This website has been pretty vocal in its appreciation of Frank Zane. A three time Mr. Olympia, Zane privileged a level of conditioning and aesthetics that, even today, is still admired by bodybuilding fans. Zane’s training diaries, and later books highlighted a clearly meticulous and determined attitude to training. It wasn’t enough to move the weight, Zane always focused on stimulating the muscle.
His ‘Zane Leg Blaster’ is evidence of this. Mimicking a front squat, the Leg Blaster allows trainees to target the quads without engaging the lower back and, more importantly in an entirely safe manner. Cards on the table, the Leg Blaster is a piece of equipment I’ve long wanted in my gyms and subsequent home gym. I had the pleasure of briefly using one many moons ago and, much like the ‘one who got away’, its absence in my life continues to haunt me.
My unrequited love aside (damn you shipping fees!), the Leg Blaster is a piece of equipment worth discussing and its history is far longer than many realise. With that in mind, today’s post explains what the leg blaster is, where it came from and how you can mimic its effects.
The Leg What?
The Leg Blaster! Marketed by Frank Zane for many decades, the Leg Blaster is advertised as ‘the best exercise for developing your thighs and building lower body strength.’ It comprises of two pieces of equipment, a harness that lifters wear, and a set of handles that you hold onto. The handles allow you to lean slightly back and ensure that the lower back is neutralised and the quads are fully engaged. The below video from Paul Becker gives a great illustration.
Unfortunately, it seems that Zane no longer sells the product through his website, although one presumes it is still in his training facility. I was blessed to spend a few days training with Zane in 2010 and used the Blaster under his tutelage.
In terms of the effect, I have yet to encounter a single piece of equipment which targets the quads to the same degree. The Blaster was easy to use, incredibly safe and, more importantly, such a fun exercise. It could also be used for calf raises which, as I’ve mentioned previously, can be a tricky thing to do in a home gym environment.
In 2010 Zane had me do relatively high reps (12-15) for 3-4 sets as part of a leg routine. At the time it was done in place of traditional squats although it could equally be used as an addition to the front or back squat.
Inventing the Leg Blaster
The Leg Blaster was originally patented by James E. Moore in 1964 and was sold in the 1960s as the Moore Leg Blaster (sold by the Atlanta Barbell Company). The wonderful Dave Draper forum has some original advertisements of the Moore Barbell featuring 1959 Mr. America Harry Johnson. The original sources, as well as some great stories about the leg blaster, can be found here.
Also check out the original patent design – God I love Google Patents.
At some point, Zane bought the rights to the Leg Exerciser and, indeed, we can see that Zane lodged his own patent for a leg exerciser in 1989. In the patent Zane noted that Moore’s equipment had several deficiencies and that, sadly, little innovation had been taken by others in improving upon the original design. Interestingly, Zane’s patent mentioned advertisements for Moore’s squat device in Iron Man magazine as late as 1985 which suggests a certain popularity existed. From 1989 Zane appears to have made small tweaks and changes but the general design remains the same.
Interestingly, I was chatting with a friend about this and they also noted the similarities between the Zane/Moore device and Peary Rader’s ‘Magic Circle‘ advertised in the late 1960s. The primary difference between Zane’s device, and Rader‘s shown below, is that Rader’s was more of a free weight exercise and more unstable owing to the lack of supports to hold on to.
Creating Your Own Leg Blaster
While American, and some British, readers will have the opportunity to purchase a leg blaster, the majority reading will not. As someone who has baulked at the high shipping costs involved in shipping even a second-hand leg blaster to Ireland, I have had to be somewhat creative in creating my own device. From about a decade’s experience, there are three avenues worth considering.
1. A Front Squat Harness and Two Barbells
Numerous companies now sell front squat harnesses like the one shown below. I purchased mine during the Pandemic and use it for a variety of squats and lunges, as well as calf raises.
To mimic the Leg Blaster I use the front squat harness to load the barbell and, using my squat rack, I place a second barbell at roughly naval height which I hold onto while squatting back. It’s not as safe as the Zane blaster but it works.
2. Hip Belt Squat
Hip belt squats are another alternative to the Leg Blaster and, with a bit of creativity, can be done at home or in commercial gyms. My best successes have been using a landmine row for the belt squat. I am aware that some lucky trainees have actual hip belt squat machines in their gyms. I am not one of them and yes I am bitter. The only downside to this approach is that the weight can sometimes pull the lifter forward and stress the lower back.
If I had the ceiling height – again home gym problems – I’d likely stand on two tall boxes and position the weight directly underneath me as opposed to in front.
3. Sissy Squats
Truthfully the best option I’ve found has been the Sissy Squat machine. This is a really simple piece of equipment that can be used with a dumbbell or a barbell across the shoulders. Although it’s tricky setting up, I’ve really enjoyed doing front squat sissy squats as a Leg Blaster substitute.
Ah the age old question. Why bother doing anything different to the standard front or back squat? While squatting as a basic movement is incredibly important, there are a variety of reasons why traditional squats aren’t right for a lifter.
This year I’ve struggled quite a bit with sciatica down my right side and have found sissy squats to be a great way of still training my quads without aggravating my injuries. In pain-free moments, this movement has likewise been a wonderful way of finishing a leg workout or, at times, of pre-exhausting the quads before a set of squats. Finally, I’ve used this style of movement as a great substitute when life, or gym, circumstances mean that it’s not possible to train heavy.
I like to think about different exercises as various tools in my ‘training toolkit’. You never know when you’ll need something different but you’ll always be thankful when you have the right solution. I live in hope that some Irish lifter or gym will be selling a Zane Leg Blaster in the near future.
As always… Happy Lifting!