Article written by Matt Mills
So you want to get your Quad Squad shirt but don’t have the legs to fill out your spandex short shorts? Maybe it’s about time you focus on the big four knee extenders, get those tear drops popping out, and turn you into a lean mean Squatobot! There has always been a lot of talk about the glutes, hamstrings, and rightfully so. In general, a lot of back and knee pain stems from having weak hamstrings, and glutes. However, if you can knock out glute ham raises with ease, and crack a walnut with your ass, then you’re ready from some quad specialization. With that being said, most of the exercises I’m going over do not fully isolate the quadriceps, but mainly focus on them.
Walking lunges have been a favorite of mine for years now. When I worked at a commercial gym, I would get a lot of funny looks when I would grab some heavy dumbbells, and head into the aerobics room. Make no mistake, this exercise is not just for girls, as your average meathead with no legs thinks. There are honestly not many exercises that are more brutal for your lower body then high rep walking lunges. Any variation of the lunges should be a staple in your lower body program, but walking lunges puts much more emphasis on the quads like we are going for. I prefer these with a pair of dumbbells held at my sides, but you can easily go with a bar on your back if you are able to step out of a rack with enough space. Dumbbells tend to be the safer choice as you will nearly be falling over due to your quads giving out. Walking lunges are a fairly simple exercises, but there are a few common mistakes. First, stay as tall as possible to get more quad activation. Think about a string being attached to the top of your head and someone pulling you up. Do not take an extremely long step, so when you are at the bottom of the lunge your back knee is directly under your hip. You can also take a slightly shallower step to hit the quads harder, but if you have knee issues that won’t be the best choice for you.
Step ups can be a much better exercise for those that want to hit their quads more, but walking lunges hurt their knees. The problem is most people do these completely wrong. What you will generally see when someone performs these is heavy dumbbells in hand, and instead of making the leg work that’s on the step do the work, the lifter uses the back leg excessively to step up to the bench. For most people a body weight step up done correctly is more than hard enough. Here’s how to do it the correct way: Place your foot on top of a step, (the higher the step the more difficult) and again be as tall as possible with no leaning forward. Lower yourself down, and keep all of your weight on your front foot. Drive your foot through the bench to bring yourself up. Try not to use the other foot for balance as you raise up, so instead raise your knee up and squeeze your glutes hard to maintain balance. Aside from the basic step, up I included another version I really like where you will step up and over the bench, going side to side. This is a much more difficult variation, so make sure you master the basic step up before you try it.
Rear foot elevated split squats (RFESS) or Bulgarian squats
Another single leg variation that is extremely difficult, aside from deciding on which name to call it is the RFESS. These can be performed using dumbbells, barbells and even kettlebells I like to rotate each of these through my training as you will feel them in different areas. I will say my favorite way to do them is with the bar in the front racked position. You will hit the quads the most with this bar position and use a good amount of weight compared to dumbbells and kettlebells. Balance can be a big issue here, so start light and stay tall! Again, keep the back knee under the hip, and if you are able to put a small pad beneath your knee so you can gauge your depth, and also to maintain balance in case you lose it (which you probably will). For those with knee issues here, try lowering the step you use to elevate the back leg.
The snatch deadlift is not to be confused with the snatch grip deadlift. Both are great variations of the deadlift, however we are going for big quads here! Put on your pair of weight lifting shoes for these as the raised heal will get more quad activation. Here lies the difference from the snatch grip deadlift and the snatch deadlift. Think about squatting the weight up, so the hips must be very low compared to the chest, and focus on driving the feet through the floor. The weight you will be using on the snatch deadlift will be significantly lower then what you will be able to do on a snatch grip deadlift. This is mainly because the hamstrings and glutes will come to help more with a higher hip position. I love both variations here and rotate them both for my accessory work after I hit my main deadlift. With the snatch deadlift, keep the reps in the 3-5 rep range as any higher will turn into a snatch grip deadlift if you are using a good amount of weight.
Deficit Trap bar Deadlift with Chains
I’ve been a big fan of using the trap bar deadlift for some time now because it is a combination of a squat and a deadlift. As future members of the quad squad you want to turn this into more of a squat, so we are going to perform it from a 2 inch deficit. The hips must be extremely low compared to the chest, and as you drive your feet through the floor to come the chest must up. If you have issues leaning forward then you must lower the weight, so think big chest! The chains not only look bad ass but they will make for even more help for the quads as you lock out a heavier weight.
Heavy Reverse Sled Drags
Sled drags are mainly used as a conditioning tool or as a “finisher” at the end of a workout, so a lighter load is used. However if we want to pack on some muscle then you have to go heavy. The load should be heavy enough that you are able to keep moving your feet, but it should be a grinder the whole way. If you can simply back pedal then you need to throw on a few more 45’s. The great thing about sled drags is that they are also knee friendly, and a great alternative to lunges if you are unable to perform them. These can be performed with a strap or with a belt, if you have access to both, then mix it up. I typically will do these for 120 feet or 60 feet each way, but that’s just the length of turf I have in my facility. Going outside is always a great choice where you can drag until your legs give out, but let the distance you have access to dictate the load you use.
Front Squat and Leg extensions to failure
Yes that’s right, I’m using a dreaded machine in this article! Now don’t get me wrong here, I rarely do leg extensions by themselves so, bear with me and give this one a try. You can thank me when you are limping off the machine. Choose a weight you can front squat for about 7 reps, and you are going to perform 3 sets of 5 at that weight. After each set of front squats, jump on the leg extension, and perform 15-20 reps to failure. Keep the rest periods in check here, and make sure you don’t go over 90 seconds to keep the pump going. In case some of you do not have access to a leg extension simply sit on a bench and attach a band behind you to do them. Move the bench forward, or backward to get the right tension. For a different variation here try squatting with two kettlebells racked up instead of the bar. The kettlebells come out further then the bar making the quads work even harder, so just be warned!
That’s right another machine! The leg press is great for increasing the size of your wheels and there is no doubt about it. However never make the leg press a priority in your training, injuries aside. Squats should always take precedence, and be first in your training. Now, to get more involvement of the quads,place your feet slightly lower on the foot pad, and go with a more narrow stance. Remember we are going for hypertrophy here, so don’t try to load the sled up to max out. Pain tolerance needs to be high here, so keeps your reps high in the 12-20 rep range. Range of motion is important as always, so make sure you keep your hips tight against the pad. Bring the knees into the chest but stop before your butt begins to rise up, this can be very dangerous for your back at heavy loads.
Narrow Stance High Bar Olympic Squats
Squats are always king for good reason. As a powerlifter I can move more weight in a wide stance, low bar position, but as always never train only one stance. I haven’t seen a great Olympic lifter yet that doesn’t have massive quads that any body builder would be jealous of. The difference here compared to a powerlifting squat is the torso is more upright through the lift, which if you have seen a theme here is what will hit the quads harder.
To give an example of how to use the exercises I outlined here this is how I trained yesterday:
Wide stance low bar squats 3 sets of 3 at 485 (don’t make fun of me I just competed last weekend)
Hatfield Squats 605/1, 655/1, 675/1
Narrow Stance High bar Olympic paused Squats 390 3 sets of 3 (3 sec pause)
RFESS 3 sets of 6 each with 75lb dumbbells
GHR and Ab work to finish.
As you can see I used two of the exercise I have outlined here and the following week I could simple switch out any of the accessory work. The accessory work being anything after my main squat, as I am training for an upcoming powerlifting meet. As always any questions drop a comment below or on the LBEB Facebook Page.