Need some advice on leg strengthening...

Bill Mattocks

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Quick background:

I am 48 years old, 5-10 and 235 lbs, and I have legs like tree trunks, calves that look more like steers. Very strong and deeply muscled, always have been, it appears to be genetic. Even as a fat guy I had clean definition in the calves and thigh muscles, and now I'm much lighter in weight.

As a younger man I could sit in a squat for hours (I was a catcher in baseball) and when lifting weights, I had to make myself stay off of the squat rack because I loved it and it was easy for me - almost too easy. I could really rack up the weight like the actual power lifters and my legs got so huge so quickly that I looked out of proportion. Wish I could do that with my arms and chest, LOL.

Anyway, I haven't seriously lifted for years, and I just do minor lifting now to complement my treadmill running and MA training. Mostly upper and middle body exercising; situps, crunches, tricep extensions, curls, flies and reverse flies. Some lat pulldowns and pushups. Fairly low weights and low repetitions, except I hammer the crunches and pushups in MA training (my pecs are finally starting to respond, and my 'man boobs' are mostly gone now, thankfully). Almost nothing with lower body strength training.

I find that I am now reaching the point in my MA training (Isshinryu karate) where I am having some trouble with certain katas and all of my ground work because of physical limits I'm hitting. I am not terribly flexible, but I can touch my toes easily, that kind of thing. My hamstrings are short, but I do work them with serious stretching constantly. But where I seem to be very weak is in the knees and thighs. A deep knee bend is a very simple thing, but apparenly not for me. I squat down and first, it hurts both my knees, and second, coming back up is a bit of an UMPH push. And that is with no weight on me at all, just sinking down to a full squat position for full ROM. My vertical jump is like six inches. Seriously.

Where should I begin to strengthen this? I have tried squats like I used to, but it appears that although my thighs are huge and muscular, once I get near horizontal with my thighs, my strength just evaporates. I dip below horizontal and I'm not coming up again if I have weight on - even an empty bar!

I want to fix this, but I'm at a loss as to where best to start. I know I'll have to start slow and easy, but I just don't know what would be the best form of exercise for this. Your suggestions would be helpful!
 

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You sound like you know what youre doing Bill. In restarting a program I would stretch like mad, maybe some running, do leg extensions, leg curls, and some leg presses, in order to get my legs in shape for squatting. You already know that squats are the best exercise for the lower body, its a matter of getting your legs, your balance and your body back to the point of being able to do them. On another thread were having a discussion of the virtues of going below horizontal in the squat, my position is, you dont need to, so I wouldnt worry about going into the hole.
 
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Bill Mattocks

Bill Mattocks

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You sound like you know what youre doing Bill. In restarting a program I would stretch like mad, maybe some running, do leg extensions, leg curls, and some leg presses, in order to get my legs in shape for squatting. You already know that squats are the best exercise for the lower body, its a matter of getting your legs, your balance and your body back to the point of being able to do them. On another thread were having a discussion of the virtues of going below horizontal in the squat, my position is, you dont need to, so I wouldnt worry about going into the hole.

Thanks, that sounds reasonable with the leg extensions and leg curls - hadn't considered those for increasing my ability to squat, duh! I'm certainly no expert, just doing what I was trained to do decades ago in the Corps. But back then, I had the strength to do squats and so I didn't think about how to rebuild strength that is completely absent.

I was reading that other thread and that's what prompted me to ask this question here, since I've been pondering it recently. I just didn't want to jump in that thread, thought it would be best to start a new one.

With regard to 'going in the hole', several of my katas involve squatting down deeply, either with one leg or both. Kusanku, for example, involves planting one knee on the ground and squatting deeply with the other, and then rising quickly. I find it impossible for me to do in my present condition - it actually hurts to try, mostly in the knees. Seiuchin has me in a deep squat in the first three moves, similar to a horse stance, which is also a killer for me, mostly in the knees. I thought that just practicing the kata over and over would provide sufficient strength training, but it seems not to be, and I'm a pretty patient dude. So I'm looking to fix that. You think the leg curls and extensions might help with that?

Not me, but an example:

Kusanku:


Seuichin:


For what it's worth, I have excellent snap kicks and roundhouses; good power, fast. I can get the legs out there and back in a snapping motion with no problem. It seems to be just limited to my squatting ability.

Thanks!
 
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Bill, it seems we are of near opposite body types. I'm smaller --a little under 5'9", small-framed, and always had skinny kegs. Upper body strength came more easily. 110+ push ups and up to 50 pull-ups was not that hard to achieve when I was younger. Yet, ever since I passed 50, I noticed the same thing with squatting. They always say the legs are the first to go, so I got right on it. I dropped from 195# down to 155# and started doing a lot of hiking, jogging, lifting, and shallow half-squats with very light weights.

Well my cardio improved dramatically, and my legs thickened up a bit, ...not quite such "chicken legs" anymore, but I still have the same problem you described. My knees are often tender and even hurt much of the time. If I hunker down low, it's really tough to get up easily. As you said, it takes a real "umph!"

So anyway, I went into my old orthopedic specialist... the guy that replaced my ACL about a dozen years back, for a full examination of my knees. He said that I was actually doing quite well for my age. And just to keep exercising in a "smart" way, listening to your body and not exceeding your limits. The most important thing he stressed was to keep my weight down. That takes a lot of stress off the joints. And, avoid deep squats and anything that really impacts or torques the joints. Incidentally, this Md is about my same age and build, and has done Shotokan for years, so he understood where I was coming from as a martial artist.

Conclusion? Well, just train smart, drop a few more pounds if you can and know that getting old is a b-tch!
 
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Bill Mattocks

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Bill, it seems we are of near opposite body types. I'm smaller --a little under 5'9", small-framed, and always had skinny kegs. Upper body strength came more easily. 110+ push ups and up to 50 pull-ups was not that hard to achieve when I was younger. Yet, since I passed 50, I noticed the same thing with squatting. They always say the legs are the first to go, so I got right on it. I dropped from 195# down to 155# and started doing a lot of hiking, jogging, lifting, and shallow half-squats with very light weights.

Well my cardio improved dramatically, and my legs thickened up a bit, ...not quite such "chicken legs" anymore, but I still have the same problem you described. My knees are often tender and even hurt much of the time. If I hunker down low, it's really tough to get up easily. As you said, it takes a real "umph!"

So anyway, I went into my old orthopedic specialist... the guy that replaced my ACL about a dozen years back, for a full examination of my knees. He said that I was actually doing quite well for my age. And just to keep exercising in a "smart" way, listening to your body and not exceeding your limits. The most important thing he stressed was to keep my weight down. That takes a lot of stress off the joints. And, avoid deep squats and anything that really impacts or torques the joints. Incidentally, this Md is about my same age and build, and has done Shotokan for years, so he understood where I was coming from as a martial artist.

Conclusion? Well, just train smart, drop a few more pounds if you can and know that getting old is a b-tch!

Thanks! I am working on getting my weight down even more. I'm down from 288 to 235, and that's pretty good. I'd like to be about 200. My doctor says 165, but I doubt I'll ever see that, seriously. Don't really want to. I'd be thrilled to be at 205 or so.

I know that shotokan guys go even deeper than isshinryu, so that's good to hear from your doctor. It's hard to avoid deep squats when doing kata, though - especially if the kata requires it! Of course my sensei understands that people have phsyical limitations, but I want to do the kata as intended, if you know what I mean. And having a ground game also means being able to get back up again!
 

still learning

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Hello, The book "Combat Condition" by Matt Furey...has great informations, that may help you.

Also one must except there body types and pains....make ajustments to fit you (Kata's and other techniques). Many of us have a hard time getting real low. One will also learn being more upright has better mobilty..

Those with large legs? ....we do not like holding punching bags...they are too powerful!

We had one girl who would be consider "overweight" ...her kicking legs will make you fly when she hits the bags...! it was mention to her...this is her best technique for defense/offense (round house to other person)...she nows knows it too...

Aloha, ..find your own "tec" and make it work...for your legs..!
 

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try starting with legpresses: 3 sets of 50 to begin with and slowly (not one by one, nor 50 extra a time) build up to 3 sets of 100. This is a circulation exercise which makes sure your knees get blood to them. It will strengthen your ligaments and make sure your cartillago (sp?) get enough "food". The last one only gets food through diffusion. So a good amount of reps will give you that.

Then slowly start adding weight (and start debuilding from 100 to 6 reps while adding the weight). This will give you good basic strength. Once you feel comfortable I would do plyometric exercices. As recent studies showed that plyometrics 4 times a week gives you more power than traditional powertraining 4 times a week. So jumping, squatting, tabata (with squat), and so on.

Cycling is also a good exercise for your knees, MUCH better than running, as cycling is a cyclic exercise (hence the name) with an open chain of kinetics. While running is a closed chain. I never advise running to people older than 30. Too much pressure on knees that have been non-used for too long!

If you have those genes you'll get your power back very soon.

Good luck!

btw, I know what it is like, I also have treetrunks for legs. Genetics as everone in my family has them :)
 
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Bill Mattocks

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Hello, The book "Combat Condition" by Matt Furey...has great informations, that may help you.

Thanks, I'll look into it.

Also one must except there body types and pains....make ajustments to fit you (Kata's and other techniques). Many of us have a hard time getting real low. One will also learn being more upright has better mobilty..

I can appreciate that, but in Kusanku, for example, I have to plant one knee on the ground and rise quickly from that position. There really isn't a way around that requirement. So I would like to get to where I can do it, instead of just not learning the kata properly. One can perhaps get away without doing a deep squat on certain katas, but when the knee has to hit the floor, it has to hit the floor.

Those with large legs? ....we do not like holding punching bags...they are too powerful!

We had one girl who would be consider "overweight" ...her kicking legs will make you fly when she hits the bags...! it was mention to her...this is her best technique for defense/offense (round house to other person)...she nows knows it too...

The downside of having large and powerful legs can be that they tire quickly, though. I can dump quite a kick on a person - my dead-leg is a killer. But doing it ten times full-force takes the wind out of me, whereas a lighter person can just keep going...

Aloha, ..find your own "tec" and make it work...for your legs..!

For self-defense, I quite agree - one uses their strengths to best advantage. But I'm just trying to do proper kata here. So I would like to do it the way it is taught in my dojo if I can.
 
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Bill Mattocks

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try starting with legpresses: 3 sets of 50 to begin with and slowly (not one by one, nor 50 extra a time) build up to 3 sets of 100. This is a circulation exercise which makes sure your knees get blood to them. It will strengthen your ligaments and make sure your cartillago (sp?) get enough "food". The last one only gets food through diffusion. So a good amount of reps will give you that.

Then slowly start adding weight (and start debuilding from 100 to 6 reps while adding the weight). This will give you good basic strength. Once you feel comfortable I would do plyometric exercices. As recent studies showed that plyometrics 4 times a week gives you more power than traditional powertraining 4 times a week. So jumping, squatting, tabata (with squat), and so on.

Thanks! I'll have to look up plyometrics, I'm not familiar with them.

Cycling is also a good exercise for your knees, MUCH better than running, as cycling is a cyclic exercise (hence the name) with an open chain of kinetics. While running is a closed chain. I never advise running to people older than 30. Too much pressure on knees that have been non-used for too long!

Also good advice, I should have thought of that. I tend to use the treadmill at the gym. I run about 3 miles a day, although at a slow pace (4.5 to 5.5 mph, no incline, or 3.8-4.0 with 3% grade). Running does not make my knees hurt, though. I run like a barrel, kind of do what we used to call a 'recon shuffle'. Great for running if you have to go all day without stopping (not that I can do that anymore, though). Slow and steady, get the heart rate to around 165-170 (nearly 98% of theoretical max for me, my normal heart rate is around 65-70). I love doing it, end up soaked in sweat and feeling pretty bouncy and good.

If you have those genes you'll get your power back very soon.

I'd like that. I always wished I could build my upper body as easily as I did my lower body. I know lots of people are the opposite.

Good luck!

btw, I know what it is like, I also have treetrunks for legs. Genetics as everone in my family has them :)

Yeah, my dad had pipestem legs and a barrel chest. My mother's side of the family were built like fireplugs. I took after mom's side. I also got the baldness that runs on her paternal side and the weak eyesight. Great!
 

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I know that culturally Americans prefer running to cycling, but really it hurts the knees alot. Especially when over 30. Could be a good start of arthrosis, combined with overweight, that just ideal for it..

If you squat deep and you are in pain it could be that one of your meniscuses is a bit touched. One of the reflexes of damaged ligaments, menisci and cartilage is that you loose power in the legs. And they start becoming athrophic, although fat can come in it's place instead of muscle so that it doesn't show that fast. (Be warned, it doesn't have to be that something in your knees is wrong. This is just a example as I haven't had any medical test or conversation with you. So don't start focussing on something wrong that isn't there because I said something about it).

Start cycling instead, way easier on the knees and it's a circulation exercise as well! Preferably outdoor cycling so that your sweat can evaporate. Should steady your pulse a bit more. Sweat that doesn't evaporate is the cause that you don't loose weight more.

As far as I know, plyometrics is just a general term for explosive exercices. I recomend that you do circulation first for like 2 to 3 months. So that the rushes of blood can clean out your knees (as a way of speaking). Should get your ligaments stronger.

I do for plyometrics: stepping up and down a large box, jumping onto and off the same box, do jumps, tabata with squat and additional some squatting in the gym. Not too much of that last though, as I only go to a 90 degree angle, while I need power in the full ROM.

good luck!
 
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Bill, your Kushanku have great similarities to the one I learnt in Wado Ryu, that movement with the knee on the floor doesn't look much especially when the founder of Wado is doing it but oh dear it gets me!I know exactly what you mean especially in a long kata with horse stances too, all adds to the strain on knees.
 
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Bill Mattocks

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Bill, your Kushanku have great similarities to the one I learnt in Wado Ryu, that movement with the knee on the floor doesn't look much especially when the founder of Wado is doing it but oh dear it gets me!I know exactly what you mean especially in a long kata with horse stances too, all adds to the strain on knees.

Thanks for that! I started with Wado some 20 years ago, but did not stay more than a few months, to my dismay looking back now.

This is the founder of Isshinryu doing his version of Kusanku, both knees do touch the floor. And so many in my dojo appear not to have a problem with it, they are amazed when I drop and cannot rise without grunting excessively!

 
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In Kendo and Iaido we have to go down into sonkyo and seiza all the time. However if you can not do it, if your knees are shot, if you just cant because of your weight, or whatever reason, its forgiven and you do whatever is correct for your body. I take it this isnt allowable in what you do?
 
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Bill Mattocks

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In Kendo and Iaido we have to go down into sonkyo and seiza all the time. However if you can not do it, if your knees are shot, if you just cant because of your weight, or whatever reason, its forgiven and you do whatever is correct for your body. I take it this isnt allowable in what you do?

To some extent, yes, it is permissible. My sensei is quite forgiving of human frailties and says "Only do what you can do, but give it your best effort." I just want to do it correctly, and I think my body should be able to do it, given proper retraining. Hope so, anyway.
 

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Quick background:

I am 48 years old, 5-10 and 235 lbs, and I have legs like tree trunks, calves that look more like steers. Very strong and deeply muscled, always have been, it appears to be genetic. Even as a fat guy I had clean definition in the calves and thigh muscles, and now I'm much lighter in weight.

As a younger man I could sit in a squat for hours (I was a catcher in baseball) and when lifting weights, I had to make myself stay off of the squat rack because I loved it and it was easy for me - almost too easy. I could really rack up the weight like the actual power lifters and my legs got so huge so quickly that I looked out of proportion. Wish I could do that with my arms and chest, LOL.

Anyway, I haven't seriously lifted for years, and I just do minor lifting now to complement my treadmill running and MA training. Mostly upper and middle body exercising; situps, crunches, tricep extensions, curls, flies and reverse flies. Some lat pulldowns and pushups. Fairly low weights and low repetitions, except I hammer the crunches and pushups in MA training (my pecs are finally starting to respond, and my 'man boobs' are mostly gone now, thankfully). Almost nothing with lower body strength training.

I find that I am now reaching the point in my MA training (Isshinryu karate) where I am having some trouble with certain katas and all of my ground work because of physical limits I'm hitting. I am not terribly flexible, but I can touch my toes easily, that kind of thing. My hamstrings are short, but I do work them with serious stretching constantly. But where I seem to be very weak is in the knees and thighs. A deep knee bend is a very simple thing, but apparenly not for me. I squat down and first, it hurts both my knees, and second, coming back up is a bit of an UMPH push. And that is with no weight on me at all, just sinking down to a full squat position for full ROM. My vertical jump is like six inches. Seriously.

Where should I begin to strengthen this? I have tried squats like I used to, but it appears that although my thighs are huge and muscular, once I get near horizontal with my thighs, my strength just evaporates. I dip below horizontal and I'm not coming up again if I have weight on - even an empty bar!

I want to fix this, but I'm at a loss as to where best to start. I know I'll have to start slow and easy, but I just don't know what would be the best form of exercise for this. Your suggestions would be helpful!

Hey Bill,

I havent read thru every post here, so forgive me if these suggestions have already been mentioned. You could try some body weight exercises, such as squats and lunges. With the lunges, you could grab a few dumb bells and use those for some extra weight.

Of course, if you had access to a gym, you could do leg extensions as well as the leg press machine. Something else that I find gives my legs a great workout is walking with a weighted vest. I have a 40lb adjustable vest. I'd suggest starting out with a light to med. weight and work from there. Add in some slight hills during the walk, and you should notice a pretty good burn in your legs.

Good luck! :)

Mike
 

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As training is highly specific, and you are training for kata (your body weight only) as opposed to something like judo throws,

I would say try extremely high reps with nothing but body weight.

Maybe start with 100 squats

(do you have a pole around you could hold while you do squats? They are great for keeping your back straight to make sure it works the legs instead of lower back ...)

work up to 200 and even 300.

Also calf raises — on a step, if available, for great range of motion.

About 6 or 7 years ago I injured a knee and rehabiliated using only these two exercise.

And these high rep, muscular endurance-type exercises can get the results it sounds you are looking for: highly defined muscles, with reduced mass but increased muscular strength.

Once your knees are feeling better, some static horse riding stances (start with, maybe, 20 seconds, up to 40, 1 minute, 90 seconds, 2 minutes) should also help.

Take these suggestions with a grain of salt and at your own risk (although body weight exercises generally have less risk of injury that progressive resistance exercises) as only you know what you can do.
 

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The "Hindu Squats" in Combat Conditioning really helped me alot. They`re just body weight squats, but they really added to my strength and flexability. But I have to agree with others who said losing weight will help. I dropped about 50 pounds after I moved to Japan. I can`t tell you what a difference it made in my knees and feet. I thought I had arthritis, but it was just too much weight.
 
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