Early in your career, before you became Mr. Olympia, your legs weren’t on par with your upper body. How did you bring them up?
With legs, the key is to shock them to experience substantial growth. The most obvious way to do this is to perform a lot of very heavy sets of major exercises like barbell squats, leg presses, and hack squats, working up to at least 15 reps. The legs are such a large group of muscles that you must train with high volume, more so than for smaller body parts. I often did 20 sets or more for quads alone, then moved on to hamstrings. Training with higher reps and great volume will shock your legs into growing, but adding defnition to the quads is important, too—why would you want big legs that had no shape or detail? That’s why I used techniques like the stripping method on a hack squat machine when I wanted extra thigh defnition. I would put enough weight on the machine to allow me to do just six reps, then I’d take a little weight off and do six more. I’d do this a few more times with hardly any rest, just long enough to reduce the weight, for a total of 30 reps. That was just one set! I also used this technique on leg extensions. The biggest progress I made in my quad training, though, was in 1971, when I was looking for ways to define my thighs. I began supersetting leg extensions with squats, performing the extensions first. Now we call this pre-exhaustion.
The key to my success with these supersets was working very hard on my leg extensions instead of taking it easy in preparation for the squats that I was about to do. By the time I got to squats, my thighs felt dead and I could barely move 315 pounds. But I kept at it, and soon I was able to perform heavy squats immediately after my extensions. My thighs responded tremendously to this new shock.
ARNOLD'S QUAD ROUTINE
- Leg Extention | SETS: 5-6 | REPS: 15-20
- superset with Barbell Squat | SETS: 5-6 | REPS: 15
- Leg Press | SETS: 5 | REPS: 15
- Hack Squat | SETS: 4 | REPS: 30