Quadriceps (quads) are the largest muscles in the leg. The best way to grow heaps of muscle is to do lots of squats with many variations (do only one or two types of squats per training session). Squats are good because they hit all four heads of the quadriceps; adductor brevis, vastus intermedius, rectus femoris, and vastus lateralis. There are many other very good exercises that work the quads.
Squats are a very intense exercise. You need to make sure you are feeling the best you can before performing them. That’s why we would recommend that you use a pre-workout supplement. How about using Onnit’s Total Strength and Performance Supplement? It gives you extra strength and assists recovery.
Here are the squats and the different variations of them.
This is the standard squat. By far the best exercise for legs, no exceptions. If performed properly (and even if not), squatting will add pounds onto your legs. Read the following paragraph very carefully because all other squat movements on this list require only minor variations from the standard squat.
Place your legs about shoulder width apart, maybe a little wider, flat on the floor (don’t get used to blocks or lifts)
If your toes are pointing out you will work your inner thigh, if they’re pointing in you will work the outer thigh.
Keep your head, neck and chin level or slightly up, and fix your eyes on a specific point at about eye level in front of you.
Grip the bar as close to your body as comfortably possible.
Wrap your thumbs around the bar for added control.
Place the bar on your back at a point below your seventh cervical vertebra, making sure that it never rests on the bone itself. Padding is not necessary, try to get used to the naked bar.
Keep your shoulders down, lats flexed and chest pushed up and out.
Arch your upper back; pinch your shoulder blades together.
Your elbows should point downward.
Keep your lower back flexed and locked into its natural arch.
It is very important that you concentrate and think about every muscle involved for the entire duration of the set.
Once the bar is on your back, stand upright by pushing with your legs, take a breath and slowly and carefully back out of the rack. Take one small step back with each foot. Try not to compromise the position by taking awkward steps or looking down.
Use as comfortable stance as possible (slightly wider than shoulder width for most of you) to create the most stable and powerful base. This spreads the stress over the entire thighs and glutes and will enable you to squat deeply without excessive forward lean, rounding your back or having your knees move too far forward.
Flex every muscle in your body and take one or more deep breaths. Hold that last full inhalation until you complete the rep. This is crucial to maintaining intra-abdominal and intrathoracic pressure, a stable spine and torso, and to exerting more force while doing it safely.
Unlock your hips and move your glutes back and down as if you’re going to sit in a chair. Keep your head level and eyes locked on a spot you picked throughout the lift. Sink back slowly, keeping the weight on your heels, feeling your hamstrings stretch and keeping maximum tension in the top of your thighs (never in the knees, can you say Injury?). Note that torso will automatically incline forward as your hips move back and your lower legs remain vertical or move only slightly forward.
Lower yourself at least to the point where the tops of your thighs are parallel to the floor. Squat depth is extremely important and makes an enormous difference in your development. Going deeper is more uncomfortable and difficult, but by far more beneficial. Not only does greater depth require greater muscle fiber recruitment, which means greater overall training benefits, but the degree of squat depth strongly influences the loading of the different hip and torso extensor muscles and stabilizers.
Never bounce at the bottom regardless of depth; in fact, consider stopping at the bottom of each rep to develop additional strength, power and control.
As you begin the ascent, keep your chest high and focus your attention and muscular tension on your hips and the top of your thighs. Think of pressing the ground away. *If you tend to push with the balls of your feet, curl your toes slightly as you begin to drive out of the bottom position.
Until you become very experienced, move slowly. Once you do this with good form, your goal will be to explode out of the whole as if you’re going to jump.
*You can do this exercise less effectively on a smith machine.
Hack Squat is performed without a bar but instead on an incline sort of a machine. Almost every gym has one, but it is more dangerous than squatting in respect to putting too much stress on your knees. However, your hips are well stabilized which allows your quads to be maximally stressed without much hamstring and hip involvement. To protect your knees, be sure that the force comes down through your heels and not your toes. You should place your feet in front of your body/hips.
A Hack Squat is performed without a bar but instead on an incline sort of a machine. Almost every gym has one, but it is more dangerous than squatting in respect to putting too much stress on your knees. However, your hips are well stabilized which allows your quads to be maximally stressed without much hamstring and hip involvement. To protect your knees, be sure that the force comes down through your heels and not your toes. You should place your feet in front of your body/hips.
In this variation of the squat, the bar is being held in front of your body and is supported by your upper chest and front delts. This reduces hip involvement while increasing the knee-extension component and involvement of the spinal erectors. Besides providing the most control over the bar, racking the bar in this manner also allows you to squeeze out more weight and more reps.
This is one of our personal favorites for quads. We like it because it is very comfortable, and it pretty much isolates the quads in the sense that you can feel them work better than during squatting. It also works the glutes and hamstrings to some degree. It is easier to leg press a lot more weight than you can squat. For leg press, your feet can be placed a little closer together, but use any width you like. A key point to remember is to keep your hands off your knees, otherwise you will involuntarily help yourself push the weight up, thus taking away from your quad development. This is a good exercise to follow a squat.
This is a better exercise for definition than for mass gains. Its best placed last in a sequence of three exercises (if you are doing 3), after the squat and the leg press. It can be done with equal effectiveness on both, a cable machine, and a hammer strength machine. When you do this exercise try not to rock your upper torso back and forth, but instead remain locked in a vertical position. Your legs should extend all the way to lock out.
This is an extremely difficult and athletic variant of the basic squat. Overhead squats stress your erectors, traps and delts maximally. Your objective is to press the bar overhead just like you would in a military press. Once the bar is overhead, go into a deep squat and stand back up. The stress on your supportive and assistive muscles is tremendous. Because you can’t handle much weight in this manner, this exercise is a little less effective for quads. It might be a good idea to do this exercise on a smith machine.
In addition to working quads, lunges also accelerate and emphasize glute and hamstring development. You can do this with a bar or, more comfortably, with dumbbells, where the dumbbells just hang off to your sides. Standing at a fixed point, step as far as you can with one leg so that your knee is approximately over your ankle, but not past your toes. Then come back and go with the other leg. You can alternate every 1, 3, 5 reps, if you want, or do the complete set for one leg, then for the other.
If you’re looking for more squat variations, then we recommend that you check out this article from Greatist.