Quad Exercises

One of the most daunting things a newcomer to bodybuilding faces is leg day. You probably began training with weights for what it could do for your beach muscles (chest, arms and abs), which makes the highly demanding nature of quad training all the more miserable. Hey, why not skip your leg workout (again) so you can get pumped in time for tonight’s big party? True, you may look more imposing with your upper-body size, but please don’t take your jeans off to get into the Jacuzzi you’ll make us all laugh … loudly.

For your investment of an hour and change each week, you can build the lower-body size and symmetry that sets the serious bodybuilder apart from the weekend warrior. Many beginning and even intermediate bodybuilders mistakenly waste time looking for “faster” or “secret” methods of increasing muscle mass. The fact is, you need to use a variety of proven exercises the basics, to achieve the best results. Be consistent and patient; results didn’t come overnight for any of the top pros, and you won’t be any different.

To get you moving down the road to success, try these six time-tested exercises that will contribute most significantly to your thigh development. Review the sample workouts and make a commitment to stick with a program for at least 1-2 months. All the tools you need are right in your hands.


Don’t stick with any one routine for too long. Muscles grow optimally when they’re constantly stimulated. This means you should vary your volume (sets/reps) and intensity (weight lifted). Base the intensity on the maximum weight you can lift (one-rep max, or 1RM). Perform each routine (A, B. C) once a week in succession. After 1-2 warm-up sets, perform 1-2 sets to failure.

Workout A
Leg Press
Smith-Machine Squat
Leg Extension
Workout B
Leg Extension
Workout C
Hack Squat
Leg Extension
Leg Press


An excellent choice for building quadriceps mass. This compound movement (which means it involves more than one joint the hips, knees and ankles) allows you to load your muscles with heavy resistance. Another reason why the leg press is a favorite is that it permits the use of a variety of foot positions, enabling you to very slightly shift the focus on areas of the quads and glutes on successive sets. For some trainees with back problems, this exercise can be done safely with high intensity.

  • Start with your feet in the middle of the foot platform about shoulder-width apart, turned slightly outward. This is one of the strongest positions for moving lots of iron.
  • With your back securely against the pad, press against the platform until your legs are almost straight (never locked) and release the safety bars.
  • Hold onto the handles by your sides to keep your torso stable throughout the movement.
  • Slowly lower the weight until you barely pass a 90-degree angle in your knees (your quads should approach your chest at this point). Never allow your lower back or glutes to lose contact with the pad; this could result in lower-back strain and doesn’t add any benefit.
  • After reaching the bottom position, press the weight back up until your legs are almost fully straightened. Two good reasons not to lock out: It may hyperextend the knees and reduces tension on the quad muscles, thus reducing the muscular stimulation.
  • Pause briefly at the top position and repeat


Bodybuilders call the squat the grand-daddy of all quad exercises for good reason: It involves all major and minor muscle groups of the lower body, not to mention many upper-body stabilizing muscles. So if your knees and lower back have a clean bill of health, including the squat in your routine is key.

The only thing that should be heavy during your learning phase is your emphasis on form: Use light weights until you get it right. I recommend eliciting the help of a spotter for safety and evaluation. Like the leg press, you can experiment with close and wider stances for slightly different degrees of thigh and glute stimulation.

  • Step under a racked free-weight bar and position it behind your neck, resting high on your traps but not on any vertebrae.
  • Step back from the rack and stand straight up with a slight arch in your lower back (shoulders back and chest high).
  • Your feet should be shoulder-width apart with your toes pointing slightly outward.
  • Begin by slowly pushing your hips back, then bending at the knees into a deep knee bend. Maintain the arch in your back and be sure to keep your knees over your feet as much as possible.
  • Lower the weight until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  • From the bottom position, press upward; about halfway up, thrust your hips forward until you’re standing straight again. Repeat.


This is a lot like the free-bar squat with some important differences. The Smith-machine version is almost as effective at developing quad mass, but allows you to focus more on pushing the weight than on perfecting your form because the path of the bar is set. You stay in proper alignment and don’t have to worry about your balance. On the other hand, because the path of the bar is set, you can unduly stress your joints because they’re unable to move freely. Yet many bodybuilders can work harder on the Smith machine because much of the fear involved in going to failure is minimized. It’s a give and take choose wisely.

  • Position yourself under the bar just as you should in a free-weight squat.
  • Lift and turn the bar to unlock it from the safety position.
  • Take a small step forward (about 6 inches) and position your feet in a neutral, shoulder-width stance.
  • Keep your back arched, being careful not to round off. This could result in lower-back strain.
  • Lower the weight under strict control by going into a deep knee bend just like you do in the regular squat.
  • From the full squat position. explosively press the weight back up and repeat.


This is an excellent alternative to the squat that some people feel focuses slightly greater stimulation onto the lateral area of the quads near the knee (the outer thigh sweep). It eliminates some of the pressure that free-weight and Smith-machine squats place on the lower back but may place more on your knees.

  • Position yourself in the hack-squat machine with your back firmly against the pad and your feet shoulder-width apart about two-thirds of the way up the platform.
  • Release the safety bars and slowly lower the weight until your thighs are parallel to the platform.
  • From the bottom position, explode upward until you reach the starting position.
  • Without locking out, squeeze your thighs at the top briefly and repeat.


This movement is commonly done to work each leg independently (unilaterally), allowing you to achieve greater focus on each one. Unilateral movements prevent a dominant side from doing a majority of the work, which could eventually lead to muscular imbalance.

  • Place a lightly weighted bar high on your back as you would in a free-weight squat.
  • Take a few steps backward out of the rack and stand straight up with your feet together.
  • Take a long step straight ahead and lower your body until our front knee forms a 90-degree angle. Be sure that your front knee doesn’t move ahead of your foot but is immediately above it. Your rear knee should almost touch the floor.
  • Maintain an erect torso and don’t lean forward during the movement.
  • From the bottom position, press explosively backward with your front leg so that you return to the starting position with your feet together.
  • Alternate legs until you reach the desired rep range.


Unlike the previous exercises, this is a single-joint movement that emphasizes only the quadriceps. You won’t get any assistance from your hips, glutes or hamstrings here. Targeting the quads this way allows you to achieve a very high degree of localized intensity (a killer burn). Because your torso is supported, the exercise lends itself quite easily to also being used as a unilateral movement. By working one leg at a time, you can bring each quad to total exhaustion.

  • Sit on the leg-extension machine, bracing yourself by holding the handles on the sides.
  • Position the footpad so that it sits low on your shin, just above your ankles.
  • Begin by extending and raising your leg(s) to full extension.
  • Hold this contraction for a moment, then slowly lower the weight to the starting position.
  • Continue your set without allowing the weight to rest on the weight stack. This constant resistance raises the intensity of the movement significantly.

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