There are so many exercise options that it can be overwhelming to choose which exercises to use to get massive quads. Most general advice will tell you to squat more. Squats are a great exercise, but what kind of squats? And what do you do after squats?
So, I've detailed 11 of the best quad exercises for mass below. But before I get to those, it's essential to understand some basic quadriceps anatomy so you can train all four muscles of the quadriceps effectively.
Table of Contents
- Quadriceps Anatomy
- 11 Best Quad Exercises For Mass
- Best Quad Workout For Mass
- How Do I Bulk Up My Quads?
- How Long Does It Take To Get Big Quads?
- How Do I Make My Outer Quads Bigger?
The quadriceps are made of four main muscles:
The vasti muscles cross the knee joint and extend the knee while the rectus femoris muscle crosses the knee joint and the hip joint. Making the rectus femoris biarticular acting as a knee extensor and hip flexor.
Closed chain exercises like squats primarily target the vasti muscles. In contrast, open-chain exercises like leg extensions target the rectus femoris [9,10]. This is why it is vital to perform compound and isolation exercises to maximize quad growth.
11 Best Quad Exercises For Mass
A front squat is an epic quad builder. Research has shown that front squats target the quads better than other squat variations mainly due to the knee traveling further forward and the torso being more upright. For example, when lifting at 70% 1RM, we see similar muscle activation of the quadriceps even though the front squat uses lighter absolute loads .
When using loads above 70% 1RM, we see greater vastus medialis (teardrop) activation compared to back squats .
However, loading is limited when front squatting due to the upper back and torso being the limiting factors. Therefore you may not maximize mechanical tension and metabolic stress, which are key mechanisms for muscle growth to the same extent as other quad exercises . Here's how to do the front squat:
High Bar Back Squat
The high bar back squat is another great quad builder and is often used as a front squat alternative within Powerlifting. For Olympic Weightlifters, the high bar back squat is a primary accessory exercise to develop the legs for the snatch and clean and jerk.
Compared to the low bar, the high bar allows you to maintain a more upright torso similar to the front squat. This lets the knees travel further forward and place more stress on the quads.
Because the upper back does not limit you, you can load the high bar squat much heavier than the front squat. It also means you can perform more reps at a given load before you fatigue, taking advantage of maximizing mechanical tension and metabolic stress. Here's how to do it:
Smith Machine Squats
The Smith machine is often referred to as the coat rack. Meaning it doesn't serve any purpose outside of hanging your jacket. But it turns out and makes a decent quad builder when used correctly.
While squatting in the Smith machine has empirically been shown not to be as effective as barbell squatting, you can use it to deload the back . Further, placing the feet directly under the hips helps place more stress on the quads when squatting in the Smith machine . Here’s how to do it:
The leg press is a staple among bodybuilders and weekend warriors. It can get a bad rap as it is often used as an easier alternative to the barbell squat. However, when used to build huge quads, the leg press has unique benefits not offered when squatting.
Mainly the ability to load the legs without involving the upper body. So, when you are performing high rep sets, your legs are the first to fatigue and the state of your back.
A slight adjustment of moving your feet further down the platform will target your quads, whereas your feet higher on the platform target your glutes . Here’s how to do it:
If you suffer from any lower back discomfort or want to remove the upper body from the equation, the hack squat is your go-to quad exercise. It has been shown to reduce trunk activation to focus on building the legs .
Also, if you have ankle mobility issues, you can work around it by putting the feet further up the platform. Here's how to perfect the hack squat:
Bulgarian Split Squat
It's a love-hate relationship with the Bulgarian split squat. Love it because of the mad quad gains. Hate it because it hurts so much. If you have bad knees, keeping a vertical shin during the Bulgarian split squat can minimize the pain .
However, if you have healthy knees, you want to have the new travel forward, so your shin is not quite vertical. This way, you place more significant stress on the quads. Here's how to do it:
What I love about the walking lunge for quads is the ability to do ultra-high reps for an insane quad pump. Because you alternate steps, your quad gets a small break between reps, letting the occluded blood leave the muscle. Therefore, it takes longer for fatigue to set in, maximizing the volume you can perform.
A minor adjustment of taking smaller steps is one way to emphasize the quads when doing the walking lunge. Another slight adjustment is to maintain an upright torso. Here's how to do it:
Unfortunately, the leg extension has been demonized for the past decade as a knee shredder. This is far from the case. To maximize your quadriceps development, you need to perform open chain knee extension exercise.
If you recall from the brief anatomy lesson above, the leg extension targets the rectus femoris muscle more so than squatting-based exercises. Here's how to do it:
The sissy squat has recently come into favor as an exercise to alleviate knee pain and build the quadriceps. It is not an easy exercise by any means. Some may find it unbearable, depending on your history of knee pain. However, if you build into this slowly, it can be a great asset for building your quads. Here's how to do it:
Reverse Sled Drag
While the reverse sled drag is a concentric-only exercise, it's a great way to pump blood into your quads. It's also a great exercise to tack to the end of your training session. It's like doing hundreds of mini leg extensions. The quad pump is undeniable.
Further, if you suffer from knee pain, the reverse sled drag is one way to reduce this pain before a workout. Here's how to do it:
High Resistance Sprint Cycling
There's a reason sprint cyclists have huge legs. One is the sheer amount of tin they can lift, the other is intense sprint cycling. You can take advantage of this by performing high-resistance sprints on the stationary or spin bike to give a massive quad pump at the end of your workout. You also get some bonus cardio done.
Set the stationary bike or spin bike to near-maximal resistance full stop sprint as hard as you can for 10 to 15 seconds.
Best Quad Workout For Mass
A1) Front Squat
3 x 8
B1) High Bar Back Squat
1 x 15-20
C1) Leg Press
4 x 12-15
D1) Leg Extension
3 x 15-20
D2) Walking Lunge
3 x 10/leg
How Do I Bulk Up My Quads?
Bulking up your quads requires an intelligent training routine. But it also requires discipline outside of the gym. Has how to bulk up your quads.
Lift With Enough Volume
Volume is the key driver of muscular hypertrophy. You want to get approximately 10-25 sets per week targeted directly at the quads. For example, you might perform four sets of squats, 3 sets of leg press, and three sets of leg extensions to make up 10 total sets in that session for that week.
You may add an extra day to train the quads and get more volume as you progress through training cycles.
Lift With Enough Intensity
Intensity is another driving factor for muscle growth. But not in the traditional definition of intensity which is the percentage of 1RM. Instead, intensity regarding muscle growth refers to the effort.
A high muscular effort for compound exercises would be finishing a set 2-3 short of failure. For isolation exercises, 0-1 short of failure.
Use Compound & Isolation Exercises
To maximize quadriceps development, you need to use compound and isolation exercises. Compound exercises like squats generally target the vasti muscles, whereas isolation exercises like leg extensions typically target the rectus femoris.
Eat More Calories
To build muscle, you need to eat more. A caloric surplus is essential for gaining weight and building new muscle mass. Aim for a 200-300 caloric surplus initially and track your weight.
How Long Does It Take To Get Big Quads?
Building muscle is a long slow process. You cannot speak this process up without exogenous help. If you decide to dirty bulk and add weight quickly, a lot of this will be body fat. It is recommended to add 0.5 to 1.5% Increase in body weight per month.
This is a prolonged rate of gain but will minimize fat gain and maximize muscular development. So to truly get big quads, it will take at least two years of consistent progress.
How Do I Make My Outer Quads Bigger?
Targeting the outer quads involves emphasizing the vasti muscles. Closed chain exercises like squats and leg presses will maximize the development of the outer quads. Squat deep and heavy and follow that with accessory quadricep movements like the leg press or hack squat, and you've got an excellent recipe for big outer quads.
These are the best quad exercises for mass. While some may be boring or repetitive, this type of training will get you the results you want. If you dedicate your training effort to these few select exercises, you will see tremendous gains in quad size.
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