Q: I’m so frustrated. I constantly hear and read bodybuilders saying that you have to do free-bar squats to get big. You even put squats as the Ultimate Exercise for quads in your Ultimate Mass Workout e-book. It’s supposedly the best quad exercise and also stimulates overall mass gains. But I always get hurt when I squat heavy. My lower back
A: Some trainees simply aren’t built for free-bar squats. Because of leverage factors—usually long legs, the upper body pitches forward, which can put the lower back at risk.
While we’re believers in free-bar squats, we see the dangers and have looked for ways to still get the big gains from the exercise while minimizing the dangers. Here’s our two-step solution:
1) Move squats to later in your quad workout
2) Do negative-accentuated squats (we’ll explain these in a moment)
In the Ultimate Mass Workout e-book, we said that squats are the Ultimate Exercises for quads, but at the end of that chapter we mention Smith machine squats and machine hack squats as alternatives, especially for long-legged trainees (leg presses are last on our list because of
In your case, we think the best solution is to use Smith squats or hack squats as your first quad exercise (or leg presses, if you must), and then do free-bar squats in a negative-accentuated style afterward, either right after or later in your quad workout.
For example, after a few progressively heavier warmup sets of machine hack squats, do two work sets for nine to 12 strict reps to exhaustion, X-Rep partials on the second set. Then go to the squat rack. Do one light warmup set to set your groove, then add enough weight so you can do about nine reps, each one with a slow six-second negative. You lower in slow-motion, but drive up at normal speed. On your last rep, lower down about halfway and do middle-range X-Rep partials—do a quarter squat and pulse in about a five-inch range.
The growth burn will be almost unbearable—the advantage being that you have to use less weight due to the negative-accentuated style as well as the preliminary hacks, but you still get the big quad-building benefits of squats. (You’ll feel it working.)
Start with only one set, as NA squats will produce a deep growth ache and get you sore for days—research shows that it’s the negative stroke that causes the most muscle damage, and you’re emphasizing it.
You’ll know you got some serious growth stimulation after the workout, not to mention the next day, and your strength will eventually skyrocket if you keep after it. It’s a heck of a lot safer than over-compressing your spine every leg day.
Till next time, train hard—and smart—for BIG results.
—Steve Holman and Jonathan Lawson
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