This pilates routine is a great (roughly) 30 minute routine that is predominantly focused on the legs. If you are new to pilates then you may get some muscle building from this routine but not much. What you will get however is what pilates is a master at, and that is tight toned muscles.
The slow and methodical nature of pilates is what causes some to shy away from it, due to the effort and muscle burn you tend to endure during a routine. That exact effort and burn however is exactly why this style of exercise is so effective at producing tight toned muscles. By moving slowly and forcing your body to go through a full range of motion slowly without much break you are not only developing an even amount of control throughout that entire range of motion but you are contracting your muscles in a way that tells your body to expect physical activity at any time and expect to have to do it without rest. This seemingly simple action has a huge effect on your body’s muscle causing it to stay slightly contracted all the time which causes those areas of your body to firm up not only to the eye but to the touch as well. This is one of the major physiological changes your body shows when you exercise on a regular basis and though most people don’t realise it when they see someone with good muscle tone, there is a subconscious trigger letting them know you are in good shape physically.
Do each exercise for 40 Seconds with a 10 second break/prep in between. This makes it a fast paced routine but ultimately challenges your muscles more thoroughly. If you are really looking to boost some muscle tone and possibly even get a bit sore the next day the we suggest doing this routine twice through. But feel free to only do it once and couple it with another routine or if you want a lighter day then just do the routine as is.
– Optional exercise mat (use a thick mat for pilates not a yoga mat)
– Warm Up is not Included
– Cooldown is included
Cool Down Stretch:
– Free style
This routine burns anywhere from 3.6 to 6 calories per minute giving you a total calorie burn of 127 on the low end to 197 on the high end.
Pilates Reformer exercises not only tone your physique, they can help you shed pounds and strengthen your muscles (all while having fun!). In addition to shaping your body, Pilates Reformer exercises are also great for improving your balance and posture, while strengthening and elongating your muscles.
In collaboration with fitness instructor Maddy Crouch (the owner of Physique Exercise Salon in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California), Inspirations & Celebrations recently launched a new 4-part fitness tutorial series called the “The Fit Physique Guide to Pilates Reformer”. In Part 1, Maddy shared upper body exercises that help us tone our arms and shoulders. Over the next few weeks, Maddy will share more inspiring Pilates Reformer exercises designed for the lower body, core, and prenatal women.
- The Fit Physique Guide to Pilates Reformer: Part 2 – Lower Body Exercises
- Fitness Contributor: Maddy Crouch
- Pilates Exercises for Your Hips and Buttocks
- Do These Pilates Moves for Stronger Abs and Legs
- Abs and Legs Pilates Workout
- The Best Quad Workout To Build Up The Front Of Your Legs
- Workout Tips To Build Big Quads
- The 6 Absolute Best Quads Exercises You Can Do
- The Anatomy of the Quadriceps Muscles
- The Simple Science of Effective Quadriceps Training
- The Best Quadriceps Exercises
- 1. Barbell Back Squat
- 2. Barbell Front Squat
- 3. Dumbbell and Barbell Lunge
- 4. Leg Press
- 5. Hack Squat (Machine)
- 6. Dumbbell and Barbell Step-Up
- 7. Sprints (Bonus!)
- The Ultimate Quadriceps Workout
- Once you hit the top of your rep range for one set, move up in weight.
- Rest 3 minutes in between each 4-to-6-rep set and 1 minute in between 8-to-10-rep sets.
- Make sure you’re eating enough food.
- This type of training is the core of my Bigger Leaner Stronger (men) and Thinner Leaner Stronger (women) programs and I have hundreds of success stories that prove its effectiveness.
- What About Supplements?
- The Bottom Line on the Best Quadriceps Exercises
- Want More Workouts?
- How to Create the Ultimate Upper Chest Workout
- The Best Back Exercises to Build Your Best Back Ever
- The Best Shoulder Workouts for Men & Women
- The 6 Best Hamstring Exercises You Need to Do
- The 7 Best Butt Exercises That Will Give You Glorious Glutes
- The Absolute Best Biceps Workout
- The Absolute Best Triceps Workout
- Beyond the “Best Ab Exercises” (How to Actually Get Abs)
- The Definitive Full-Body Workout Guide
- The Ultimate Forearm Workout
- 17 Bodyweight Exercises That Will Skyrocket Your Gains
- Readers’ Ratings
- Your Rating?
- Best of Quads
The Fit Physique Guide to Pilates Reformer: Part 2 – Lower Body Exercises
Pilates Reformer Exercise: Jumping with the jump board
We all want to be able to wear shorts or a dress and not feel self-conscious about our thighs, right? In order to tone thigh muscles, you have to feel the burn. But in order to lose fat on the legs, you have to burn calories. Using the Pilates Reformer jump board does both.
With a medium resistance, lying supine on your back, push off the jump board just like it sounds and jump! Similar to jumping up in the air, you want to start with the knees bent and then straighten the legs as your spring away from the board. This is surprisingly low impact as long as you land properly. You want to roll back onto your feet. Catching the board with the balls of your feet first then allow the heels to come down too. If you land on a flat foot it will jar the knees and hips. You also want to have soft legs when your feet hit the board. Starting to decrease your speed and bend into the landing will help you protect the knees and hips. While you are floating in the air mid-jump you’ll be working your core. And another thing I left out… you have to squeeze your glutes. Keep your core engaged will protect the back and keeping the glutes engaged will help you keep your core engaged. It all goes together!
We can jump and land in different foot positions to access different little muscles. If you want to get really fancy, you can do little dance like moves while you are in the air. Open and close the feet quickly while floating and you’ll work your inner thighs. After a few minutes of jumping, you’ll feel your quadriceps muscles working. Try to sustain 10-15 minutes of jumping, carrying the way you land. Some of the different foot positions you can land in are Small V, Wide V or even one foot at a time.
Pilates Reformer Exercise: Side-lying footwork
I think you will find many Pilates exercises are very similar just with a twist. You always want to try to work your muscles in different ways. Confusing the muscle promotes prefers. Just as you study and challenge your brain to learn new things.
Here we lie on our sides and work only one leg at a time. Singling our one side allows a potentially weaker side to work on its own and catch up. Make sure to support your upper body and keep the core engaged for stability. Also be east of keeping your knee and ankle in proper alignment as to not injure the knee. Push out on the foot bar straightening the leg and then bend the leg bringing the carriage back in. You’ll want a medium to heavy resistance here. There are a few different foot positions for this exercise. You can keep your foot flat on the bar or elevate the heel to focus more on the quadriceps. You can also externally rotate the leg and point your toes upward.
Pilates Reformer Exercises: Feet in the straps
It is very important to work all sides of the legs and keep a balance. Focusing on just one area could cause problems elsewhere in the body like the back.
This exercise works the back of the leg, your hamstrings. You’ll see in the photo I have added the magic circle between my ankles to also work inner thighs. Everyone loves this exercise because it can’t be easily replicated and the stretch at the top of the movement feels amazing. You’ll want a medium resistance, lying supine on your back and put both feet in the straps. Simply lower and lift the legs, pressing down against the resistance. If you have a magic circle, or even a ball, between your ankles, be sure to squeeze it to keep the inner thigh muscles engaged. If you don’t, you can keep your feet and legs together. Think about lengthening the legs as you press down through your feet. Keep your arms down by your sides to keep the neck and shoulders relaxed. Engage the core as the legs lower and once again squeeze the glutes. When your legs lift up you’ll feel a hamstring stretch, just be mindful of keeping a neutral spine and not allowing your tailbone to lift off the carriage.
Pilates Reformer Exercise: Lunges with the box
When you think of exercises for your legs you think squats and lunges, right? Although this may not be a Joseph Pilates classical exercise, it still works to strengthen and define the legs.
Place your long box on the floor right next to the carriage. Use a light spring and stand with one foot on the box and your other foot against the shoulder pad. Very slowly and carefully push the carriage back, bending the knees and lowering down into a lunge position. Stay aware of your form and make sure your front knee is over the ankle. Due to the light spring, the carriage will push back easily. Focus your eyes on a stationary spot on the floor or wall in front if you to help you keep your balance as you work to stand up and bring the carriage in. The lighter the spring, the harder the standing leg will work. If you need some assistance bringing the carriage back in just add more resistance.
To challenge and fatigue the muscles, hold the lunge position and pulse up and down. Just a very small movement 2-3” up and down. You can also stay in this lunge and push the carriage leg in and out. The standing leg will stay bent and work to hold most of your body weight.
Pilates Reformer Exercise: Crescent Lunge
Remember when I said it’s good to work the muscles in a similar but slightly different way? We are going to lunge again but this time with our standing leg on the floor. You’ll want to keep a light resistance as you push the carriage back and lower down into a crescent lunge. What makes this exercise different is that you keep your back leg straight this time. Focus on bending down into your standing leg. Engage your core and hinge forward slightly to help keep the back leg straight. You will feel a stretch in the hip flexors of the carriage leg but you’ll feel glute and thigh of your standing leg working to hold your body weight up.
To challenge yourself, push back into this crescent pose position and hold. Think of yoga! Breathe deeply and feel your muscles start to tremble. Then, as a reward, rest your knee on the carriage for an incredible psoas stretch!
For more exercise tips and tutorials from fitness experts and celebrity trainers, check out the Fitness section on Inspirations & Celebrations. Be well and stay inspired on your fitness journey!
Fitness Contributor: Maddy Crouch
Maddy Crouch has been a Certified Pilates, Barre & TRX instructor since 2012. She opened her first studio (Physique Exercise Salon) in downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea, California just after graduating from college. Being an entrepreneur fulfilled her dreams, but helping others feeds her soul. Maddy is a new mom and gained a different appreciation for all that Pilates can do for the body when getting back into shape after having her son. As a fitness contributor to Inspirations & Celebrations, Maddy shares exercise and fitness tips to help you tone up, trim down, and get a fit physique.
Pilates Exercises for Your Hips and Buttocks
Trim those hips and show off a better buttocks—and you’ll be well on your way to a toned Pilates body.
If you’re looking for leaner hips and better buttocks, there are some essential Pilates exercises you can do to tone your outer thighs and glutes, bringing you one step closer to a better Pilates body. Follow the instructions below, or if you prefer a visual guide, check out the accompanying video.
The first of these exercises targets your glutes and hamstrings. Start lying on your back, with your knees up, feet hip-distance apart, and arms resting at your sides.
- Exhale, and lift your buttocks up off the floor, squeezing your glutes.
- Inhale as you lower your body back down to the mat.
- Repeat several times, and then return to the raised position.
- From here, perform several pulses. Pulses are simply smaller, faster movements of the same exercise. Be sure to pulse from the muscle itself, engaging your glutes, not using your lower back.
- Hold the raised position and return your body back to the mat.
Repeat this entire series one more time, including both the full exercises and controlled pulses.
This next series of Pilates exercises for your hips and buttocks, called the Book Series, primarily targets the outer thigh muscles, but it also helps to create a more shapely rear. For this exercise, turn onto your right side and bring your knees in toward your body.
- Keeping your heels together and abs in, lift your left knee up.
- Lower your left leg back down to touch your right, and repeat.
- Next, lift the entire left leg up about hip-high, no longer keeping your heels together. Repeat several times.
- For the next variation of this series, hold your left leg up at hip-height, and circle it around in small, controlled circles, performing little exhales as you go.
- Keep your abs in and reverse the circle. Relax your leg down.
Turn to your left side, and repeat the Book Series with your right leg. As you move through the variations of this series, you’ll get deeper and deeper into the outer thigh muscles, for ultimate tone and more sculpted buttocks.
The last of these exercises, called the Belly Frog, targets the back of your thighs and your glutes. It’s performed lying on your stomach, with your hands under your forehead and your legs about hip-distance apart. Bend at the knees, so that your heels are up in the air and together.
- Exhale and raise your knees up off the floor about two inches, keeping your heels together. Keep your abs in and hips pressed into the mat.
- Inhale as you return your knees to the mat.
Repeat several times and rest. When performed as a series, these Pilates exercises for your hips and buttocks collectively provide a workout for your outer thighs, hamstrings, and glutes. Performed consistently, you’ll start to see a visible change in the shape of your hips and buttocks.
Hip pain is a common issue in our modern society. There are a variety of factors that can cause it, from shortened hip-flexors, due to prolonged sitting on chairs, to excessive compression and muscular tension from imbalanced walking patterns. As long as our discomfort is due to such soft tissue problems, and we have eliminated other, more problematic causes of hip pain, we can help our hips remain more relaxed, comfortable and moving freely with a few simple exercises.
Performed regularly, these 4 Pilates exercises for happy hips can help alleviate some of the soft tissue discomfort and improve mobility. They are however no substitution for the care of a trained practitioner, and they are not meant to treat any injury or medical condition.
If you have any injuries, that are under the supervision of a healthcare practitioner such as your Doctor, Physical Therapist, Chiropractor, etc. please consult with them before trying new exercises. If a movement causes pain or discomfort it is best to stop and consult a qualified Pilates Practitioner.
Before you start, make sure that you have everything you need (space, a comfortable mat, perhaps a cushion for your head) and make sure that you will not be disturbed.
Start by lying on your back with your knees bend. Take the time to explore what is a comfortable position for you and feel free to make adjustments. Notice your contact with the ground and your breath. It is good to take a minute or two, to become aware of what your body is telling you. You are about to engage in some communication and team work with you body and you want to pay attention to the sensations it is giving you as you try out something new.
Do These Pilates Moves for Stronger Abs and Legs
There’s nothing like a good Pilates workout to beef up your muscles before hitting the beach. And while reformers and stability balls can kick your practice up a notch, many of the moves can be done sans equipment, too — making them perfect for at-home (or on-the-beach) routines. Jeanette Jenkins, celeb trainer of The Hollywood Trainer Club, opts for the exercises below when she wants to work the abs and legs simultaneously. Follow in her footsteps by watching the video below — which means no half-crunches — and get ready to feel the slow, always-worth-it burn. (Want more where that came from? Try these 12 Classic Pilates Moves That Double As Ab Exercises.)
Abs and Legs Pilates Workout
How it works: Roll out your mat, then work your way through each exercise for the given number of reps. To see how each move should look, use the above video of Jeanette as a guide.
Upper Fiber Prep Crunch
A. Start lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hands are behind head with elbows wide.
B. Crunch to lift shoulder blades off the floor. Holding this position, extend arms by sides and crunch up a few inches higher.
C. Holding this position, extend arms overhead, biceps by ears.
D. Hold for one second, then slowly lower to floor to return to start.
Do 8 to 10 reps.
A. Start lying on back in a crunch position, abs engaged, shoulders lifted, and arms reaching between legs.
B. Crunch a few inches higher, reaching legs further toward feet.
C. Pulse back and forth between crunch positions.
Do 15 to 20 reps.
Lateral Flexion Pulse
A. Start lying on back in a crunch position with right arm behind head and left arm reaching toward legs.
B. Crunch to reach left arm closer to left foot.
C. Pulse back and forth between crunch positions.
Do 15 to 20 reps on each side.
Crunch with Leg Extension
A. Start lying on back with legs in tabletop position.
B. Straighten legs into 45-degree angle off the ground, crunching up toward feet.
C. Return to start.
Do 8 to 10 reps.
A. Start lying on back in crunch position, shoulders lifted off ground, abs engaged, legs in tabletop position.
B. Quickly pulse arms up and down 5 times.
C. Straighten legs into 45-degree angle off the ground. Pulse arms up and down 5 times.
D. Return to start.
Do 10 reps.
A. Start lying on back, left leg straight and lifted off the ground. Bend right knee, and bring left hand across your body to grasp right knee. right shand should grasp right ankle.
B. Straighten right leg while bending left leg, switching hands to opposite side.
C. Return to start.
Do 8 to 10 reps.
Leg Reach with Twist
A. Start lying on back, right leg straight and lifted off the ground. Bend left knee, twisting to reach right elbow to left knee.
B. Straighten left leg and bend right leg, twisting to reach left elbow to right knee.
C. Return to start.
Do 8 to 10 reps.
A. Start lying on back with legs lifted slightly off the ground, feet together.
B. Use abs to slowly raise legs over head, lifting back off the ground and reaching feet to touch the ground above your head.
C. Slowly roll back to starting position.
Do 10 reps.
A. Start lying on back in crunch position. Lift left leg a few inches off the ground, holding right leg straight up toward ceiling.
B. Pulse right leg toward your head 2 times.
C. Switch sides, bringing right leg to a few inches off the ground while pulsing left leg toward head twice.
D. Continue switching sides.
Do 8 to 10 reps.
A. Start lying on back, right leg straight out on a diagonal, left leg bent, arms above head.
B. Inhale, bringing arms toward sky.
C. Exhale, rolling up to a seated position, keeping right leg extended.
D. Return to start.
Do 6 to 8 reps each leg.
A. Start lying on back, legs straight out on a diagonal, arms above head.
B. Inhale, bringing arms toward sky.
C. Exhale, rolling up to seated position, keeping legs extended.
D. Return to start.
Do 6 to 8 reps.
Our thighs are often one of the most stubborn areas to slim down and tone up. While the outer-thigh muscles tend to get worked more often from common exercises like walking or running, the inner-thigh muscles are often ignored. Increasing muscle tissue not only burns calories but also firms up that area of the body. When I danced, especially in ballet class, my inner thighs were constantly being used and worked. Strong inner thighs are a necessity for a good turnout and quick leg movements. As I became less active in the dance world, I wanted to maintain the strength and physique I had while dancing. It was through Pilates exercises that I was able to further improve my thigh strength without creating bulk. That’s because Pilates, much like ballet, was designed to create long lean muscles. Pilates is also great because you don’t need any equipment or a gym to do the exercises. Here are four Pilates exercises guaranteed to strengthen and slim your thighs!
Inner Thigh Circles
Lying on your side, prop your upper body up onto your elbow. Engage your lats and your obliques to make sure you don’t sink down into your shoulder blade. Bend the top leg and place your foot flat on the ground with the knee turned out facing the ceiling. The bottom leg will be straight and parallel with the foot flexed. Keep sending energy out of the straight leg through the heel as you use your inner thigh to lift that leg up as high as possible and then do 10 small circles clockwise and 10 counterclockwise. Try your best to keep the top hip from falling back in order to get the bottom leg up. To modify this exercise, you may lay your arm down and prop your head up with your hand so you aren’t on as high of an incline.
Inner Thigh Pulses in Single Leg Bridge
Lying on the ground with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, lift your hips into the air as high as possible. Lift with your glutes and hamstrings, not by arching your back. You want to maintain tone in the front of your abdominals rather than completely disengaging them in order to arch up. You may not get as high in the beginning as you will later. Make sure your knees are directly over your heels and straighten one leg without allowing your hips to shift. The pelvis remains square and your knees should be glued together. In this position, pulse your inner thighs together 20-30 times before switching legs. While you will be simultaneously strengthening your glutes and hamstrings, be careful not to mistake inner thigh pulsing for butt pulsing! You want your glutes and hips to remain stable in space, not bouncing up and down. Focus on the small contractions of your inner thighs. If at first this is too difficult, you can do it with both feet down on the ground and build up to one leg off the ground.
This exercise really tightens up the back of the legs and butt along with the inner thighs. Lie face down making sure your legs are turned out with the heels together and toes apart. Rest your forehead on your hands and pull the navel in toward your spine to protect your lower back. Keep the legs straight and squeeze your glutes so that your legs are lifted off the ground as much as possible without crunching your lower back. Vigorously beat your heels together using your inner thigh muscles, not just your feet. Work up to a full minute.
Plié Squat Pulses
This isn’t a traditional Pilates exercise, but I love doing this in my classes because it uses both Pilates and ballet techniques to work the thighs. Squat with your legs turned out and wide enough so your knees don’t go beyond your toes. Keep your back straight and your tailbone pointing down towards the ground by pulling your navel to your spine. Think of pulling your knees back by squeezing your butt. This turned out position forces you to work the inner thighs more. Get as low as possible without compromising your trunk position and do small pulses up and down for a full minute. Rather than bouncing from the knees, think of pulsing the tailbone down towards the ground. If you want more of a challenge, lift both heels so you’re holding a calf raise while you pulse.
Remember to breathe throughout each exercise and stretch at the end. While the focus may be on the thighs, you will feel your entire body engaging in these moves when done correctly. As Joseph Pilates always said, Go for quality over quantity!
Have you tried these killer thigh moves? Let us know in the comments below!
Also by Crystal: How I Learned to Breather after I Stopped Dancing
Related: 6 Dancer Stretches for Sore Hips and Thighs
5 Post-Run Stretches for Leaner Legs
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Photos: Crystal Chin
This Pilates workout video for the butt and thighs is very effective at toning the lower body. It consists of only thigh slimming exercises that add definition without adding any size to the legs. What all of the moves have in common is that they engage the muscles without any significant weight or resistance.
For an example of the difference between exercises that slim legs and those that might build mass, consider lunges. Lunges require you to tax one leg at a time with the majority of your bodyweight. Even for the slightest person, bodyweight is a significant amount of weight for one leg, which can overtime build (strong, athletic, attractive) leg muscle. If that doesn’t happen to be one of your goals, these Pilates butt and thigh exercises are a great low resistance way to tone legs and build lean muscle because none of them have you maneuvering any significant amount of bodyweight. Do keep in mind that lean muscle mass is what gives you the advantage of a faster resting metabolism – don’t avoid building muscle.
This routine is fantastic because of how comprehensively the exercises work your lower body. By the time you’ve finished the workout video, you will have used multiple approaches to target your glutes, inside and outside thighs, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves.
Another benefit to this Pilates workout video is that the moves engage much more than just the obvious muscle groups. In addition to toning the lower body, you’ll also be using your abdominals, obliques, hip flexors and lower back. Aside from the toning benefits, Pilates also offers the advantage of increasing flexibility and overall body awareness.
Do this lower body workout routine up to three or four times a week, taking more time off in between if muscles are still sore.
Do at least 5 minutes of warm up cardio before starting the routine in order to warm up muscles and increase range of motion.
Once you are familiar with the video, feel free to turn down the volume of our narration & turn on your own music.
The Best Quad Workout To Build Up The Front Of Your Legs
1 Front squat
Sets 4 Reps 6-8 Rest 2min
Take a “clean” grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Position the bar on your collarbone and drive your elbows upwards. Un-rack the bar, and take two steps back. Check your stance is even with feet just outside shoulder width. Take a deep breath, brace your core and lower under control into a full squat. Think “sitting between your heels”, rather than “sitting back”. Throughout the movement keep your elbows up and in to maintain the “shelf” for the barbell. Once you hit the bottom position, drive back up through the mid-foot until you reach the start.
2 Bulgarian split squat
Sets 3 Reps 8-10 Rest 90sec
Position yourself in a staggered stance with your rear foot elevated on a step or bench. Lower by bending at the knee and hip while keeping your torso upright. When you reach the bottom drive back up, extending your knee and hip to return to the start position.
3 Leg press
Sets 3 Reps 10-12 Rest 90sec
Position yourself on the leg press machine and place your feet on the platform shoulder-width apart. Slowly lower until your knees are bent at least at a 90° angle. Keeping your whole foot in contact with the platform, engage your quads to press the weight back up. Don’t lock out your knees at the top.
4 Leg extension
Sets 2 Reps 12-15 Rest 60sec
Sit up straight on the leg extension machine and imagine you have a seat belt around your waist pulling your hips down into the seat. Use your quads to initiate the movement and avoid “kicking” the weight up. Extend your legs fully and pause for one second at the top, then lower under control.
Workout Tips To Build Big Quads
All those quarter squats might be good for your ego, but they aren’t maxing out your quad development. The quads are mechanically advantaged at the top of the lift, which means it’s easier for them to move weight. So squat as deep as you can with good form. Working below parallel forces the quads to work far harder and causes much higher levels of activation than quarter squats.
“Single-leg work is great for stimulating the vastus medialis oblique or VMO, the teardrop-shaped muscle on the inside of the thigh,” says body composition expert Tom MacCormick (flatwhitesfreeweights.com). “This is because the opposing leg isn’t there to help stabilise and keep you in position. Without the aid of the opposing leg the working leg requires the VMO to kick in to aid stability, correct knee tracking and maintain alignment.”
Extend and flex
“Don’t ignore the leg extension if quad growth is your goal,” says MacCormick. “It causes high levels of activation in the rectus femoris, which flexes the hip and the knee. During squats the hip extension movement opposes the hip flexion function of the rectus femoris and limits its activation. But in the leg extension no hip extension occurs, so the rectus femoris can achieve higher levels of activation.”
The 6 Absolute Best Quads Exercises You Can Do
Pull your pants down and look in the mirror.
Look a little lower.
No, not at that…lower…
Do you like what you see?
I know I didn’t at one point.
After about 7 years of weightlifting…and spending at least 80% of that time on my upper body…here’s what I had to show for it:
To be fair, I didn’t look awful but I wasn’t exactly turning heads, either.
And although you can’t see my quads in this shot, my calves (yes, they’re there — look closely) tell you everything you need to know about the state of my wheels.
Let’s just say that when legs day rolled around, I usually had my training partner like this:
Well, I’ve since spent many hours in the squat rack to atone for my sins.
(Not that squats are all you need for great legs, though. More on this soon.)
My legs are still a work in progress (and my calves in particular–blow me, genetics), but I like to think they’re no longer a laughingstock:
(As you can see, I’ve also learned how to diet, among many other things.)
Now, when you look at the musculature of the legs, it’s obvious why so many people focus on the quads and neglect the hamstrings:
They contribute a lot more to the overall look of your legs and, being the larger muscle group, respond faster and more noticeably to training.
Well, while the quads are bigger, stronger, and more visible than their smaller, backside brethren, ignoring the latter is a mistake that I discuss in more detail here.
That said, in this article, we’re going to talk all about building those big, strong quads.
I’m going to share with you what I’ve learned, including…
- The most effective way to program your leg training.
- The best quads exercises and how to do them.
- An effective quadriceps workout that you can put to use right away.
- And more…
By the end, you’re going to know exactly what to do in your leg training and why, so let’s get started!
The Anatomy of the Quadriceps Muscles
The quadriceps are a group of four muscles on the front of the leg:
- Rectus Femoris
- Vastus Lateralis
- Vastus Medialis (which includes the coveted vastus medialis oblique, or VMO)
- Vastus Intermedius
(Interestingly, new research indicates there’s a fifth muscle involved, so maybe we should be talking about the quintraceps instead?)
Here’s how they look:
Together the quadriceps muscles work to extend the knees and flex the hips.
Thus, quadriceps exercises bring the hip from an extended to a flexed position (bending the joint) and bring the knee from a flexed to an extended position (straightening the joint).
When the quads are well developed, they form the centerpiece of the legs.
Case in point:
Quads aren’t not just for us guys, though.
If you’re a woman, whose legs would you prefer?
If you’re like most women I know, you’d choose door number two.
And getting there will require gaining a significant amount of muscle in your legs, including your quadriceps (no, this doesn’t have to make you “bulky,” either).
Let’s see how to get there.
The Simple Science of Effective Quadriceps Training
There are a lot of opinions about how to best train your quadriceps.
- Some people say all you need to do is squat.
- Others say you need to do a lot of isolation exercises.
- Some people say high-rep training is key.
- Others say heavy lifting is more productive.
- Some people believe that you should split your leg workouts into hamstring and quadriceps workouts.
- Others maintain that you should always train your legs as a whole.
Well, I’ve tried all the above and more, and I’ve worked with thousands of people, and here’s what I’ve learned:
Front and back squats are two of the best quadriceps exercises you can do.
When done properly these exercises also heavily involve the hamstrings, but they are primarily for the quadriceps.
And they work incredibly well.
Heavy compound movements are best for adding strength and size.
High-rep sets and machine exercises can be included in your quadriceps workouts, but they can’t deliver the same results as heavy free weight movements.
One heavy quadriceps workout per week is generally enough.
A crucial part of your quads training is volume, or the total amount of reps you do each week.
This is especially important when you’re doing a lot of heavy weightlifting because the overarching rule is this:
The heavier you lift, the fewer reps you can do each week without risking overtraining.
This is especially true of compound movements like the deadlift and squat.
Pulling and squatting heavy weights necessitates more recovery time than less stressful exercises like pullups or leg extensions.
Now, I’ve tried many different workout splits and frequency schemes and what I’ve found works best is in line with two extensive reviews on the subject.
When your training emphasizes lifting heavy weights (80 to 85%+ of 1RM), optimal volume seems to be about 60 to 70 reps performed every 5 to 7 days.
This not only applies to the quadriceps but to every other major muscle group as well.
In the case of the quads, though, we have to take into account the fact that they’re involved in some of the hamstring exercises you’re going to do as well.
For example, the Bulgarian Split Squat is great for training the hamstrings, but it also heavily recruits the quads.
We can adjust for this by slightly reducing the volume in your quads (and hamstring) workouts to account for this overlap.
This will ensure your body can adequately recover from both of your leg workouts that you’ll be doing every week.
Alright, now that we have basic training theory under our belts, let’s look at the best quadriceps exercises for building muscle and strength.
The Best Quadriceps Exercises
One of the biggest barriers to getting healthy and fit is information overload.
If you’ve Googled just about anything related to losing fat, gaining muscle, and getting strong, you know what I mean.
You quickly realize that you’ve entered a circus of umpteen experts and “gurus” in a free-for-all melee to get your attention and money.
Well, I have good news:
Out of all the quads exercises you could do, a small handful stand head and shoulders above the rest.
If you simply focus on progressing on these superior exercises, you’ll have no trouble building fantastic quadriceps (and legs).
Before we talk exercises, though, let’s talk equipment…
Why You Should Stay Off the Smith Machine
When it comes to working out, assume the following:
The easier something is–an exercise, workout, routine, etc.–the less effective it is.
There are exceptions, of course, but this holds true more often than not.
Thus, we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that research shows that the Smith Machine produces smaller gains in muscle and strength than free weights.
The main reason the Smith Machine is easier than (and inferior to) free weights is the fixed, vertical path that the bar travels on.
This simplifies the movements and reduces the need for stabilizing muscles to keep the bar level and balanced.
The quadriceps workout given below is going to call for free weight squatting. If you’ve been squatting exclusively on the Smith Machine, get ready for a rude awakening.
I used to squat on the Smith Machine and worked up to a rather meager 235 pounds for a few reps. When I moved to the free weight squat, I struggled with 185 pounds.
(I’ve since worked up to something respectable: 365 pounds for 2 to 3 reps on my back squat and 275 pounds for 2 reps on my front squat.)
If you’re worried that you’ll be increasing your risk of injury by making the switch, you won’t be.
You can free weight squat just as safely with the right setup (and without a spotter).
The key piece of equipment is the Power Rack.
How to Safely Squat Solo in the Power Rack
When you’re lifting, you don’t have to go to absolute muscle failure every set.
(Generally speaking, you want to end your sets one rep short of failure, which is the point where you struggle to get a rep and aren’t sure if you can get another without help.)
This is why a squat stand doesn’t work well for solo training.
With a stand, there are going to be times where you could have squeezed out another rep or two if you knew you weren’t going to get stuck without a way out.
Well, the Power Rack is the perfect solution.
It allows you to squat (and bench press) by yourself without having to worry about whether or not you’re going to get pinned under hundreds of pounds of weight.
Here’s a high-quality (and affordable) Power Rack made by Rogue, which I highly recommend:
The key feature of the Power Rack is the safety arms, which you set to catch the weight if you fail.
Here’s how it works:
Your Barbell Matters Too
While we’re talking equipment, let’s talk barbells.
You might think a barbell is a barbell, but I recommend you pony up for a high-quality bar with sleeves that can spin independently of the bar.
That is, the plates should be able to rotate without torquing the bar, which can put a lot of strain on your wrists when you’re bench pressing.
I like Rogue’s Ohio Bar personally:
Okay, with that out of the way, let’s now go over the best quadriceps exercises.
1. Barbell Back Squat
If you’re not doing at least some form of squatting, you’re not really training your legs.
And out of all the squat variations you can do, the plain old barbell back squat is hard to beat.
It’s has earned the reputation as the single most effective exercise you can do for building strong, muscular legs, and rightfully so.
It goes further than that, really, because it’s actually a whole-body exercise that involves every major muscle group but your chest.
That is…if it’s done correctly. And as you’ll see, it’s often not.
The biggest mistake people make in their squatting is failing to achieve proper depth.
This is a problem because the shallower the squat, the less effective it is.
Here’s what I mean by proper depth:
There are several things to highlight here:
- The thighs are slightly below parallel to the ground, putting the butt slightly below the knees.
- The head position is neutral, looking at a point on the ground about 6 to 8 feet away.
- The spine is neutral as well as opposed to arched or rounded.
- The chest is up, which forces the shoulders back.
- The knees are slightly in front of the toes.
That’s the position you want to achieve with every rep.
Here’s an in-depth discussion on how to squat properly:
Now, before we move on to the next quads exercise, let’s take a moment to talk full (“Ass to Grass”) squatting.
First, here’s what it looks like:
“ATG” squatting is kind of a “thing” these days, with some people claiming it’s the only “real” way to squat.
There are benefits to full squatting–it makes the legs and butt work harder–but there are downsides too:
- It requires quite a bit more lower body mobility than most people have.
- It requires more technical skill than parallel squats, which means your form is more likely to break down as the weights get heavier.
This is why I generally don’t recommend that people full squat unless they’re experienced weightlifters that are fairly flexible and familiar with proper form.
If that’s not you, don’t worry–the parallel squat will give your quads more than enough of a beating.
And while we’re talking lower body mobility and flexibility, I should mention the most common reasons people can’t squat properly:
- Hip inflexibility
- Hamstring tightness
- Calf and ankle tightness
Fortunately, these issues can be corrected (and prevented) with a simple squat mobility routine, like this one.
2. Barbell Front Squat
The front squat is a squat variation that emphasizes the quadriceps and core and requires less flexibility to achieve proper depth.
It also creates less compression of the spine and less torque in the knees, which makes it particularly useful for those with back or knee injuries or limitations.
Mechanically, speaking, it’s very similar to the back squat, but you hold the bar differently.
Here’s how it works:
3. Dumbbell and Barbell Lunge
The lunge is a simple but effective leg exercise that everyone should have in their repertoire.
It build strength, muscle, and balance, and because it’s a single-leg movement, it can help address muscular imbalances as well.
If you’re new to lunging, the dumbbell lunge is the place to start.
Here’s how to do it:
The barbell lunge is a more difficult variation but it allows you to load heavier weights:
4. Leg Press
Some people like to think that the leg press is just an inferior version of the squat.
It not only requires less technical skill (making it more newbie-friendly) and stabilizing muscles (allowing you to load heavier weights), it also is fantastic for building hip strength (due to a larger range of motion in the hips than the squat).
Here’s how to do it on an angled press (which I prefer):
And here’s a seated press:
5. Hack Squat (Machine)
I don’t use many exercise machines but am a big believer in the value of this one.
Like the leg press, it emphasizes the quadriceps but requires less technical skill and stabilizing muscles than a free weight squat, meaning you can safely handle heavier weights.
It’s particularly useful for sets that you plan on taking to absolute muscle failure because if you get stuck, you can sit the weight down without risk of injury.
Here’s how to do it:
6. Dumbbell and Barbell Step-Up
Like the lunge, the step-up is a great single-leg quadriceps exercise.
In fact, it’s so great that decades ago many strength coaches in Bulgaria and the Soviet Union had their athletes do it in place of the back squat and saw even better results.
As with the lunge, the dumbbell step-up is the place to start.
Here’s how to do it:
As you get stronger and need to continue increasing the weight, you’ll graduate to the barbell step-up:
7. Sprints (Bonus!)
If you’re surprised to see this on the list, I’m going to assume you’ve never done all-out sprints before.
They destroy your quads. (They’re great for high-intensity interval cardio as well.)
If you’re going to sprint, you might as well learn a bit about how to do it right.
Here’s a good summary:
Remember–Progression is the Key to Muscle Growth
That’s it for the best quadriceps exercises. Those are all you need to build deep, sweeping quads.
Your goal isn’t to just do these exercises, though–it’s to progress on them.
And when we’re talking building muscle, the most productive type of progression is “progressive overload.”
This refers to increasing tension levels in the muscles over time and the easiest way to do that is to add weight to the bar.
This is why your primary goal as a natural weightlifter is to get stronger.
So…build strength on the exercises above and eat enough food and you will make gains.
The Ultimate Quadriceps Workout
Before we look at an actual quadriceps workout, let’s talk workout programming.
First, the obvious question:
Why bother with a hamstring/quadriceps split? Why not just do all-inclusive “leg workouts” instead?
Well, there are several reasons why you might want to train the hamstrings and quadriceps on different days:
1. You’re an advanced weightlifter that is having trouble adding size to your legs.
A hamstring/quads split allows you to maximally overload each muscle group both in terms of individual workouts and weekly volume.
2. Your quads or hamstrings are under- or over-developed.
A hamstring/quads split allows you to work harder on your lagging muscle group while maintaining the other.
3. You like it more than traditional leg training.
In many ways, the best workout routine is the one you can stick to.
How much you enjoy a workout program does play a role in your overall results with it.
Now, if you’re new to weightlifting or your legs aren’t imbalanced and you don’t particularly like splitting your leg workouts into two, then you don’t have a reason to do hamstring and quadriceps workouts.
You can just stick to traditional leg training and make tremendous progress. (That’s what I do personally.)
So, with that in mind, let’s look at how to get the most out of a hamstring/quadriceps split.
We recall that your quads workouts will train your hamstrings as well, and vice versa.
This is why I recommend that you do just one quadriceps and hamstring workout per week, and that you put 3 days of rest in between the workouts.
(Many people like to train one of the two on Mondays and the other on Thursdays.)
This will ensure your legs have enough time to recover before you train them again.
There’s no particular benefit to doing one or the other first in the week, so whichever you start with is up to you.
My favorite type of quadriceps workout contains at least one big, compound movement and one or two additional exercises to target the muscle group.
Furthermore, the quadriceps can benefit from higher rep work, but you have to emphasize the heavy weightlifting if you want to avoid plateaus.
The workout below is a great introduction to this training philosophy and it’s equally applicable to both men and women.
That said, you’ll see that I recommend different rep ranges for each.
This is mainly because most women haven’t done any heavy compound weightlifting before and can’t comfortably work with weights in the higher ranges of their one-rep max.
As they get stronger, though, they can and should start including heavier work in their training. (I talk more about this in my book Thinner Leaner Stronger.)
If, however, you’re a woman that’s well-acquainted with heavy weightlifting, then I recommend that you follow the heavier recommendations for men.
So, do the following workout once per 7 days for the next 8 weeks, and I think you’ll be very happy with the results.
Barbell Back Squat
Warm up and 2 sets of…
Men/Experienced Women: 4 to 6 reps (~85% of 1RM)
Inexperienced Women: 8 to 10 reps (70 to 75% of 1RM)
Barbell Front Squat
Men/Experienced Women: 4 to 6 reps (~85% of 1RM)
Inexperienced Women: 8 to 10 reps (70 to 75% of 1RM)
2 sets of…
Men/Experienced Women: 4 to 6 reps (~85% of 1RM)
Inexperienced Women: 8 to 10 reps (70 to 75% of 1RM)
2 sets of…
All: 8 to 10 reps
That’s it. And trust me–it’s harder than it looks.
A few odds and ends:
Once you hit the top of your rep range for one set, move up in weight.
For instance, if you get 6 reps with, let’s say, 235 pounds on your back squat, add 5 pounds to each side of the bar for your next set.
If, on the next set, you can get at least 4 reps with 245 pounds, that’s the new weight you work with until you can squat it for 6 reps, move up, and so forth.
If you get 3 or fewer reps, reduce the weight added by 5 pounds (240 pounds) and see how the next set goes.
If you still get 3 or fewer, reduce the weight to the original 6-rep load and work with that until you can do two 6-rep sets with it, and then increase.
Rest 3 minutes in between each 4-to-6-rep set and 1 minute in between 8-to-10-rep sets.
Yes, this is going to feel like a lot of standing around, but resting properly is a hugely important part of heavy weightlifting.
This is the time where your muscles recoup their strength so you can give maximum effort each set.
Make sure you’re eating enough food.
You probably know that you’re supposed to eat a fair amount of protein to build muscle, but total caloric intake matters too.
Read this article to learn why.
If you give this workout a go and get good results with it, I highly recommend you check out BLS/TLS because you’re going to love it.
What About Supplements?
I saved this for last because, quite frankly, it’s far less important than proper diet and training.
You see, supplements don’t build great physiques–dedication to proper training and nutrition does.
Unfortunately, the workout supplement industry is plagued by pseudoscience, ridiculous hype, misleading advertising and endorsements, products full of junk ingredients, underdosing key ingredients, and many other shenanigans.
Most supplement companies produce cheap, junk products and try to dazzle you with ridiculous marketing claims, high-profile (and very expensive) endorsements, pseudo-scientific babble, fancy-sounding proprietary blends, and flashy packaging.
So, while workout supplements don’t play a vital role in building muscle and losing fat, and many are a complete waste of money…the right ones can help.
The truth of the matter is there are safe, natural substances that have been scientifically proven to deliver benefits such as increased strength, muscle endurance and growth, fat loss, and more.
As a part of my work, it’s been my job to know what these substances are, and find products with them that I can use myself and recommend to others.
Finding high-quality, effective, and fairly priced products has always been a struggle, though.
That’s why I took matters into my own hands and decided to create my own supplements. And not just another line of “me too” supplements–the exact formulations I myself have always wanted and wished others would create.
I won’t go into a whole spiel here though. If you want to learn more about my supplement line, check this out.
For the purpose of this article, let’s just quickly review the supplements that are going to help you get the most out of your quad (and other) workouts.
Creatine is a substance found naturally in the body and in foods like red meat. It’s perhaps the most researched molecule in the world of sport supplements–the subject of hundreds of studies–and the consensus is very clear:
Supplementation with creatine helps…
- Build muscle and improve strength,
- Improve anaerobic endurance
- Reduce muscle damage and soreness
You may have heard that creatine is bad for your kidneys, but these claims have been categorically and repeatedly disproven. In healthy subjects, creatine has been shown to have no harmful side effects, in both short- or long-term usage. People with kidney disease are not advised to supplement with creatine, however.
If you have healthy kidneys, I highly recommend that you supplement with creatine. It’s safe, cheap, and effective.
In terms of specific products, I use my own, of course, which is called RECHARGE.
RECHARGE is 100% naturally sweetened and flavored and each serving contains:
- 5 grams of creatine monohydrate
- 2100 milligrams of L-carnitine L-tartrate
- 10.8 milligrams of corosolic acid
This gives you the proven strength, size, and recovery benefits of creatine monohydrate plus the muscle repair and insulin sensitivity benefits of L-carnitine L-tartrate and corosolic acid.
You don’t need protein supplements to gain muscle, but, considering how much protein you need to eat every day to maximize muscle growth, getting all your protein from whole food can be impractical.
That’s the main reason I created (and use) a whey protein supplement. (There’s also evidence that whey protein is particularly good for your post-workout nutrition.)
WHEY+ is 100% naturally sweetened and flavored whey isolate that is made from milk sourced from small dairy farms in Ireland, which are known for their exceptionally high-quality dairy.
I can confidently say that this is the creamiest, tastiest, healthiest all-natural whey protein powder you can find.
There’s no question that a pre-workout supplement can get you fired up to get to work in the gym. There are downsides and potential risks, however.
Many pre-workout drinks are stuffed full of ineffective ingredients and/or minuscule dosages of otherwise good ingredients, making them little more than a few cheap stimulants with some “pixie dust” sprinkled in to make for a pretty label and convincing ad copy.
Many others don’t even have stimulants going for them and are just complete duds.
Others still are downright dangerous, like USPLabs’ popular pre-workout “Jack3d,”which contained a powerful (and now banned) stimulant known as DMAA.
Even worse was the popular pre-workout supplement “Craze,” which contained a chemical similar to methamphetamine.
The reality is it’s very hard to find a pre-workout supplement that’s light on stimulants but heavy on natural, safe, performance-enhancing ingredients like beta-alanine, betaine, and citrulline.
And that’s why I made my own pre-workout supplement. It’s called PULSE and it contains 6 of the most effective performance-enhancing ingredients available:
- Caffeine. Caffeine is good for more than the energy boost. It also increases muscle endurance and strength.
- Beta-Alanine. Beta-alanine is a naturally occurring amino acid that reduces exercise-induced fatigue, improves anaerobic exercise capacity, and can accelerate muscle growth.
- Citrulline Malate. Citrulline is an amino acid that improves muscle endurance, relieves muscle soreness, and improves aerobic performance.
- Betaine. Betaine is a compound found in plants like beets that improves muscle endurance, increases strength, and increases human growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor 1 production in response to acute exercise.
- Ornithine. Ornithine is an amino acid found in high amounts in dairy and meat that reduces fatigue in prolonged exercise and promotes lipid oxidation (the burning of fat for energy as opposed to carbohydrate or glycogen).
- Theanine. Theanine is an amino acid found primarily in tea that reduces the effects of mental and physical stress, increases the production of nitric oxide, which improves blood flow, and improves alertness, focus, attention, memory, mental task performance, and mood.
And what you won’t find in PULSE is equally special:
- No artificial sweeteners or flavors..
- No artificial food dyes.
- No unnecessary fillers, carbohydrate powders, or junk ingredients.
The bottom line is if you want to know what a pre-workout is supposed to feel like…if you want to experience the type of energy rush and performance boost that only clinically effective dosages of scientifically validated ingredients can deliver…then you want to try PULSE.
The Bottom Line on the Best Quadriceps Exercises
You now have everything you need to build strong, muscular quads.
- Do the right exercises.
- Progressively overload your muscles.
- Don’t try to do so much every week that you wind up overtrained.
That’s it. Simple but not easy.
Work hard at the advice given in this article and stay patient and you’ll be on your way.
Want More Workouts?
How to Create the Ultimate Upper Chest Workout
The Best Back Exercises to Build Your Best Back Ever
The Best Shoulder Workouts for Men & Women
The 6 Best Hamstring Exercises You Need to Do
The 7 Best Butt Exercises That Will Give You Glorious Glutes
The Absolute Best Biceps Workout
The Absolute Best Triceps Workout
Beyond the “Best Ab Exercises” (How to Actually Get Abs)
The Definitive Full-Body Workout Guide
The Ultimate Forearm Workout
17 Bodyweight Exercises That Will Skyrocket Your Gains
Best of Quads
“Leg workouts simply have to be brutal to be effective,” said Arnold Schwarzenegger. “Normal workouts are hard enough, but if thighs happen to be a weak point in your physique, you have to be prepared to push yourself even more.”
“Expect to get quite nauseated,” says Charles Poliquin dryly about his own leg specialization programs.
From famous bodybuilders to famous strength coaches, there’s one permeating truth when it comes to leg training: it’s gonna suck. And perhaps that’s why big muscular legs in your gym are as rare as small breasts in Los Angeles.
But if you’ve got the gonads, we’ve got the methods to change that. Here are some of the most effective quad-building exercises and routines we’ve discovered.
1 – The Ultimate Quad Squat
Powerlifters know a whole lot about squatting. And their knowledge has carried over into sports performance training and bodybuilding.
But that’s a double-edged sword, because powerlifters are all about maximal efforts, wide stances, a shortened range of motion, and low bar positions. Great for moving a mountain of plates, not so great for targeting quadriceps development.
No, the “quad squat” is a whole different beast compared to the powerlifting squat. We surveyed our stable of coaches and hypertrophy experts and came up with what we call “The Ultimate Quad Squat.” Check it out:
- Brace yourself… it’s a front squat. Yeah, the bar is uncomfortable. Boo hoo. Get over it! The front squat position allows you to keep the torso as upright as possible, and that’s crucial for zeroing in on the quads. It also allows most lifters to more easily squat deeply.
- It’s a narrow stance. This shifts tension to the quadriceps and off the glutes and hamstrings. It also increases the range of motion compared to a wide-stance squat.
- There’s no complete lock-out. Squat up until you’re 2-3 inches away from fully extending the legs. Again, this is all about targeted tension.
- Because of all of the above, yes, you’re going to have to use a lighter weight. So set the ego aside and remember this is about hypertrophy, not breaking a 1RM. Many experts believe that the quads require more time under tension (TUT) and higher reps to grow anyway.
- Elevate the heels on a couple of weight plates or a wedged board. This allows greater range of motion and a deeper squat if that’s an issue for you, plus it encourages you to push through your toes which gives you more quad activation.
In review: Front squat, narrow stance, no lock-out, lighter weight, heels elevated.
Note: There’s a psychological component here as well. This quad squat is perhaps the most ego-crushing lift in existence. Everything about it amounts to the lifter having to lighten the load compared to a powerlifting squat. Some people just can’t handle that… and their big asses paired with underdeveloped quads reflect it. Don’t be that guy.
2 – The Ultimate Quad Lunge
The lunge is often overlooked by many bodybuilders, and that’s too bad. It’s great for overall leg and glute development, plus it can be a brutal conditioning exercise. The lunging movement is also classified as a “primal movement pattern” just like the squat. So why neglect it?
To make the lunge into a quad killer, keep these rules in mind:
- Take a short step forward. “The shorter your stride, the more quad-dominant you’ll make the movement,” notes Mike Robertson.
- Stay upright. Don’t lean too far forward. “One of the best cues you can use here is to make yourself ‘tall,'” says Robertson. “This simultaneously improves your posture and activates the core musculature.”
- When pushing off the forward leg, use your mid-foot as the propulsion point. You can even push off the toes to really emphasize the quads, but this may not be good for knee health. But as long as you stay off the heal when pushing off, you’ll stimulate the quadriceps just fine.
Variation: Once you can use a significant amount of weight on dumbbell lunges, progress to barbell lunges. This will allow you to use more weight, plus it raises your center of gravity, requiring better balance and body control.
3 – The Two-Minute Leg Press
Sports performance coaches often poo-poo the leg press because it doesn’t transfer well to sport, plus squats are more effective anyway at building overall strength, something that’s obviously important to coaches who work mainly with performance athletes. But what about the leg press for bodybuilding?
“The leg press is a great exercise for hypertrophy,” says Poliquin, “especially for the quadriceps.” So what’s the best way to use the leg press for quad size? We’ll tell ya: medium to narrow foot position, placed low on the foot plate, and performed with high reps.
High reps? What about “Go heavy or go home!” There’s a time and a place for that, but if your quads are only a little bigger than your calves, then it may be time to strip off some plates and go for some nauseating TUT.
Most lifters have a high percentage of slow-twitch fibers in their quadriceps. “With quads, you can go as high as 50 reps per set. There’s been some pro-bodybuilders who’ve grown on 30 reps per set,” notes Poliquin.
While not everyone’s fiber-make-up is the same – and while varied rep ranges are usually best – we’d say that if you lack quad size, then high reps may be the cure you’ve been looking for. Here’s a routine from Poliquin that puts all this info to work.
Using a much lighter weight than normal, a full range of motion, and the narrow and low foot positions, do leg presses for two straight minutes, no rest. Remember, full-range means you go down until your quadriceps cover your chest.
For each rep, extend your legs to 95% of lockout. Again, the key is to keep the tension on the muscle at all times.
“By the time you finish this exercise, you may want to cough up a lung or two,” notes Poliquin. We believe that’s his idea of encouragement.
4 – Deadman Quad Raises
“This drill is the equivalent of the natural glute-ham raise for the quadriceps,” says Thibaudeau. “While it seems deceptively easy at first glance, it can really burn those quads of yours when performed properly, leaving you limping for quite some time!”
After a ringing endorsement like that, we bet you’re just dying to try it, right? (Ya sick bastard.) Here’s how to do it:
Start on your knees, with the trunk upright and in line with the upper legs. During the whole movement the trunk and upper thighs must be kept on the same line; this is the key to the effectiveness of this drill.
Lower yourself backward under control – bringing your back toward your feet – while remembering to keep your trunk tight and in line with the upper legs during the whole movement. Lower yourself as low as you can, then come back up to the starting position by tensing your quads hard.
At first you won’t need to add any weight to make this exercise hard. As you progress, you can hold a weight plate on your chest to increase the difficulty.
5 – Quadriceps Finishers
A finisher is any movement you add to the end of your regular training session to “finish off” the muscles and further stimulate hypertrophy. It’s totally old-school and masochistic… and brutally effective for quad growth.
Just perform your regular heavy compound movements first, then finish off with one of these torture methods:
1 – Iso One-leg Squat
“This exercise is a lesson in pain tolerance,” says Christian Thibaudeau. “It can leave the bravest gym rat begging for mercy!”
With your front leg forward, place your back leg on a bench. Bend your front leg so that the upper leg is parallel to the floor with the knee in line with the front foot. The trunk should be kept upright with hands on your hips.
Hold that position for 60 seconds per leg. If you can handle that length of time, you can hold dumbbells in your hands or a plate across your chest.
2 – Ski Squat
We learned this from strength coach Ian King. The ski squat sneaks up on you like a ninja. You’ll think it’s easy at first, but you’ll think again by the end of it!
Place your feet shoulder-width apart, about two feet out from the wall, and lean your back against the wall. Bend your knees to a partial-squat position. This is position one.
After 10 seconds, lower down to position two, about two inches lower. After 10 more seconds, lower another two inches down to position three. You should be about thigh parallel by now. Use another two lower positions, with position five being about as far as you can bend at the knees.
Most people are quivering lumps of Jell-O by this point. If you’re not: Extend each static position to 20 seconds, do it one leg at a time, or come back up after you work your way down the wall.
Can you smell that? That’s lactic acid seeping from your pores.
3 – Single-Leg Partial Squats
Another killer body weight finisher from Ian King:
Stand on the edge of a low block (1/3 to 1/2 the height of normal bench height). Have the weak leg on the box and the strong leg off the edge of the box. With your hands on your hips, bend at the knee of the weak side, lowering down (two to three seconds) until the sole of your foot almost brushes the floor.
Keep the sole parallel to the ground. Pause for one second and return to full extension in about one to two seconds. At the tenth rep, pause at the bottom position for ten seconds. You must not rest the non-supporting leg on the ground at any stage during the set! Then continue reps until you get to 20. Repeat the ten-second pause.
“Can you go on? If yes, remember that you have to finish what you start!” notes King. “This exercise must be done in multiples of ten, with a ten-second pause in the bottom position at the completion of every ten reps. If you get to 50 reps, look to raise the height of the block.”
If possible, don’t hold onto anything during the set – the challenge of having to balance yourself will add to the fatigue. However, you may wish to do this near a wall or squat stand, just in case. And be careful when you get off the block at the end of the set!
Arnold also said that leg training “…involves a mental effort almost as much as a physical one. This means forcing yourself to break down any inhibition or barrier.”
Knowing the exercises and routines is one thing. Putting them to work, with intense mental focus and eyeball-popping effort, is quite another. Are you ready?
Model: Beau Myrick
Location: Gym, Abilene, Texas