Just over one month into 2023, anyone with a set of eyeballs and access to social media can see that Derek Lunsford’s New Year’s resolutions must have included never fitting comfortably into a smart car and having to turn slightly when walking through doorways. At the very least, it was to pack even more muscle onto his frame and he’s off to a hot start.
In 2022, the 212 Olympia winner moved up a weight class and entered the Men’s Open division of the Olympia. Lunsford placed second to Hadi Choopan, solidifying himself as a potential top dog in bodybuilding’s premier division while generating heaps of hype headed into 2023.
On Feb. 7, 2023, Lunsford posted a full leg day session to his YouTube channel. The gym that Lunsford was in wasn’t named, but the video showed fans what a larger, well-fed Derek can do without the limitation of a 212-pound weight cap looming at the end of the year.
Lunsford’s Leg Workout
To review the workout’s focus, bodybuilding training is about stimulating the target muscle(s) to spark muscle growth (aka hypertrophy). What exercises you perform isn’t necessarily as important as progressively doing more work each time you step foot into the gym — most often in the form of loading more weight, performing more reps, or both.
For this reason, it’s not unusual to see bodybuilders vary 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 add more hinging movements compared to squatting exercises. This particular workout was a hamstring-dominant leg day, and Lunsford performed multiple hamstring-focused movements to prioritize the muscle group.
Here’s a look at the lower body exercises Lunsford and his training partners performed, along with tips for how you can get the most out of the same movement.
Lying Leg Curl
Why Do it: Curling weight from a prone position ensures that the majority of the tension is placed on your hamstrings — the muscle you’re trying to target. It’s also relatively easy to perform, making a great choice for trainees of any experience level.
How to Do it: Lie face down on the machine. Set the pad to sit just above your heels and ensure that you can complete the movement with a full range of motion. Grab a handle in each hand, brace your core, and curl the pad as close to your butt as comfortable. Lower the weight slowly (try counting to three) before initiating the next rep.
Lunsford Says: “It’s a very humbling machine,” Lunsford notes in the video “You do not need a lot of weight.”
Why Do it: A close cousin to the deadlift, the stiff-leg version has the lifter complete a standard deadlift with a shorter range of motion and with less of a bend in their knees. This form tweak places more tension on the hamstrings. The stiff-leg deadlift also engages the lower back as you continually hinge up and down without putting the weight down.
How to Do it: Load a barbell with less weight than you’d use for a conventional deadlift. Set up with your normal stance while bending your legs slightly, and then lift the barbell off the ground. Keep your core tight and lower the bar to the middle of your shins. Perform slow and controlled repetitions.
Lunsford Says: “Now that we have blood back there, and it’s kind of tight, I want to do a stretching movement. … This is an exercise that you’re way more likely to tear a muscle compared to other ones,” Lunsford notes. “We’re really pumped up in the hamstrings from what we did a minute a go [lying leg curls] … we’re trying to open up the muscle fibers by stretching the muscle.”
Why Do it: This machine version of the squat can help you develop your quadriceps. The benefit that comes with this is that you don’t have to be concerned with stabilizing the weight as you would a barbell, which allows more focus on your legs and less on your supportive core or back muscles.
How to Do it: Each squat machine will have its own manufacturer’s instructions based on the specific design, which you should follow. The ultimate goal is to feel stable with the weight, lower yourself as far down toward the floor as you safely can, so you feel the stretch in the top of your thighs. Using force through your feet, push yourself back up to the standing position.
Lunsford Says: Lunsford explained that he normally performs belt squats instead, but he opted to perform this movement as a substitution. He suggested alternating rep speed with this exercise. “Five slow, five fast, five slow, five fast.”
Seated Leg Curl
Why Do it: The advantage to doing a seated version of the leg curl is that your hips are bent, which can reduce activation of your glutes and help you isolate the hamstrings. This movement can be done with one leg or both simultaneously.
How to Do it: Once you’re secured in the seat and have adjusted the thigh pad and ankle pad (above your knees and just above your ankles, respectively), bend your knees and contract your hamstrings to drive the footpad down. Your legs should at least break 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 the ones that are really going to tax the CNS [central nervous system], where you really have to dig deep and pull out those couple extra reps, these won’t be so taxing on you. This extra stuff is a bonus for you to just get better. Every rep, every set, you’re improving.”
Why Do it: 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 for warming-up the knees as well as building the quad muscles.
How to Do it: Once you’re seated with the leg extension pad at the top of your ankles, press your legs against the pad to straighten your legs. Continue lifting until you feel a full contraction in the top of the thighs. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.
Lunsford Says: The focus at this stage was more about achieving high-quality contractions rather than using the most weight and performing maximum reps. “Just standard tempo, standard rep speed, just straight sets.” he said.
Why Do it: Most versions of this machine work allow you to perform both exercises in the same station. The adduction will target the inner thighs while the abduction will help develop the outer portion of the area.
How to Do it: Once you’re seated, pick which movement you wish to start with. Adduction requires you to press the pads in towards the center while abduction call for you to press them out.
Keep your legs bent at all times and slowly control the weight. There should be no jerking or explosive movements. Hold each contraction and stretched position for a brief moment before resuming the next rep.
Lunsford Says: He shared no specific thoughts on these particular exercises, but you can see his slow and calculated movements throughout the sets. The machine’s stability allowed him to keep his hands in contact with the working muscles, further improving his mind-muscle connection for a stronger contraction.
Here’s a general guide to the full 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
Seated Leg Curl: 3 x 15
Leg Extension: 3 x 15-20
Abductor/Adductor Machine: 3 x 10
The Next Step for Lunsford
By earning second place in the 2022 Mr. Olympia, Lunsford is one of six athletes currently qualified to compete in the 2023 edition. At the time of this article’s publication, other confirmed competitors include 2023 Mr. Olympia Hadi Choopan, 2020-2021 champion Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Elssbiay, 2019 Mr. Olympia Brandon Curry, Nick Walker who placed third at the 2022 Olympia after winning the 2021 Arnold Classic, and newcomer Brett Wilkins who will make his Olympia stage debut in 2023.
Lunsford is not expected to compete again until he returns to the Olympia stage, Nov. 2-5 in Orlando, FL, where he will hope to improve on his 2022 runner-up status. After speculation that he may compete as one of the entrants in the 2023 Arnold Classic, March 2-5, Lunsford revealed that he had no intentions of entering that contest.
Lunsford appears to be fully focused on becoming the first bodybuilder to win both a 212 Olympia and a Mr. Olympia title. If he maintains the intensity and drive demonstrated through this intense leg workout, it might just become a reality.
Featured Image: Derek Lunsford / YouTube