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The 23 best quad exercises and workouts for leg day

What you need to know about quad workouts

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.

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.

What are the quad muscles?

lower body of a man displaying 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 the rectus femoris, which runs down the center of the thigh from the hip to the kneecap; the vastus lateralis, which is on the outer side of the thigh; the vastus medialis on the more inner section of the front of the thigh; and the vastus intermedius, which also 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.

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.

Best quad exercises

Man doing quad exercises at home.

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 utilize the quads

Man doing sprints and jumps
Unsplash/Karsten Winegeart
  • Hill sprints
  • Sprints
  • Jumping jacks
  • Jump rope
  • Spinning
  • Cycling
  • Rowing
  • Burpees
  • Hiking

Best quad workouts

man in a squatting position doing a deadlift.

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 towards exhaustion by the end of the set.

The quad muscles are the easiest of the leg muscles to pack on size and strength. By implementing some of these exercises 1-2 times per week, it’s only a matter of time before you look like you have tree trunks for your legs.

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