The quadriceps, commonly tagged as the quads, are a collection of four muscles that run down the front of the upper thighs. When you run, jump or squat, you can thank your quads for extending your knees. There is an exercise that focuses on your quads, but it's also a good idea to incorporate compound exercises that also hit your glutes and calves, since these muscles commonly work together.
Developing strength in your quads requires a different training program than one designed to develop size. If you want stronger quadriceps, complete each exercise with a heavy weight and do three sets of six or fewer repetitions. If you’re looking to build size in your quads, bump up your training volume to three to six sets of about 12 repetitions. Regardless of your goal, schedule your quad workouts two to three days per week and give your legs a day of rest in between each session.
Leg extension is effective at isolating your quadriceps, making them do all of the work. This is a quality exercise if you are particularly weak in your quads because of inactivity or if you're recovering from an injury that has caused your quads to atrophy. Sit in the leg extension machine and adjust it so that your knee joints line up with the pulley axis. Your shins should be set securely against the ankle pads. Start with your knees bent and extend them against resistance until your legs are straight. Control the ankle pads back down by bending your knees.
The squat is a compound movement, requiring movement at joints other than your knees. Most daily lower body activities are compound activities that involve movement at your knees, ankles and hips. Compound exercises like the squat are more effective for building strength that transfers to real life movements. During the squat, the quadriceps are primary muscles, handling most of the force development when they extend your knees. With a barbell on the back of your upper shoulders and your feet hip-width apart, push your hips backwards and bend your knees. Keep lowering down until your thighs are parallel to the floor and then extend your hips and knees to return to a standing position. As you rise out of the squat, your glutes contract to straighten your hips and your calves contract to extend your ankles.
The lunge is also a compound exercise in which the quadriceps handle most of the work, but need assistance from the glutes and calves. With a barbell on your upper back, take a large step forward with one foot. Keep your torso straight as you lower your back knee down towards the floor. Bring your lead foot back to a standing position and then step forward with the opposite foot for the next repetition.
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