I think most people don’t get excited about training legs because they take on too many muscle groups at once. Listen, it’s ok to split your leg training into multiple days and in today’s article I’m going to show you how to most effectively attack your quads to maximize muscle growth.
Quad Training 101: The Mechanics
Quads, as you know, is short for quadriceps femoris and the quadriceps is a 4-headed muscle as the name implies. You have the rectus femoris, the vastus lateralis, the vastus medialis and the vastus intermedius.
But for the purposes of muscle growth and strength, we really don’t have to go any deeper regarding the specific function of these muscles.
Instead, just remember that all four heads of the quadriceps are responsible for knee extension which simply means to straighten your knee.
Now, knee extension can happen two different ways. The first way mimics the mechanics of the leg extension machine where the upper leg remains motionless while the lower leg extends and straightens.
And the second way is the exact opposite. In fact, a great example to showcase this would be the squat. During a squat, the lower leg, for the most part, remains motionless and in contact with the ground, while the upper leg moves which results in knee extension.
But either way the end result is the same and we get quad engagement.
Quad Training 101: The Exercises
So what are the best exercises to target the quads?
Exercise 1: The Squat
Also known as the king of all exercises, it’s a multi-joint movement that hits all of the major muscle groups, including your quads, glutes, hamstrings, arms, shoulders, and back muscles while also increasing your overall core strength.
However, if we’re trying to focus more on quads you’ll benefit the most from having a “narrower” squat stance.
This is because the deeper you can squat the more your quads will activate during the exercise.
Also, if you’re currently squatting with a low-bar position, you’ll want to switch to a high-bar position to help you keep your chest up for a deeper squat.
But I know not everyone can just start squatting deeper with a few simple form changes. A lot of you might have tightness in your hips or ankles that’s preventing you from being able to go super low. So if that’s you, be sure to check out this video tutorial where I go over perfect squat form and some other things you can do to improve your depth.
Quick tip: You may not be able to lift as heavy, but if you’re having a hard time with your mobility, try switching from a back squat to a front squat.
Because the barbell is in-front of your shoulders, this position will help you to be able to keep a more narrow stance and go deep enough to maximize your quad engagement.
Exercise 2: The Dumbbell Reverse Lunge
This variation of the lunge is not only safer for the knees when compared to the forward lunge, but a lot of you will be able to maintain more stability and control with this variation as well. Now, the key to this movement is to make sure your chest is UP as you step back.
This is because if you’re leaning forward as you reverse lunge you’ll start to engage more hamstrings during the movement which isn’t BAD, but if you’re specifically using the reverse lunge to target your quads, then you want to keep as much emphasis on your quads as possible during your reps.
Also, when targeting more quads as opposed to hamstrings, the step you take back is going to be much shorter and the goal is to create 90 degree angles with your knees. So, chances are if you’re taking a giant step backwards, that’s the reason why you’re not hitting your quads as hard as you may have thought.
Exercise 3: The Sissy Squat
The third exercise I want you to try is the Sissy Squat which can be done a few different ways. One way, and probably the easiest, is to use a sissy squat machine and this can be done with your bodyweight or while holding a dumbbell.
The other way, which requires a bit more practice, is to use your bodyweight. To perform this movement correctly you want to hold onto something sturdy with your feet about shoulder width apart and then lean back while pushing your hips forward and only bending at the knees.
Now, depending on your current strength level, you might not be able to go as low as I can, but with practice you’ll be able to.
Also, if you’re having a hard time staying on your toes as you lean back, you can place a pair of dumbbells under your heels.
So why am I showcasing this exercise instead of a leg extension machine? Well, it's because the sissy squat is going to give you the ultimate stretch on the quads at the bottom of the movement. With the leg extension machine, you really have no choice but to start at a 90-degree bend in the knees. However, the sissy squat allows you to break that 90 degree bend at the bottom of the movement resulting in more quad engagement.
Which actually leads us into our next topic…
Quad Training 101: Knee Mechanics
Everyone has an opinion on whether or not your knees should go beyond your toes when training legs and this topic seems comes up the most when discussing squat form.
Well, BACK IN THE DAY, the general consensus was that no matter what exercise you’re doing your knees should never track over your toes.
However, we know better now. In fact, squatting with your knees going passed your toes has been shown to offer more benefits to overall knee stability and strength.
But what’s far more important than your knees tracking over your toes is ensuring that your entire foot stays PLANTED on the ground and that you’re pressing THROUGH YOUR HEELS as you extend your knee.
Never push through your toes and a good indication that you may be doing this is if your heels are coming off the ground as your squat.
Also, if you push through your toes, you will most certainly feel the weight of the squat in your knees and that can lead to a serious injury over time.
Quad Training 101: Your Next Quad Workout
So, now that we’ve covered everything, what’s the best workout for targeting your quads? Well, here’s one you can start with right now taking the exercises we just covered.
- Barbell Squat (5 sets, 10 – 12 reps)
- Reverse Lunge (4 sets, 8 – 10 reps per side)
- Sissy Squat (4 sets, to failure)
And depending on your current training split you can combine your quad-focused leg training with exercises you’re doing to target your glutes and hamstrings for a more complete “leg day workout”.
But remember, if you are reading this article because your quads are a lagging body-part, you’re going to want to train them more than once a week and one of the best ways to do that is with a Push-Pull-Legs or Full Body program.
So, click this link RIGHT HERE and you can try my PPL or Full Body 12 week program for free and also utilize my custom meal planner to help you not only build your meal plan, but track your macros every day.