You may have heard it before. Or seen it. Talk to enough people at the gym about leg training, and somebody will eventually mention the “teardrop.” To bodybuilders and gym junkies, this is the stuff of leg-day legend, the muscle they all want to develop with their lower-body training. And to get it, they have to develop and isolate their quads.
The quads, or quadriceps, are the large, powerful muscles in the front and outsides of your thigh, just above the knee. A group of four muscles (hence the “quad” part), they’re largely responsible for straightening (or extending) your knee. They’re also responsible for the bulky, muscled look that some guys have in jeans and shorts.
Not that this is all about vanity, because a dominant set of quads does more than complete a badass physique. Your quads are the key muscle group that straightens (or extends) your knee. That means they play a critical role in helping you stand up from a chair or drive upwards from a squat. And while your glutes and hamstrings are generally considered the engine for your power as a sprinter or leaper, your quads also play a role there, too.
Training your quads, however, can be challenging. Your glutes and hamstrings are widely considered the largest keys to leg power and running, so it’s those muscles that often shoulder the load on your lower-body exercises. Still, that doesn’t doom you to an existence living only on your gym’s leg extension machine. Instead, vary leg position and build mind-muscle connection on more multi-joint moves for major quad gains.
Leg moves can be divided broadly into two categories: Hip-dominant moves and knee-dominant moves. The more knee-dominant an exercise is, the more it’ll attack your quads. If it’s hip dominant, the hamstrings and glutes will be highly involved, taking some emphasis off the quads. That said, slight shifts in technique can alter whether a move is hip-dominant or knee-dominant, and understanding and making those shifts can help you get that deep quad burn you’re seeking, and drive your quads towards growth.
Start with these moves and enjoy the burn.
Yes, the front squat will attack more than your quads, attacking glutes and hamstrings too. But the more upright positioning of the front squat, as compared to the classic back squat makes the move more knee-dominant. Don’t squat too deeply and you’ll emphasize your quads.
Goblet Squat Quad Destruction
This series of squats from fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. relies on heel elevation to shift more stress onto the quads and make the squat more knee-dominant. And yes, it’s OK if your knees go in front of your toes as you squat (and that, in fact, will help drive this to be a more knee-dominant move). The closed stance also emphasizes the quads, limiting how much your glutes can be involved.
Goblet Squat Hellset
You’re right back on goblet squats here, again using elevation to push your quads to the limit. This series changes how you attack things though: Once you’re done with your heel-elevated reps, you’ll incorporate hamstrings and glutes in some standard squats. That’ll help you push through a few more reps, driving your quads that much closer to fatigue.
Bulgarian Split Squat Glute Annihilator
Yes, this will smash your glutes too. But because you’re adding elevation on the front of the split squat, you’ll also get a deep stretch on your front quad and have to drive out of that position to stand up. That means major quad burn, especially because of the dropset style used.
Two-Way Reverse Lunge
This reverse lunge series attacks quads, glutes, and hamstrings, and it uses a simple adjustment to light up your quads. Instead of taking your standard step backwards, you’re going to take a smaller step. That will lead your knee to travel in front of your toes; when you press up from here, your quads will shoulder the burden. Keep driving your front heel into the ground as you do this; that’s critical to getting the most from the move.
Hover to Drive Lunge
The hover to drive lunge pushes the quads to do focus heavily on extending the knee, and doing that as quickly and powerfully as possible. Your glutes and hamstrings will help too, but don’t underestimate how much your quads will work — or how much you’ll feel this one the next day.
Double Cossack Squat
You’ll challenge quad and glute power on this one, and you’ll hone your mobility too. Focus on squeezing your quad hard as you drive out of the bent-knee position to get the most out of this for your quads.
The classic split squat attacks quads, glutes, and hamstrings, but if you narrow your stance slightly, your front knee will travel in front of your toes, and you’ll need that much more quadriceps strength and power to drive upwards. Start with a light weight here, learning to focus on squeezing your quad hard when you stand up; once you’re comfortable, expect to be able to use heavy loads.
Cossack Squat Multi-Plane Series
Learn to drive up from multiple directions and in multiple ways with this series that you can do with either kettlebells or dumbbells. Focus on fully standing up on every rep: You’ll be stimulating your quads to fully flex after absorbing force laterally (in the Cossack) and from behind (when you step out of the lunge).
Bulgarian Split Squat Superset
Yes, Bulgarians attack glutes (and this one does too!) but all the pauses and pulses in this series will also exhaust your quads. And remember: The closer you keep your stance, the more you’ll attack your quads (although you’ll also challenge the mobility of your back leg, too).
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