Skip to content

The absolute best way to build quadriceps

Der absolut beste Weg Quadrizeps aufzubauen

The question

What is by far your best tip for training the quadriceps?

Do 3 sets of extremely deep squats of 20 repetitions with the bar high on your back

By this I don't mean just using 2 plates and getting a pump. The last few reps should be hell on earth - otherwise the weight is not heavy enough. Everything should be burning, you should be out of breath and you should be cursing the day you read this.

If you're really brave, pause for 3 seconds at the lowest point of the movement during the first half of each squat repetition. After this set, perform a unilateral exercise like lunges or perform the squats in superset with leg extensions to muscle failure. This will be one of the hardest, but also most productive quadriceps building workouts you've ever done.

What people usually overlook when it comes to developing the quadriceps is quite simply volume. The quadriceps are a muscle group that takes a lot of time under tension. It's not that heavy training alone won't make the quadriceps grow - but if you want to achieve that massive "3D" look, you're going to have to suffer.

- Amit Sapir - IFBB Pro, world record holder in powerlifting

Stop overemphasizing the posterior chain

I've noticed a trend over the last 5 years and it's our fault. We have shown the world so many times how important posterior chain development is that a lot of exercisers have lost the ability to use their quadriceps enough. Let's take squats as an example. Most exercisers have been brainwashed into thinking that squats require them to move their butt so far back that the exercise becomes a posterior chain exercise.

Can we prove that a squat scheme that emphasizes the posterior chain more (where you move further back and maintain a more vertical angle of the shins) can allow an exerciser to move more weight? Sure, but this isn't about moving the most weight - it's about building thighs like tree trunks.

And how do we achieve that? By making squats look like squats. Move downwards and not backwards.

A squat movement where you move your butt as far back as possible and arch your back a lot is a bad choice for exercisers who don't use chemical assistance anyway. This type of movement encourages excessive arching of the lower back, which can put you in a bad, unstable position (which is also the reason for using squat suits).

Can athletes move huge weights this way? Yes, but their back will hate them for it in the long run. Beyond that, squats are not my first choice when training someone who wants to get their quadriceps to grow. And yes, internet warriors, I know that many powerlifters have bulky thighs. But that's not the point here.

For exercisers who are primarily concerned with building mass, squats should be a movement in which the buttocks are moved backwards and the knees forwards in equal measure.

- Tony Gentilcore - Strength coach

Extended descending sets on the leg press

Before everyone starts lamenting that leg presses have no carryover to athletic performance and that this exercise doesn't build strength, we should distinguish between different things here.

There is a difference between strength and hypertrophy. There are plenty of athletes who look pretty average but can move huge amounts of weight. And there are also plenty of muscular guys who have trouble opening a jam jar.

Strength is largely a manifestation of the efficiency of the nervous system. The more muscle fibers you can recruit and how fast you can recruit them translates to the amount of stuff you can pick up off the ground.

Hypertrophy, on the other hand, is largely a combination of increased muscle glycogen stores, increased protein synthesis, myofibrillar growth and hormonal milieu. Making our muscles grow requires a completely different recipe than making them stronger.

And in this context, it should be mentioned that while squats are an excellent strength building exercise, they are not necessarily the best muscle building exercise. Sure, plenty of exercisers will vehemently deny this, but most of them are short-legged, hobbit-like types who need a stool to get on their high horse.

However, leg presses are a great tool for getting the quadriceps to grow, but - as mentioned earlier - this exercise isn't so great when it comes to building overall strength. Leg presses are a much better mass building exercise for the following reasons:

  • You don't have to finish a set early because your lower back, feet, ankles or lungs gave out before your legs did. If you finish a set of leg presses, it's because your quadriceps have failed.
  • You can do reps to the point of complete exhaustion (heck, you're more or less on the floor already, so there's nowhere to fall).
  • You can do unassisted forced reps by applying pressure to your knees with your hands.

Here is a particularly efficient way to perform leg presses:

  1. Start by performing a set of 10 reps with only one pulley per side.
  2. Pause and add a 10 kilo plate per side. Perform one set of 10 repetitions.
  3. Remove the 10 kilo discs and replace them with a set of 20 kilo discs and perform another set of 10 reps (the first ridiculously light sets serve as warm-up sets).
  4. Continue in this manner (adding either a pair of 10 or a pair of 20 kilo discs) until you can't do 10 reps (yes, this may take a while, but so be it). Take a short break and on the last attempt, perform the eccentric/lowering part of the movement in a controlled manner. There is a reason that powerlifters often look different to bodybuilders and this is because they don't worry about lowering the weight - they are only concerned with moving upwards, but the fact is that the slow or controlled lowering of the weight is what makes the muscles grow. Yes, this also applies to the legs. Lower the weight in a controlled manner. Imagine that there is a basket of little kittens on the sled of the leg press. You wouldn't drop the basket down hard and scare the kittens, would you? Of course not. You're not a monster.
  5. Okay, back to training. You've reached a weight where you can't do 10 reps. Now your descending set begins. Perform as many repetitions as possible. Lock the weight carriage, move your butt up and quickly remove one 20 kilo disc per side. Do this within 10 seconds. Get back on the machine and again perform as many repetitions as possible until muscle failure.
  6. Continue in this way by removing discs and performing repetitions again until muscle failure. When you reach the point of muscle failure with one 20 kilo disc per side, you're done. Go home and grow. And don't forget to feed the kittens.

- TC Luoma - Editor of T Nation

Pay attention to the angle of your shins

To make any exercise quadriceps dominant, you need to allow your knees to move forward past your toes. The more acute the knee angle, the more work the knee extensors (the quadriceps) will have to do to straighten your leg.

Many people use leg extensions and leg presses as their quadriceps exercise. They overlook the fact that leg extensions are an "open chain" exercise that depends on the health of the knees. And depending on the foot position, leg presses can involve far more lower body muscles than the quadriceps.

Try using front squats and lunges as an exercise pairing. Make sure your knees move over your toes and try to achieve a more vertical torso position to ensure greater activation of the quadriceps. Performing squats with Olympic weightlifting shoes or a weight plate under your heels can help to work the quadriceps harder.

If you finish your superset with some walking lunges with a short stride, your quadriceps will have to work even harder for the same reasons. Cutting your stride width in half will emphasize the front quadriceps and give your thighs a workout after the front squats. Perform 6 to 8 repetitions of front squats followed by 20 to 24 lunges.

- Lee Boyce - strength and performance coach

Don't forget the burning high reps

If we look back in bodybuilding history, we often see advice like this: "The quadriceps need higher reps than other muscle groups to grow - in the range of 15 to 20 reps or more."

But somewhere this old rule, which I learned in 1983, has been lost. Maybe it's the "train hard or go home" attitude, which has its merits, but kills the benefits of time under tension. Or maybe it's because today's athletic trainers write most of the training articles and books and don't care about those quadriceps that make your jeans pop because they're all about strength and function.

Or maybe it's even simpler than that. Maybe it's because quadriceps training with high reps burns more than anything else. Most exercisers prefer to pile up tons of weight plates and perform single reps. It's a joke, but it's a different kind of pain and agony. But 20 reps of an exercise that targets the quadriceps and is performed to muscle failure, or at least close to it, is a killer, hypertrophy-inducing pain that is unparalleled.

So try the following:

  1. Pick an exercise that primarily targets your quadriceps. Let's use leg presses as an example.
  2. Try to shift the tension more to the quadriceps. Use a closer foot spacing, push mainly with your toes instead of your heels and place your feet slightly lower on the weight sled.
  3. Aim for 25 repetitions. Keep the tension constant and don't hyperextend your knees at the highest point of the movement. If you can't do 25 reps, use less weight. If you can do 30 reps, increase the weight. Do two or three sets.
  4. Pick up your spleen after your sissy workout. It may have burst out of you and rolled around the gym. Afterward, increase the weight and perform a few heavy sets in the normal 8 to 10 repetition range.

Another option:

Forget counting reps and perform reps for 2 minutes at a time. You'll find the best weight for this after one or two trial runs - so put your 1RM weight percentage chart to one side.

Of course, this doesn't mean that you only work with high repetitions - just don't forget them. And it also doesn't mean that you can't work your way up to heavier weights for higher reps. Remember the bodybuilding legend Tom Platz, who did 50 reps of squats with 165 kilos - and who occasionally just put 100 kilos on the bar and did 10 minutes of squats without rest.

Yeah, I couldn't do that either, but he did it and he had the most insane thighs in the history of bodybuilding. Maybe he was on to something.

- Chris Shugart - T Nation Chief Creative Officer

Choose the right exercise for your body type

The muscles that are stretched the most during an exercise are also the muscles that are recruited and stimulated the most. So the optimal exercise for your quadriceps depends on your body structure. Here are a few general examples.

If you have long limbs and a short torso - and especially if you have short lower leg bones compared to your thigh, then squats will primarily be a posterior chain exercise as you won't be able to stay upright. Thus, your gluteus and hamstrings will be stretched more than your quadriceps.

If you have shorter limbs - and especially if your lower leg bones are longer relative to your thigh - then classic squats will overload the quadriceps the most as it will be easy to stay upright.

If you have long limbs and a short torso and your lower leg bones are about the same length as your thighs, then front squats will be your best choice. Leg presses will also be effective.

If you have long limbs and a short torso and your lower leg bones are shorter relative to your thigh, then Frankenstein squats with elevated heels will be your best choice.

If you have shorter limbs and a longer torso then classic squats with the bar high on your back will be the best exercise for your quadriceps. Front squats will also work, but these won't activate the quadriceps much more and you can use a lot more weight with classic squats. If you have short limbs and long lower leg bones, then you don't need front squats at all.

If you have short limbs and your lower leg bones are as long as or shorter than your thighs, then you could do one front squat workout for every two classic squat workouts. Hackenschmidt squats on the machine will also work, but leg presses will not be as effective.

People with longer limbs will need more training variety. Those with shorter limbs can stick with classic squats and front squats for maximum results.

- Christian Thibaudeau - Strength coach

Use a calculated approach

Performing knee-dominant exercises with the aim of hypertrophy is like playing Russian roulette. Sure, training with multi-joint exercises like squats, lunges and leg presses combined with isolation training like leg extensions will skyrocket your training volume and emphasize the target muscles.

But remember that the four synergistic muscles that together make up the quadriceps muscle group all attach to the same structural point of the knee: the patellar tendon. And changes in the kinematics, stability schemes and overall movement patterns of the patella in coordination with the rest of the body can be a recipe for pissed off knees and perhaps even injury.

The knee joint is quite simple in structure. It is a hinge joint that recognizes two movements: flexion (bending) and extension (straightening). Even if these biomechanical movement restrictions generate more inherent stability in the knee, they also make it more susceptible to chronic inflammation, which is particularly the case if the volume is chosen arbitrarily.

To avoid this, you should move slowly, maintain constant tension on the quadriceps and extend the sets to at least 30 seconds for growth. Although any single-leg or bilateral exercise will work, split squats with the back foot elevated are a real killer variation for maintaining constant tension during exercise execution.

- Dr. John Rusin - Strength Training Specialist & Performance Expert

Consider your body type before performing multi-joint exercises

When we talk about multi-joint exercises such as squats, hack squats, front squats, etc., it boils down to physics. Make sure that the lever arm of the knee joint is longer than the lever arm of the hip joint (against the applied resistance).

When I was competing as a powerlifter, despite the fact that my quadriceps were strong enough to perform multiple repetitions of squats with almost 300 kilos, they were not particularly well developed. My squat style was much more hip dominant and the bar was lower on my back, which meant that my quadriceps were getting very little tension compared to the way Olympic weightlifters perform squats - bar higher up, less hinge movement in the hips and more knee flexion during the eccentric phase of the movement.

So if you plan to use squats to develop your quadriceps, then you need to allow your knees to move forward and ignore the advice that the shins should be in a vertical position most of the time.

Your biomechanics will dictate which muscles need to do most of the work. Simply performing squats and expecting them to build big quadriceps will leave you terribly frustrated if you don't know how to perform them to shift most of the tension to the quadriceps.

- Paul Carter - strength and bodybuilding coach

Perform either leg presses or hack squats with ascending and/or descending repetitions

Either machine eliminates the stabilization required for barbell squats. The possibility of losing balance is no longer present, so you can focus all your energy on contracting the quadriceps.

Yes, I believe that instability techniques can activate muscle fibers, but I've seen the most growth when I've been able to use the mind-muscle connection with heavy weights to my advantage.

Some prefer lighter weights and higher reps for quadriceps development, while others prefer maximal efforts with low reps. I believe in the hormonal cascade that follows sets of squats or leg presses with very high reps (20 to 30), but doing only sets with high reps has not helped me make the biggest gains.

Low reps (5 to 8) have always given me the best results, but the risk of injury increases substantially when moving maximum weights. Fortunately, I have found a solution that allows me to benefit from the advantages of both high and low repetitions. Most serious exercisers are familiar with descending sets, but few use ascending sets. Here is an example of leg presses:

  • Set 1 - 12 reps with 2 pulleys per side
  • Set 2 - 12 reps with 3 plates per side
  • Set 3 - 12 reps with 4 plates per side
  • Set 4 - 12 repetitions with 5 discs per side

Now that you have warmed up, the fun begins:

  • Set 5 - 5 reps with 6 discs per side

Then add one disc per side without a break and perform 5 more repetitions

Then add another disk and do another 5 repetitions.

Repeat adding a disk two more times. You will end up with 8 disks per side. At the end, you will have performed 25 total repetitions in sets of 5 repetitions with short rests during which your training partner has added the weight plates.

You will experience the pump and hormonal cascade that you experience with high reps at low weights, but the last set of 5 reps will be performed at near maximal effort due to the accumulated fatigue that reduces the risk of injury from training with maximal weights.

If you are really adventurous, you can use both ascending and descending weights during a set.

Note: To achieve full leg development (and not just develop the quadriceps), nothing beats conventional barbell squats with medium-wide foot spacing.

- Mark Dugdale - IFBB Pro Bodybuilder

Don't just rely on heavy sets of squats

A recent study by Brad Schoenfeld and colleagues compared 3 sets of 3-rep squats to 3 sets of 10-rep squats and found that moderate weights were better for building quadriceps mass, while heavy weights were better for building strength.

- Bret Contreras - Strength coach, sports scientist

Source: https://www.t-nation.com/training/the-absolute-best-way-to-build-quads

Previous article The definitive guide to preventing muscle loss