5 Must-Do Moves for Adding Strength and Size to Your Quads

5 Must-Do Moves for Adding Strength and Size to Your Quads

If you never skip leg day, you're already one step ahead of the crowd on the mission to build big, strong legs. But you can broaden the scope of your goals—piecing together the perfect set of exercises to hone the quad “teardrop” can become a next-level training objective.

So what are the most ideal exercises to maximize your lower body training to target these anterior (located on the front side of your body) leg muscles? Squats or lunges? Isolation moves or unilateral work? To establish a solid foundation for your quad-focused workouts, Men's Health Advisory Board member and celebrity trainer

Don Saladino and Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. , provide five exercises that will allow you train hard and heavy. In fact, the majority of these exercises were selected specifically so you can pile on the weight as you work to pack on size to those quads.

There are two things you'll see in each of these movements, according to Samuel. The first is that you'll be able to use heavy loads, which is a key to build strength and muscle. Secondly, you'll be put in a position where you'll drive your knees forward. "That's what challenges our quads so you're going to see that in a lot of these exercises—they are going to create an opportunity for you to safely drive your knees into a position that’s going to challenge you so you can really hit those quads," says Samuel.

What makes the step up such an effectively great lower-body exercise (as well as a deceptively excellent core and cardio move) is that it can be done anywhere with little or no equipment. All you really need is a step or elevated surface and you can in increase or reduce the intensity level by performing these with just your bodyweight or adding a heavier load with dumbbells or kettlebells.

Be careful not to lean forward too much; instead, focus on maintaining an upright posture, which will still allow you to drive forward. Also, depending on the height of the step, you can also increase the range of motion and intensity for a sneaky cardio workout.

“I've worked with some individuals that are just getting into training that are really deconditioned, and it's a safe, effective way to be able to go and not only attack the quads, but you’re also hitting some hamstrings and glutes as well," Saladino says.

For a while, this old school move got a bum rap for not quite fitting in as a fully “functional” movement, but it’s recently regained popularity. The reason for the resurgence: this isolation move can help add size and strength to your quads. When done properly, leg extensions are one of a few leg exercises that can provide a finishing pump to your lower-body workout.

“Think of this as the biceps curl for your quads,” Samuel says. “Because we're isolating, we're doing this in a safe way, you can ramp up the volume on this... I like thinking even higher reps than normal."

There’s no getting around the fact that lunges can be brutal. What makes this unilateral exercise so awesome, however, is that not only are you crushing your quads, you’re also hitting your hamstrings and glutes. Walking lunges will force you to focus on your balance, an underrated element many people neglect in their training. And no matter how you perform these—from bodyweight to heavy loads—walking lunges will challenge your cardio system as well.

“I'm not gonna say they're fun because they are hard but they are interesting to do sometimes when you're locked onto a machine or you're doing something out of a rack and it's out of nowhere you can get out there and start moving," says Saladino. "It allows your hips to open up. It allows you to feel more athletic.”

Why fronts over back squats? One main reason is bar placement—because you’re holding it in front of you, it creates a postural challenge that’s safer than a back squat. With front squats, no matter how you hold the bar—bodybuilding style, powerlifting style, even Frankenstein style—if the bar comes rolling forward, it’s a sign your form may be breaking and a signal to shut down and reset.

“Only use a weight you can handle,” Samuel says. “Don't be too aggressive with your weight jumps, but don’t be afraid to go heavy. Make sure your court stays nice and tight and torso stays upright.”

There’s a lot to love about one of the most challenging leg exercise out there. Because this exercise doesn’t require you to be positioned in a completely upright position, a slight spinal tilt forward allows you to place a little more load on that front leg. It’s a front leg, quad-dominant exercise, but again, you’re also hitting some hamstrings as well as working on that balance. And best of all, you can—and should when possible—go heavy with Bulgarians, making this an alternative equivalent to back squats. But be prepared to be crushed, in a good way.

“There’s so much carryover when it comes down to being sports specific, and hypertrophy from a bodybuilding standpoint,” Saladino says. “Here we're able to just really tear down those microscopic fibers in the muscle and it really works.”

Want more essential exercises for your most important muscle groups? Check out all of our Muscle Musts.

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