Question: How does an over-50 lifter improve his lower body if heavy squats and deadlifts are no longer an option due to injuries?
Hard to answer without knowing exactly what those injuries are. But if squats and deads are all you can’t do, and you can still perform leg presses, hack squats, pendulum squats, leg extensions, leg curls, split squats, etc., there’s no excuse not to train the lower body.
In fact, if we’re talking about hypertrophy, the squat and deadlift aren’t even the best lower-body options for most! If you can do any of the exercises mentioned above – even if you can only do two of them, like hack squats and seated leg curls – you’ll still be able to build your lower body pretty much optimally.
Even if you can only do one of the listed quad exercises and one of the hamstrings exercises, you can still make solid gains if you do 6-10 work sets of those two exercises. It might get a bit boring, but it’ll work.
Your situation would be more problematic if you couldn’t do any of the listed exercises without pain. If that’s the case, a good option might be to use the Prowler or a sled for your lower-body training.
A few years back, a 63-year-old former bodybuilder came to me for help because he couldn’t train his lower body with any traditional exercise. What we did was use the Prowler and sled, done in various fashions, to build his lower body. It worked! In fact, it worked so well that he decided to enter a bodybuilding competition. He beat guys 30-40 years younger, and his legs were his best body part!
Here’s the thing, though: building legs this way isn’t pleasant because the length/distance of the sets required to stimulate growth will get you in a state of severe lactic acid accumulation and can be challenging for the lungs.
Since it doesn’t have a loaded eccentric, it also means that you have to do it more often (to accumulate more volume) for it to work. He did it three days a week. But the fact that it doesn’t cause muscle damage actually allows you to recover fast enough to do it that often.
When it comes to loaded carries and sled work, I typically use the “10 meters = 1 rep” equivalencies:
- If you’re using it to build muscle, this means sets covering 60 to 100 meters.
- If you’re using it for strength, think 10 to 50 meters.
You must use a load that makes it hard to finish the prescribed distance. This distance is NOT done by running. You must use a “walking speed” to produce the muscle tension required to trigger hypertrophy.
Try 2-4 pushing or pulling styles for 3-5 sets each, then rest 2-3 minutes between sets.
- Prowler push with low handles (hips higher than shoulders): glute focus
- Sled drag backward in a half-squat depth: quad focus
- Prowler push mid-position (hips and shoulders in line): hamstring focus
- Sled sideway drag: adductor and abductor focus