soon as my hamstrings were against my calves, or when I made contact with the low pin. In this way I was emphasising the low or beginning position in the squat without pausing at the bottom and possibly exposing the knee to injury.
After completing my set of squat starts, I would immediately return to the squat rack. I would take whatever poundage I had used for my initial set of 20 reps in the full squat, and support the barbell across my upper back and trapezius. I would then go for a stroll, walking sideways out of the garage or loft entrance due to the length of the bar. I would walk up and down the street (my neighbors had become accustomed to seeing me push cars, lift strange implements, and walk with a loaded barbell in my quest to become strong), or around the top floor of the family iron shop. I would walk until fatigued, being very careful not to stumble. I would then return the bar to the squat racks and pick up a heavy dumbbell in each hand. Most often, I would use the casted York 100 or 105 pounders that I had–huge things that resembled cannonballs. I would then walk up and down a flight of stairs, 23 steps and one landing each way, repeating this until I could not walk comfortably, if at all, or until I could not hold the dumbbells.
I can remember the feeling that my spine was being compressed as I walked around with the loaded bar on my shoulders, only to believe that my arms would be torn from the sockets as I trudged up and down the stairs, thighs trembling beneath me, buttock muscles cramping with every step. I would remain sore for days at a time, and found that the second workout of the week, usually done three days after the first, would serve to alleviate the persistent aching in my thighs, hips and lower back.
I used this routine on a number of occasions, always limiting it to 4-6 weeks to avoid overtraining and emotional burnout. I would train my entire body two times per week during this period, usually on Mondays and Thursdays, adding a pressing movement (overhead barbell press, bench press or dip), chin or upright row, an abdominal movement (side bend or situp), and an occasional barbell curl. I always felt that this was one of the most effective programs I used for lower body power despite the absence of “very heavy” weights. I’ve always maintained that one can build more functional, useable athletic strength which could then be used for powerlifting or football competition by doing “heavy” sets of 15-20 reps with 300-400 pounds than by doing “heavy” sets of 1-5 reps with 500 pounds. This is one program that will prove that to you.