Quadricep exercises such as the split squat, barbell squat, and leg press are often all you really need to pack on build a solid set of "wheels." The beauty of these exercises is that they also target a myriad of other major muscle groups, notably the glutes, hamstrings, and core muscles.
The quadriceps, or "quads," are a group of four muscles that comprise the front/anterior side of the thighs: rectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, and vastus intermedius. These collectively constitute the most voluminous muscle group of the human body . Needless to say, the squat and leg press should be the focus of your leg-day workouts if you want tree trunks thighs.
With that in mind, let's take a look at how to perform squats and the leg press with the right technique so you can maximize quad strength and muscle development.
Barbell squats will always be the king for targeting the quads, glutes, and hamstrings simultaneously, assuming you perform them correctly. Franky, if you had to choose one quad exercise to do for the rest of your life, it would be foolish to not pick the barbell back squat. It's hands-down the best exercise for activating the four muscles of the quads . The runner-up would be the barbell front squat, which is fantastic in its own right.
You may be familiar with the gym adage "squat ass-to-grass or it doesn't count." Well, that's true, to a degree...
The key with the barbell squat is to lower the weight until the top of your thighs are parallel with the floor. This ensures maximal activation of the four muscles that comprise the quadriceps muscle group while protecting the knees and lower back .
Now, you can below parallel if your mobility allows, but if it hurts or comprises the bar path (which should be straight up and down), then don't.
It may take some practice to achieve proper depth when squatting, especially if you're a beginner. Start with either an unloaded barbell or a broom to get a sense of the movement pattern and how deep you need to go so your thighs are parallel to the floor at the bottom of the squat.
To get into the squat position using a squat rack, set the weight pins just below your neckline. With your feet shoulder-width apart, maybe a touch narrower, grab the bar with both hands just outside your shoulders. Duck forward and under the barbell, bringing your feet forward so your body is perpendicular to the floor. Position the barbell across the back of your shoulders, brace your core, then stand up and take two to three slow steps backward so your feet are parallel to one another. Keep your neck/head neutral, looking forward.
Begin the eccentric (descending) portion of the squat movement by taking a deep breath, bracing your core, and "pushing" your hips back while keeping your chest upright as you slowly lower the weight until the top of your thighs are parallel with the floor. Your torso will have a slight forward lean and your knees should naturally glide forward as you descend, but your chest and knees should not go much beyond the tips of your toes as this will cause undue stress on the hips and lower back .
Once you've reached the bottom of the movement, explode upward by pressing off the floor through your heels. As return to a standing position, your hips should be in line with your spine and feet. This completes one squat rep.
Not too hard, right? Now slap on some weight and do it again, and again, and again. You want big quad muscles, don't you? Squat 'til you drop! (Maybe not literally, but you get the idea.)
The Bulgarian split squat is one of the best quad exercises for targeting all multiple muscles of the lower body without the need for tons of resistance. In fact, split squats can be quite a challenge with no resistance at all.
If you've never done split squats before, start with just your bodyweight to get used to the technique and learning to balance on one foot. Once you're comfortable with the form, try performing split squats with dumbbells in each hand (arms relaxed at your sides).
To perform a Bulgarian split squat, you'll need an elevated surface, such as a TRX, bench, or a sturdy platform like a chair.
Stand in front of the bench with your feet shoulder-width apart. Balancing on your right leg, take your left foot and rest it on the bench behind you, the laces of your shoes facing toward the ground.
Brace your core, squeeze your right glute, and roll your shoulders back and down. Slowly lower your left knee toward the floor. Once you've reached the limit to your range of motion, return to the starting position. Switch legs and repeat for a set of as many reps as the opposite leg.
Bulgarian split squats are a phenomenal exercise for strengthening the quads. As you familiarize yourself with standard barbell squats, split squats should become a bit easier to perform.
The leg press is very similar to a squat in terms of muscle group activation . The main difference is that the leg press is quite a bit less taxing on the lower back and hips. Hence, it's a great quad exercise to perform after you've finished up in the squat rack.
To increase the emphasis on your quad muscles, try positioning your feet closer together on the leg press platform. The wider your foot position, the more your glutes and hamstrings kick in. Alternatively, you can use just one foot/leg at a time to really hammer the quads. This mimics the biomechanics of a lunge exercise, again without compromising the lower back or spine.
As a note of caution, lowering the weight sled too far will leave your knees in shambles and won't necessarily target your quads any better. While it's good to "go deep" on most quad exercises, there is a point where it becomes counterproductive. Make sure your hips, back, and glutes don't roll off the seat padding throughout the movement, and avoid locking your knees in the starting position.
Now that you know how to perform the above quad exercises the right way, it's time to put them into action! Try the quad workout below to strengthen your entire lower body and beef up the muscles on the back and front of your legs:
Barbell Back Squats: 4 sets of 6-10 reps
Bulgarian Split Squat: 4 sets of 8-10 reps
Straight-Leg Dumbbell Deadlift: 4 sets of 8-12 reps
Unilateral (Single-Leg) Leg Press: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Leg Extension: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Hamstring Curl: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Notes: Rest for about 60-90 seconds between sets. You may need a bit more rest between sets of squats. Start each movement by performing a few warm-up sets of 10-15 reps with relatively light weight. Once the blood is flowing to your quads, keep up the pace to maintain a solid pump.
Perform the above workout twice weekly, preferably with at least three days between training sessions. Your legs will go from toothpicks to tree trunks in no time, assuming you eat properly and stay consistent. As the saying goes — never skip leg day!
Remember, diet and recovery are critical to building big quads and hamstrings. To kickstart the muscle-building process after crushing your quads on leg day, take 1-2 scoops of Jacked Factory Authentic Whey within 60 minutes of finishing your workout.
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Building muscle after 50 years of age (and older) is entirely possible with the right training program and proper nutrition. It’s never too late to transform your body and increase your strength. Follow these tips to make it happen!