Bodybuilding Training Principles For Creating Quadriceps Routines

Get Bigger & Defined Quads With These Bodybuilding Quadriceps Training Routines

A man back squatting in the gym
Cultura RM Exclusive/Corey Jenkins / Getty Images

The quadriceps are the muscles of the front of the leg whose function is to extend the leg at the knee and to flex the hip. It is composed of four muscles on the front of the thigh called:

The Rectus Femoris, which is located in the middle of the thigh, and is the only quad muscle involved in hip flexion.

The Vastus Medialis, or teardrop muscle, which is located on the inside of the leg by the knee.



The Vastus Lateralis, located on the outside part of the upper leg.

The Vastus Intermedius, which is located between the vastus lateralis and vastus medialis on the front of the upper leg.

A lot of guys think that if they do a little bit of running or some biking, there is no need to do legs. There is nothing that could be further away from the truth. From a symmetry standpoint a big upper body with no legs just does not look right; and if you ever plan on doing bodybuilding competitions, forget it! Even if competing is not on your mind, a big upper body supported by pencil looking legs is not very aesthetically pleasing.

From a growth standpoint, the free bar squats provide the most stimuli not only to the legs but the upper body as well since all muscles need to be activated in order to perform the lift. Even the upper body muscles need to perform a hard static contraction just to keep the bar on the back.

The stress created by the free bar squat is so great on the system that one gets the most hormonal stimulation from it. So it could be argued that a hard quad training session that includes squats can help to accelerate your bodybuilding gains in all parts of your body.

How To Achieve Great Looking Quads

In order for your quads to look awesome, you need to train all four heads.

This is accomplished by using a variety of the right exercises and by understanding how foot placing contributes to the stimulus of each individual head. The following discussion talks about the different foot stances and their role in quadriceps development.

Foot Stances and Quadriceps Development

There are three main stances that we need to be concerned with when performing multi-jointed exercises for the quads:
 

  1. Shoulder Width Stance with toes pointed slightly out: This stance works best for stimulating overall thigh development.
     
  2. Close Stance with toes pointed straight ahead: This stance works best for stimulating growth of the outer quad, better known as the vastus lateralis. Note: Next time you watch the Olympics check out the vastus lateralis development of speed skaters; due to the nature of their sport, they have these muscles well developed.
     
  3. Wide Stance with toes pointed out at least 45 degrees out: This stance targets both the vastus medialis (which is the inside head of the quadriceps near the knee) and the inner thigh or adductor muscles.


It is important to mention also that every time a quadriceps exercise is performed, it is imperative to push with the toes mainly as that will emphasize quadriceps recruitment.



For leg extension type movements there are also three-foot positions that can be used:

  1. Toes Straight: Good for overall development.
     
  2. Toes In: Good for maximizing outer quad (vastus lateralis) stimulation.
     
  3. Toes Out: Good for maximizing inner quad (vastus medialis) stimulation.

Good Quad Exercises 

Like any other list of bodybuilding exercises, quadriceps exercises are divided in compound, multi-jointed movements and isolation movements. The compound movements will activate all heads of the muscle emphasizing a particular head depending on the foot stance. As I mention in my article Choosing The Right Exercises for Maximum Results, compound movements performed with the free barbell (squats) will give you the most stimulation than compound movements performed on a machine (like the smith machine squats or leg press).

Isolation movements like the leg extensions then come in 3rd place in regards to stimulation.

Compound Basic Free Weight Quadriceps Exercises

  • Barbell Squats
  • Front Squats
  • Dumbbell Squats
  • Belt Squats
  • Barbell Lunges
  • Dumbbell Lunges


Compound Basic Machine Quadriceps Exercises

  • Leg Press
  • Hack Squats
  • Smith Machine Squats
  • Front Squat Machine

Isolation Exercises


(Note: though Sissy Squats are considered an isolation movement as only one joint is involved, it provides as much stimulation as the compound basic machine quadriceps exercises since you have to move your body through space as you perform the movement).

Now that we have presented several exercises for the quadriceps, let’s take a look at some effective bodybuilding quadriceps routines.

Beginning Bodybuilding Quadriceps Routine
 

For those who are just starting out in bodybuilding, I always recommend a full body routine practiced 3 times a week that uses mostly basic exercises to target each muscle group. As a result, a quadriceps routine for the beginning bodybuilder may consist of just a couple of exercises that cover all of the quadricep muscles.

  • Leg Extensions 2 sets of 10-12 repetitions (Rest: 1 minute)
  • Barbell Squats 2 sets of 10-12 repetitions (Rest: 1 minute)

How to Progress

After 4 weeks of performing 2 sets of each exercise for 10-12 reps, move up to 3 sets per exercise. Keep the rest to 1 minute in between sets.

Why leg extensions first? Since new bodybuilders have poor neuromuscular connection (poor communication between the brain and the muscle fibers), starting with an isolation exercise, in this case, will help the trainee to better feel the area that they should be emphasizing when they squat.

Intermediate Bodybuilding Quadriceps Routine

After 12 weeks in the beginning bodybuilding schedule, it is time to graduate to an intermediate routine in order to keep progressing. In this routine, the body is split in two separate days; chest, back and arms on day 1, and shoulders, legs and abs on day 2.

  • Barbell Squats 2 sets of 10-12 repetitions (Rest: 1 minute)
  • Lunges (Press With Toes) 2 sets of 10-12 repetitions (Rest: 1 minute)
  • Leg Extensions 2 sets of 10-12 repetitions (Rest: 1 minute)

How to Progress

After 4 weeks of performing 2 sets of each exercise for 10-12 reps, move up to 3 sets per exercise. Keep the rest to 1 minute in between sets.

Advanced Bodybuilding Quadriceps Routine

After 12-16 weeks on an Intermediate Program, it is time to graduate into more Advanced Bodybuilding Routines. This does not necessarily mean more time in the gym, though for those few of you whose ultimate goal is bodybuilding competition, then more time in the gym will be the case.

The main difference between Advanced Training and Intermediate Training is that in Advanced Training, you'll need to change your program every 3 weeks to keep the gains coming. Therefore, the use of periodization is key, which is the orderly manipulation of sets, repetitions and rest in between sets. If competition is your goal, then you may need to increase your weight training days to 6 in order to accomodate a larger number of exercises.

There are many splits that one can use as an advanced athlete:

  1. Bodybuilding Antagonistic Muscles Workout Split: In this bodybuilding workout split, the body is divided over three or four days and antagonistic muscles (opposing muscle groups), are paired together in each bodybuilding workout.
     
  2. One Major Muscle With Two Smaller Muscle Groups Bodybuilding Workout Split: In this bodybuilding workout split, the body is divided over three days and one major muscle group (such as the chest, thighs and back) is paired together with two smaller muscle groups (such as biceps, triceps, hamstrings, calves, abs and shoulders) in each bodybuilding workout.
  3. One Major Muscle Group Per Day Advanced Bodybuilding Workout Split: In this bodybuilding workout split, the body is divided over six days and one major muscle group is targeted in each bodybuilding workout.


Now that you have an idea of the training splits that can be used at this level, the next step here are some sample periodized advanced bodybuilding workout routines for the quadriceps:


Quadriceps Workout #1 (Weeks 1-3)

  • Barbell Squats (Medium Stance) 4 sets of 10-12 repetitions (Rest: 1 minute)
  • Wide Stance Leg Press 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions (Rest: 1 minute)
  • Leg Extensions (Toes In) 4 sets of 10-12 repetitions (Rest: 1 minute)
  • Hack Squats (feet close) 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions (Rest: 1 minute)

Quadriceps Workout #2 (Weeks 4-6)


Modified Giant-set

  • Wide Stance Barbell Squats 3 sets of 10, 8, 6 repetitions (Rest: 1 minute)
  • Barbell Lunges 3 sets of 10, 8, 6 repetitions (Rest: 1 minute)
  • Leg Press (Feet Close) 3 sets of 10, 8, 6 repetitions (Rest: 1 minute)
  • Leg Extensions (Toes Straight) 3 sets of 15, 13, 10 repetitions (Rest: 1 minute)


Note: In a modified giant-set you get to perform an exercise, rest for the prescribed period of time, go to the next one rest, and continue to the next one up until all exercises have been performed for the required amount of sets. In the case above, the weight needs to be increased on each subsequent set.

Competitive Bodybuilding Quadriceps Routine

For competitive bodybuilding, the goal is to stimulate the muscle from multiple angles in order to ensure full development. At this stage of the game, not only will you be using compound basic movements to keep stimulating growth but also a variety of isolation movements to really target the muscle in specific areas.

The quadriceps routine below is an example of how a competitive bodybuilding quad routine may look like. At this stage of the game, the bodybuilder should know what their weak points are and thus change exercise order and choice accordingly. For instance, if outer thigh mass needs to be developed more, then more close stance movements need to be incorporated. On the other hand, if inner thighs are lacking, then wide stance movements need to be emphasized.

Also, the use of set extension techniques, such as drop sets and supersets is encouraged.

Superset #1:
Barbell Squats (medium stance) 4 sets of 10-12 reps (no rest)
Wide Stance Barbell Squats 4 sets of 10-12 reps (1 minute rest)

Superset #2:
Lunges (pressing w/ toes) 4 sets of 10-12 reps (no rest)
Leg Press 4 sets of 10-12 reps (1 minute rest)

Superset #3:
Leg Extensions (performed w/ toes in) (no rest)
Leg Extensions (performed w/ toes straight) 3 sets of 15-20 reps (1 minute rest)

Superset #4:
Abductor Machine 3 sets of 25-50 reps (no rest)
Adductor Machine 3 sets of 25-50 reps (1 minute rest)