A1: Focus on getting blood into the hips here to prime everything before the overloading movements later in the session. These should NOT be too heavy but take the last set to technical failure. Rest 30 sec before A2.
A2: Focus on getting blood into the hips and adductors here to prime everything before the overloading movements later in the session. Keep intensity and load pulled back a bit because this is somewhat risky/damaging movement for those that haven't been implementing it frequently.
B: Try to cramp your quads in the contraction of each rep. Keep everything controlled and aim for very strong tension. Take rest as needed between each leg.
C: Take your time working up to the top set. Make sure to get 2-3 feeder sets of 5 reps in. Reduce load by ~10% for the down sets. All reps here should be a full ROM with focus on getting as much knee flexion as possible to bias the quads.
D1: Take these out of a rack like in a squat. Load should be relatively conservative. Keep the movement very controlled and balanced. Alternate legs on each rep but make sure to reset at the top before the transition. Rest 60 sec before D2.
D2: Elevate heels by ~1 inches to allow for a deeper ROM and more quad bias. Adhere closely to the tempo with slow eccentric and pause in the stretch. Try not to lockout and rest at the top of the movement and instead, keep the tension consistent to further tax the quads. Take the last set to 1RIR. Full rest before returning to D1.
E1: Build volume here and shoot for a huge glute pump. Get full hip extension on every rep and try to cramp the glutes in the pause. Keep the pelvis neutral and avoid hyperextension of the low back. Rest 30 sec before E2.
E2: Aim to make these glute biased by taking longer strides and getting more hip flexion compared to knee flexion. Use a load that would be very hard for 15 reps per side. Wear straps so your grip doesn't give out before your legs. Full rest before returning to E1.
F: Elevate toes to get more ROM. Start with bw here and implement tempo. Every rep should be a full stretch and full plantarflexion getting the calves as short as possible. Do not attempt to add weight if you can't get that full contraction for the rep range. To add weight, hold load in contralateral hand and use ipsilateral hand to balance. Take short rest periods between legs here.
Goals of this session
This is a true full spectrum lower body day with pretty much all major muscle groups and patterns (except hinges) getting hit sufficiently. The session is built around the hack squats being the primary strength/overloading movement but loads should still be pushed on reverse lunges, goblet squats, hip thrusts and walking lunges if possible with perfect form. Metabolic stress becomes much more of a factor as the session goes on.
-5-10 minutes of steady state cardio such as incline walking, elliptical, or biking.
-Soft tissue manipulation in the form of 3-5 min of light foam rolling the quads, adductors, calves, and mid back. More specific work can be done using a small lacrosse ball (or something similar) and working through bound up tissue in the glutes and hamstrings.
-Specific mobility with hip airplanes, seated band hamstring curls, and single leg forward step downs (band can be added to make TKE as well).
Common exercise modifications
Machine Abductions- Seated Band Abductions, Banded Wall Sits, Single Leg Cable Abductions, Side Lying Hip Raises
Machine Adductions- Copenhagen Plank Ups, Single Leg Cable Adductions, Alternating Cossack Squats
Single Leg Extensions- 2 Up/1 Down Leg Extensions, Assisted Pistol Squats, Single Leg Band TKEs
Hack Squats- Pendulum Squats, Quad Focused Belt Squats, Quad Focused Smith Squats, Quad Focused V Squats, High Bar Barbell Squats, SSB Squats
Barbell Reverse Lunges- DB Reverse Lunges, SSB Reverse Lunges, Smith Reverse Lunges, Goblet Reverse Lunges
Heel Elevated Goblet Squats- Quad Focused Straddle Squats, Heel Elevated DB Squats, Cable Goblet Squats
Machine Hip Thrusts- Smith Hip Thrusts, Barbell Hip Thrusts, Banded Hip Thrusts, Banded 45º Hyperextensions
DB Walking Lunges- SSB Walking Lunges, FFE Split Squats, Single Leg Seated Leg Press
Single Leg Standing Calf Raises- Single Leg Donkey Calf Raises, Single Leg Seated Leg Press Calf Raises, Bilateral Standing Calf Raises
Common program modifications
Advanced trainees- Intensity can be pushed further on A1 and A2 to make the intent metabolic stress rather than mobility. Take each set of B to failure. The top set of C should be taken to technical failure and the down sets to 1RIR. Alternatively, C can be performed as a single top set and then a Rest Pause set for the "down set". Add a set to D1 and D2 and push the intensity to 2RIR and 1RIR respectively. E1 and E2 should maintain the same volume but the last set of each should be taken to technical failure. Keep F as is.
Intermediate trainees- Increase the intensity of the top set of C to 1RIR and D1 to 2RIR.
Beginner trainees- Remove D2 and E2. A1 and A2 should be scaled back to 3RIR. B should switch to bilateral reps and sets of 12-15 at 2RIR. C should be just 3 working sets of 6-8 at 4RIR. D1 should switch to DB reverse lunges for the same rep scheme but reduce intensity to 4RIR. E1 should ADD a set but adjust the target rep range to 10-15 at 3RIR. F should just be 3 sets on each side to 2RIR with bw.
Male trainees- Longer rest between sets and more feeders before working sets on C and D1. E2 could be switched to a hamstring biased hinge movement to get more ham volume in while removing some direct glute work. Volume may need to be decreased depending on strength level and recovery capacity (stronger trainees may need less working sets).
Female trainees- Shorter rest between working sets and less feeders/warmup sets will generally be needed. A1 should be more heavily focused on to get in some glute med work so perform it by itself while making A2 and B a superset focused on priming and blood flow. Move feet higher on platform for C to get a bit more glute and less quad. Add a set to E1 and E2. Volume may need to be increased depending on strength level and recovery capacity (better conditioned trainees may need more working sets).
Common injury modifications:
Low Back- Though there is not direct deadlifting or hinging in this session, the reverse lunges and goblet squats still pose a slight risk for anyone with a low back injury. Removing the axial loading from the lunges by moving to DBs should solve that problem and changing the goblet squats for straddle squats would be less straining on the low back. Neither of these are guaranteed fixes but they both change the mechanics of the movements enough to take pressure off the low back while also not deviating from the desired intent. Additionally, the hack squats could potentially create some issues especially if the machine is poorly designed or hip mobility is poor. In this case, belt squats will be the immediate fix.
Hips- While there is no way to completely work around hip issues when doing a lower body training day, we should spend a bit more time doing intentional warmups and mobility work like the hip airplanes, dynamic stretches of the external hip rotators and even hip dislocations with a band. From there A1 and A2 will do a really solid job of getting blood flow into the joint without causing much stress. ROM and instability will be the biggest culprits here so we should look to stay above any degree of hip flexion that causes discomfort and also add in stability components wherever possible. This means that hack squats and goblet squats might need to be done to elevated stops and a box, respectively. Then the lunge variations should migrate to more stable variations like Smith machine or plate-loaded ground base machine, or they could be done as a split squat to remove the dynamic aspects that could cause issues in the hips.
Knees- The quads should be diligently foam rolled pre-workout to reduce bound up tissue and then light knee extension work like TKEs or isometrics like wall sits can be incorporated to get the tissue ready for more loading. I would also heavy recommend light biking as a warmup to get as much blood into the area as possible. A lot of route can be taken but the lowest hanging fruit is to switch B to 2 Up/1 Down to overload the eccentric, add reverse bands to C, change D1 to split squats with DBs, and E2 to single leg press. D2 should actually be ok as long as the tempo is controlled and the ROM isn't the cause of the problem, but if it is painful, it can removed to focus more on D1. Another potential vector of modification is to put the heaviest, overloading movement (hack squats) last in the session to artificially limit the amount of load that is needed to create a stimulus.
Ankles- Any of the dynamic movements (lunges) are potentially problematic here but reducing them to split squats or even Bulgarian split squats (to reduce the stress on the back ankle) will definitely help. Beyond that, any kind of direct plantarflexion work (i.e. calf training) will almost certainly create some issues for an already compromised ankle joint. In this case, it is recommended to either stick with bilateral reps so the opposing side can handle some of the pressure OR immediately regress to banded mobility work until the issue subsides.
Though this is a full lower body session that really does a solid job of covering most bases, there are still a few places that we can zoom in on to see exactly what is going on under the hood.
Starting at the top, it is not uncommon in programs that I write to have a few movements acting as metaphorical "grease" for the joints and target muscles before getting into the heavy stuff. In this case, we have the abductions, adductions and extensions to get blood flowing into the right places and reduce risk of injury. Now this may not seem like a big deal when you're young and healthy and invincible, but trust me when I say that these precautions are invaluable in hindsight. Any initial strength or endurance decrements that come about from shifting your highest priority movement a bit further down the line of exercise sequencing will very quickly be adapted to and caught up. It is prudent to utilize at least one to two movements in this capacity that act as intermediaries between extended warmups and actual volume in your session.
Now getting into the meat of the session: the hacks. This is going to be our bread and butter movement that is used to drive the whole program and progression forward for weeks if not months. In saying that, it is absolutely crucial to get these right from the outset. Hack squats are notorious among the seasoned gym goers for the absolute beating they can place on the knee joint. I would argue that it has nothing to do with the mechanics of what a hack squat is meant to be that makes it any more dangerous than another loaded knee extension. The issue comes down to poorly designed machines and absolutely HORRIBLE execution that places emphasis on load over everything else.
To the former, there is no shortage of terribly constructed variants of hack squats out there that aren't good for much more than stoking that patellar tendinitis. And unfortunately, most gyms don't exactly have a wide selection of different models from which to test out and see which feels the best. Luckily, we can take a few steps to outsmart the shitty contraptions by a) adding reverse bands to reduce stress in the hole, b) tinker with foot positioning and heel elevation to create more favorable biomechanics and c) implement deliberate tempos and pauses in order to magnify stimulus without needing to add more load. And this last point actually leads nicely into the other point that generally makes hack squats damaging to the knees; most people just use way more weight than they can actually handle.
Supramaximal loads + poor mechanics = a gigantic shit storm of joint destruction
This equation can be used for pretty much any exercise but it is especially pertinent when evaluating a movement as complex as the squat. There are multiple muscle groups and joints that have to work harmoniously to create a healthy pattern. Anything that interferes with this is going to be directing a ton of force into the weakest link in the chain. In the case of overloaded hack squats done with miserable form on a poorly designed machine, our poor knees are going to get the short end of the stick. Some people have iron-clad joints and can get away with this fuckery for a bit of time (maybe even years) but the chickens will always come home to roost eventually. It's much easier and smarter to heed this advice from the get go:
Never try to use more load than you can handle for 5 reps on a hack squat. Always get as deep of a ROM as you can, and adjust your stance, execution, heel elevation, etc as needed to facilitate this. Never perform an eccentric faster than 3 seconds and pause often in the stretch. Reverse band when in doubt.
As we move further through the training week, we get to a pair of supersets with reverse lunges -> goblet squats and hip thrusts -> walking lunges. It is interesting to see how both of these pairings have very divergent goals.
First up is the Barbell Reverse Lunge into Heel Elevated Goblet Squats (that's a mouthful). There is a lot going on here but let's break it down a bit. With the reverse lunges, we want to prioritize that unilateral pattern while adjusting to the dynamism. Contrasting to the hack squats, we're intentionally limiting the load and intensity we can use here through the unstable nature of the movement. Though this might sound like a negative, we should evaluate it through the lens of total performance and output when put up against the whole session, in which case it fills a clear void. And why would we pair that with the goblet squats? Well the answer is pretty simple: we can absolutely WRECK our quads in a safe way. We take the reverse lunges and focus more on loading within the mid range of the movement and then shift into the constant tension, deep stretch of the heel elevated goblets to zap every quad fiber.
And finally onto the grand finale...The hip thrust and walking lunge superset. I will leave this full breakdown for the "tip of the week" but let's just say that this is my absolute favorite pairing for building volume and intensity within the glutes. We are able to go from shortened to lengthened fiber length bias while maintaining a very safe environment free of injury risk. This is the holy grail of glute supersets.
For the calf raises, the goal is to get productive work in the fully plantarflexed position. The only issue here is that most people have such little strength in this position that they won't even be able to get into the target rep range with just bodyweight much less trying to add load. It is absolutely crucial to stick to the intent of the movement here even though it will be annoying, frustrating and very crampy. The inclination of most will be to immediately cheat their way out of these by cutting the ROM or deviating from the given tempo but NOT YOU! Embrace those Charlie horses.
Ok so that was a lot of info. Take it in pieces. Remember to refine focus on the main movement (hacks) and allow everything else to fall in place around it.