Just one month into 2023, anyone with eyeballs and access to social media can see that Derek Lunsford’s New Year’s resolutions should always include fitting comfortably into a smart car and turning a little when walking through the doors. At the very least, it’s packing more muscle onto his frame and he’s off to a hot start.
In 2022, 212 Olympia winners moved up a weight class and entered the Men’s Open division of the Olympia. Lunsford finished second to Hadi Choopan, cementing himself as a potential top dog in bodybuilding’s premier division and generating heaps of hype for 2023.
On February 7, 2023, Lunsford posted the full Leg Day session to his YouTube channel. The gym in Lunsford isn’t named, but the video showed fans what a big, well-fed Derek can do without the limit of a 212-pound weight cap at the end of the year.
Lunsford’s Leg Workout
To check the focus of the workout, bodybuilding training stimulates the target muscle(s) to spark muscle growth (aka hypertrophy). The exercises you perform don’t matter because you’re doing progressively more work every time you step into the gym — mostly in the form of loading more weight, performing more reps, or both.
For this reason, it’s not uncommon to see bodybuilders change their routines slightly from workout to workout. At the elite level, details are everything. For example, if an athlete is trying to bring up their hamstrings, they may include more of a hinging motion compared to squatting exercises. This particular exercise was a hamstring-dominant leg day, and Lunsford demonstrated many hamstring-centric movements to prioritize the muscle group.
Here’s a look at the lower body exercises performed by Lunsford and his training partners, along with tips on how you can get more out of the same movement.
Lying Leg Curl
why do: Curling weights from a prone position ensures that most of the stress is placed on your hamstrings – the muscle you’re trying to target. It is relatively easy to operate, making it a good choice for trainees of any experience level.
How to do it: Lie face down on the machine. Adjust the pad to sit on your heels and make sure you can complete the movement with a full range of motion. Hold a handle in each hand, brace your core, and roll the pad comfortably close to your butt. Lower the weight slowly (try to the count of three) before starting the next rep.
Lunsford says: “It’s a very humble machine,” Lunsford says in the video, adding that “you don’t need a lot of weight.”
why do: A close cousin to the deadlift, the stiff-leg version allows the lifter to complete a standard deadlift with a shorter range of motion and less bend in their knees. This form tweak puts more stress on the hamstrings. A stiff-legged deadlift also engages the lower back because you constantly hinge up and down without lowering the weight.
How to do it: Load the barbell with a lighter weight than you would use for a traditional deadlift. Adjust your normal stance while bending your legs slightly, and then lift the barbell off the floor. Keep your core tight and lower the bar to the middle of your shins. Do slow and controlled repetitions.
Lunsford says: “Now that we have blood in there and it’s tight, I want to do some stretching movements. … It makes you more likely to tear muscles compared to other exercises, says Lunsford. “We were really pumping in the hamstrings from the one-minute ride [lying leg curls] … We’re trying to open up the muscle fibers by stretching the muscle.
why do: This machine version of the squat helps develop your quadriceps. The benefit that comes with this is that you don’t have to worry about stabilizing the weight like a barbell, which puts more focus on your legs and less on your supporting core or back muscles.
How to do it: Each squat machine has its own manufacturer’s instructions based on the specific design, which you must follow. The ultimate goal is to feel stable with the weight, lowering yourself as far toward the floor as you can safely, so you feel a stretch in your upper thighs. Using force through your feet, push yourself back to a standing position.
Lunsford says: Lunsford explained that he usually performs belt squats, but he decided to alternate this movement. He suggested alternating speeds with this exercise. “Five slow, five fast, five slow, five fast.”
Seated leg curl
why do: The benefit of doing the seated version of the leg curl is that your hips flex, which reduces activation of your glutes and helps isolate the hamstrings. This movement can be done with one leg or both simultaneously.
How to do it: Once you are secured in the seat and have adjusted the thigh pad and foot pad (on your knees and on your ankles respectively), bend your knees and contract your hamstrings to drive the footpad down. Your legs should break at least 90-degrees (pointed toward the floor) at the bottom – if mobility allows, curl your feet under the seat near your glutes. Slowly return the weight to the extended position and repeat.
Lunsford says: “At this point, all the hard stuff is done,” Lunsford explained. “You’re going to push yourself, but that’s really going to tax the CNS [central nervous system], you really have to dig deep and pull out those couple of extra reps, which aren’t so taxing on you. This extra content is a bonus to make you feel better. Every rep, every set, you’re improving.
why do: The leg extension offers a similar benefit to the seated leg curl, except that it isolates the quadriceps instead of the hamstrings. It can be used to warm up the knees and build the quad muscles.
How to do it: Once you are seated with a leg extension pad on top of your ankles, press your legs against the pad to straighten your legs. Continue lifting until you feel a full contraction in the upper thighs. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.
Lunsford says: In this phase the focus is more on achieving high-quality contractions than using heavy weights and performing maximal repetitions. “Just standard tempo, standard rep speed, just straight sets.” He said.
why do: Most versions of this machine workout allow you to do both exercises in one station. Adduction targets the inner thighs while abduction helps develop the outer part of the area.
How to do it: Once you are seated, choose which movement you want to start. Adduction requires you to press the pads toward the center, while abduction calls for you to press them down.
Always bend your legs and control the weight slowly. There should be no jerking or explosive movements. Hold each contraction and extension position briefly before resuming the next repetition.
Lunsford says: He didn’t share any specific thoughts on these particular exercises, but you can see his slow and calculated movements throughout the sets. The stability of the machine allowed him to keep his hands in contact with the working muscles, further improving his mind-muscle connection for stronger contractions.
Here’s a general guide to a complete workout:
- Lying Leg Curl: 5 x 15, followed by 1 drop set of 15 or more total reps
- Stiff-legged deadlift: 3 x 10-15
- machine Squat: 4 x 15
- are sitting Leg Curl: 3 x 15
- Leg Expansion: 3 x 15-20
- Abductor/adductor machine: 3 x 10
Next step for Lunsford
2022 Mr. By finishing second at the Olympia, Lunsford is one of six athletes currently qualified to compete in the 2023 edition. At the time of publication of this article, other confirmed contenders are 2023 Mr. Olympia Hadi Choopan, 2020-2021 champion Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Elsbiai, 2019 Mr. Olympia Brandon Curry, Nick Walker who finished third at Olympia 2022. Arnold Classic and newcomer Brett Wilkins will debut on the Olympia stage in 2023.
Lunsford is not expected to compete again until he returns to the Olympia stage Nov. 2-5 in Orlando, FL, where he hopes to improve on his 2022 runner-up status. After speculation that he could compete as one of the entrants in the 2023 Arnold Classic, March 2-5, Lunsford revealed that he has no intention of entering that event.
212 Olympia and Mr. If he can maintain the intensity and drive he displayed through this intense leg workout, that could be true.
Featured Image: Derek Lunsford / YouTube