Who has the best legs in bodybuilding history? Pose that question to your gym partner for any other muscle group — does Schwarzenegger still hold the chest day crown? Is Coleman an apex predator from the back? — and you could spend your entire day in the gym debating the answer.
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But Tom Platz is as close to a universal constant as they come in bodybuilding, an athlete who is almost unanimously regarded as having built the most impressive lower body to have ever graced a bodybuilding stage.
If you want to grow your wheels, learning from the best is a great place to start. Platz’s leg workout will help you pack on the mass, no doubt about it. But take heed — 30-inch thighs aren’t handed out for free.
The Tom Platz Leg Workout for Bodybuilding
A Word of Caution
Before you slip into your squat shoes and lock the notch in on your lifting belt, you should manage your expectations. No individual workout (or training plan) is guaranteed to make you look like your favorite bodybuilder, even if said workout comes directly from them.
Genetics, training history, lifestyle, and other factors all contribute to how someone’s physique ultimately turns out.
There’s no doubt that Platz trained like a monster in the gym, but it’s also a safe bet that he was blessed with the natural propensity for huge and powerful legs.
That said, all great artists borrow from one another, and you shouldn’t be afraid to try out Platz’s leg workout and then apply some of its principles to your own workout routine. Just don’t expect to turn into a mass monster by next week.
Platz’s approach to leg training was comprehensive. This workout, pulled from SimplyShredded, illustrates his dedication to torching every single muscle fiber below the waist and forcing his legs to grow.
Note that this was far from the only workout Platz ever used, but it does serve to paint a clear picture of how he built his body. Here’s how it’s all laid out:
- Back Squat: 8-12 x 5-20
- Hack Squat: 5 x 10-15
- Leg Extension: 5-8 x 10-15
- Leg Curl: 6-10 x 10-15
- Standing Calf Raise: 3-4 x 10-15
- Seated Calf Raise: 3-4 x 10-15
If you’re good at mental math (you probably should be if you hit the gym regularly, if only so you can load up your barbell with the right weights in the blink of an eye), you’ve probably noticed that Platz’s leg day consists of up to 43 total sets.
If that sounds like a lot, well, it is. However, there’s a surprising amount of flexibility to both Platz himself (Platz was famous for squatting through a full range of motion) and his approach to leg training.
Variable Rep Ranges
One hallmark of Platz’s leg days is the lack of rigidity in his set-rep schemes. You’ll notice that his prescription for back squats ranges from as low as five reps to as many as 20.
Not only will this help stave off boredom (if you choose to soldier through all 12 sets), but a wide variety of rep ranges will utilize different energy systems and muscle fiber recruitment patterns.
For example, if you begin with heavy, low-rep squats, you’re going to engage your Type II fast-twitch fibers in your legs first. As you reverse-pyramid into lighter sets with higher reps, the Type I, endurance-based fibers will pick up more of the slack.
You’ll also place more of a demand on your cardiovascular system with high-rep training and give your nervous system a breather. These same principles hold true for the other exercises, but to a lesser degree.
Lots of Machine Work
While powerbuilders and some bodybuilders in the modern era are often enamored with large compound movements (for good reason), Platz wasn’t afraid to make good use of an assortment of exercise machines.
This approach pairs well with ultra-high-volume training. Exercise machines remove much of the stability demand found in free-weight lifting.
This added support can help mitigate your mounting fatigue as you move through the session, allowing you to focus more on effort with less time spent worrying about falling over or balancing a barbell.
Smart Exercise Sequencing
“Order of operations” isn’t a concept reserved just for math class. Platz employed sound and precise exercise sequencing to manage his fatigue and make the workout possible in the first place.
On his leg day, you’ll begin with the most technically-complicated and taxing exercise first — the back squat — while you’re fresh. This ensures you can put in the most effort, maintain good form, and work hard on a movement that hits almost every muscle in your lower body.
By the end of the session, you’re down to the nitty-gritty of things. Leg curls and calf raises are small, single-joint movements that hit the target muscles hard, but don’t ask much of you otherwise.
Even after 30-plus prior sets (consider bringing some intra-workout nutrition with you, seriously), you should be able to still train around failure on a seated calf movement.
Impressed by Platz’s legs but not sure if you can hack his high-volume, marathon-style approach to leg day? First of all, there’s no shame in that.
Second and more importantly, you can make some minor modifications to his training that won’t significantly alter the style, but may bring the session down from “no way” to “okay, let’s give it a shot.”
For Beginner or Intermediate Lifters
The single biggest change you can make to Platz’s leg day (if you lack the decades of weight room experience he had) is to cut out some of the volume.
Platz’s exercise selection isn’t actually that outlandish. A couple of big compound lifts followed by targeted isolation training is the hallmark of any well-designed bodybuilding routine. Cut the dosages down a bit and you’re cooking:
- Back Squat: 4-5 x 6-12
- Hack Squat: 3 x 10-15
- Leg Extension: 3-4 x 10-15
- Leg Curl: 3-4 x 10-15
- Smith Machine Calf Raise: 3 x 10-15
Note that this is still a fairly high-volume leg day, clocking in at nearly 20 working sets (Platz was a huge proponent of pre-workout stretching during his warm-up, something you might want to do as well). But it’s a far cry from 40-plus hard sets.
If You Don’t Have Machines
In the event you aren’t blessed with access to a well-furnished public gym, you’ll have to make some more significant alterations to Platz’s leg day.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t train as he did. Exercise substitutions are mandatory, but working hard is a necessity.
- Back Squat: 6-8 x 5-20
- Box Squat: 4 x 10-15
- Cyclist Squat: 4-5 x 10-15
- Resistance Band Leg Curl orNordic Curl: 4-6 x 10-15
- Barbell Calf Raise: 3-4 x 10-15
- Seated Dumbbell Calf Raise: 3-4 x 10-15
You should be able to knock this routine out in a garage gym or specialty facility, as long as you have access to different free weights and perhaps some resistance bands.
These movements are chosen specifically to replicate the machine-based work in Platz’s default leg day.
Note, though, that more free-weight training will require more stability and endurance as well. The volume has been dialed down a bit to accommodate that.
Proper leg training is simple in practice but can be quite complex in theory. Platz mostly stuck to basic movements (performed with borderline absurd devotion), but you should still know the why behind his program design.
Understanding the anatomy and function of the muscles below the belt may help you train them a bit better.
When you look at Tom Platz’s legs, the first thing you probably notice are the enormous, striated slabs of beef on the front of his thighs. Those are the quadriceps, and they steal the show — at least at a glance.
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Despite only crossing your knee joint (with the exception of the rectus femoris, which inserts on your pelvis), your quads are massive and strong and can take quite a beating in the gym. That’s why you’ll commonly see athletes like Platz perform squats with large amounts of weight and high reps.
Think of your hamstrings (formally known as the biceps femoris) as the antagonist to your quads. They’re located on the back of your thigh and perform an opposing function.
Your hammies help bend your knee, but they also insert on your pelvis and thus help to extend your hips from a hinged position.
Movements like the deadlift are mainstay hamstring exercises (much like the squat is for the quads), but Platz chose to target his posterior chain primarily through machine work, at least in certain workouts.
Still, expect to get some hamstring engagement from hack squats to a degree as well as the isolated leg curl.
Hip Abductors and Adductors
Eye-popping legs like Platz’s take more than big quads in the front and beefy hams in the back. Your hip adductors, located on the inside of your thigh, help to add three-dimensional shape to your legs and improve your silhouette from the front.
The adductors serve to adduct, or bring toward the midline, your thigh. They also help control the angle of your femur while you squat and maintain 360-degree stability.
You’ll get some adductor work on most compound leg movements, but side-to-side exercises like the lateral lunge can hit them more directly as well.
No good pair of legs is complete without well-developed glutes. Located on your backside, the three gluteal muscles — that’s the glute maximus, medius, and minimus — are also among the most powerful tissues you have.
Acting primarily as hip extensors, your glutes help force you upright from a squatting or hinged posture. Think the latter half of the squat and deadlift, or the entirety of a loaded hip thrust or bridge.
Platz’s leg workout doesn’t contain any direct glute work, but high-volume squatting is a sure-fire way to build your behind.
Known for being infamously stubborn (and often neglected), your calves make up a large portion of your overall leg aesthetic, especially for how small they are in comparison to, say, your quads.
Located on your lower leg, the two calf compartments (the gastrocnemius and soleus) function to flex and extend your ankle joint. Notably, you can bias each head of your calf by performing ankle raises from either a standing or seated posture, which is likely why Platz includes two variations.
Moreover, underdeveloped calves can detract from the appearance of your physique overall, which may be why Platz dedicated so much time to blasting them at the end of his leg day.
American-born (June 26, 1955) bodybuilder Tom Platz is among the most famous figures in the physique game to have never won the sport’s biggest title.
Platz established a reputation throughout the 1970s and 1980s for having extraordinarily well-developed legs, even when compared against multiple-time Mr. Olympia winners.
His incredible muscularity — Platz was no slouch with his upper body either — earned him the moniker The Quadfather.
Even though he appeared at seven different Mr. Olympia shows, Platz never bagged himself a Sandow, with his best overall placement being a single third-place finish in 1981:
Tom Platz Mr. Olympia Competitions
- 1979: 8th
- 1980: 8th
- 1981: 3rd
- 1982: 6th
- 1984: 9th
- 1985: 7th
- 1986: 11th
However, Platz earned several smaller titles, including a victory at the International Federation of Bodybuilding (IFBB) Mr. Universe in 1980 and several regional wins under the American Athletics Union (AAU).
Despite having a commendable pedigree on the bodybuilding stage, Platz’s reputation and legacy largely revolve around his once-in-a-generation leg growth.
Become the Quadfather
Tom Platz is more than a marvel of muscle mass. His lifelong pursuit of leg gains also made him strong as an ox, having demonstrated feats like a set of 500-pound, 23-rep back squats deep enough to make an Olympic lifter proud.
His legs don’t just talk; they walk — and if that isn’t a glowing endorsement of his approach to lower body training, nothing is.
If you’re looking to test your willpower, inflate your wheels, and become freakishly strong all at once, follow in the footsteps of The Quadfather.
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