Developing World Class Legs


In summary, the squat exercise is important to many athletes because of its functionality and similarity to athletic movements. If appropriate guidelines are followed, the squat is a safe exercise for individuals without a previous history of injuries. The squat is a large- muscle-mass exercise and has excellent potential for adding lean muscle mass with properly prescribed exercise.

– American College of Sports Medicine

I promised I would not get into the RFESS, and how a 225 loaded bar on the back with one leg is safer than two but I digress. The truth is their is no response as squatting is one sign of great coaching, and while it’s not the holy grail, it is effective and has been researched by Stu McGill. I don’t think he is a coach and his suggestions are limited , but his accuracy of research regarding actual squatting is excellent. In fact he shares the Myth of Single Leg Squats being half the load here on Sports Rehab Expert. I decided to get into exercise selection a bit more and share some observations. FYI those legs pictured above belong to the great Gail Devers.

One of the questions of watching world class athletes is what is truly needed to train the legs in the weight room when many of the athletes are not lifting at all and some are doing rather unimpressive numbers. The classic response of the track begin so exhausting that anything done really stimulates growth because it’s assumed that low use of weight room means their conserving the CNS by using it on the track. Really? With a long to short program? One thing coaches need to understand is that the caribbean doesn’t have an indoor season for the most part. Like farming, the seasons are basically spring to early fall, making the indoor season a time for the green house (growth) and not for harvesting. This is a colossal difference and I would argue an advantage. It’s very hard to stay focused and have drive for months without competition, so perhaps we need to appreciate the difficulty of challenging the body to different mind sets.

Elastic Power- The combination of eccentric strength and a few stiffness qualities. What works for high speed may not transfer to generating power in vertical jumps. For example check out the Holm videos and see that he can’t create power statically but boy when speed is thrown in he is doing some amazing things. Everyone is unique, but some universal sport science laws do exist based on the spectrum of body types and abilities.

Optimal Hypertophy-The athlete wants to have enough hypertrophy to ensure muscular contribution, as we are not just tendons and fascia. Reps in the 3-6 range seem to do a good job of myofibril hypertrophy and even reps 1-3 can do this with olympic lifts as well. I don’t like doing any high rep work unless it’s a circuit and not the primary influence. I always see videos of some freak showing off how many reps of one exercise they can do, but it’s not likely what made them or it’s not going to work with mortals. While nutrition is important, volume being just enough tends to be an important factor. During the GPP see younger athletes gain mass because they are developed yet, and the older athletes loose body fat from a much deserved break. The SPP tends to be another growth surge with some athletes because the volumes decrease and the rest increases. Many male and female sprinters who are more mesomorphic must be careful with contemporary programs and sometimes tempo keeps one from begin too big.

Plyometric Prescriptions- Low dose jumping routines are not effective. While small prescriptive additions are worth doing, they usually get poor jumpers to par, not poor to great. If one has problems doing any type of plyometric modality (locomotive) treat it like a screen. Usually the inverse relationship exists where performance drops and injury risks increase when something is not functioning. I find that the lower leg develops morphologically with a lot of pause or absorption exercises because the duration of the contractions, especially because the foot and ankle angle is at 90 degrees. If one is damaged with injury and can’t do jumping but still can run, remember that this becomes a limit down the road as some athletes use plyometrics as a stimulation when injury or facility limitations exist. Everyone uses the tire analogy for the feet, but wearing vibrams or adipures is not going to do to this. The barefoot shoes are the strength shoes of the early 1990s, a lot of hype but the exercises are more important than the sneaker. A cheap ballet shoe for 12 dollars and a track warm-up and tempo session on the grass is better than the garbage on youtube.

Maximal Strength- I find it odd that maximal strength has so much hate and love, as it’s not the path to enlightenment nor the path to failure. Each coach an athlete should decide by talking about goals and what they think are sufficient levels of maximal strength. If you are in college the answer is likely more, but when you hit 25-30 then things hit a genetic celling. When coaches say they tend to slow down in development second or third year in college with team sports, question their abilities as I see the opposite being true. Older and more experienced athletes usually can develop a lot because teaching is less and training is higher. With advanced athletes you have more options. Mediocracy is socialized strength, where everyone get’s a trophy for participating and everyone does the same workout. You don’t need to have huge differences in the program, but my rule is that one should have 3 differences per athlete in team settings. Otherwise why print their name on the workout sheet? (1)

Single Leg Shotgun- The shotgun approach does work. It’s a great job to cover the bases but isn’t precise enough to bank everything on. I love single leg exercises and include many of them in the GPP but decrease them during competition blocks. At higher levels the sport is so intense, the stabilizers are toasted and they tend to be tender and at risk. Since single leg exercises are a bit more demanding in those muscle groups, sometimes bilateral exercises are fine options to challenge the nervous system. Remember many programs barely lift, so if you are afraid you are not getting stability or muscle function remember if it’s not stimulated in the sport, don’t’ worry about it in the weight room. Sometimes you will need to address things in isolation but when I see long articles on wrist training or neck development I wonder what their workout sheets look like for teams in season.

Body Building Methods- Looking good sometimes is good. The body is a beautiful gift and structural balance is part of injury prevention. You don’t need to do poses between sets or work on the mind muscle connection with preacher curls, but the mirror is an unbiased friend who tells the truth. Building the body is a great thing, so long as the exercises are more compound in nature. Often athletes who are not doing structural balance work find themselves injured and it may take a long time to catch up. Each year take a picture at least to see if the posture and structure is growing properly. One can use posture pro or a Zebris system to get objective data.

PNF Stretching- Many eccentric or resisted stretching methods or exercises are good ways to keep range or develop it why the legs become stronger. All of the improvements can’t decrease your flexibility so focus on measurable goals with your coach regarding basic flexibility. This is perhaps the most important focus point with coaching because everyone want’s great legs, but flexibility is not something that is visual. Without goals for flexibility the effort is usually poor or done sporadically.

(1) One training facially boasts about how much individualism they have in their workouts and one basketball athlete got a workout sheet that was the exact same program as the guy next to him. He knew this because it was handed to him with his name on top in a different font size and type. This was during rehabilitation!
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Carl Valle

Carl Valle

Track & Field Coach
Carl is an expert coach who has produced champions in swimming, track and numerous other sports. He is one of the foremost experts in the fields of nutrition and restoration.
Carl Valle

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