Glute and Ham Leg Day

by on April 24, 2024

One of my goals over the 2023 offseason was to bring up the back of my legs to come more in balance with the front – my quads have proportionally always been ahead of my glutes and hamstrings. With that in mind, I adjusted the structure of my primary leg day each week to create more emphasis on the weak spots, and shifted all quad work to the end of the session.

I’ve also found a lot of success with using a more moderate-volume approach to the number of working sets in a given session, similar to what you might see in some of the Mountain Dog 3.0 programs that John wrote (Project Colossus, Odin Force, High Evolutionary). Most exercises use either 2 working sets with the top weight, or a top set/back-off set format:

  • Top set – RPE of 10 with the heaviest weight for the day, typically in a 6-10 rep range (although occasionally going higher)
  • Back-off set – rest around 2 minutes after the top set, then reduce the weight to about 60-70% of the top set and go to failure again. This might be just a higher-rep set (15+), or it might use slower tempos and pauses in the top, bottom, or both positions. Sometimes the reps here might only be in the 6-10 rep range as well if using lots of pausing and controlled tempos

An additional note here – for the quad work, I tend to stick closely to machine movements like belt squats, hack squats or the reverse V-squat. As I’ve written about in previous articles, I’m ultimately going to end up needing full replacements of both hips, and conventional barbell squatting just doesn’t let me set up in a way that my hips tolerate without using such a light load that it’s unproductive for growth.

Lying Hamstring Curls
The Mountain Dog tradition remains, and I still start every leg day with some variety of leg curls. For the most part, I’ve stayed with the lying leg curl as the lead-off movement, but will also use a kneeling leg curl done one leg at a time if I happen to come into the gym at a time when that’s all that’s available.

Nothing complicated – this is going to be a straightforward top set/back-off set structure. After a warmup set of 15 reps, I’ll start going up a plate at a time doing sets of 10 until I hit a weight that I either can’t get 10 with or barely get 10 with – if possible, I try to get an extra rep on this set each week. Once I can get 10 reps with a weight, I’ll usually go up a plate the following week for the top set.

From there, I’ll drop the weight to about 60% and do a slow and controlled back-off set, pausing for a full 1-second pause in the contracted position, trying to keep my glutes tensed so that the entire hamstring is contracting from top to bottom. With the slower tempo, usually this ends up being right around 10-12 reps.

45-Degree Hip Extension
If you’ve done lots of MD programs, you’ve probably seen this show up at the end of back days, but we can manipulate it to be a bit more aggressive towards glutes and hamstrings, especially the glutes. I like using bands as opposed to straight weight as the lower tension at the bottom usually means I’m not trying to overcompensate by arching the lower back, but instead can come up with a more neutral spine to keep the spinal erectors from totally taking over at the top.

I’ll usually go for a top set and back-off set on this – typically something like this:

  • Bodyweight x10
  • Mini band x10
  • Thick orange (light) band to failure (usually around 10-15) for a top set
  • Bodyweight to failure with a 1-2 second pause at the top for a back-off set

Adductor Machine
Cris and John both talked me into using a lot of the adductor machine to bring up my inner thighs, so they’re typically used at least once per week. I tend to use a fairly controlled tempo, even for the heavier sets, and make sure to pull the knees all the way together or it doesn’t count as a rep. I’ve also been working on gradually increasing the range of motion and using this as a sort of loaded stretch. 6 months ago, I could only set the starting point at the #6 position, whereas I’ve been able to get it up to the #8 position lately which probably adds 2-3” to the range of motion.

I do like using a few more high-rep warmup sets on these even as the third exercise – I’ll usually jump about 30lbs at a time with each set, doing sets of 15 until I get up to a weight that has me fail at around 10-12 reps. I will occasionally add 1-2 forced reps on the final set since it’s fairly easy to add just enough pressure with your hands to keep the movement going all the way until the end.

I had been doing a back-off set, but have been finding that I actually get more out of my quad movements later in the session without it.

Machine Hip Thrust
The hip thrust has rightfully shed its reputation of “just for bikini and figure competitors” and become more accepted as a viable option for putting substantial size on the glute max, especially if done correctly and loaded through the hips, not the lower back.

One technique that I stole from Ryan Faehnle is the use of isometrics at the start of the set – I’ve historically had issues really locking into my glutes on these without letting my hamstrings take over too much, but starting with an iso hold has helped establish a better mental link with a more ideal position that loads all the force directly into the glutes.

Going up 1 plate at a time, I’ll do sets of 10, starting with a 10 second isometric hold before beginning the full reps. I usually get up to 4ish plates before I’m no longer able to get full hip extension, which is my cue to stop the set.

After the top set, I’ll reduce the weight per side by 50%, and then throw in a back-off set using contrasting tempos. This is where the tempo at the start of the set is done significantly more slowly, and then a regular speed is resumed to finish the set.

I’ll do the first 5 reps with a 5050 tempo, meaning:

  • 5 seconds to lower
  • 0 seconds of pause at the bottom
  • 5 seconds to lift
  • 0 seconds to pause at the top

No pause at the top or bottom means the weight should never stop moving, and if you’re really enforcing the tempo, it means it takes almost a full minute just to get the first 5 reps in. Those 5 reps should saturate the glutes with lactic acid, and you should be able to feel every aspect of the glute by the time you hit the end. From there, simply go to failure at a more regular tempo until you can no longer hit full hip extension. I tend to find that if you’re loading it correctly, most people tend to get around 6-10 additional reps after the 5 slower tempo ones.

Leg Extension
From there, it’s time to finish off with a couple of quad exercises – one isolation movement, and one compound movement.
Starting with the leg extension, I’ll do these using the John Meadows warmup style that Cris Edmonds used to write into my contest prep leg days (the video is included below).

Starting with a weight that you could probably hit for a hard 20 reps, do this:

  • 15 reps, then go up a plate
  • 15 reps, then go up a plate
  •  6 reps, then go up a plate
  • 6 reps, then go up a plate
  • 4 reps, then go up a plate
  • 3 reps

This should essentially be one continuous set, with only a short gap in between each mini-set to adjust the weight and reposition in the machine. You don’t need to sprint to the next weight, but 1-2 deep breaths before going again is really all you should be resting.

After the initial warmup set, rest about 90 seconds or so, then go back to the 2nd weight you did for 15 reps (the 2nd lightest weight overall), and go to full failure with it. I wouldn’t quite call this a top set/back-off set, but 2 working sets fits the bill pretty well here.

Reverse Band Hack Squat
Over this last offseason, I’ve used rotated between the following movements for the last exercise of the day:

  • Low & close leg press
  • Reverse V-squat
  • Heels-elevated belt squat
  • Reverse-band hack squat

I tend to go with the hack squat probably 70% of the time as I do feel like it gives me the most control over my hips and I never have to worry about any impingement issues with it.

I usually use a single average band (if you’re using one from EliteFTS, it’s the gray one, or if you’re using one from JumpStretch it’s typically green), but it will depend on the type of hack squat you have and where you can anchor the band.

I typically start at 2 plates, and go up 1 plate at a time doing warmup sets of 6 reps until I find a weight I can barely get 6-10 reps with. The reps for warmup sets are lower than any other movement in the session here – by this point all I’m trying to do is acclimate myself to the weight on my back, but I don’t really need to warm up much muscle tissue.

The top set is all I do here – if these are done at the end of the session, doing any additional sets has just been shown to be counterproductive.


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A post shared by Zach Trowbridge (@zachtrowbridge)

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