If there's one body part that can give you the ultimate femme fatale physique, it's the quads. There's nothing quite like a pair of well-sculpted, defined quads to bring out your lower body shape and turn heads when you wear your miniskirt and killer heels. So you want leg presses, leg extensions and running to get good quads then, right? Wrong. These might all hit your quads, but for the ultimate quad-dominant workout, it's time to up your game, hit the free weights hard and squat like you've never squatted before.
Squats, squats and more squats -- that's the key to fantastic quads. There might be slightly more to it than that, but if you were to pick just one quad exercise, it would be the squat. Make barbell back squats your starting point: Position the bar across your upper back, keep your core muscles tight and squat down as low as you can. If you struggle to go deep, strength coach Nia Shanks recommends squatting to a box. Set a squat box or aerobic step to knee height and squat down to that; as you become more confident you can remove the box. Besides traditional back squats, you can substitute front squats, heels-elevated squats or goblet squats -- holding a dumbbell in front of you.
Unilateral exercises are performed on one leg. You're probably familiar with lunges and reverse lunges, but one hidden quad-building gem is the Bulgarian split squat. Stand with your left foot placed on a bench behind you and your right foot firmly on the floor. Squat down until your left knee is just above the floor, then forcefully push up again. Do them without any weight that first couple of workouts, as they can be brutal. Apart from sculpting great quads, unilateral leg exercises are a fantastic way to prevent injury, writes corrective exercise specialist Mike Robertson in "Bulletproof Knees." Women tend to have wider hips and can be slightly knock-kneed, meaning you're at a higher risk of ACL and MCL ligament injuries. Single-leg work increases balance, proprioception and joint strength, giving you healthy, happy knees.
Machine exercises aren't worthless, but they do come way down the pecking order. The one bonus they do have, however, is that they're an awesome way to hit your quads when you're already fatigued. Try performing extra lunges or front squats when your quads are already tired and your legs are wobbly and you could end up flat on your face -- not a good look. As you're approaching the end of your session, jump on a quad machine, such as the leg press, hack squat, V-squat or leg extension, to finish pulverizing your quads into submission.
For super-strong quads, train them twice a week, leaving three or four days between workouts. Start each session with a free-weight squat variation for five sets of five heavy repetitions, then move to a unilateral exercise for three sets of 10 to 12. By this point, if you've still got any feeling in your legs, move to the machine section and set yourself a gut-wrenchingly tough challenge. Put your body weight on the leg press and keep going until you get 100 reps, try a mega drop-set on the leg extension by going to failure each set then reducing the weight and repping out again, or aim to perform walking lunges all the way around the gym. You may look bizarre, but people won't be laughing once they see your awesome quadriceps.
- Nia Shanks: Squats to a Box
- Bulletproof Knees; Mike Robertson
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.