The quadriceps are incredibly important muscles found on the front of the legs. Simply referred to as the “quads” by many, this muscle group is made up of four major muscles and they include the Vastus Medialis (inner “teardrop” muscle), vastus lateralis (outer muscle), vastus intermedius (middle quad muscle), and rectus femoris. These muscles are responsible for leg extension at the knee joint and flexion at the hip joint.
For strength sport athletes, bodybuilders, and recreational lifters the quads are an important muscle group for any success in sport and the gym.
The quads are present in every exercise that requires knee extension, and that includes activities as simple as walking.
If you compete in a strength sport, bodybuilding, or a regular sport for that matter, then you more than likely know that the quads are a muscle group that can provide you an edge over your competitors.
In respects to compound movements, the quads are heavily involved in the back and front squat, and these movements are staples in almost every workout setting. Although, these are not the only exercises that can help grow and strengthen the quads. Check out our five favorite quad exercises below.
1. Front Squat
The front squat is an awesome exercise to utilize for quad development, as it requires the body to load anteriorly compared to the posteriorly in the back squat. This form of loading requires the torso to remain more upright during the squat, which then relates muscle activity at the knee joint. In a 2015 study publishing in the Journal of Sports Science, researchers suggested that the front squat was a better exercise to strengthen the knee extensor muscles when compared to the back squat (1).
The front squat is typically used by weightlifters because it most closely resembles the catch in a clean, but it can be used as a staple for every athlete when trying to develop the quadriceps.
Learn all about the front squat’s benefits and how to perform them!
2. Back Squat
The back squat, in the top two quad exercises? No surprise there.
The back squat is an all around staple that can land in any workout with the goal of building bigger and stronger quads. Not only will the back squat strengthen the quads, but it’s a great movement for also improving the hamstrings, back, and core. For anyone who competes in strength sports, or for the lifter who wants to the most for their buck, then the back squat should have a place in a well-balanced training program.
Read: The definitive back squat training guide.
3. Split Squat
If you’ve ever done split squats, then you know why they landed number three on our list. This lower limb accessory is a fantastic exercise for isolating the quad muscles. The intensity of this exercise will be subject to the variation being performed, so it’s a great movement for all levels of fitness.
The split squat can be performed with a flat footed stance with weight or one’s bodyweight, and to make it harder, the back foot can be elevated to make this movement even more quad driven.
Read our ultimate split squat guide to learn more about this exercise!
Ah, the dreaded step-up. This exercise is an awesome lower body accessory for the quads (and hamstrings!). In a 2012 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, authors analyzed two styles of step-ups and how they influenced hip and thigh musculature.
Researchers suggested that both the crossover step-up and traditional step-up provided a quality stimulus for both the hip and thigh musculature, more specifically, the glute medius, the vastus lateralis, medialis, and rectus femoris (2).
Split squats, lunges, and step-ups, which is best for quad development?
The final quad building movement that makes our list is the lunge, and the lunge makes this list for three big reasons. First, the lunge is a great way to train the body unilaterally at every fitness level whether it be for hypertrophy, strength, or power. Second, there are a ton of variations that can be performed with lunges and these include aspects like walking, standing, with a barbell, and with things like dumbbells.
Lastly, the lunge can be a useful exercise when there’s a concern for carryover towards other movements and sports performance. Besides improving hypertrophy, strength, and power, the lunge can also be great for teaching body awareness and increasing coordination.
Learn everything there is to know about the lunge and how to perform them with our in-depth lunge guide!
Other Highest-Rated Quad Exercises
Yavuz HU, e. (2018). Kinematic and EMG activities during front and back squat variations in maximum loads. – PubMed – NCBI . Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Retrieved 28 December 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25630691
Simenz CJ, e. (2019). Electromyographical analysis of lower extremity muscle activation during variations of the loaded step-up exercise. – PubMed – NCBI . Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Retrieved 7 January 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22237139