It is no surprise that in order to have strong, well-defined quads, you need to perform well-rounded quad workouts regularly.
So, what are the best quad focused exercises? How should you structure quad workouts for muscle growth and strength?
In this article, we will discuss how to program your quad muscle workouts and provide step-by-step instructions for how to perform the following exercises to get in your best quad workouts on leg day.
- Prisoner Squats
- Hack Squats
- Heel-Elevated Trap Bar Deadlift Squats
- Front Squats
- Bulgarian Split Squats
- Pistol Squats
- Leg Presses
- Leg Extensions
Let’s dive in!
How to Program Workouts for Quads
Strong quad muscles can give you the power and strength you need to run, cycle, squat heavy barbells, ski, play tennis, or perform basically any type of exercise with greater performance.
The quads are biarticular muscles, which means that they connect at two joints: the hip and the knee. At the hip, the quads help flex your leg, lifting your leg up towards your chest. The quads also extend the knee from the flexed position.
Thus, the quads play an integral role in squatting, running, jumping, ascending and descending stairs, walking, and performing everyday activities like getting in and out of a chair.
The number of reps and sets and the amount of weight you should use for the exercises in your quads workouts will primarily depend on your fitness level and primary training goals.
For maximizing strength gains, work up to performing 2-6 sets, 3-5 reps per set, and at least 85% of your one-repetition maximum (1RM) for the load. The fewer reps you perform, the closer to 100% of your 1RM you should aim for with your weights.
If you are primarily doing workouts for quads mass (hypertrophy or muscle growth), strive to perform three sets of each exercise, using loads that are 70 to 85% of your 1RM for 8 to 12 reps.
The Ultimate Workout for Quads
Here are some of the best quads exercises for your leg workouts:
#1: Prisoner Squats
You can begin your quad focused workouts with prisoner squats because it’s a good bodyweight squat exercise to activate your quads.
The prisoner squat is a bit more challenging than a standard bodyweight squat because it requires more core activation for balance and focuses more of the work on the quads since you can’t use your arms for momentum or balance.
You can wear a weighted vest to increase the difficulty; otherwise, focus on doing higher reps and using this move as a dynamic warmup exercise for your quads workout.
Here are the steps to perform this one of our quad exercises:
- Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart, shoulders back, chest up, and core engaged with your hands laced together behind your head and elbows fanned out to the sides.
- Bend your knees and sit your hips all the way back as if reaching your butt back to sit in a chair. Contract your abs and glutes to stay balanced and upright.
- When your thighs are parallel to the floor, press through your heels to stand back up.
- Complete 20-30 reps.
#2: Hack Squats
Hack squats are a great one of our quad focused exercises that you will often find in many of the best quad workouts.
This quad exercise was originally developed by George Hackenschmidt, for whom the exercise was made.
The benefit of adding this exercise to a quad focus leg day workout is that it is not only a great exercise to target your quads, but the machine also provides external stability, which eliminates the need to balance your body as you perform the movement.
As such, you can really load up your hack squats with a lot of weight without worrying as much about safety, and if your quads are on fire after tons of quad day exercises, you will have the extra insurance policy of the weight machine’s stability to support your tired legs.
Here is how to perform this exercise for quads:
- Stand on the foot platform of the hack squat machine as if you were going to perform a back squat. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart, and you should be upright with your core and glutes engaged, chest up, and shoulders back and down.
- Sit your hips back as you bend your knees, lowering your body all the way down until your thighs are parallel to the floor and your knees are bent to 90°.
- Explode through your heels to press upward until you are standing back up fully erect.
- Focus on moving as slowly as possible during the descent and then exploding powerfully and rapidly through the ascent.
#3: Heel-Elevated Trap Bar Deadlift Squats
Deadlifts are a great posterior chain exercise, but this variation is perfect for a “quad focus leg day workout,” as it sort of combines a deadlift and squat in one.
Using the trap bar allows you to lift more weight and load your quad muscles better because the weight is centered in line with your body rather than in front of your center of mass.
Plus, you can use a neutral grip with the trap bar deadlift squat, which makes it easier to manage heavy weights without bothering your shoulders, elbows, and wrists.
To transform this deadlift variation into more of a quad focused exercise, you will elevate your heels up on the back of a weight plate.
This helps concentrate the workload onto your quads and also allows you to achieve a greater squat depth if you have limited ankle mobility.
Here is how to perform this quad exercise:
- Stand in the middle of a trap bar with each heel elevated up on a weight plate. Your feet should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, your chest should be up, and your core and glutes should be engaged throughout the entire exercise.
- Using good squat form, squat down and grip the handles of the trap bar.
- Brace your core and lock your shoulders down to help stabilize your spine.
- Allow the front of the trap bar to travel up near the shins like a deadlift, but sit your hips back and bend your knees to 90 degrees like a squat.
- Press through the balls of your feet to engage your quads to stand back up.
#4: Front Squats
There are many squat variations, but the front squat is one of the best quad exercises because the weight is located in front to more directly load the quads.
Here are the steps to perform this exercise in your quads workouts:
- Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart, shoulders back, chest up, and core engaged.
- Hold the barbell or dumbbells around the level of your clavicles.
- Bend your knees and sit your hips back.
- When your thighs are parallel to the floor, and your knees are bent to 90 degrees, pause and then push explosively through your heels to stand back up.
#5: Bulgarian Split Squats
The Bulgarian split squat is one of the best quad day workout exercises. While it works all of the major muscles in the lower body, elevating your rear foot isolates the demand on the quad muscle on the front leg.
As a unilateral exercise, you can add this exercise to your quads workouts to help correct strength imbalances between your two legs.
Here are the steps:
- Stand about three feet in front of a bench, facing away. Your front foot should be far enough forward that when you drop into a lunge, your front knee does not extend beyond your toes.
- Reach one foot back and place the laces part of the shoe down on the bench.
- Hold dumbbells down at your sides or hold a single kettlebell up at the height of your sternum.
- Keeping your core tight, bend your front knee and back knee to drop down into a split squat.
- When the thigh of your front leg is parallel to the ground, pause and hold the contraction for 2-3 seconds.
- Explode through your heel to return to the standing position.
- Complete all of your reps and then switch sides.
#6: Pistol Squats
If you’re an advanced weightlifter, consider adding pistol squats to your quads leg workouts.
This exercise requires a tremendous amount of leg strength. You can even hold dumbbells as you get stronger or wear a weighted vest.
Beginners can use TRX straps to aid balance and provide a bit of assistance in pressing back up.
Here are the steps:
- Stand upright with good posture.
- Lift your left leg and extend it in front of your body as you bend your right knee and sit your hips back to drop down into a single-leg squat.
- Lower your body as far as you can, reaching your butt towards the floor and loading your quads and glutes.
- Press through your right heel to stand back up.
- Complete all of your reps and then switch sides.
#7: Leg Presses
If you are doing your quads workout at the gym, there’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of the weight machines.
The fixed path of motion allows you to safely lift more weight without needing to balance or stabilize your body.
The leg press machine is a great way to strengthen your quads and build muscle, particularly if you don’t have a spotter for heavy free-weight squats.
Here are the steps for this quads-strengthening exercise:
- Sit back on the leg press machine gripping the handles, lying back with your head and back fully supported, your knees bent to 90 degrees, and your feet up on the platform a little wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Press through your heels to extend your legs fully without fully locking out your knees.
- Bend your knees to slowly lift the weights as you return to the starting position.
#8: Leg Extensions
The leg extension machine is a quad isolation exercise, and while advanced weightlifters can still benefit from this quad weight machine, it’s especially helpful for beginners.
There is virtually no technique to learn, and the seated position removes the loads on the spine or the need to brace the core.
Here are the steps for this quad isolation exercise:
- Position yourself on the leg extension machine with your legs under the pads so that the pad is just above your ankles, your knees are bent to 90 degrees, and your back is flush with the machine.
- Grip the handlebars on the sides to help brace your body.
- Lift your shins up against the weight, extending your legs fully while keeping your back and thighs stationary.
- Hold the top position for 2-3 seconds, squeezing your quads and then slowly lowering the weight.
There you have it! 8 awesome exercises the create the best quad workouts.
After your quads workouts, check out our guide to the best posterior chain workout here.