The 10 Best Quad Strengthening Exercises

by Evelyn Valdez

When it comes to building lower-body gains, most women tend to focus on the posterior chain – hamstrings and glutes. This leads to leaving quad-dominant exercises behind, which is a huge mistake. Building bigger and stronger quadriceps muscles aren't only ideal for men, women can benefit from it too. The quadriceps are contented to your femurs, making them responsible for practically every movement you do. It's made up of four muscles and strengthening all for make running, standing, squatting, kicking, and jumping easier.

As you can see, quad exercises should play a fundamental role in your workout routine! And fortunately, you don't have to train your quads excessively to get results. All you need is to focus on quad-dominant exercises once or twice per week. So, we're going to help ensure that you're doing all the right exercises to build strength in your quads by giving you a list of the best quad exercises and how to do them with proper form.

Step-ups

Step-ups is one of the best beginner-friendly quad strengthening exercises that place a great focus on working the inner and outer quadriceps while challenging your stability and coordination. Plus, it has the added advantage of working your glutes too!

You can do it using only your bodyweight or add a pair of dumbbells in each hand for a greater challenge. We suggest using a plyo-box or surface that isn't too high because the higher it is the more you'll be recruiting your posterior chain than your quads.

How to do it:

  1. Stand 6 inches in front of a bench, or raised platform. Grasp a pair of dumbbells so that one is in each hand.
  2. Step onto the bench with your right leg, while making sure your foot is flat against the bench and your left foot is on the floor.
  3. Lean forward slightly and push yourself upwards through the heel of your right foot, so your left leg can come up to the bench. Make sure you're not using your left foot to push yourself up, instead focus on your right leg doing the work.
  4. Slowly and in control step down with the right leg so that your left foot is on the floor again.
  5. Repeat for 10-15 reps, and then do the same movement on the other leg.

Banded split squats

Split squats are a killer quad-dominant squat variation. The squat in itself is already a great quad exercise, but placing one foot slightly behind the other really fires up your quad and allows you to train each leg independently.

You can easily do split squats using only your body weight, but adding a long resistance band will add an extra challenge for your quads as you push yourself back up.

How to do it:

  1. Loop the middle of the band under your right foot as you step the other foot behind you in a split stance position.
  2. Bring the band up and behind your shoulders and grasp the band at the sides at chest level, elbows should be pointed towards the floor.
  3. Begin to lower yourself until your right thigh is roughly parallel with the floor, and your left knee is nearly touching the floor.
  4. Pause, then straighten your legs so that you return to the starting position.
  5. Do 10-15 reps and then repeat on the other leg. 

Leg extensions

Despite there being quad-dominant compound exercises, a quad isolation exercise, like. leg extensions, help zone in on your quads only. This allows you to focus entirely on your quads without needing to recruit other muscles, thus helping you build up your quads so you don't have any muscle imbalances! Luckily, most gyms have leg extensions machines so you can start building stronger quads.

How to do it:

  1. Select the desired resistance on the weight stack and insert the pin. Sit down and position your shins behind the pad at the base of the machine.
  2. Take a deep breath and extend your legs as you flex your quadriceps so that they are lifting the weight. As you lock out the knees, exhale to complete the repetition.
  3. Slowly lower your feet back to the starting position.

Leg press

The leg press machine works similarly to a squat except it doesn't involve balancing the weight with your upper body, allowing you to pack on more weight! It may not be as effective as a barbell back squat but it still makes for an excellent quad-strengthening exercise that you should incorporate in your leg workouts.

How to do it:

  1. Using a leg press machine, sit down on the machine and place your legs on the platform directly in front of you at a medium (shoulder-width) foot stance.
  2. Lower the safety bars holding the weighted platform in place and press the platform all the way up until your legs are fully extended in front of you. Your torso and legs should make a perfect 90-degree angle. This will be your starting position.
  3. As you inhale, slowly lower the platform until your legs make a 90-degree angle.
  4. Pushing mainly with the heels of your feet and using the quadriceps go back to the starting position as you exhale.

Goblet squats

The goblet squat is a great beginner exercise before attempting the barbell front squat. It involves holding either a dumbbell or kettlebell in front of your chest to help develop your quads, and it's also easier on your back and shoulders than the barbell front squat.

How to do it:

  1. Stand holding a dumbbell by the horns close to your chest. This will be your starting position.
  2. Descend into a squat position, and go as deep as you can without losing your balance or hyperextending your back. Keep your chest and head up, and your back straight.
  3. At the bottom position, pause and use your elbows to push your knees out. Return to the starting position.

Bulgarian split squats

Split squats fire up your quads, but this variation increases the intensity even further! Besides firing up your quads one leg at a time, Bulgarian split squats work your glutes, calves, hamstrings, and even your core.

At first, you may struggle to move all the way down, but just practice going deeper each time you perform this exercise. And start off by only using your body weight, then add dumbbells or a barbell when you're ready!

How to do it:

  1. Stand about two feet in front of a bench or stable surface (facing away from it) with your feet hip-distance apart.
  2. Place your right foot on the bench behind you. Place it so that the top of your foot is on the bench and the ankle is hanging off the edge. Make sure that your feet are roughly hip-distance apart.
  3. Keep your core tight, chest high, and take a deep breath as you begin to bend your left knee so that your right knee naturally bends as you move. You should feel a stretch in the front of your back-facing leg and in the glutes of your front-facing leg.
  4. Once your left quad is roughly parallel to the ground, use the back foot for balance and drive through your front foot to raise your torso back to the starting position. Focus on using your left quad and glute to power back up.
  5. Repeat for 10-15 reps and then repeat on the other leg.

Barbell front squats

Everyone knows that the barbell back squat is one of the best lower-body exercises that emphasize the quads, but moving the barbell to the front redistributes the weight which allows your quads to do most of the work! Plus, the front squat places less of a force on your knees and lower back than a traditional barbell squat.

How to do it:

  1. From rack with the barbell at upper chest height, position bar in front of shoulders. Cross arms and place hands on top of the barbell with upper arms parallel to the floor. Dismount bar from rack. 
  2. Squat down by bending hips back while allowing knees to bend forward, keeping the back straight and knees pointed in the same direction as feet. Descend until thighs are just past parallel.
  3. Pause for a moment and then push the weight back up by extending your knees and hips until your legs are straight.

Tip: For heavier sets, consider using a weight lifting belt to help increase the intra-abdominal pressure, which provides support for the spine to help stabilize it. This will make it easier for you to make progress on any barbell squats, safely!

Barbell walking lunges

There's nothing wrong with doing bodyweight walking lunges or even dumbbell lunges, in fact, we recommend both! Adding a barbell on your back just allows you to lift a heavier weight which recruits your quadriceps muscles even more. So, beginners start with a lighter weight and work your way up to this barbell variation!

How to do it:

  1. Begin standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and a barbell across your upper back.
  2. Step forward with one leg, flexing the knees to drop your hips. Descend until your rear knee nearly touches the ground. Your posture should remain upright, and your front knee should stay above the front foot.
  3. Drive through the heel of your lead foot and extend both knees to raise yourself back up.
  4. Step forward with your rear foot, repeating the lunge on the opposite leg.

Heel-elevated back squats

This exercise is a great squat variation that helps increase your squat depth, reduces the weight load from your hips and ankles, and most importantly, it increases the demand on your quads! Some even prefer the heel-elevated back squat due to it putting less strain on the hips and lower back.

How to do it:

  1. Place a plate, or two, on the ground in front of you.
  2. Place a barbell on your upper back with an overhand grip. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and tighten your abdominals to maintain core stability. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and place heels on a plate resting on the ground.
  3. Bend your knees and sit into a squat by lowering your hips. At the bottom of the position, your knees should be about 90 degrees with thighs parallel to the floor. Maintain an upright posture.
  4. Pause for a second at the bottom and then explode upward to the starting position pushing through your heels.

Pistol squats

When it comes to quad exercises, this is one of the best! It's a highly advanced and challenging exercise that involves performing a squat on only one leg. This helps target one quad at a time, along with your glutes, hip abductors, hamstrings, and calves.

If you have issues with your ankles or knees, we advise you to sit this one out and just focus on the other quad strengthening exercises above. 

How to do it:

  1. Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Carefully extend one leg in front of you so your heel is lightly hovering over the ground. Put your arms straight out in front of you while maintaining your balance on the opposite leg.
  3. Slowly start bending your standing leg and lowering your body while keeping the raised leg extended. Tighten your core for better stability and make sure your back stays straight. 
  4. Continue bending down closer to the ground so that your glute is as close to your heel as possible. Your extended leg should be parallel with the ground.
  5. Squeeze your glutes and drive through your heel to straighten your standing leg.
  6. Repeat for 8-10 reps then repeat on the other leg.

Start building stronger quads

Now you have a list of the best quad exercises so you can build a better well-rounded leg workout and stronger quads! Implement these once or twice a week making sure to complete 10-20 weekly sets and increasing the weight or reps to continue making progress.

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