Skip to main content

The 23 best quad exercises for tree trunk-sized quads

All of the best quad exercises for packing on serious muscle mass

Shirtless man performing a pistol squat in a gym.
Bastien Plu / Unsplash

Nobody should skip leg day, plain and simple. You don’t have to have legs the size of Dwayne Johnson’s either, but that wouldn’t hurt. You also don’t have to be a hardcore cyclist, runner, or athlete of any sport to want strong quads. This major muscle group is important for functional strength for everything from getting out of a chair to climbing stairs. Strong quads allow you to jump high, run fast, generate power, and dominate all sorts of physical tasks, and there’s the undeniable allure of attaining chiseled definition in your legs. Using specific quad exercises is key in doing so.

Fortunately, the quads are one of the easiest muscle groups to strengthen as well as pack on considerable size if you have been slacking on leg days as of late. There are lots of great quad exercises and quad workouts that can be completed with everything from just your own body weight to dumbbells, weight machines, or other training tools. Quad exercises can be incorporated into HIIT workouts, plyometrics, and even low-impact cardio activities like cycling and rowing. Below, we share some of the best quad exercises you can try for effective sculpting and strengthening quad workouts.

A close-up of a male athlete's quad muscles.
Anastase Maragos / Unsplash

What are the quad muscles?

The “quads” or “quad muscles” refer to the quadriceps, a group of four muscles along the front of the thigh. This group of muscles includes:

  • Rectus femoris – runs down the center of the thigh from the hip to the kneecap
  • Vastus lateralis – on the outer side of the thigh
  • Vastus medialis – the inner section of the front of the thigh
  • Vastus intermedius – runs down the center

The quads work together to flex the high, extend the knee, and stabilize the kneecap, and they work in opposition to the hamstrings, which travel down the backside of the thigh.

Man doing quad exercises at home.
Logan Weaver / Unsplash

Benefits of quad exercises

Because the quads are one of the largest and most powerful groups of muscles in your entire body, quad exercises that strengthen this important group can essentially increase total-body strength and performance. Any motion or activity that involves hip flexion and/or knee extension (straightening your leg) will be enhanced by quad exercises because you’ll build the muscle strength needed to develop more force. Other benefits of quad exercises include the following:

  • Helping stabilize the knee cap
  • Helping prevent injuries
  • Reducing pain from osteoarthritis by training the muscles to absorb more load and do more work instead of the bones and cartilage
  • Increasing vertical jump height
  • Improving balance and helping prevent falls
  • Boosting metabolic rate
  • Improving running economy
  • Easing activities of daily life such as climbing stairs, getting out of a car or chair, walking, etc.
A shirtless man doing split squats using a dumbbell.

How can I make my quads stronger?

In simple terms, use them more. Oftentimes, this can be easier said than done. Our modern-day lifestyle has slowly made us more sedentary, and sitting all day does horrible things to our health, posture, and muscle activation. Incorporating quad-strengthening exercises into your routine is a simple and effective way to make your quadriceps stronger.

Beginners can start with bodyweight quad moves, while more advanced exercisers may need to add external resistance, such as free weights, to continuously challenge their muscles and achieve progressive overload for optimal strength gains.

Man doing sprints and jumps.
Karsten Winegeart/Unsplash

Best quad exercises

Squats may be the go-to exercise for the quads, but there are many other effective quad exercises as well. Quad exercises can be thought of as one of two primary types — exercises that directly target the quads, and total-body exercises or those that work multiple muscle groups simultaneously including the quads. The lists below are split according to this differentiation:

Best exercises that target the quads

  • Bodyweight squats
  • Front squats
  • Back squats
  • TRX single-leg squats
  • BOSU squat
  • Sumo squats
  • Goblet squats
  • Pistol squats
  • Jump squats
  • Leg extensions (weighted/machine)
  • Box jumps
  • Leg press
  • Forward lunges
  • Reverse lunges
  • Bulgarian split squats
  • Single-leg box jumps
  • Broad jumps
  • Walking lunge
  • Side lunge
  • Wall sits
  • Duck walks
  • Tuck jump
  • Squat holds

Best movements that use the quads

  • Hill sprints
  • Sprints
  • Jumping jacks
  • Jump rope
  • Spinning
  • Cycling
  • Rowing
  • Burpees
  • Hiking
Man in a squatting position doing a deadlift
Victor Freitas/Pexels

 Workout incorporation

The best quad workouts incorporate several quad exercises completed sequentially to tax the quad muscles. It’s usually a good idea to also incorporate exercises that target the antagonist group — the hamstrings — as these exercises require the quads to control the opposing motions of hip extension and knee flexion by performing eccentric (lengthening) contractions. Examples include deadlifts and hamstring curls with a stability ball.

Beginners can get a good quad workout using just bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges, step-ups, and jump squats. If you’re striving for hypertrophy, which means you’re looking to gain size, you’ll want to choose just a handful of quad exercises and complete several sets of just a few near-maximal reps.

For example, you might do four sets of five reps of the leg press machine, heavy barbell back squat, loaded pistol squat, and hex bar deadlifts with the heaviest load you can manage for the five reps using proper form. Lastly, if you’re an intermediate or advanced athlete looking to increase overall quad strength, pick eight to 10 quad exercises and two or three hamstring exercises. Complete two to three sets of 8 to 12 reps of each exercise using a weight that is challenging and gets you toward exhaustion by the end of the set.

A man's strong legs from rowing.
Kyle Kranz/Unsplash

Tree trunk-sized quads

The quad muscles are the easiest of the leg muscles to pack on size and strength. By implementing some of these exercises one to two times per week, it’s only a matter of time before you look like you have tree trunks for your legs.

Editors' Recommendations

Jeff Turbett
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Jeff Turbett is a health and wellness coach with over three years of experience transforming clients lives and physical…
How many apples should you really eat? RDs reveal all (plus, their best snack ideas)
Does an apple a day really keep the doctor away?
Apples on an apple tree

Pumpkins often dominate the conversation around fall produce, no thanks to Starbucks and Trader Joe's. However, apples are a year-round fruit basket staple primed for picking in September. The humble apple fruit symbolizes back-to-school (the perfect gift for a teacher) and even keeping the doctor away. Are apples good for you? Of course. Will a daily apple prevent you from a sick visit to your primary care physician? The answer to that one requires nuance.

Still, looking at the apple nutrition facts, it's clear that eating this fall superfruit offers many benefits. Notably, the vitamins and fiber in apples are packed with benefits that can do everything from boosting heart health to aiding digestion.

Read more
A beginner’s guide to AMRAP workouts that get results
Have you heard of AMRAP (as many reps as possible) workouts? Read more here
Man using tire crossfit workout

If you’ve ever attended a CrossFit workout or have buddies who are die-hard CrossFit enthusiasts, you may already be well aware of this seemingly secret society ripe with its own culture and lingo, from a strong emphasis on the Paleo diet to WODs and MetCon. Another term spawned in CrossFit gyms is AMRAP, which stands for "as many reps as possible." This challenging style of workout quickly became a favorite workout of CrossFitters and permeated the rest of the fitness market outside CrossFit boxes, where it now is prescribed by personal trainers around the country and has taken on all sorts of iterations and structures.
The best AMRAP workouts get your heart pounding, lungs burning, and muscles quivering. Like high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts, AMRAP workouts have metabolic, cardiovascular, and musculoskeletal benefits, and they can even be fun. Tackling an AMRAP workout may be a one-stop solution if you’re looking to boost your fitness, shake up your workout routine, and test your mental and physical limits. If you’re not sure how to get started with AMRAP workouts and what exercises to do, keep reading for our guide to the best AMRAP workouts and get ready to sweat.

What is an AMRAP workout?
As mentioned earlier, AMRAP is an acronym that stands for “as many reps as possible.” AMRAP workouts consist of anywhere from two or three to a dozen or more exercises typically completed in a circuit, with little to no rest between exercises. Each exercise is usually performed for a set amount of time (such as 30 seconds or one minute) with the goal of completing as many reps as possible during that time.
AMRAP workouts are metabolically demanding, high-intensity workouts with many of the same benefits as HIIT workouts. Accordingly, they usually last anywhere from three to 20 minutes, though advanced athletes may push through a grueling hour. Since intensity is key, however, it’s usually better to keep the time shorter and really push your speed and power.

Read more
The benefits of yoga: Why you need to add it to your workout routine today
Yoga can improve your flexibility and your mood. Keep reading to learn some more benefits
A man doing a yoga pose with a tablet in front of him in the living room.

Society places heavy emphasis on physical fitness, but other forms of exercise exist. Sports, resistance training, Zumba, power walking — the list goes on. Unfortunately, some people lack either the time or the physical ability to choose some or most of those options. That's where yoga comes in.

While yoga may seem easier than lifting 50-pound weights or running for miles, it's still beneficial to your health in many ways. With so many possible yoga poses out there for all levels, almost anyone looking to start the practice can find moves suitable to them, regardless of their current health. 

Read more