Man, do I love doing legs and back.

I’ve been working out now for about 31 years. Whoa. That sounds  a long time, actually putting it out there on paper like that. That’s quite a while.

A few reasons I’ve always loved doing legs ; First of all, my good friend Preston Browning  let me borrow his copy of Herschel Walker’s autobiography. In it I read where  Herschel in his early teens starting doing 500 push ups, 500 sit ups, and wind sprints every day. I was pretty impressed with that. So I started doing a modified version of that, lets say a bit fewer per day than that. But because of that I fell in love with running sprints and the way my legs felt after running a ton of sprints.  I was also  influenced a lot by Arnold Schwarzenegger who, because his legs were really lacking early in his career, he really emphasized doing his legs to improve that weakness and he talked a lot about them in his books which I devoured like candy. Another influence was when I started working out at World Class gym. I was working out with and around a lot of power lifters, where doing legs wasn’t an afterthought. Those guys  really helped me improve my squat numbers. When I started  there, my squat max was a measly, pitiful 275. After about 2 years I was nearing the 500 lb mark . How? Some technique changes ; bar further down my back to change my center of gravity to keep me from leaning forward so much because I have a long abdomen, just a little dip (not a bounce) at the bottom to help transition momentum from down to up, some good examples and peer-pressure; 500-600 lb squats were not uncommon, no STEROIDS, and a lot of hard work.

The World Class Gym era was also when I really started doing pretty well with wide-grip pull ups. At the time  we had a workout group of about 4 of us, and everybody else was around 185 lbs and real strong. I was about 225 and moderately  strong. We always did shoulders and back on Thursdays, shoulders first. By the time we got around to pull ups, my arms were already about shot. I was getting about 4-5 pull ups the first set and the other guys were knocking out 10-20 reps per set. Needless to say, I was getting ragged out pretty hard about that. So, I started doing pull ups a second time a week at work during my break. That helped tremendously. I was able within a short time to get close to 10 my first set which pretty much shut em up.

The best I’ve ever done with pull ups is 19 full, wide grip reps at 225. That was during a pull up contest we had at our gym once. I did 19 the 1st set, 18 the second, and 17 the third. I came in second in the contest. My boy  Mark Smith beat me by one rep. I think he was weighing around 170-175 lbs.  I trained really hard for about 6 weeks leading up to the contest where I was doing pull ups twice a week. Day one, I would go for  reps, about 70-80 total. Then for the second workout that week, I would hang weight on and do about 40-50 reps weighted. The thing was, Mark never trained at all for the contest. He worked out regularly, but he didn’t even do pull ups. If he had trained like I had, he probably would have done about 75 the first set.

Pull ups and squats are a lot like push ups. Somebody will say; yeah, I can do 75 push ups. But then when you see them do them,  a lot of times they’re doing half reps, not touching at the bottom and not locking out at the top. The difference between doing a half rep or even a 3/4 rep and a full one can be huge in any exercise. That extra inch or two to actually touch your chin to the bar at the top of a pull up vs coming up shy of it is the place of least leverage, as is the bottom of a pull up. So achieving those points takes a lot of extra strength and effort, resulting in fewer reps. In squats, that extra 2 or 3 inches to achieve parallel is monstrous. It takes WAY more to do a legit parallel squat with say 405 lbs than a  half rep with 405.

There’s something hardly any little man will admit. That they have a huge advantage as far as pullups are concerned. I won’t get into it but I promise you that you’ll see very few big boys on the pull up bar at your local gym doing doing very many reps.

I have had a couple of notable pull up contest victories, among those a good friend that’s in a very elite Special Forces group whom I laid the smack down on a couple of times, winning a McDonald’s meal, and some O’Charley’s chicken wings as a result, sending him back to save the world a beaten and poorer man.

I always said if a person could only do one or two exercises, wide-grip pull ups and squats would be the best two. Wide grips work the back, biceps, forearms and hand grip primarily and shoulders and low back secondarily. Squats work the quads, glutes, low back and calves primarily and secondarily just about everything else!  Plus you get the advantage of working the two biggest muscle groups in the entire body. Just think how much muscle is in your quads and back. You could put 50 biceps in one monstrous quad. (only about 3-4 biceps in my friend Max’s quads) And what muscle group do you see most people putting so much time into? Tsk, tsk,. Biceps. In addition, as anyone who’s done legs hard, heavy, and fairly rapidly, working legs stresses every body system: muscular, circulatory, breathing,etc. The same can be said for back. After doing a good set of pull-ups, the pulse is pounding and breathing rapid.

Then there’s the endorphin rush. It’s the gym-rats equivalent of the runner’s high; after doing about 6 good, hard sets of squats, then heading to the leg press for about 4-5  heavy sets (don’t ever skip doing heavy leg presses, you can’t come close with any other exercise to using the kind of weight you can use on the leg press),  getting up between sets, waddling around with just about all the blood in your body rushing to engorge those giant slabs of muscle thirsty for oxygen and nutrition, then topping it off with several sets of  hammies and calves. Wow. The second I  wake the next morning I know I ‘ve worked legs. That feeling is still there!

Right now I’m getting these numbers: this morning I got 11 the first set at 239 body weight on pull ups, then 9,8,8 which isn’t great  but I’m going to get down under 230 and that will help the reps go up. I got 405 for 6 reps the other day on squats which is decent considering I don’t have a regular leg partner which is big for me. Legs are just too hard to do and it’s so easy to slough off if you don’t have a good partner to be accountable to.



  1. schmoffly Says:

    Man, nothing quite like McDonald’s for a post workout meal, eh?

    Good post, I agree with everything. Getting in the gym and powering through heavy weights is best feeling. Personally, I would add deadlifts into your essential exercise category, but that is probably because I am really into them right now.

    Wish we had a leg press at work, though…

  2. mccoolio Says:

    That was a few years ago but hopefully I got a couple of free grilled chicken sandwiches and a large unsweet Tea!

    Yes, deadlifts would have to be in the running for that third exercise. Those are incredible for legs, traps, back, and an overall strength and power movement.Plus, all you need is a bar, somme weights, and a floor to stand on.But if the other two were squat and pull ups then I would probably go with standing military or push press for triceps, shoulders, and a great strength,power, and overall killer, exhausting exercise.
    Doing those three wouldn’t leave any body part out and you’d dang sure know you worked out at the end.

    • Mccoolio, none of these work your pecs very much. The military/push press would work parts of your pecs, but honestly I would put dips (if done correctly qith strict form) up there with pullups.

  3. I’m a big believer in calasthenics–especially exercises that resemble something you’d see out in a prison yard. I’m trying to develop a compound exercise that incorporates a squat/plyometric movement along with pull-ups.

    This would involve jumping up to a tall pull-up bar, dropping down for a couple of squat reps, jumping back up for another pull-up rep, and repeating that for as many times possible.

    Do you know of any exercise like this

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