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July 12, 2021 10 min read

Your quads are an integral part of your lower body. They’re a massive set of muscles that look incredible after a little bit of work. If you want a thick, healthy look then getting your quads up to snuff, is one of the best ways to make sure you look strong and well-rounded.

We know that you should never skip leg day if you’re serious about looking fit, and that’s why. Your legs contribute so much to your overall look, and they’re honestly pretty easy to isolate for the best results.

quadriceps muscle anatomy

Quad Questions

If you’re going to be working on your quads, you need to know what your quads even are. Working out and isolating a muscle group is a very particular skill that requires a solid foundation of knowledge before you get started. If you’re trying to beef up your quads, then you need to understand their shape and function or you’ll run the risk of injury or worse, totally wasting your time.

Your quads, or the quadriceps femoris muscle, aren’t simply one giant muscle that lies along the front side of your upper leg, similar to your biceps and triceps, they’re a muscle group with a single body that splits into four individual heads.

These separate heads, again just like your biceps and triceps, grant stability, rotation, and strength to your legs that you wouldn’t get if your quads were a more simplistic structure. They’re a testament to the intricate design of the human body, and when you take the time to beef up your quads, you’ll start to appreciate them even more.

Broadly, your quads are designed to facilitate extension of your lower leg and hip flexion. They also connect to your kneecap, and without your quads, that weird floating piece of bone would immediately slide out of place and hamper your ability to walk.

Quad Quadrants

The four parts of your quads all work together to grant your body the ability to do some truly amazing things, everything from standing, running, and jumping comes from your quads in some capacity, and you have several parts of your leg to thank for that.

Rectus Femoris

The first of these is the rectus femoris. This is the part of your quads that takes up the most room in your thigh. It originates from your pelvis and travels all the way down your femur. It's the largest and most shallow section of your quads.

It’s large enough to completely engulf the other three sections of your quads and it’s the part of the muscle group you probably imagine when you think about your quads. This is the part of your thigh that keeps your legs and hips in sync with each other. It acts primarily to flex your thigh and secondarily to flex your pelvis in towards your thigh.

Vastus Lateralis and Vastus Medialis

These two quadrants are located on the outer edge of your femur. When you’re a master of your quads, and you get that big lateral look, this is the part of your muscle group that bulges out to the side and gives you a well-defined cut look.

The vastus lateralis and the vastus medialis together make up the middle layer of your quads and take up a lot of lateral space. Working on these parts of your quads is an easy way to make sure you’re getting a thick silhouette.

Vastus Intermedius

This part of your quads is a little more hidden than the others. Its name should tip you off to that fact, but if it’s not clear, this part of your quads is buried in between the other segments of your leg.

Specifically, it’s threaded in between your vastus medialis and vastus lateralis, you can think of it as being tucked underneath the two of them. It’s absolutely crucial to the greater function of your legs. This particular area is responsible for extending your knee. Your leg extensions would be severely handicapped if you didn’t have your vastus intermedius.

Quad Quest

Now that you understand what makes up your quads and how they work, it’s pretty easy to see what sorts of exercises would help improve your muscle mass and how you can avoid injury.

1. Leg Press

Leg presses are probably second only to squats in their effectiveness and simplicity. They’re an incredibly effective way to stack on a ton of weight while you develop your quads and push their limits week over week.

  • You’re going to need a leg press machine for this, so head over to the gym first
  • Always follow the specific directions provided by your local leg press machine, but these broad guidelines are going to set you up for any leg press machine out there
  • Position yourself comfortably on the leg press machine with a reasonable amount of weight
  • Set your core and place your feet against the platform about shoulder-width apart
  • Slowly lower the platform under your control until your knees are bent about 90-degrees, keeping your feet flat against the platform the entire time
  • Engage your quads and press the weight back up until your legs are fully extended
  • Pause for a second without locking your knees and repeat

2. Bodyweight Squat

These are the old classic. As time goes by, we see how effective bodyweight squats are when it comes to building muscle in your lower body and burning energy quickly and effectively.

If you’re not already slotting squats into your workout routine, then you can skyrocket your gains and your fat-burning goals.

  • Start with your feet flat on the floor about shoulder-width apart
  • Lower your body into a squatting position until your knees are about 90-degrees or as low as you can comfortably lower yourself without arching your back
  • Press with your quads against the floor until you’ve returned to the starting position
  • Pause for a second at the height of your squat and repeat 8-10 times per set

3. Bosu Ball Squat

Bosu balls are a great way to introduce a challenge to your workouts. These unique platforms are half balance ball, and half stepping platform. You’re able to use them in either orientation to add some instability to your squats. Ball side down, especially, Bosu balls can vary a great deal in stability to really engage your core and quads while you try to keep your body upright and your legs still.

  • If you’re not comfortable with Bosu balls, then start with the flat side down until you’re comfortable flipping it over
  • Stand on the Bosu ball with your feet flat against the platform about shoulder-width apart
  • Squat straight down until your legs are at a 90-degree angle or as low as you can get comfortable while keeping your back straight
  • Press against the platform with your heels until your legs are fully extended
  • Pause for a moment once you’re fully standing and repeat 

4. Plyometric Squats

Plyometrics, or jumping exercises, are an excellent way to work a little bit of cardio into your calisthenics and to vastly increase the challenge of any exercise. In this case, the plyometric addition to your squats is going to increase the explosive power of your quads and build muscle quickly if you don’t have access to weights.

  • Start with your feet flat on the floor about shoulder-width apart
  • Lower your body into a squatting position until your knees are about 90-degrees or as low as you can comfortably lower yourself without arching your back
  • Press with your quads against the floor, explosively so your feet leave the ground when your legs are fully extended
  • Land with a little bit of give in your ankles and knees to absorb the shock, you shouldn’t be slamming yourself on the floor, think of landing gently to protect your joints
  • Take a moment to reset your feet in your starting position
  • Repeat 8-10 times per set
A man with a naked torso doing pistol squats

5. Pistol Squats

Pistol squats are not easy by any means. If you’ve been building your quads up for a while, then you might want to try integrating these into your routine, but otherwise, you should think of them as your next benchmark. It takes a lot of strength and stability to pull this one off, so don’t be disappointed if you’re not pistol squatting with the best of them right out of the gate. Once you’re capable of them, however, the sense of accomplishment is incredible.

  • Start with your feet flat on the floor about shoulder-width apart
  • Lift one of your legs up off of the ground
  • Lower your body into a squatting position until your knee is about 90-degrees or as low as you can comfortably lower yourself without arching your back
  • Keep your lifted leg as parallel to the ground as possible
  • Press with your quads against the floor until you’ve returned to the starting position, maintaining your balance by engaging your core and using your quads
  • Pause for a second at the height of your squat and repeat 8-10 times per side per set

6. Step Ups

Step-ups are pretty simple on their face, but simplicity is best when it comes to isolation exercises. Your muscles are incredibly specialized throughout your body, so isolating the muscle is all about finding clever ways to execute that specialized motion while adding a little resistance. Step-ups are a shining example of this. If you can master step-ups, then you’ll master you quads in no time.

  • Find a box, a stable bench, or any other stable surface to support your bodyweight that’s about knee-high
  • Place one foot flat up on that surface while your other foot is flat on the ground
  • Place your weight on the raised surface and step up onto it, keeping your knee and ankle in line to avoid injury
  • Be sure to keep your core engaged and your back straight 
  • Step back down and place both feet on the floor before switching legs and repeating this action
  • Repeat about 8-10 times per set 

7. Side Lunge

Side lunges are a great way to build up your quads while working on your stability and strength if you don’t have any equipment to depend on while you’re working out. Side lunges also have the added benefit of keeping your hips flexible and really opening up your joint in an area of your body that’s prone to tightening up if you’re not rigorous about your stretches.

  • Start with your feet about shoulder-width apart
  • Take a big, stable step to one side, bending your knee as you step into a squat that’s as deep as you can comfortably go to one side
  • Use your quad to press against the floor and return your body back into your starting position
  • Mirror this action with your other leg, and alternate 8-10 times per side 

8. Leg Extensions

Leg extensions are probably the purest form of quad exercise. Your quads are all about extending your legs and maintaining stability in your lower body. If you can find a place to sit, you can work in some leg extensions, with or without weight.

  • Leg extensions can be done with your body weight, with some resistance bands, or with some weights around your ankles
  • Find a stable surface to sit on that will support your weight and allow you to keep your feet off of the ground when you bend your knees
  • Start with your feet together and your knees bent at a 90-degree angle
  • Fully extend your legs in front of your body
  • Pause for a moment once your legs are fully extended
  • Lower your legs back into your starting position and repeat

9. Reverse Lunges

Reverse lunges are a good way to get your balance and your body coordination under control. Stepping backward and managing your weight with a single leg is a great way to force your brain and body to communicate effectively with each other. Your balance overall with vastly increase, this is a great way to keep your core engaged while working on your legs.

  • Stand up straight with your hands on your hip or with dumbbells in your hands
  • Take a big, steady step backward with one foot and sink down towards the floor until the thigh of your front foot is parallel with the floor
  • The knee of your back foot should be about to touch the floor
  • Use your front foot to push your body back into your starting position
  • Mirror with your opposite leg and repeat this action 8-10 times on each side per set

10. Walking Lunges

Walking lunges are great for practising some pretty standard movement with your quads. Keeping your body in motion makes the movement much more natural, and you’re going to be testing your balance and coordination the entire time you amble about the room.

  • Stand up straight with your feet about shoulder-width apart either with your hands on your hips or with dumbbells in each hand
  • Take a big, comfortable step forward
  • Sink down until the thigh of your front foot is parallel with the ground and your rear knee is almost touching the floor
  • Pause for a second 
  • Use your back foot to take a lunge forward to meet your front foot
  • Mirror this action with your opposite side and repeat 8-10 times on each side per set

Additional Quad Quizzing

Building muscle isn’t just about beating your body down with intense exercise. You should also be treating your body well outside of the gym. You build muscle through a process called hypertrophy. This is what it’s called when your body rebuilds broken muscle fibers bigger and better than before.

When your body is ready to build muscle, you need to meet it halfway. You should be feeding yourself plenty of protein and keeping your body hydrated so your digestive system and your muscles can take that protein and reappropriate it into brand new muscle fiber.

Your body is also creating more room to store energy in your muscles, which makes them larger and more capable of long, grueling exercise.You should also be making room in your workout schedule for plenty of rest.

Building muscle can’t happen if you’re constantly destroying your muscles, so you should be alternating your workouts throughout the week and leaving at least one day aside for active stretching and low-impact exercise.

If your rest days get the blood flowing without tearing down your tired muscles, you’ll be flushing your system and transporting fresh nutrients to your damaged extremities.

Grand Quad Quest

Beefing up your quads is infinitely satisfying and pretty simple once you know what you’re doing. Your legs and knees will also greatly benefit from the increased mobility and strength that’s inherent to strengthening these muscles through dedicated and careful exercise.

Your quads benefit from bodyweight exercises that can be done everywhere is relatively little equipment if you’re just trying to tone them up just as well as they benefit from weight lifting. This makes quad exercise varied and exciting if you’re willing to put the time in.