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BendtheBar 11-06-2011 09:41 PM

Strong Legs
Strong Legs

Louie Simmons

It was late 1969, and the Culver City, CA, Westside boys were writing an article called “Conditioned Legs Break Record Squats”. Well it’s as true today as it was back then. Here at the Columbus Westside Barbell, we have held world records at 181, 220, 242, 275, 308, and SHW in the squat or total. Westside has a variety of leg exercises that we choose from. Everyone knows we box squat all the time, but what do we do to supplement leg strength or to complement our hip strength? First, belt squats.

Westside lifters started doing belt squats in 1975. I personally realized in the early 1970s that my quads were somewhat smaller than before I started doing box squats. Of course I Olympic lifted first and used a close stance with a raised heel. But box squatting with a wide stance while pushing the knees out to the sides placed most of the work on the hips and glutes. It was at this point that I started to belt squat, including standing on a ramp and not locking out the legs to keep tension on the quads. Westside lifters would belt squat after box squatting or on max effort day after a good morning or a deadlift of some type. Today, we use several variations of the belt squat. Variation include belt squatting on a box; belt squatting without a box; walking on the belt squat platform until failure; walking forward where the cable is behind you, bent over like deadlifting (this is an unreal glute developer); and walking backward with tension on the front of the legs. We also do a lot of calf work in the belt squat machine.

Next up is the calf ham/glute bench. You must have incredibly strong hamstrings for squatting, deadlifting, and of course running. The reps can be very high, up to 60, for conditioning or 2-6 for strength with weight. Our glute/ham bench is 34 inches wide, so we can hit the entire hamstring. Raising the foot plate will make it much harder, for added development. For the advanced, use one leg at a time.

Band leg curls are frequently done to thicken the ligaments and tendons. Ten- or 20-pound ankle weights for up to 200 reps will also thicken the soft tissue to prevent injuries. Kinetic energy can be increased by thickening the ligaments and tendons, which will help reversal strength. Switching specialty bars on max effort day will cause added growth and strength development by causing extra stimulation by not allowing you to master the bar. Front squats, the Safety Squat bar, a 14-inch cambered bar, and even the Zercher harness will make it possible for new physical development, due to learning a new task. Using bands and chains to create accommodation to cause max tension throughout the entire range of motion can do amazing things to one’s muscle. Westside was the first to introduce chains, then bands to barbells, and now every commercial has a football player doing something with chains or bands attached to the bar.

Next up is the Plyo Swing. Ours is much like the one shown in the Science and Practice of Strength Training by Vlad Zatsiorsky. We attach bands to the machine first to accommodate resistance and second to increase kinetic energy, causing an overspeed eccentric phase. We also do lots of leg pressing with light weight for high reps, up to 75, or low reps with very heavy weight. It’s important to do one leg at a time to eliminate a bilateral deficit, which almost everyone possesses.

This brings us to power walking with a weight sled. About 1994, I was wondering why the Finns were so good at deadlifting. Of course they were very athletic, but was that the only reason? I doubt it. My good friend Eskil Thomasson from Sweden was staying here with us. He was going back to Sweden for a visit before moving to Westside for 10 years. When he went to Finland, he asked why they were all great deadlifters. To his surprise they had no idea. Some were lumberjacks and would pull the logs out to the road for the tractor to pick them up. They used several ways to pull the logs. One way was to pull them backwards; some would walk forward; some would pull over the shoulder. All and all, the key was heavy manual labor, but it added up to a lot of log pulling. On hearing this, I started pulling a tire at first and then sleds, very heavy at times, around 450 pounds for 100 feet for three or four trips. Using 225 pounds for six trips of 60 yards works great for powerlifters, sprinters, and football players. It is done three times a week, weather permitting. The heaviest pulling is on Monday. For strength development, reduce the load about one-third on Wednesday for strength endurance, and on Friday, use a 45-pound plate or two for a warmup or restoration. Sled power-walking will build all the muscles in the lower body while increasing your conditioning at the same time. Don’t forget, you can work your upper body as well by using a second strap. You can do any movement you want, such as curls, upright rows, triceps extensions, pec work, you name it. Kids of 10 years old and up can use a sled. For a more intense workout, add ankle weights, weight vests, or both for added resistance. For extra hamstring work, walk with the straps between your legs and lower them to knee level. Walk with as large a step as possible, or they can be done like pull-throughs. Just switch styles as often as you like to keep new stimulation of the lower or upper body. One of my favorite exercises is good mornings with the sled. Use a neck harness attached to the sled strap, walk backwards slowly, bend over, and methodically stand erect, then walk backwards with tension at all times. This will blow up the back like nothing else. Note: you don’t need very heavy weight for this to be effective.

Phil Harrington has broken several world records in the squat. His best is 905 pounds in the 181-pound class, before Mike Cartinian raised it to 930 pounds lifting for Big Iron. Phil set a goal to break Tony Fratto’s raw record at 198 set in 1972, 749 pounds, and in March 2011 Phil did 755 pounds. He was concentrating on jumping exercises of all types and not doing a lot of squatting. Here is a list of jumping exercises Phil used to break the raw squat record. First, to prepare himself for jumping, he started by doing presses with a barbell and dumbbells while sitting on the floor. They are used to condition all muscles involved in jumping. First while on his knees, he did several repetitions of jumping to his feet. Next, Phil added a barbell on his back while jumping to his feet. Then, he did the following over several weeks. First, he held a bar on his thighs while kneeling and jumped to a power clean. Next, from a kneeling position with the bar on his thighs, he jumped into a power snatch. After mastering the mentioned movements, he held a bar on his thighs and jumped into a split clean and then split snatch. After this, he set records in the kneeling squat up onto a box or from a kneeling position into a long jump. These jumps build explosive power. For strength, jump onto boxes with ankle weights or a weight vest. Hold dumbbells and jump onto boxes for record heights with a certain amount of weight or combinations of weight. Switch the resistance often and do 10-30 jumps per workout. Two or three jump workouts a week works well. About once every month try a body weight jump record. This may look like a sports workout, but it will serve to condition a lifter as well as making his legs very explosive.

This is just a small sample of workouts you can do. Don’t overdo it. You must raise your GPP to recover from your high-volume or high-intensity workout. Phil proved it works, and Laura Phelps is experimenting with jumps as well. Do easy jumping as a warmup or come back to the gym later for a more intense workout and watch your squats and pulls go up.

LtL 11-07-2011 06:05 AM

Great read.


Off Road 11-07-2011 09:23 AM

Really good read. I especially like the sled portion of the article. There are so many cool things you can do with the sled. My favorite sled workout is Pull-Throughs. It's a ball-buster for sure.

I also plan to start my kids lifting with the sled. It has been recommended to me by several knowledgable people to start them with the sled. It makes the exercises fun and easy to learn. The added bonus is that it only works the positive portion of the lift, and that means less injury and easier recovery.

Off Road 11-07-2011 09:34 AM

The other lift I am excited to see in the article is the Belt Squat. I love the belt squat and one day hope to get an IronMind hip belt. In the past I've done them with my dip belt, but it's painful when the chains dig into you. But it is really a great exercise for the quads. Too bad most people scoff when I recommend it to guys with bad backs because it really is effective.

BendtheBar 11-07-2011 09:36 AM

I purchased a sled in late 2007 at the recommendation of a friend who was a powerlifter. I was clueless about it at the time and sold it after 2 months. I really regret that decision now.

I have always wanted to try belt squats. There are only so many quad exercises you can do at home, especially if you are not fond of lunges.

Off Road 11-07-2011 09:46 AM


Originally Posted by BendtheBar (Post 186875)
especially if you are not fond of lunges.

Boy, that's me for sure. I hate lunges because of balance issues due to a crooked leg (bull riding injury). I don't like any exercise where I have to worry more about form and balance that I do about effort.

BendtheBar 11-07-2011 10:05 AM


Originally Posted by Off Road (Post 186878)
Boy, that's me for sure. I hate lunges because of balance issues due to a crooked leg (bull riding injury). I don't like any exercise where I have to worry more about form and balance that I do about effort.

I am the exact same way. I always struggle with balance issues on lunges. It's minor, but enough to keep me from doing them.

I might also be the oddball here, but I do not like the way they make my knees feel. Perhaps is was playing catcher for 10 years...I don't know. My knees just don't like lunges.

5kgLifter 11-07-2011 11:11 AM

To add to this, I don't like lunges either; I tried them a couple of times but feel they are unstable which could be due to my duff kneecap but still not great. I do some strange exercises, in general, but always avoid any "unstable" exercise like the plague since there's just too much risk of injury added to the possibilty of accidental injury that exists with all exercises.

Off Road 11-07-2011 11:26 AM

For single leg (unilateral) movements, I like step-ups and Bulgarian split squats. For the Bulgarians I use my dip belt to add weight and stabilize myself by holding onto the squat rack.

5kgLifter 11-07-2011 11:30 AM


Originally Posted by Off Road (Post 186922)
For single leg (unilateral) movements, I like step-ups and Bulgarian split squats. For the Bulgarians I use my dip belt to add weight and stabilize myself by holding onto the squat rack.

Yep, I'm fond of high step-ups, I use the 3rd step on our stairs which places my knee at about shoulder height or just below before pushing off.

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