Mike Gittleson was the Director of Strength & Conditioning at the University of Michigan for 30 years and was a part of 15 Football Championships in that time.Early in my career I watched Dr. Ken Leistner train Kevin Tolbert, now the Head Strength Coach at Stanford University, on a leg press for fifty straight repetitions. The weight was enormous and the exercise was absolutely brutal. After about the 25th rep I figured Kevin would never get another rep and he did. This went on until he reached 50. I was more than impressed.
I respect Dr. Ken and figured if this young man, Kevin, had legs that strong by doing 50 rep sets and Dr Ken advised it then I'd better check it out.
I returned to school and instituted the 50 rep set. Every Friday in the off-season we trained the 50 rep leg press.
Photo Courtesy of Kathy Leistner
What amazed me after 5 weeks of training was how incredible the strength of the athletes legs became.
Photo Courtesy of Gabe Harrington of Colgate University
Initially I thought their gains were going to be slow. There is a correlation between endurance and strength, but training high reps normally is not the most efficient way to build strength. I was surprised the players leg strength exploded.
This is what I like about the 50 Rep Leg Press:
1. It is brutal.
2. The athletes don't like it even though they make tremendous gains.
3. You learn a lot about the anatomy of your legs and how muscles like the adductors on about the 45th rep begin to scream as the femoral head of the femur tries to disengage from the acetabulum of the hip joint. This is not going to happen, but it sure feels like it.
4. You learn a lot about each athlete and effort.
Burnie Legette was an engineering student as well as fullback on the football team and played professionally for the New England Patriots. When he leg pressed 50 reps the weight room would kind of stop and the focus would be on Burnie. Burnie's leg press weight was not only heavy, but every rep was so perfect that I wanted to to write home to his mother about each movement he performed.
The exercise and effort was so extraordinary you couldn't help but watch not once, but everytime he lifted. 'Burnie is leg pressing", we would whisper. The irony was that being competitve and tough the players wanted to emulate his effort and as a coach I wanted each player to perform 50 reps the same way. I think everyone who saw Burnie lift tried to train the same way as it was their nature..... but there are reasons though there is only one King.
Sometimes I must admit training 50 reps straight may put you in Wonderland. You must be prepared for the adventure and be smart when training in the aforementioned manner...... this is what the King said as quoted from Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland"....very sage advice I might add.“"Begin at the beginning," the King said, very gravely, "and go on till you come to the end: then stop”