It seems that my first article Box Squatting for Bodybuilding had a lot of interest, so naturally I am now bringing part two to you guys. I had people emailing me for sets and reps schemes of how I use box squatting for my bodybuilders in order to gain muscle. I will also address how focusing on closed-chain kinetic movements based around hip-dominant exercises will bring your legs to the next level and beyond. Get rid of the butterfly machines, leg extension, leg curl and leg press, its time to train like a rebel.
In addition to highlighting what the rep scheme should be for box squatting for bodybuilding purposes, I am going to highlight some of my other favorite exercises to use for the lower body. When talking about which exercises to use to develop some serious wheels, you need to be aware of the function of the hip musculature. For our purposes, the hip musculature is the posterior chain muscles that either cross or attach to the hip. The main functions of these muscles are to hip extension and stabilization once we are on one foot as seen in sprinting and single legged exercises. So, with that out of the way, here is how I implement box squatting.
Many bodybuilders train with the assumption that they have to get a pump and train very high volume to attain growth. This is only partly true. Let’s examine muscle growth before moving on.
An increase in muscle diameter is due to enlargement of individual muscle fibers by an increase in the number and size of individual myofibrils, accompanied by an increase in the amount of connective tissue. This increase in muscle protein is produced by increased protein synthesis and decreased protein degradation (Verkhoshansky, 2009).
There are two different types of muscular hypertrophy, functional and nonfunctional. The scientific names are sarcomere hypertrophy (functional) and sarcomplasmic hypertrophy (non-functional). The definitions are as follows (courtesy of Verkhoshansky):
Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy: The volume of the non-contractile protein and semifluid plasma between the muscle fibers increases. Although the cross-sectional area of the muscle increases, the density of muscle fibers per unit area decreases and there is no corresponding increase in muscle strength.
Sarcomere hypertrophy: An increase in the size and number of sarcomeres which comprise the myofibrils. These may be added in series or parallel with the existing myofibrils, although only the parallel growth with contribute to an increased ability to produce muscle tension. The area density of myofibrils increases and there is a significantly greater ability to exert muscular strength.
Okay, all the boring stuff is done but as you can probably tell from the above information, we need a healthy dose of myofibrillar hypertrophy (the second one) to have that dense, hard muscular look. This type of muscle growth is what you will see the guys at Westside Barbell training for. Ronnie Coleman also had a lot of dense muscle from years of “power bodybuilding”. For box squatting, I implement a few different schemes. One cycle in which we will perform 5×3-6, one in which we follow the dynamic method of the conjugate system for 24 reps (12×2, 8×3 or 6×4). This would be speed strength and a weight of 60% max is appropriate for the weight to be used, move it as fast as possible on the way up! If it is slow, it is too heavy. And then, either on a second day of the week or the next week depending where we are in the athlete’s year, I will have them perform box squats bodybuilding style with 4 to 5 sets for 12-20 reps.
Here are the other exercises I highly recommend for the same purposes (i.e. being jacked with strength to boot). My favorite is the Bulgarian Split Squat with the front foot elevated. Significant depth can be achieved with these, allowing for a few things to happen. One, you will get a great stretch in the hip flexors. Two, you are working every muscle in the leg, including the adductors and quads. If you took a freeze frame of the bottom position, you would see that it would look like an over-exaggerated sprint: great hip range of motion with great hip extension. If you are a beginner with these, use just your bodyweight. If you are moderate, use a goblet style ala Dan John’s recommendation and if you are advanced looking for a great challenge, use a heavier dumbbell in each hand. Go heavy some days, go for more volume on the others. Once again, this means to use a conjugated system, so read your body. Strength leads to endurance, so if you get strong in a movement, it will allow you to use more moderate weights for greater reps down the road leading to greater hypertrophy.
Another one of my favorites that is not commonly seen is the one-legged, two arm deadlift. This is essentially a one-legged Romanian deadlift. The leg that is planted on the ground is first getting a huge stimulation from stabilizing because of a changing center of gravity as you perform the movement. Secondly, from the bottom position, you are getting a great hip extension to return to start and the glutes are fighting internal rotation of the hip. There is a lot going on in this exercise.
The other exercises that I included in the last article which are great to work into your “power bodybuilding” program would be deadlifts (all variations), squatting (all variations), and all types of lunges, including lateral, step-ups and tons of sled work. As my bodybuilder’s competitions get closer and my own for that matter, I implement a lot of sprint work for conditioning and to bring out more definition. Sprinting is the ultimate speed-strength work for the lower body. It is time to start thinking outside the box in your training. I remember when I was first getting into the world of strength training back in high school. I bought a book which I believe was titled “Big Beyond Belief”. It was more of an underground book but I know Tom Platz and Fred Hatfield were in the book, which if you didn’t know are two of the most legendary athletes in terms of leg development and strength in the history of the strength sports. I distinctly remember the book saying that any movement in which you were moving through a plane of motion, rather than staying fixed as you would when using a machine, was far superior for stimulating muscle growth because the higher demand on the central nervous system. Just a little more information to back up this type of training for muscle growth.