The 10 Best Quad Exercises

The 10 Best Quad Exercises

Have you ever seen someone with huge muscles on the front of their thighs? Four muscles make up that muscle group, and they are called your quadriceps (AKA your quads). 

Some well developed quads can be a head turner for sure. In the bodybuilding community, they’re a very important muscle group.

Getting big quads won’t happen by accident though!

It takes plenty of training with the right exercises to build some impressive quads. Trust me, I’ve been working on mine for years. It takes time to build muscle, and you have to train consistently.

So, what kind of exercises do you need to do to beef up those quad muscles? That’s what I’ll cover with you today.

But first, let’s go over the benefits of training your quads.

The Benefits of Training Your Quads

Whether you’re an athlete, bodybuilder, or just like to work out for overall health, training your quads is important. It can help with all sorts of things, as you'll find out shortly.

Your quads run from your hip and upper thigh, across the knee joint, and onto your tibia. So when your quads contract, they pull your tibia forward and the knee straightens. Since some of the quad muscles attach on your hip, they also help bend your hips to an extent.

Training your quads can obviously make you stronger, but that’s not all. Strong quads can help your knees become more resilient too!

A common issue many people deal with as they age is cartilage loss in their knees. Having stronger quads can help to protect against some of that cartilage loss. Your knees may even have less pain and be more functional too (1).

Plus, strong quads actually make you more functional in your daily life. Allow me to elaborate on this.

You see, people generally struggle to stand up and walk around once they are a certain age.

Strong quads help you stand, walk, and run. So, training your quad muscles throughout your life can help you stay more mobile as you age. 

They can also make it much easier to lift and carry things around. If you’ve ever moved, and had to carry heavy things up and down stairs, you know what I’m talking about.

Also, did I mention that big quads just look great? Trust me ladies, it's even a good look on you too!

That’s enough on the benefits. Let’s dive into some good quad exercises to build muscle and strength!

Top 10 Quad Exercises

Here are 10 of what I consider to be staples when it comes to quad exercises. Some you may have heard of before ... others maybe not.

Either way, give them a try, and you'll be well on your way to building muscle and strength in your quads.

1. Front Squat

This is a classic exercise and a wonderful movement to target the quads. For this exercise you'll need a squat rack and a barbell.

Set the barbell on the squat rack at roughly shoulder height and grab it slightly outside of your shoulders. While holding the bar, walk forward and bend your elbows while rolling them under and in front of the bar. 

Your hands should be above your shoulders with your palms facing up and your upper arms parallel with the floor. This is the front rack position. 

During the front squat, the bar will run across your shoulders and in front of your neck while still in your hands.  

Lift the bar off the rack and step back. Keep your core braced and your back straight throughout the movement. You should feel the weight in your midfoot the entire squat.

Push your knees out and push your hips back as you squat down. Your knees will push forward, and your back should stay mostly upright.

When your thighs reach parallel with the ground, drive up through your midfoot. You'll use your quads and glutes to stand back up. Repeat this for reps.

2. Heel Elevated Back Squat

For this exercise, you'll need a squat rack, a barbell, and a couple of weight plates. Oftentimes, it's easy for me to find 2 ten pound plates to use.

This is a slight variation of the traditional back squat. The only difference is you’ll need to elevate your heels on an angled platform (the weight plates you'll be using).

Having your heels elevated allows you to stay more upright, and your knees to bend more. The more your knees bend, the more you'll be using your quads. 

Set 2 ten pound plates a little wider than shoulder width apart on the ground a couple steps behind the barbell. Walk up to the barbell set at shoulder height and grab it with each hand outside of shoulder width. 

Bring your head under the bar and rest the bar on your upper traps. Stand up with the bar and step back until your midfoot and heels are on top of the weight plates. Yes, your toes will stay on the ground.

Brace your core, bend your knees outward, and push your hips back to squat. Keep your back straight as you drop and keep going until your thighs are at or below parallel to the ground. Your knees will push forward in front of your toes, and that’s totally okay.

When you reach parallel, drive through your heels and squeeze your quads and glutes to stand up. Repeat this for reps.

3. Bulgarian Split Squats

This exercise will burn in your quads, which is one reason I love it so much! It’s essentially like doing a single leg squat while your back leg is elevated to help you balance.

All you'll need is a bench, and some weight.

Either rest a barbell on your back like the previous exercise, or grab a dumbbell in each hand. You will start by standing a few feet in front of a bench and placing one foot behind you to rest on top of the bench.

This should feel like you are in a lunge position. From here, shift your weight forward to feel the weight in your front heel. Keep your core braced and bend your front knee to squat down. 

Keep lowering until your front thigh is parallel with the ground. Drive through your front heel and squeeze your quad to stand back up.

Repeat this for reps, and do the same number of reps on each leg.

4. Narrow Stance Leg Press

You'll perform this exercise on a leg press machine.

The narrow stance will help emphasize your quads in this exercise. A wider stance would emphasize the glutes a little more.

Sit down in the leg press machine and place your feet as low and close together on the platform as you can. Unlock the platform, and allow your knees to bend forward as the platform lowers toward you.

Your knees should be pushing forward over your toes. Lower the platform as much as you can comfortably while keeping your lower back against the seat. 

Drive through your midfoot and squeeze your quads to press the platform away from you. Straighten your legs until your knees are ALMOST locked out.

You never want to fully lock out your knees on a leg press machine. It can put torque on your knees and lead to hyperextension if you aren't careful. 

Squeeze your quads at the top, and repeat this for reps.

5. Goblet Squat

For this exercise, you can use a dumbbell or a kettlebell. Outside of the type of weight used, it’s relatively the same as a front squat. If you do these with your heels elevated it will target your quads even more too.

I prefer dumbbells because I believe they are easier to hold onto. However, I'll let you decide what you think is best for you - So don't be afraid to try both!

Flip a dumbbell vertically, and hold it at your chest with both hands supporting the underside of the top weight. Your thumbs should be facing towards you. Also, be sure to keep your core braced and your shoulders back for stability throughout the exercise. 

With your feet about shoulder width apart, allow your knees to bend and your hips to push back as you squat down. Keep your back straight the whole time, and squat until your thighs are parallel with the ground.

Once you hit parallel, drive up through your midfoot and squeeze your quads and glutes to stand up. Squeeze your quads again at the top, and repeat this for reps.

6. Box Step-Ups

This is a classic and simple exercise, but it’s very effective. You’ll know it too because your heart rate will start racing fairly quickly.

For this exercise, you'll need a box or bench, and a pair of dumbbells.

Start by setting up to the box and grabbing a dumbbell in each hand. Step up onto the box with one foot, and make sure your entire foot is on the box. Drive through that heel and squeeze your quad to stand up.

When you stand up, be sure to lift your opposite foot onto the box for stability. Keep the foot you started with on the box and bring your opposite foot back down to the ground. 

When your opposite foot reaches the ground, step down with your first foot. Repeat with your other foot, and do the same number of reps on each leg.

7. Smith Machine Split Squat

This is a great exercise, and I like to put my own little twist on it to really target my quads.

Set the bar on a smith machine at roughly shoulder height. Walk to the inside of the machine and turn around to face out.

Get your head underneath the bar and on the other side in order to rest the bar on your upper traps. Get into a lunge stance with one foot forward and the other back while still being hip-width apart.

Keep the weight in your front heel as you unlock the bar and lower down into a lunge. Continue to sink into your hips until your front thigh is parallel with the ground. When you reach the bottom, start to drive through the heel of your front foot. 

Squeeze your quad in your front leg to stand up slowly. At the same time, squeeze your glute in your back leg to lift your back foot off the ground. 

At this point you should notice all of the weight is in your front foot. When you get to the top, put your back foot back on the ground, and repeat for reps.

Do the same number of reps on both legs.

8. Banded Sissy Squat

This can be done with weights, although another great way to add resistance is with a band. I recommend starting with no band at first and adding it when this exercise starts to feel easy.

Without the band, start up on the balls of your feet. Start bending your knees and pushing them as far forward as you can. As you do this, lean your torso backwards to counter-balance.

I recommend keeping something nearby to grab onto in case you lose your balance. The balancing aspect can take some getting used to, but once you get it down it can be fairly easy. 

When your knees are fully bent and in front of your toes, squeeze your quads to extend your knees and stand up. Repeat this for reps.

When using a band, half loop the band around a pole at the mid point of the band. You should have a loop for each leg on both sides of the pole.

Make sure the band is at knee height, and put your legs through the band so that it pulls on the back of each knee.

Take a step back to put tension on the band, and follow the same instructions for the sissy squat.

9. Walking Lunges

This is similar to a split squat, but you won’t be standing in just one place. It sounds and looks easy, but the burn your quads will feel is no joke!

Grab a set of dumbbells, and stand where you have a good amount of space in front of you to walk. Keep your feet hip width apart, then take a large step forward with one foot. 

With your torso upright, bend your front knee to lower your back knee toward the ground. When your front knee reaches a 90 degree angle, squeeze your front quad and drive up through the heel of your foot.

As you begin to stand, bring your back foot up next to your front foot. Repeat the exact same movement on your opposite leg.

Repeat this for reps, completing the same number of reps on each leg.

10. Leg Extension

This is a classic machine exercise that isolates the quads very well. 

Sit back in the chair on the leg extension machine, and set it to what is comfortable for your height. Bend your knees and put your legs behind the pad so it rests just above your ankles on your shins.

Grab the handles, pull yourself into the seat, and brace your core to keep your body stable. This is the starting position.

Squeeze your quads hard to straighten your knees and push the pad up until your legs are straight. Pause for a second at the top before slowly returning to the starting position. 

Repeat this for reps.

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Bringing It All Together

When it comes to building your best body, there’s no way you can do it without nice quadriceps. Big quads are a sign of power and strength!

In order to build them up, you have to train them hard. Not every leg exercise targets your quads in the same way, so you need to have a game plan going into your workouts.

The exercises I’ve listed here will absolutely blast your quadriceps like no other! Make sure you’re throwing these into your leg workouts, and hit the weights hard.

Doing these exercises isn’t the only thing you need to build up your quads though. It's just one part of it. Without proper nutrition, you can’t build muscle effectively at all.

This is an area most people struggle with. They may know they need protein, but that’s about it.

Believe it or not, the amount of carbs and fat you eat matters a ton too ... and it takes a lot of knowledge to do it right. If you're struggling to see the results you've been training hard to get, that's where we can help.

We made an all-in-one fitness and lifestyle app to give you the tools you need to crush your goals! It’s called the 1st Phorm App, and it’s seriously amazing.

In the app, we set you up with a NASM Certified Personal trainer and Nutrition Coach. They'll be your personal advisor to teach you what you need to know, answer your questions, and help hold you accountable!

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You can download the 1st Phorm App here, and if you use it properly, I know you’ll see awesome results! 

If you have any questions, or need help in the meantime, let us know! You can contact our team at 1-800-409-9732, or email us at any day of the week from 6 AM to 10 PM Central.

Your goals aren't going to accomplish themselves. But, when you put in the work, and have the tools and education required ... You can start seeing progress in no time.

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(1) Amin S, Baker K, Niu J, Clancy M, Goggins J, Guermazi A, Grigoryan M, Hunter DJ, Felson DT. Quadriceps strength and the risk of cartilage loss and symptom progression in knee osteoarthritis. Arthritis Rheum. 2009 Jan;60(1):189-98. doi: 10.1002/art.24182. PMID: 19116936; PMCID: PMC3653642.