If you want to achieve your bodybuilding potential, you must squat and there is no question about it. Squats are the best exercise for gaining overall leg strength and size, as well as strengthening the core and other stabilizing muscles that are crucial for athletic performance. Just ask any bodybuilder who has tremendous leg development about what he did to get there and you can be sure that heavy squats will be among the first three exercises on his list. And whether you are a recreational lifter or an advanced bodybuilder, making squats the cornerstone of your leg workout will definitely be in your best interest.
However, if you do squats first in your workout, you might not be making the most use of this great exercise. According to seasoned lifters, there is a little trick regarding the exercise order that can accelerate your leg development beyond your imagination. Check it out.
Do Hamstring Curls Before Squats
This will probably sound like blasphemy to the lifter raised in the traditional spirit of “compound movements shall always come first”, but believe it or not, it might be exactly the change you need to kick-start your leg development.
If you’ve ever tried doing lying or seated hamstring curls before squats, you’ve probably noticed that it gives you a pretty good pump and makes your squats feel a lot stronger. This is because hamstring curls will pump blood into your hams and prepare them for intense effort, as well as help warm up your knees and hips, so the bottom position of the squat will feel much better and you’ll be able to complete more good reps. And according to IFBB pro Marius Dohne, performing hamstring curls before squats is a surprisingly effective way to deal with knee problems.
You should always start your leg days with hamstring curls, which are a rather underappreciated exercise anyway, so by doing this you get the added benefit of giving your hams the love they deserve instead of simply running through a few hamstring sets at the end of the workout. Hamstrings need to be prioritized in order to grow.
Sure, squats work the hamstrings to some extend but that is rarely enough – squats expend a lot of energy by hitting many muscle groups at once, but for proper development you need to specifically target your hams. Lying leg curls work the hams more directly and with a more concentrated contraction than any other exercise, and they are especially important for training the knee flexion function of the muscle.
But there is another reason why leg curls are such a vital exercise. Bodybuilders in general tend to have well-developed quads while the same can’t be said for their hamstring development, and if you have any basic knowledge of biomechanics, you already know that a lack of balance between the front and back of the leg impairs the overall aesthetics of the legs and makes them vulnerable to injury.
And in order to stimulate massive but balanced leg growth, you need to include hamstring-centric exercises in your workout. By doing curls at the beginning of the workout, while you’re still fresh, you can achieve better hamstring progress.
Finally, perhaps the best thing about curls is that they allow you to employ intensity-enhancing techniques like drop sets and partial reps, which can further boost your gains. You can easily pull the pin and insert it on a lower weight and continue to extend the set without even having to get up off the machine.
Here’s What You Need to Do
On your next leg day, do the hamstring curls before squats. You’ll start with 2-3 warm-up sets of lying leg curls, followed by 3 sets of 8 reps with a hard flex at the top. On the fourth set, after doing 8 full reps, you’ll do 25 partials from the stretched position.
That being said, hamstring curls are best done with strict form at controlled speed, which ensures that the movement is performed totally under the power of your hamstrings. If you want real gains, you have to avoid cheating by swinging the weight up and using momentum. Do each rep in a slow and controlled manner, and give the hams a hard squeeze at the top.
After this, move on to blasting your legs with your favorite squat version. This is something you need to try out yourself to really understand it and start appreciating the benefits it provides. Try it at your next leg workout and you might get blown away by the results!