Quadriceps – commonly referred to as the thigh – is the frontal muscle group of the upper leg, and is both the largest and most powerful muscle group in the entire body. Fred (Dr. Squat) Hatfield said you can’t fire a cannon from a canoe, and he’s right; strong quads are the absolute foundation upon which the body should be built.
In this article, I’ll take you through a few of the best exercises to strengthen the quadriceps and give you my opinion on their usefulness. This should help you to start quadriceps training the right way without wasting precious time and effort. Let’s go…
I bet you didn’t see that coming! (I do believe I may have mentioned the importance of squats once or twice on here.) Sarcasm aside, truly, I recommend you familiarize yourself with squats and make them your main quadriceps exercise. As with anything, the best results are gotten from variety – wide stance, narrow stance, different tempo, rep and set schemes. And these variables apply to the sizeable array of squatting exercises – regular squats, front squats, dumbbell squats, barbell hack squats, sissy squats etc.
I recommend squatting to 12 reps at the most, as this gives you the greatest compromise between size and strength without venturing off into endurance land.
If you can squat, do it. If you can’t squat, learn it. It’s the most important exercise to strengthen the quadriceps, period.
Lunges are a very good free weight quadriceps exercise, and they are particularly useful if you notice you have one leg weaker than the other, as you can simply train that leg specifically with lunges until it’s brought up to par. Lunges can be performed with dumbbells or barbells. Of course, there is also side lunges and back lunges, too. And, the same exercises can be performed in a different way using cables for resistance instead of a barbell or dumbbells.
Machine assisted quadriceps exercises
This includes leg extension, hack squat machines, leg presses, smith machine assisted squats, etc. Generally speaking, I recommend free weight exercises as the core of anyone’s program – and that goes for leg training, too. In some instances, a little machine usage can be beneficial for variety, but I’m not convinced at all that any machine provides anywhere near the same development of the main muscles – quadriceps in this case – let alone the smaller stabilizer muscles, which are crucial to remaining injury free.
My advice for those really looking to strengthen their quadriceps is to stick to time tested, proven free weight exercises – squats in particular. (If you don’t squat, you really are missing out!)