When it comes to building well-developed quads, most people stumble at the first hurdle: they fill their quad workouts with the wrong quad exercises.

Don’t fall foul of this common blunder—choose from the following top-flight quad-focused exercises and you’ll have no trouble building impressive gams. 

The Anatomy of the Quadriceps Muscles

The quadriceps femoris—more commonly referred to as the “quadriceps” or “quads”—are a group of four muscles on the front of the upper leg:

  1. Rectus femoris
  2. Vastus lateralis
  3. Vastus medialis (which includes the vastus medialis oblique, or VMO)
  4. Vastus intermedius

Together the quad muscles extend (straighten) the knees and flex the hips (bring your thighs toward your abdomen).

Here’s how they look:

quad exercises

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The 13 Best Quad-Focused Exercises for A Killer Quad Workout

1. Barbell Back Squat

quad workouts

Why: The barbell back squat is the most effective quadriceps exercise you can do because it allows you to lift heavy weights safely and progress regularly, which are vital for building muscle and strength.

How to:

  1. Position a barbell in a squat rack at about the height of your nipples. 
  2. Step under the bar, pinch your shoulder blades together, and rest the bar above the bony ridges on the bottom of your shoulder blades. 
  3. Lift the bar out of the rack, take 1-to-2 steps backward, and place your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart with your toes pointing slightly outward. 
  4. Keeping your back straight, sit down and push your knees out in the same direction as your toes.
  5. Stand up and return to the starting position.

Sets and reps: 3 sets of 4-to-6 reps with 2-to-5 min rest

2. Barbell Front Squat

best quad exercises

Why: The front squat trains the quads about as effectively as the back squat, even when you use up to 20% less weight. It also places significantly less compressive forces on your knees and lower back, which make it a particularly good quadriceps exercise for those with back or knee issues.

How to:

  1. Position a barbell in a squat rack at about the height of your breastbone.
  2. Grab the bar with a shoulder-width grip and your palms facing away from you. 
  3. Step closer to the bar so that it presses against the top of your breastbone and push your elbows up and out in front of the bar. 
  4. With the bar resting on the front of your shoulders and held in place by your hands, lift it out of the rack, take 1-to-2 steps backward, and place your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart with your toes pointing slightly outward.
  5. Keeping your back straight, sit down and push your knees out in the same direction as your toes.
  6. Stand up and return to the starting position.

Sets and reps: 3 sets of 4-to-6 reps with 2-to-5 min rest

3. Bulgarian Split Squat

quadriceps exercises

Why: The Bulgarian split squat trains your quads to a high degree, making it an excellent addition to your quad workouts. Because it’s a single-legged exercise, it’s useful for finding and fixing muscle or strength imbalances, too.

How to:

  1. While holding a dumbbell in each hand, stand about 2-to-3 feet in front of a bench with your back to the bench. 
  2. With your right foot planted, place the top of your left foot on the bench behind you. 
  3. Lower your butt toward the floor by bending at your right knee until your right thigh is roughly parallel with the floor. 
  4. Stand up and return to the starting position.

Sets and reps: 3 sets of 4-to-6 reps with 2-to-3 min rest

4. Dumbbell Lunge

quads exercises

Why: The dumbbell lunge is one of the best quad exercises with dumbbells there is. Because it requires greater balance and coordination than most other leg exercises, it also engages many smaller stabilizer muscles throughout your body, helping you develop full-body strength and muscle.

How to:

  1. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart.
  2. Take a long step forward with your right foot—about 2-to-3 feet. Bend both knees until your left knee touches the floor. 
  3. Reverse the motion by pushing through your right foot and leaning slightly backward, allowing your legs to straighten.
  4. Once you’re standing, bring your right foot back to the starting position. 

Sets and reps: 3 sets of 6-to-8 reps with 2-to-3 min rest

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5. Leg Press

quad exercise

Why: The leg press doesn’t involve balancing or supporting weight with your upper body, so you can use heavier loads than with other exercises, which is generally better for muscle growth.

How to:

  1. Wedge your butt down into the base of the leg press machine seat. 
  2. Place your feet halfway up the footplate a little wider than shoulder-width apart with your toes pointing slightly outward. 
  3. Straighten your knees and use the safety handles to release the weight. 
  4. Lower the footplate toward your torso until your thighs are about 12-to-18 inches from your chest.
  5. Push the footplate upward until your legs are almost but not completely straight (knees slightly bent).

Sets and reps: 3 sets of 4-to-6 reps with 2-to-3 min rest

6. Hack Squat

quad focused exercises

Why: The hack squat is a top-tier leg-day exercise because it trains all the muscle groups in your lower body without stressing your knees and back as much as other free-weight squatting exercises. Additionally, it’s effective for building strength, power, speed, and agility, making it an excellent option for athletes. 

How to:

  1. Position your body so that your feet are shoulder-width apart on the hack squat machine footplate with your toes pointing slightly outward, and your shoulders and back are against the pads.
  2. Straighten your knees and use the safety handles to release the weight.
  3. Keeping your back against the pad, sit down and push your knees out in the same direction as your toes. 
  4. Stand up and return to the starting position.

Sets and reps: 3 sets of 4-to-6 reps with 2-to-3 min rest

7. Dumbbell Step-up

quad focus exercises

Why: The dumbbell step-up trains your entire lower body, helps eliminate size and strength imbalances, boosts your squat performance, and is easier on your knees and back than many other lower-body exercises. Hence, it’s a fantastic exercise to include in your quadriceps workout

How to:

  1. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, place your right foot on a box, bench, or other surface about knee-height off the floor. 
  2. Keeping your weight on your right foot, fully straighten your right leg. 
  3. Lower your left foot toward the floor, and return to the starting position.

Sets and reps: 3 sets of 6-to-8 reps with 2-to-3 min rest

8. Dumbbell Split Squat

quadricep workouts

Why: The dumbbell split squat allows you to train all your leg muscles one leg at a time, helping you build balanced size and strength.

How to:

  1. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart.
  2. Take a long step forward with your right foot—about 2-to-3 feet. Keeping your weight on your front foot, bend both knees until your left knee touches the floor. 
  3. Reverse the motion by pushing through your right heel to straighten your legs and return to the starting position. 
  4. Once you’ve performed the desired number of reps, switch legs and repeat the process. 

Sets and reps: 3 sets of 6-to-8 reps with 2-to-3 min rest

9. Goblet Squat

bend your knees

Research shows that the goblet squat is an effective quad exercise and, thus, a valuable addition to any quadriceps workout. Because you hold the weight in your hands rather than across your shoulders, it’s also easier on your back than other quad-focused exercises.

How to:

  1. Hold a dumbbell in front of your chest with both hands. 
  2. Place your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart, point your toes slightly outward, and raise your chest.
  3. Keeping your back straight, sit down and push your knees out in the same direction as your toes.
  4. Stand up and return to the starting position.

Sets and reps: 3 sets of 8-to-10 reps with 2-to-3 min rest

10. Pistol Squat

single legged

Why: The pistol squat is the king of ​​bodyweight quad exercises because it improves balance, coordination, performance, and strength in each leg independently without the need for equipment.

How to:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing slightly outward.
  2. While keeping your right leg straight, lift your right foot 12-to-18 inches off the floor.
  3. Raise your arms so that they’re straight out in front of your chest.
  4. “Grip” the floor with the toes on your right foot, and keep your chest up, then sit down, allowing your right knee to move forward over your right foot.
  5. Stand up and return to the starting position.

Sets and reps: 3 sets of 10-to-20 reps with 2-to-3 min rest

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11. Sissy Squat

stand with your feet

Why: The sissy squat is an effective quad exercise that you can perform using your body weight or while holding a dumbbell against your chest (shown above). Its main advantage is that it trains your quads through a full range of motion and in a stretched position, which is important for maximizing growth.

How to:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding onto a sturdy object with your dominant hand.
  2. Squeeze your glutes, then bend your knees, allowing them to move forward over your toes.
  3. As you descend, let your body lean backward, and your heels come off the floor. 
  4. Lower yourself as far as you comfortably can or until your glutes are 6-to-12 inches from your heels.
  5. Reverse the movement and return to the starting position

Sets and reps: 3 sets of 10-to-20 reps with 2-to-3 min rest

12. Bodyweight Squat

leg muscles

Why: Bodyweight squats are a good quad-strengthening exercise for people who are new to training or working around an injury, or for those who want to do quads exercises at home.

How to:

  1. Place your feet a little wider than shoulder width apart and point your toes slightly outward.
  2. Keeping your back straight, sit down and push your knees out in the same direction as your toes.
  3. Stand up and return to the starting position.

Sets and reps: 3 sets of 10-to-20 reps with 2-to-3 min rest

13. Kneeling Leg Extension

holding a dumbbell

Why: The kneeling leg extension requires no equipment and trains your quads in a stretched position, making it ideal for quad-focused workouts at home.

How to:

  1. Kneel on the floor and cross your hands over your chest.
  2. Squeeze your glutes so that your body forms a straight line from your head to your knees that’s perpendicular to the floor.
  3. Keeping your glutes squeezed, lean backward, lowering your back to your heels.
  4. Lower yourself as far as you comfortably can or until your back is 6-to-8 inches from your heels.
  5. Straighten your knees and return to the starting position.

And if you want even more specific advice about how to include these quadriceps exercises into a leg day workout, check out my fitness books for men and women, Bigger Leaner Stronger or Thinner Leaner Stronger.

+ Scientific References