The quadriceps are one of the largest muscles in the human body. Quads provide power for jumping motions, balance for lateral movements and can even allow for greater strength in the hip-flexors – essential for anyone who is involved in strength training. Developing strength and size in the quads is about more than training hard – you need effective quad exercises and proper strength programming. The best exercises for quads is all about finding effective movements that not only isolate the muscle but also integrate them into a complete range of motion.
In this guide, we are going to break down three of the best exercises for training the quadriceps muscles. Before we discuss these exercises and how to boost quad strength it is important to have a brief understanding of anatomy.
Basic Quadriceps Anatomy
The quads make up the bulk of the meat on your legs. Famously named the quadriceps because there are four muscles that run vertically on your anterior thigh (front of the leg), these muscles provide power and strength in knee extension, hip flexion and some internal rotation at the hip.
Here you can see that each muscle is named by its location on the thigh. Vastus medialis (medial to the body), vastus lateralis (lateral, outside of the body), vastus intermedius, and rectus femoris – the largest fo the four, and perhaps the most important for strength and power.
Why is the Rectus Femoris Important?
The best exercises for quads will always favour strength training through dorsiflexion while squatting – this is because the rectus femoris crosses the knee joint.
In other words, creating strength in this system will be accomplished best with exercises where your knee crosses the toe.
Should Your Knee Really Pass the Toe?
Yes and no. Of course, any repetitive motion with high resistance can be detrimental to the body. The reality is, especially when we are trying to train the quadriceps, we should put the knee past the toe. Fortunately, we can do this in a very safe way, avoid injury and put on massive strength if we use proper form and compound movements.
Below are the best exercises for quads.
Thunderthigh – 3 Best Exercises for Quads
1. Front Squat
If you are a real strength athlete you have already tried this exercise. When completed properly, the knees will only drift 2-3 inches in front of the knee, but due to the location of the resistance (front-loaded barbell), you will be recruiting more quadriceps than glutes or hamstrings.
NOTE: The front squat is arguably the best exercises for quads! Be sure to maintain full contraction during this exercise.
Reps and Sets: Keep your rep count within the 6-12 range. There is no sense going super heavy with this exercise or promoting high volume with low weight. Quality over quantity should always be emphasized with a front squat. This means using fewer than 4 sets per workout.
2. Cyclist Squat
Hands down the best exercise for isolating the quadriceps in a compound movement. This exercise calls for a narrow stance and a slight heel lift – enough to enable you to sink into a deep High Bar Back squat while your quads cross your toes. Keep your resistance low-moderate, this will be an exercise where volume brings more strength than high resistance.
Reps and Sets: Variability will provide the best results. Some weeks you may find that 8-12 is best, and some weeks you will change it up and create more stress with low reps, moderate weight and high sets.
3. Narrow Stance Wall Sit
Isometrics should be in every strength program – and that includes the discussion for the best exercises for quads. Not only are they versatile, but they also put far less stress on the joints – when compared to high resistance isotonic movements.
Check out this great Research Paper on Isometric Exercises for Quadriceps Strength!
Reps and Sets: This exercise will work best when used as max or as a superset. When being used as a max keep your sets below 3 and hold the contraction for as long as possible, with long – 3-5 minute rest periods.
How to Boost Quad Size
Now that you have some knowledge of the best exercises for boosting strength in the quads it’s time you think about how you can compose your workout schedule. Let’s talk about training principles.
Volume pertains to the amount of time you keep the muscle under tension. Sometimes referred to as time under tension, volume also accounts for the total number of completed reps – for a particular exercise.
High volume can be good and bad for strength. When referencing the quadriceps muscle group, a high volume can bring a great deal of strength – especially if we can maintain adequate hydration, recovery time and dietary considerations.
Quad training can be completed with a high volume – don’t be afraid to train hard. Just be sure to take plenty of rest – big muscles like the quads have been recorded as taking up to 3-4 days to recover from strenuous exercise.
Amazing Read on High Frequency vs Low Frequency in Strength Training. Click here!
Although some people will find success training the quads with high resistance I would not personally recommend it. Considering that many of the exercises you will be doing will force near-extreme dorsiflexion you should be persistent in maintaining joint health and stability.
TOP TIP: You can complete the best exercises for quads without using a high resistance.
Rolling and Treatment
You would be wise to roll the quads 2-3 times a week. Modern life has humans sitting for extended periods of time, tightening the quads and the hip flexors. Ensuring that you keep this system loose and free for complex movements is essential in your success in strength and overall functionality.
Conclusions – Exercising the Quads
Take note that this is not a bodybuilder-style workout. These exercises can be used for bodybuilding but the main goal of this program is to ensure that you build functional for jumping, balancing, running and moving into more complex strength exercises.
Below you will find a free workout build that includes the best exercises for quads in a complete leg workout. Train hard, recover effectively and enjoy the gains.
|Romanian Deadlift (RDL)||6||4||2111||3m|
|Cyclist Squat (High Bar)||6||6||2121||2m|
|Cossack + Narrow Stance Wall Sit||16 + 2m||2||1010||4m|
Final Note: Rest Between Sets is very important in your overall success as a strength athlete. Take 5 minutes while you warm-up to read about the benefits of intra-set rest periods.