Building bigger, stronger quadriceps is a common goal for both men and women. This is because quads manage to improve your physique (great for bodybuilders and physique competitors) as well as improve your sporting performance (great for athletes or amateur sportspeople). Strengthening your quads can also help to reduce your risk of injury (provided that you also train your hamstrings and glutes). But what are the best exercises for training them?
In this article we will take a look at five of the best quad exercises for rapid growth. We will also provide a YouTube example and an exercise description so that you can discover how to perform each exercise flawlessly.
The quadriceps femoris muscle is located on the front of your upper thigh, it is made up of four heads (quad meaning four and ceps meaning headed – well sort of).
The four muscles are called: Rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedialis. The quadriceps are designed for extension of the knee, which allows you to walk, run, jump, hop, and squat.
Exercise #1 Barbell Walking Lunges
The barbell walking lunge is one of the most hardcore looking exercises out there. If you have ever watched a bodybuilding motivational video on YouTube, chances are you’ve seen a guy in headphones and a hoodie lunging while holding a barbell (black and white video obviously). But it’s not just for show, the barbell walking lunge is a truly excellent quadricep exercise that also targets the glutes.
If you are in a busy gym, then you may want to consider swapping the barbell for dumbbells or swapping walking lunges for static lunges. This is because walking lunges take up a lot of space and are the most hated exercise when the gym is crowded.
There are three ways to get the barbell onto your back, and they kind of depend on how heavy you are going. If the barbell is quite light, then you can just shoulder press it up into the air and then bring it down onto your traps. However, if the bar weighs quite a lot you’re either going to need to start off in a squat rack or get some spotters to help you mount and dismount.
Once the barbell is resting comfortably on your traps, you can concentrate on the exercise itself. Stand upright with legs together, chest pushed out, and shoulders back. Take a large step forward with your left foot while lifting your right heel up off the floor and dropping your right knee towards the floor. Stay upright while doing this.
Now lift your right foot off the floor and take a large step forward while simultaneously lifting your left heel off the floor and dropping your left knee towards the ground. You have now completed a walking lunge.
Exercise #2 Leg Extensions
Here it is then, the only isolation exercise on this list. How could we leave out the leg extension? It does exactly what it says it does – extends the leg at the knee joint, working the quadriceps and nothing else. Sadly, the leg extension is one of the most abused exercises in the gym. To get the most out of it you really need to focus on form and on tempo.
Find a leg extension machine and set it up so that your feet are in line with the pad, make sure that your lower back is flush with the seat and that you are not slumped. Push your chest back and drive your legs upwards until they are almost locked. Squeeze your quadriceps at the top of the movement, now you need to slowly lower the pad back down.
The slower the better. This will work your quads eccentrically and is a great way to get every muscle fibre activated during the exercise. You can also perform the leg extension with just one leg at a time.
This is great if you have one leg that is much stronger than the other as it can prevent the stronger leg from dominating the movement.
Exercise #3 Dumbbell Step Ups
While walking lunges get all the plaudits the dumbbell step up is in many ways a superior exercise, it just requires a solid technique and some balance. The problem is that most people either 1) associate step ups with aerobics videos from the 90s and therefore don’t appreciate them or 2) perform them incorrectly.
Find a flat surface that is lower than knee height. Anything higher and the exercise will not work. Try not to use anything too low either, as it can make the exercise pointless. Usually, an exercise bench is a great solution provided that it is stable and flat.
Hold a dumbbell between your two hands like you would for a goblet squat and place one foot on the bench. Now you need to stand up straight with chest pushed out and shoulders back. Keeping all of the weight on the foot on the bench you need to lift yourself up. Now both feet should be on the bench.
What you need to do now is keep your original foot on the bench and remove the foot that you just brought up there. Again, keep all of the pressure on the foot on the bench. This keeps the quadricep under prolonged tension. Perform ten reps (or whatever rep range you are following) with the same foot and then swap over.
You can use step ups as a resistance exercise (see above) or you can increase the speed and lower the resistance and use them for an aerobic exercise. But the technique should remain the same. Keep the same foot on the bench throughout and lift and return the opposite foot.
You can also use a barbell instead of dumbbells if you prefer, or just perform a bodyweight version of the exercise.
Exercise #4 Front Squats
Here’s the thing, barbell front squats are an amazing quad building exercise, but they are devilishly difficult to get right. You may well benefit from performing dumbbell front squats instead, or even sticking to regular back squats. Both still work the quadriceps well, but the barbell front squat works them even more.
Place a barbell on a squat rack at around shoulder height, place your hands under the bar and hold it with your elbows pushed out forward. The bar should be resting on your shoulders and your elbows should be parallel to the floor.
Not everyone has the flexibility to do this, if you don’t then there are a number of alternatives that you can try. You can purchase barbells that are specifically designed for front squatting, or you can try performing a dumbbell version. Don’t perform the arms crossed version though, this is really difficult to do properly and has some serious balancing issues.
Once you’ve got the bar resting on your shoulders walk backwards and then squat down as if you were sitting on a small chair. Stop when your thighs are parallel or even a little lower. Ensure that your elbows remain parallel to the floor. If they begin to drop, then the bar might roll. If you feel that this is an issue, then just lower the weight.
Once your thighs are parallel to the floor (or lower) you want to pause and then explosively drive upwards until you are back at the starting position. You have now completed your first front squat rep.
Exercise #5 Leg Press
The leg press is a fantastic quad builder, particularly for people looking to build size. While squatting will ultimately lead to bigger strength and size gains, the humble leg press is still seriously good. Particularly for hypertrophy. This is because it is stable, and easy to do. A high volume set of leg press will kill your quads as well as any exercise.
Set up a 45-degree leg press (flat leg presses are also acceptable) so that your feet are shoulder width apart with toes facing forward. Push your glutes back into the seat and make sure that your lower back is flush with the seat. Also ensure that your head is resting on the head rest rather than bent forward (a common mistake).
Take a deep breath and then push the foot plate slightly so that you can remove the brakes. Now you can bend your knees and bring the foot plate towards your chest, pause just before your knees touch your chest and then breathe out and push the foot plate away from you. Don’t fully lock your legs out at the end. Pause, and then repeat the exercise by slowly bringing the foot plate towards your chest again.