Steve Maxwell Articles

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Q&A: Dealing with Skinny Quads and Calves


Q: We met briefly before your private with Rorion Gracie back in January. My wife and I drove 6 hours to attend your seminar last week at the Gracie Academy and enjoyed it very much!

We are interested in purchasing some of your video download programs that will allow us to follow along and do jiu jitsu for life. I am a 38 year old white belt, 5'10", 170lbs with tight hips, glutes, and hamstrings. Which video download programs would you recommend for Mobility and increasing Strength?

I was looking at your 5-Pillars Body Weight System + The Specimen Workouts for strength training and your Gimme-Five Mobility Series. Would those programs be a perfect combination of strength and mobility for jiu jitsu or would your recommend different downloads?

Finally, in addition to body weight exercises would you recommend weighted exercises to build up my skinny quads and calves (i.e. double kettlebell front squats, trap bar deadlift, etc.)?


A: There is no easy answer to this question.

When I create a program for someone, I consider these factors in the individual:

  • Age
  • How many times the client is getting on the mat
  • Activities outside of training, e.g., how many hours of work, and is the work a physical or sedentary job
  • What training equipment is available and enjoyed
  • The person's natural recovery-ability, which differs from person-to-person, and I've found that in general it's better to under-train than overtrain

Many of my videos -- like the 5-Pillars -- are targeted to people with limited equipment or limited access to gyms.

The videos you mention are quite good, and it's certainly okay to mix and match exercises [from them] you deem useful for your goals.

For skinny calves, I have several protocols to help guys who are "lower-leg challenged".

Below is one of the most-productive calf-workouts I've ever used; you will get immediate hypertrophy and increased strength-endurance... and it goes like this:

Starting with the non-dominant side:

Do 20 single-leg calf-raises

Do the first session with body weight only... and move slowly, i.e., 2-seconds up/4-seconds down, really emphasizing the top, most-contracted position, and also emphasizing the bottom stretch.

The MOMENT you get done with the last rep (on the first leg) do 100 single-leg hops -- as if doing a one-legged jump rope routine. Then, stretch that calf for 30-seconds.

Now, STAY WITH THE FIRST LEG and perform 15 single-leg calf raises, then 50 single-leg hops on the non-dominant side...Now, switch legs and repeat everything on the dominant side.

Now, massage and stretch both legs... and that's it for your calves!

Once the body weight version of the above becomes too easy, you can add light dumbbells. Dumbbells are NOT to be used for the single-leg hops.

While I like Kettlebell front squats and trap-bar Deadlifts, there are some excellent hip-and-glute-centric body weight options, that can be loaded as you make progress. I recommend Sissy-Squats superset with the Hingeing Leg Curl, for 3 sets of 8-12 reps (depending on how strong you are). Keep the movement slow and controlled. The Sissy squats are unbelievable for both knee and quad strength. The Hingeing Leg-Curls will take care of the hamstrings.

Hold onto a pole, or the edge of a door, for balance as you do the Sissy Squats. While doing the Hingeing Leg-Curl, make sure to pad up the knees really good, and slide the ankles under a heavy piece of furniture... or tie your jiu jitsu belt into a loop, on a bench or picnic table... and secure the legs inside.