Increasing Leg Power
by Mark Cameron
Although Mark Cameron is an Olympic lifter and not a powerlifter, we thought that the information in this article would be of value to readers of MD. Olympic lifters need a great deal of leg strength. Their success is usually proportionate to it. When the Europeans were training in
“The purpose of leg training for Olympic lifting is to increase leg power, not just to increase the squat poundages as in Powerlifting. For this reason we use mostly higher repetitions and a variety of exercises. These exercises increase power, not just static strength which slow, heavy reps develop. Of course, increasing leg power and strength will certainly have an effect on increasing the squat poundage. Plus, constantly grinding out heavy poundages has a deleterious effect on the joints and nervous system.
“In the beginning of a cycle, high reps are used in all exercises, usually 10-12 on leg work. This kind of training develops muscular endurance. It’s only logical; how can you expect to do four sets of three with a heavy weight if you can’t do one set of 12 with a proportionate poundage? What happens when you are not in good condition is that the four sets of three is too light a weight to obtain maximum benefit. Many investigators have found the relationship between strength and muscular endurance to be very high.
“As the cycle goes, the repetitions gradually drop to sets of three to five. This way you are capitalizing on the muscular endurance you’ve developed earlier and can train harder for strength. After a while you peak or begin to reach a plateau in your strength training, then it is time to start a new cycle, working on muscular endurance again.
“The exercises used for Olympic lifting training tend to work the quadriceps more than the hips and lower back as power squats do. Once again, he accent is to strengthen the muscles, not only to increase the poundage.
“My coach, Joe Mills, has always taught his boys to do the lifts the easy way and the assistance exercises the hard way. This is because assistance exercises are designed to strengthen the muscles used to do the snatch and clean and jerk, or in the powerlifters’ case, the squat, bench press and deadlift.
“The back squat is the key exercise to leg strength. It works all of the major muscles of the leg, hips and lower back. No bodybuilder, powerlifter or Olympic lifter ever made it to the top without a lot of work on this lift. Olympic lifters perform this exercise with the bar high up on the traps and torso held upright. If you have trouble staying upright, a raised heel may help until more flexibility is developed. Keep your hand-spacing close the shoulders. This will keep the bar up high and prevent a lot of the leaning forward as performed in powerlifting squats. I have always believed that the best way to do these is to go down controlled and come up as fast as possible . . . and go all the way down. The amount of weight used in the squat is very important, usually the trainee does not use enough weight. This is usually determined by the amount of fear the squatter has. My good friend, Ira Wolfe, once said that when you go to get under the bar and your life flashes before your eyes, then that’s a heavy weight.
“Front squats are probably the second most used exercise to develop leg power. These throw even more stress on the quadriceps because of the extreme upright position used. Again, a raised heel may aid the balance.
“Leg presses are great for strength development. They are good for developing pull from the floor too. In Olympic lifting it would be the pull for the clean or snatch but in Powerlifting they would be great to get those heavy deadlifts started. It is important to lie on an angled board.
“When the legs are being worked hard with exercises like the ones mentioned above, it is important to do some kind of remedial exercise as an anti-fatigue measure and to help prevent injuries caused by disproportionate development. Leg extensions and leg curls on an apparatus or iron boot exercises, using a light weight for reps ranging from 12 o 15. You’ll be surprised how much these reduce the soreness in the knees often present after a heavy leg workout. Another trick several lifters use is to use kneebands when squatting to keep the knees warm and loose while training.
“There are many other leg exercises which can be used to prevent boredom of when you just don’t want to squat anymore. Exercises such as the
“There are many variations of any exercise. If you have a particular weakness anywhere, choose a variation which puts the most stress on that area. If you have trouble in the low position of the squat, dead-stop pause squats may help. Or, if the last part gives you trouble, half squats or squats to the high bench might work. Be imaginative, design your own exercises to improve your own weaknesses. An exercise is only as good as the job it does for YOU.
In order to work a muscle to its maximum it becomes necessary to maximize recovery rate. Static stretching before and after a workout will relieve much of the soreness which may occur, as will a brisk walk following the workout. Many Yogic exercises have been found useful as well and hot and cold showers after a workout help “milk” out lactic acid, thereby facilitating a more rapid recovery rate. After a hard workout I usually sit in a tub of cold water so that it covers my legs and lower back for about 15 minutes. I’ve found this to be very beneficial to increasing recovery."