Legs

9 Best Quad Focused Exercises To Build Leg Strength & Size

quad focused exercises

If you’re looking to build strong quads, then you’ve come to the right place.  

In this article, we’re going to recommend some of the best quad focused exercises that you incorporate into your leg day workout.  

Your quad muscles are a group of lower body muscles which are located at the front of your thigh.  

They work together to perform knee extension and hip flexion.  

Quad focused exercises can improve your lower body strength, enhance your athletic performance, and help to prevent hip and knee pain.  


Recommended Reading – 5 Best Medial Quad Exercises To Build Your Strength & Muscle


There are many effective quad focused exercises that can help you to target this muscle group helping you to build both strength and muscle mass.  

Some of these include squats, lunges, leg presses, and step-ups. 

Before we jump into some of the best quad exercises, let’s look at the quadriceps muscles in a little more detail.  

Understanding Quad Muscles

If you’re looking to build strong, defined legs, you’ll want to focus on your quad muscles.  

This large and powerful muscle group comprises of four different muscles (hence the name quad) and they all work together for lower body function.  

Understanding Quad Muscles

Vastus Lateralis

This is the largest of the quad muscles and is located on the outside of your thigh. 

Vastus Medialis

Abbreviated to VMO, this muscle gives the quads their teardrop appearance

Rectus Femoris

Located to the front of the thigh, this is the only muscle that arises from the pelvis and not the femur.

Vastus Intermedius

This is the deepest of the four muscles and plays a big part during stepping and squatting movements. 

Benefits of Quad Focused Exercises

Strengthening your quad muscles can have several benefits. 

Improve Athletic Performance

Improve Athletic Performance

Building strong quads can help you run to faster, jump higher, and lift more weight. 

Quad strength can directly impact your speed and agility along with explosive power meaning you’ll see improvements in certain sports such as sprinting, basketball and powerlifting.  

Better Balance and Coordination

Balance and Coordination

Strong legs contribute to your balance and coordination.  The quads work with all other muscles within the lower body to control movements.  

When balance is improved, you’ll be much less prone to falls and find certain everyday movements easier to perform.  

Increased Joint Stability

Increased Joint Stability

Your quads play an important role in helping to support your knee joint.  When your quads are strong, protection of these joints is much better.  

This can help to reduce the risk of knee injuries such as tears to the surrounding tendons and ligaments.   

Improve Weight Loss Efforts

Weight Loss Efforts

The quads are one of the largest muscle groups in the human body and increased muscle mass equates to a higher resting metabolic rate.  

Essentially, this means you’ll be burning calories (even during rest periods) which may help with any weight loss goals you have.  

Preventing Quad Injuries

As with any muscle group, you’ll want to take steps pre and post training to avoid injuries. 

Warm Up and Cool Down

Before working out it’s important to warm up the muscles by undertaking some stretches or body weight exercises to get the blood flowing.  

This can help prevent common quads injuries such as strains when the muscle fibers can stretch or tear. 

Also make sure to cool down post-workout by do some aerobic exercise or further stretches. Doing this can help prevent delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

Correct Exercise Form

With any exercise, it’s really important to focus on proper form and technique.  If you’re new to an exercise and a little unsure, seek the advice from a personal trainer who can help make sure you get it right.  

Also make sure to complete exercises with a full range of motion.  

This can vary from person to person and often will improve over time as your strength and flexibility gets better.  This will ensure you get the most from your quad workouts.  

Gradual Progression

All too often people dive right in trying to lift weights that are above their current ability and, not only can this have a detrimental effect on your form, but it can also cause injuries.

Start out with light weights (or just your body weight) and allow your muscles to adapt to new exercises before you increase the volume or weight load.  

Best Quad Focused Exercises

When it comes to building strong and defined quads, choosing the right quad-strengthening exercises is really important.  

Compound exercises involve working through multiple joints and often activate several muscle groups at once.  

However, isolation exercises are equally as important to help you develop your quads to their fullest potential.

The following leg exercises will give your quads a great workout helping you to build strength and address any muscle imbalances.

Front Squats

leg press exercise

This exercise is similar to back squats, the only difference being that the barbell is positioned at the front of your body. This variation places more emphasis on to your quads with less on your glutes and lower back.

If you lack the wrist mobility to maintain a shoulder width grip on the bar, you could instead use the cross grip where you hold the bar whilst crossing your arms over your chest.  

How To Do The Front Squat:

  1. Rack your barbell in a squat rack.
  2. When unracking the bar it should rest on your shoulders and make contact with the front of your neck.  
  3. Take hold of the bar with a shoulder-width grip with the bar resting in your fingers. 
  4. Keep your elbows pointing straight ahead and chest up. 
  5. Your feet should be just past shoulder-width apart with toes pointing out slightly.  This is your starting position. 
  6. Descend into the squat position by bending the knee and hip joints at the same time.  
  7. Stop once your upper legs are parallel to the floor and push through your heels back to the top.  

Bulgarian Split Squat

bulgarian split squats

The Bulgarian split squat is a unilateral exercise meaning that you work one leg at a time.  Aside from working the quads, it will also activate your glutes and hamstrings.  

You’ll need good balance for this exercise so if you’re new to it, start with no weight.  When you’re ready to progress, you can perform it while holding a dumbbell in each hand.  

Make sure you complete an equal number of repetitions on each leg.  

How To Do A Bulgarian Split Squat:

  1. Adopt a split stance position so that one foot is positioned forward with the other foot extended behind you on an elevated surface such as a bench or step-up platform. 
  2. Keep your upper body in a straight line with your chest up, shoulders back, and core engaged.  This will give you stability during the exercise.  
  3. Slowly lower your body towards the ground by bending your front knee and hip, keeping your back knee slightly bent and your back heel lifted. 
  4. Stop once your front thigh is parallel to the ground.
  5. Keep your front knee in line with your toes and don’t allow it to extend beyond your toes.
  6. Push through your front foot, squeezing your quads and glutes to extend your knee and hip and return back to the start. 

Leg Extensions

leg extension machine exercise

Leg extensions are a strength training exercise usually done on a machine.  You can either train both legs at once or one at a time.

It’s an isolation movement and is often done in a high rep range to warm up the quads prior to heavy squatting.  It’s also a great exercise to do at the end of your leg workouts.  

How To Perform Leg Extensions:

  1. Start off by setting up the machine so it best suits your body type.
  2. Take a seat ensuring your back is fully supported and position your lower legs under the pads.  They should rest just above your feet.
  3. If you need to, adjust the seat so that your knees align with the axis of the machine. This will ensure you can perform it with a full range of motion.  
  4. Take hold of the handles next to the seat.  This will help stabilize you throughout the exercise.
  5. Start by extending your legs and straightening out your knees. Don’t allow your knees to lock out as this could put stress on the joints.  
  6. Pause for a second and focus on squeezing your quads to maximize the contraction.
  7. Slowly, and with control, lower the weight back down by bending your knees.  

Hack Squat

hack squat leg developer

The hack squat machine allows you to perform a squat whilst providing full support to your upper body.  It will give your quads a great workout whilst also working your hamstrings and glute muscles.  

It’s a good choice for those of you with back problems as the weight load is not placed on your upper body.  

Depending on what hack squat machine you use, there may be differences in adjustments.  Typically, they would feature an adjustable back rest and sometimes a footplate.  

Ensure you set up correctly before you undertake the exercise.  

How To Do The Hack Squat:

  1. Once in position keep your back flat against the back rest and shoulders firmly pressed against the shoulder pads.
  2. Position your feet shoulder-width apart on the footplate and keep your toes pointed slightly outwards. 
  3. Take hold of the handles for stability.  These are usually located either side of your shoulders.  
  4. Release the safety catch so that your body is now supporting the weight.  Make sure that your knees are slightly bent with your feet planted firmly on the footplate.
  5. Keep your back against the back pad and core braced.  Now slowly lower your body by bending at the knees. 
  6. Lower yourself until your thighs are parallel to the ground or reach a comfortable depth depending on your ability.  
  7. Hold the bottom position for a second whilst squeezing your quad muscles.
  8. From here, push through your heels to ascend back to the starting position.  

Goblet Squats

goblet squatting

The goblet squat is a great way to work on your squat form whilst also targeting your quads.  Holding a weight in front of your body helps to keep your torso upright and ensures your knees track properly.  

To do this exercise you would either hold onto a kettlebell or dumbbell.  

How To Do A Goblet Squat: 

  1. Stand upright with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart with toes pointing out slightly. 
  2. Using both hands, take hold of a dumbbell or kettlebell vertically and hold it just in front of your chest.  
  3. Engage your abdominal muscles and make sure to keep your head and chest upright throughout.  
  4. Descend into a squat by bending at your hips and knees simultaneously, lowering your body down as though you’re about to sit.  Don’t allow your knees to cave in.  
  5. Aim to get low enough so that your thighs are parallel to the ground.  
  6. Push through your heels whilst maintaining balance and return to the starting position.  

Pistol Squat

The pistol squat, also known as a one-legged squat, is a squat variation and a great exercise for building strength and size to your quads.  

It’s one of the more challenging leg exercises and requires a lot of balance and mobility.  

The exercise is so called because the position resembles that of a person holding a pistol with one leg extended.

To make it a little easier to begin with, you could squat down to a squat box or chair.  

how to pistol squat
  1. Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart. 
  2. Choose one leg to engage and lift the other leg off the ground, keeping it straight in front of you.
  3. Extend your arms out in front of you so they are parallel to the floor.  
  4. Lower your body down to the floor by bending your standing leg at the knee, as if sitting back into a chair.  Make sure you keep your torso upright as you descend.  
  5. Try and go as low as you can while maintaining control and balance.  Your extended leg should remain off the ground throughout the movement.
  6. Pause briefly and then push through your heel to return to the starting position, fully extending your working leg.

Sissy Squats

sissy squat movement

Probably one of the best exercises for quad development, sissy squats are a great way to isolate this muscle group and really burn them out helping to create separation.  

It’s another challenging exercise that requires good balance and stability, it’s fantastic for building strength and size to your quads.  

You can either use a sissy squat bench or as a freestanding exercise.  

How To Perform The Sissy Squat: 

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and toes pointed slightly outward.
  2. If you’re performing this without equipment, you can hold onto a stable object for balance or keep your hands on your hips.
  3. Shift your weight onto your toes and rest your heels on something such as a weight plate. 
  4. Lean your upper body backward so that your body forms a straight line from your neck to your knees.  
  5. Continue descending until your thighs are parallel to the ground.  
  6. Keep your upper body upright and engage your core muscles to maintain stability throughout the movement.
  7. Push through the balls of your feet and extend your knees, raising your body back up to a standing position.

Leg Press Machine

leg press exercise

This machine is a great way to target the quads without putting as much stress on your lower back as you would with a squat. It’s a great exercise for building overall lower body strength and mass.

Adjustments on a leg press machine may vary depending on the one you have access to.  Most feature an adjustable back rest and seat with some offering an adjustable footplate.  

Ensure that you set up correctly for your build and stature.  

How To Use The Leg Press Machine:

  1. Sit on the seat with your back against the backrest and place your feet shoulder-width apart on the footplate and toes pointing slightly out.
  2. Grab the handles at the sides of the seat to give you stability.  
  3. Release the safety handles to unlock the weight and ensure that your knees are slightly bent with your feet firmly planted on the footplate.
  4. Push through your heels and extend your legs to push the footplate away from your body.  Stop just before your knees lock out. 
  5. Now slowly bend your knees and allow the footplate to lower towards your body, controlling the descent. 
  6. Pause once your knees are at a 90-degree angle.  
  7. From here, push through your feet and engage your leg muscles to extend your knees and return to the starting position, fully extending your legs.

Cyclist Squat

heel elevated squat ramp with kettlebells

The cyclist squat, sometimes called the narrow stance high heel squat, involves squatting with your heels elevated and knees close together.  

Squatting this way transfers the weight load onto your quads whilst minimizing it to your posterior chain muscles.  You’ll need a squat ramp or similar to perform this exercise.  

How To Perform The Cyclist Squat:

  1. Position your feet around hip-width apart, with your toes pointing forwards. 
  2. Place an elevated surface, such as weight plates or a squat ramp, under your heels. You can vary the elevation depending upon your ankle and knee mobility. 
  3. Brace your core and maintain an upright posture throughout the movement.  
  4. Lower your body by pushing your glutes back and bending at your hips and knees simultaneously. 
  5. Keeping your knees tracking in line with your toes as you squat down.
  6. Aim to descend until your thighs are around parallel to the ground.  
  7. Pause briefly at the bottom of the squat, then push through the balls of your feet and engage your quadriceps to return to the start. 

Incorporating these exercises into your workout routine can help you build strong and defined quads.

Remember to start with lighter weights and focus on proper form to avoid injury.

As you get stronger, you can gradually increase the weight and intensity of your workouts.

Training Tips For Quad Strength

To effectively train your quads, there are a few tips worth considering: 

Foot Placement

When performing quad-focused exercises like squats or lunges, place your feet shoulder-width apart.

This will help you maintain a stable base and engage your quads more effectively.  When using machines such as the hack squat or leg press, different foot placement will activate muscles in a different way.  

Front Of Your Thigh

To really target your quads, focus on squeezing the front of your thigh. This is where the quads are located, so make sure you’re feeling the burn in this area.

Hip Flexors

Your hip flexors play an important role in quad-focused exercises, so make sure you’re engaging them as well. This will help you maintain good form and stability throughout your workout.  

Performing regular hip stretches will improve mobility to the hip joints and increase your range of motion.

Different Angles

To work your quads from different angles, try incorporating exercises like split squats or step-ups into your routine.

These movements will engage your quads in different ways and help you build strength and definition throughout your upper legs.

Compound Movements

Compound exercises, such as squats, are usually more technically challenging so make sure you focus on proper form and when starting out always use a lighter weight.

Equipment Set Up

Always make sure back rests etc are set up to suit your body type.  Failing to do so could mean you perform the exercise incorrectly which may result in an injury

Improve Mobility

Many people have poor mobility to their hips and ankles, usually because they spend most of their day sitting.  It’s a good idea to incorporate regular stretching exercises specifically designed to improve mobility.  

This will ensure you perform movements correctly and with a full range of motion.  

Conclusion

To improve overall strength to your lower body and build a strong and healthy physique it’s important that you work out all muscles within your lower body.

This will help prevent any muscle imbalances in terms of muscle size and strength.  

With that in mind, why not have a read of our article ‘hamstring strength exercises‘ so you can effectively work the largest muscles in your lower body.  

Remember to focus on proper technique before you progress with each of the exercises.  

To build strength, you should consider performing high reps (10 to 15) with a low weight.  Conversely, to increase quad size you should aim for low reps (6 to 8) with a heavier weight.    

Remember to listen to your body and adjust your workouts as needed. If you experience any pain or discomfort during an exercise, stop immediately and consult with a medical professional. 

With dedication and consistency, quad-focused exercises can help you build superior quads for strength and size.

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