CALF GAINS

Band-resisted Calf Flexion

Sit on a mat with your legs extended out in front of you. If, in this position, it’s difficult for you to keep your back straight, elevate your hips by sitting on bench or yoga block. Place an elastic resistance band around the balls of both feet. Keeping the knees straight, point and flex the foot forward and upward, maintaining tautness in the band throughout the movement.

Single-leg Standing Heel Raise

Stand on a step with one foot, with the heel hanging off the edge. Make sure the ball of the foot is securely on top of the step. Slowly lower the heel of the standing leg below the edge of the step and then raise the heel as high as possible while keeping the knee straight. Complete all repetitions on one leg before moving on to the opposite side.

Seated Heel Raise

Sit on a chair or weight bench with both feet on a step and the heels hanging off of the edge. Place a dumbbell or plate weight across the tops of the thighs. Make sure the balls of the feet are securely on top of the step. Slowly lower the heels below the edge of the step and then raise them as high as possible.

Plié Squat with Heel Raise

Adopt a wide stance while holding a dumbbell in each hand in the front rack position. The feet should be turned out, but only to the point at which the knees can track in alignment with the toes. Do not allow the knees to cave inward during this movement. Lift the right heel off the floor, but keep the left foot flat. Perform squats with the left foot flat and the right foot balanced on the ball of the foot. Complete all repetitions on one leg before changing the foot position to the opposite side.

Double-leg Standing Heel Raise

Stand on a step with both heels hanging off the edge. Make sure the balls of the feet are securely on top of the step. Slowly lower the heels below the edge of the step and then raise them as high as possible while keeping the knees straight.

QUAD BLAST

One of the biggest barriers to getting healthy and fit is information overload.

If you’ve Googled just about anything related to losing fat, gaining muscle, and getting strong, you know what I mean.

You quickly realize that you’ve entered a circus of umpteen experts and “gurus” in a free-for-all melee to get your attention and money.

Well, I have good news:

Out of all the quads exercises you could do, a small handful stand head and shoulders above the rest.

If you simply focus on progressing on these superior  exercises, you’ll have no trouble building fantastic quadriceps (and legs).

Before we talk exercises, though, let’s talk equipment…

Why You Should Stay Off the Smith Machine

quad workouts

When it comes to working out, assume the following:

The easier something is–an exercise, workout, routine, etc.–the less effective it is.

There are exceptions, of course, but this holds true more often than not.

Thus, we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that research shows that the Smith Machine produces smaller gains in muscle and strength than free weights.

The main reason the Smith Machine is easier than (and inferior to) free weights is the fixed, vertical path that the bar travels on.

This simplifies the movements and reduces the need for stabilizing muscles to keep the bar level and balanced.

The quadriceps workout given below is going to call for free weight squatting. If you’ve been squatting exclusively on the Smith Machine, get ready for a rude awakening.

I used to squat on the Smith Machine and worked up to a rather meager 235 pounds for a few reps. When I moved to the free weight squat, I struggled with 185 pounds.

(I’ve since worked up to something respectable: 365 pounds for 2 to 3 reps on my back squat and 275 pounds for 2 reps on my front squat.)

If you’re worried that you’ll be increasing your risk of injury by making the switch, you won’t be.

You can free weight squat just as safely with the right setup (and without a spotter).

The key piece of equipment is the Power Rack.

How to Safely Squat Solo in the Power Rack

When you’re lifting, you don’t have to go to absolute muscle failure every set.

(Generally speaking, you want to end your sets one rep short of failure, which is the point where you struggle to get a rep and aren’t sure if you can get another without help.)

This is why a squat stand doesn’t work well for solo training.

With a stand, there are going to be times where you could have squeezed out another rep or two if you knew you weren’t going to get stuck without a way out.

Well, the Power Rack is the perfect solution.

It allows you to squat (and bench press) by yourself without having to worry about whether or not you’re going to get pinned under hundreds of pounds of weight.

Here’s a high-quality (and affordable) Power Rack made by Rogue, which I highly recommend:

squat-rack-for-sale

I WANT THIS

The key feature of the Power Rack is the safety arms, which you set to catch the weight if you fail.

Here’s how it works:

Your Barbell Matters Too

While we’re talking equipment, let’s talk barbells.

You might think a barbell is a barbell, but I recommend you pony up for a high-quality bar with sleeves that can spin independently of the bar.

That is, the plates should be able to rotate without torquing the bar, which can put a lot of strain on your wrists when you’re bench pressing.

I like Rogue’s Ohio Bar personally:

quad exercise barbell

I WANT THIS

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s now go over the best quadriceps exercises.

1. Barbell Back Squat

If you’re not doing at least some form of squatting, you’re not really training your legs.

And out of all the squat variations you can do, the plain old barbell back squat is hard to beat.

It’s has earned the reputation as the single most effective exercise you can do for building strong, muscular legs, and rightfully so.

It goes further than that, really, because it’s actually a whole-body exercise that involves every major muscle group but your chest.

That is…if it’s done correctly. And as you’ll see, it’s often not.

The biggest mistake people make in their squatting is failing to achieve proper depth.

This is a problem because the shallower the squat, the less effective it is.

Here’s what I mean by proper depth:

proper squat

There are several things to highlight here:

That’s the position you want to achieve with every rep.

Here’s an in-depth discussion on how to squat properly:

Now, before we move on to the next quads exercise, let’s take a moment to talk full (“Ass to Grass”) squatting.

First, here’s what it looks like:

“ATG” squatting is kind of a “thing” these days, with some people claiming it’s the only “real” way to squat.

That’s nonsense.

There are benefits to full squatting–it makes the legs and butt work harder–but there are downsides too:

  1. It requires quite a bit more lower body mobility than most people have.
  2. It requires more technical skill than parallel squats, which means your form is more likely to break down as the weights get heavier.

This is why I generally don’t recommend that people full squat unless they’re experienced weightlifters that are fairly flexible and familiar with proper form.

If that’s not you, don’t worry–the parallel squat will give your quads more than enough of a beating.

And while we’re talking lower body mobility and flexibility, I should mention the most common reasons people can’t squat properly:

Fortunately, these issues can be corrected (and prevented) with a simple squat mobility routine, like this one.

2. Barbell Front Squat

The front squat is a squat variation that emphasizes the quadriceps and core and requires less flexibility to achieve proper depth.

It also creates less compression of the spine and less torque in the knees, which makes it particularly useful for those with back or knee injuries or limitations.

Mechanically, speaking, it’s very similar to the back squat, but you hold the bar differently.

Here’s how it works:

3. Dumbbell and Barbell Lunge

The lunge is a simple but effective leg exercise that everyone should have in their repertoire.

It build strength, muscle, and balance, and because it’s a single-leg movement, it can help address muscular imbalances as well.

If you’re new to lunging, the dumbbell lunge is the place to start.

Here’s how to do it:

The barbell lunge is a more difficult variation but it allows you to load heavier weights:

4. Leg Press

Some people like to think that the leg press is just an inferior version of the squat.

I disagree.

It not only requires less technical skill (making it more newbie-friendly) and stabilizing muscles (allowing you to load heavier weights), it also is fantastic for building hip strength (due to a larger range of motion in the hips than the squat).

Here’s how to do it on an angled press (which I prefer):

And here’s a seated press:

5. Hack Squat (Machine)

I don’t use many exercise machines but am a big believer in the value of this one.

Like the leg press, it emphasizes the quadriceps but requires less technical skill and stabilizing muscles than a free weight squat, meaning you can safely handle heavier weights.

It’s particularly useful for sets that you plan on taking to absolute muscle failure because if you get stuck, you can sit the weight down without risk of injury.

Here’s how to do it:

6. Dumbbell and Barbell Step-Up

Like the lunge, the step-up is a great single-leg quadriceps exercise.

In fact, it’s so great that decades ago many strength coaches in Bulgaria and the Soviet Union had their athletes do it in place of the back squat and saw even better results.

As with the lunge, the dumbbell step-up is the place to start.

Here’s how to do it:

As you get stronger and need to continue increasing the weight, you’ll graduate to the barbell step-up:

7. Sprints (Bonus!) 

If you’re surprised to see this on the list, I’m going to assume you’ve never done all-out sprints before.

They destroy your quads. (They’re great for high-intensity interval cardio as well.)

If you’re going to sprint, you might as well learn a bit about how to do it right.

Here’s a good summary:

Remember–Progression is the Key to Muscle Growth

quad muscle exercises

That’s it for the best quadriceps exercises. Those are all you need to build deep, sweeping quads.

Your goal isn’t to just do these exercises, though–it’s to progress on them.

And when we’re talking building muscle, the most productive type of progression is “progressive overload.”

This refers to increasing tension levels in the muscles over time and the easiest way to do that is to add weight to the bar.

This is why your primary goal as a natural weightlifter is to get stronger.

So…build strength on the exercises above and eat enough food and you will make gains.

The Ultimate Quadriceps Workout

quad exercises for mass

Before we look at an actual quadriceps workout, let’s talk workout programming.

First, the obvious question:

Why bother with a hamstring/quadriceps split? Why not just do all-inclusive “leg workouts” instead?

Well, there are several reasons why you might want to train the hamstrings and quadriceps on different days:

1. You’re an advanced weightlifter that is having trouble adding size to your legs.

A hamstring/quads split allows you to maximally overload each muscle group both in terms of individual workouts and weekly volume.

2. Your quads or hamstrings are under- or over-developed.

A hamstring/quads split allows you to work harder on your lagging muscle group while maintaining the other.

3. You like it more than traditional leg training.

In many ways, the best workout routine is the one you can stick to.

How much you enjoy a workout programdoes play a role in your overall results with it.

Now, if you’re new to weightlifting or your legs aren’t imbalanced and you don’t particularly like splitting your leg workouts into two, then you don’t have a reason to do hamstring and quadriceps workouts.

You can just stick to traditional leg training and make tremendous progress. (That’s what I do personally.)

So, with that in mind, let’s look at how to get the most out of a hamstring/quadriceps split.

We recall that your quads workouts will train your hamstrings as well, and vice versa.

This is why I recommend that you do just one quadriceps and hamstring workout per week, and that you put 3 days of rest in between the workouts.

(Many people like to train one of the two on Mondays and the other on Thursdays.)

This will ensure your legs have enough time to recover before you train them again.

There’s no particular benefit to doing one or the other first in the week, so whichever you start with is up to you.

My favorite type of quadriceps workout contains at least one big, compound movement and one or two additional exercises to target the muscle group.

Furthermore, the quadriceps can benefit from higher rep work, but you have to emphasize the heavy weightlifting if you want to avoid plateaus.

The workout below is a great introduction to this training philosophy and it’s equally applicable to both men and women.

That said, you’ll see that I recommend different rep ranges for each.

This is mainly because most women haven’t done any heavy compound weightlifting before and can’t comfortably work with weights in the higher ranges of their one-rep max.

As they get stronger, though, they can and should start including heavier work in their training. (I talk more about this in my book Thinner Leaner Stronger.)

If, however, you’re a woman that’s well-acquainted with heavy weightlifting, then I recommend that you follow the heavier recommendations for men.

So, do the following workout once per 7 days for the next 8 weeks, and I think you’ll be very happy with the results.

Barbell Back Squat

Warm up and 2 sets of…

Men/Experienced Women: 4 to 6 reps (~85% of 1RM)

Inexperienced Women: 8 to 10 reps (70 to 75% of 1RM)

Barbell Front Squat

Men/Experienced Women: 4 to 6 reps (~85% of 1RM)

Inexperienced Women: 8 to 10 reps (70 to 75% of 1RM)

Dumbbell/Barbell Step-Up

2 sets of…

Men/Experienced Women: 4 to 6 reps (~85% of 1RM)

Inexperienced Women: 8 to 10 reps (70 to 75% of 1RM)

Leg Press

2 sets of…

All: 8 to 10 reps

That’s it. And trust me–it’s harder than it looks.

A few odds and ends:

QUADZILLA

Your quads might not be in need of work as much as your glutes and hamstrings — but that doesn’t mean that you should totally ignore the front side of your upper legs to completely focus on your posterior. 

Even though quads are sometimes an accessory or afterthought for leg days, the muscles are still a major key to a strong, shapely lower body. Hammering the group with a specialized workout can do wonders for your gains — especially if you’ve been avoiding the types of moves that typically address the lower body.

If you’ve suffered from knee pain for any length of time, you start to avoid the exercises that cause this pain: moves like squatting, lunging, running, and jumping.

Over time, this doesn’t help your knees. You just get weaker and your quads get smaller. The result is actually more knee pain and diminished performance!

Even if you don’t suffer from knee pain, building quads of the gods is one of the best ways to prevent knee pain. The quads work as key decelerators that absorb shock from your knees when landing from a jump or lunge or when quickly changing direction on the court or field.

From an aesthetics standpoint, an impressive set of quads is a complete game-changer. For some quadspiration, check out this photo of legendary bodybuilder Tom Platz, who was known for having the greatest quads in history.

Now, don’t expect to look like Tom. But do expect to make some serious gains.

I’ve created a routine that compiles everything I used to make my very own quad transformation shown in the photo below.

Follow this program, and you’ll be on the road to transforming your quadriceps into octaceps. 

HOW IT WORKS:

Perform this routine 2 to 3 times per week exactly as outlined below. You can see me demonstrate every movement in the video above.

Hit your other muscle groups 1 to 2 times per week with just 2 to 3 sets of 6 to 12 reps of a single exercise, stopping 1 to 2 reps short of failure on each set during this time frame.

Conventional training wisdom has you start with compound movements first and save the isolation moves for later. But our goal here is not performance—it’s to build as much muscle as possible in a short period of time.

Therefore, we will be starting with a strategic single-joint movement to enhance the mind-muscle connection and pre-fatigue your targeted body part. This will allow you to “feel” the muscle working more throughout your training session.

The Quads Specialization Workout

Mobility Warmup: Do a couch stretch for for 2 to 5 minutes on each side.

1. LEG EXTENSION

The objective here is to pre-fatigue your quads and flood your knees and muscles with as much blood as possible. This will warm you up and improve your mind-muscle connection so that you “feel your quads” more throughout the remainder of your workout.

Flex your quads as hard as you can for 4 seconds at the top of each rep.

Perform 3 to 5 sets of 10 reps. Rest 1 minute between sets.

Weeks 1 and 2: 3 sets
Weeks 3 and 4: 4 sets
Weeks 5 and 6: 5 sets

2. 1.5-REP BULGARIAN SPLIT SQUAT

With 1.5-rep training, you do twice as many reps in the bottom position of the exercise, where you are weakest. It also extends your overall time under tension to spark new muscle gain in your targeted region.

Lower all the way down into the Bulgarian split squat, come up half way, go back down again, and then come all the way up. That’s 1 rep.

Perform 2 to 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps on each side. Rest 30 to 60 seconds between sides.

Weeks 1 and 2: 2 sets
Weeks 3 and 4: 3 sets
Weeks 5 and 6: 4 sets

3. ECCENTRIC SINGLE-LEG SQUAT

This move is designed to overload the eccentric/lowering portion of the exercise to spur muscle damage and subsequent growth.

Plus, by working one leg at a time, you’ll shore up weaknesses and imbalances between sides. After all, symmetry is key to aesthetics.

Lower for a full 5 full seconds, then stand back up.

Perform 2 to 4 sets of 5 reps on each side. Rest 30 to 60 seconds between sides.

Weeks 1 and 2: 2 sets
Weeks 3 and 4: 3 sets
Weeks 5 and 6: 4 sets

4. DOUBLE KETTLEBELL PAUSE FRONT SQUAT AND BOX SQUAT JUMP SUPERSET

Front-loaded squats allow you to stay more upright, which works your quads more.

Pausing at the bottom of the squat eliminates your stretch reflex, or the rubber-band-like tendency of your muscles and connective tissues that helps power you through movements. The pause also extends your quads’ time under tension and sets the stage for movement mastery.

Following a loaded strength movement with an unloaded power movement for the same muscle groups—known as contrast training—is a research-proven method to increase force production. The phenomenon is known as post-activation potentiation.

Ultimately, it translates into greater gains.

Perform 8 to 12 reps of squats, holding the bottom of the squat position for 4 full seconds on each rep. Then immediately perform 10 box squat jumps.

That’s 1 superset. Repeat the superset for the corresponding number of sets.

Weeks 1 and 2: 3 sets
Weeks 3 and 4: 4 sets
Weeks 5 and 6: 5 sets

5. TEMPO LEG PRESS

Your quads have a lot of slower-twitch endurance muscle fibers that you need to hit if you want to max out your muscle growth. That’s where these 2-minute work sets come into play.

Though the leg press may not be as functional as squatting, it provides the extra stability you need to push past your comfort zone as safely as possible.

Perform as many reps as you can in 2 minutes, using a continuous 2 to 3 seconds down, 2 to 3 seconds up tempo. In order to put continuous tension on your quads, don’t fully extend your legs at the top of the movement.

Do 1 to 3 sets. Rest 1 minute between sets.

Weeks 1 and 2: 1 set
Weeks 3 and 4: 2 sets
Weeks 5 and 6: 3 sets

6. SINGLE-ARM ALTERNATING FORWARD LUNGE

Without question, one of the most important parts of my leg transformation (particularly for my quads) was continuous lunging for 10 or more minutes.

You’ll bulletproof your knees, improve hip mobility, and shred up your legs.

It’s that sweet spot where strength meets conditioning—a legitimate metabolic magic act. I think it’s the perfect finisher!

By holding a dumbbell on one side of your body at a time, you enhance the work for your core, hips, and thighs and give your grip a break so you can keep going non-stop without setting the weight down.

Hold a dumbbell in one hand by your side and continuously perform alternating forward lunges for 5 to 10 minutes, switching hands every 30 seconds.

MEN’S HEALTH

Week 1: 5 minutes
Week 2: 6 minutes
Week 3: 7 minutes
Week 4: 8 minutes
Week 5: 9 minutes
Week 6: 10 minutes