Quadriceps is the upper leg's biggest muscle, composed of four muscles. One of those muscles is called the outer quad, but anatomically speaking, the correct name is vastus lateralis.
As a certified personal trainer, I tested more than 20 outer quad exercises with my team of fitness experts. It took me over 20 hours to evaluate which leg exercises are best for hypertrophy and building strength.
Keep reading below to learn the best outer quad exercises, how to loosen tight quadriceps muscles, and general tips for implementing the same leg exercises into your weekly workouts.
- To effectively strengthen the outer quads, incorporating exercises like front squats, leg extensions, leg presses, hack squats, barbell walking lunges, and dumbbell split squats into your workout routine is essential.
- Improving ankle mobility is crucial for maximizing the activation of the outer quads, as it allows for greater weight placement on the knees and enhanced muscle engagement.
- According to a study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, training for mass involves performing 6 to 12 repetitions for 3-4 sets, while training for definition requires lifting heavier loads for up to 5 reps in up to 5 sets.
- Drawing from a wealth of practical applications, it's evident that a combination of compound movements and isolation exercises is key to developing well-rounded outer quad strength and hypertrophy.
6 Must-Do Outer Quad Exercises
My team and I tested all exercises from the list. We ensured that every exercise was safe and provided clear instructions on performing them without injury.
Remember that some exercises require more work from your stabilizer muscles, making the movement more challenging.
One example is the barbell walking lunge, which will be hard on your adductors since they act as dynamic stabilizers during the exercise.
Read below to learn the 6 best outer quad exercises for hypertrophy and increased strength.
"The “secret” to building big quads is to get as strong as possible on compound exercises that train your quads, not puttering around with machines."
- Mike, Certified Personal Trainer
1. Front Squat
The front squat is an essential lower-body exercise that modifies the traditional back squat.
In my experience, the front squat has been a game-changer for targeting my quadriceps muscles more effectively due to the barbell's position in front of my body's center of mass.
This exercise not only worked wonders on my quadriceps but also significantly engaged my gluteus maximus, medius, gluteus minimus, and hamstring muscles.
How to Perform a Front Squat
- Load the barbell with the appropriate weight, meaning you can perform at least 6-8 repetitions.
- Assume a standing position in front of the barbell.
- Get below the barbell by placing your collarbone below it, take a pronated grip where your shoulders are flexed at 90 degrees, and hold the barbell with your fingers.
- Unrack the barbell and step back to have enough space for the whole front squat movement.
- Start the exercise by lowering yourself to the bottom squat position. Keep your back flat constantly, and your heels should remain on the ground.
- When you reach the bottom position, thighs parallel to the ground, reverse the motion by pushing through your heels and return to the starting position.
- Repeat for 6-12 repetitions and 3-4 sets.
2. Leg Extension
Leg extensions are one of the least functional lower-body quad exercises but are excellent at isolating your outer quad muscle.
You must have access to a quality leg extension machine to perform leg extensions.
I often recommend leg extensions for recovery, particularly after an injury, as they allow for muscle engagement without the need for an athletic stance.
How to Perform Leg Extensions
- Set the weight on the leg extension machine so you can perform up to 12 repetitions.
- Sit on the machine and place your shins under the leg attachment, which locks your legs during the exercise.
- Start the exercise by extending the legs only in your knee joint while keeping your back flat and ankles in dorsiflexion.
- When you fully extend your knees, hold the top position for a second and contract the muscles as hard as possible.
- After that, slowly flex your knees and control the machine's weight until you return to the starting position of the exercise.
- Repeat leg extensions for at least 12 repetitions and up to 4 sets.
3. Leg Press
The leg press is among the best lower-body compound exercises for building all quadriceps muscles.
In my training experience, leg presses have been instrumental in effectively isolating my quad muscles, including the rectus femoris, with less reliance on stabilizers for the entire movement.
You can significantly load the leg press machine with external resistance since you will have support from the machine and won’t have to worry about stabilizing your body like when doing squats.
Try the narrow stance leg press to activate your quads more.
How to Perform a Leg Press
- Before you do leg pressing, you must set the appropriate weight on a leg press machine and set the weight for at least 8 repetitions.
- After you set the weight, sit/lie on the machine and place your legs on the leg press surface in front of your body.
- Make sure to brace your core, keep your back flat, and grab the handles on the side of the machine with your hands for greater support and less chance of injury.
- Initiate the exercise by removing the safety pin, which prevents the machine from coming your way.
- Push the leg press surface with your legs as hard as possible until you reach the top position.
- The top position is reached when you are about to extend your knees fully but never actually do.
- When your knees are close to 180 degrees extended, reverse the motion and return to the starting position.
- Repeat for up to 8 repetitions and 4 sets.
4. Hack Squat
The hack squat is an excellent lower-body exercise that targets all leg muscle groups.
However, if you tweak the exercise specifically, you can isolate your outer quads more than usual.
To perform this exercise, you will need access to a hack squat machine, which looks like a leg press machine but is reversed.
How to Perform a Hack Squat
- Assume a standing position on the platform. Unlike the leg press machine, don't worry about the platform moving since it is fixed.
- Remember to maintain a flat back and your shoulder right below the pads during the movement. Your hands should grip the handles above the pads.
- To target your quads more, you must move your feet slightly lower on the platform than the neutral placement of your feet.
- Take a narrower stance than usual, meaning your feet are closer than shoulder-width apart. Your toes are pointed straight ahead.
- Engage your core as you inhale and bend your knees. Perform a squat motion and aim to get your thighs parallel to the floor.
- Stand back up in a smooth and explosive movement.
- Repeat for 6-12 repetitions and up to 3 sets.
5. Barbell Walking Lunge
Barbell walking lunge is a functional lower-body and barbell leg exercise that follows a lunge movement pattern.
It will effectively target your quadriceps muscles and be challenging for your adductors since they will stabilize the movement.
In addition, your glutes and hams will be activated too.
How to Perform Barbell Walking Lunges
- Start by loading the barbell on the rack with the appropriate weight so you can perform up to 8 lunges with each leg in one attempt.
- Unrack the loaded barbell, place it on your back, and find enough space for 8 steps.
- Start the exercise by lunging forward with one of your legs while keeping your back as flat as possible and your working leg’s knee just above your toes or slightly behind.
- Lunge forward with both legs until you complete 8 steps, then return for 8 more lunges.
- Repeat for a couple of sets.
6. Dumbbell Split Squat
Dumbbell split squat is one of my favorite outer quad exercises since it is functional and requires more work from your stabilizers.
It will effectively target all four quadriceps muscles and your glutes and hamstrings.
You can perform a dumbbell split squat on the floor or with your back foot slightly elevated, transforming this dumbbell leg exercise into the popular rear foot elevated split squat (RFESS).
How to Perform Dumbbell Split Squats
- Take a dumbbell in each hand, and make sure you can perform at least 6 repetitions with each leg.
- Find enough space where you can perform split squats without disturbance and risk of getting injured due to equipment on the floor.
- Assume a split stance with your right foot in front and your left behind.
- Start the exercise by lowering your body into the split squat position until your back leg’s knee reaches the floor.
- Just before your knee reaches the floor, reverse the motion and return to the starting position.
- Repeat for 6 reps, first with one, then with the other leg.
What Is the Outer Quad?
The outer quad is one of the four quadriceps muscles located laterally.
It also goes by the name of vastus lateralis, the outer quad muscles that assist in knee flexion. If you're looking to specifically target this muscle, the best vastus lateralis exercises can be beneficial.
Vastus lateralis is one of the four quadriceps muscles that synergistically work to produce flexion in the knee joint.
However, the biggest quadriceps muscle, the rectus femoris, is also responsible for assisting the flexion at the hip joint.
3 Quad Stretches to Loosen Tight Muscles
Below you can find 3 easy quad stretches to loosen the tight muscles.
1. Hero Pose
The hero pose is an excellent exercise for loosening up tight outer quads.
It is sitting back on your feet.
How to Perform a Hero Pose
- Assume a kneeling position on the ground where your knees are touching.
- The tops of your feet are placed on the floor, and your heels point toward the ceiling.
- Sit comfortably on your feet to initiate the stretching in your quads.
- Move your hands backward to shift the weight and assist you during the exercise.
- Rest in that position for up to 60 seconds and repeat two times.
2. Kneeling Quad Stretch
The kneeling quad stretch is a modified and more functional version of a traditional lying quad stretch that will loosen up your tight muscles.
Athletes often perform it after intense training sessions.
How to Perform a Kneeling Quad Stretch
- Assume a lunge position with your left foot forward. Your front knee, ideally, shouldn't go past your toes.
- Bring your back foot up when you achieve a balanced position and grab it with your right hand.
- Deepen the stretch by pulling your foot towards your glutes. Ensure your quad is relaxed during the duration of exercise.
- Hold the kneeling quad position for up to 60 seconds and repeat for 2 sets.
Read More: How to Get Teardrop Quads?
3. Half Frog
Half frog is a modified version of a regular frog stretch.
However, the half focuses on relaxing your quads, while the regular frog stretches your adductor muscles.
How to Perform a Half-Frog Stretch
- Assume a lying position on a mat. The tops of your feet should touch the mat.
- Your upper body should be off the floor, and your elbows should be placed directly beneath the shoulders.
- Your fingertips point to the left, and your right arm crosses before you.
- Start the exercises by lifting and grabbing your left leg with the same hand.
- Hold the half-frog position for at least 30 seconds, then switch the legs.
Tips for Targeting the Outer Quads and Thigh
Here are some useful tips to better target your outer quads and thigh muscles.
"Most intermediate-advanced lifters need at least 8 sets of direct quad work per week to make gains, and for some, it’s even more than that. If you’re training twice a week, that’s about 4 sets per session."
- Dr. Mike Israetel, Co-founder & Chief Sport Scientist
1. Improving Ankle Mobility
The more you can dorsiflex your ankle, the more weight will be placed on your knees and force further activation of your outer quads.
2. Training for Mass or Definition?
If you are training for mass, you should do between 6 and 12 repetitions for 3-4 sets .
On the contrary, training for definition will require you to lift bigger loads, making you complete up to 5 reps for up to 5 sets, according to another study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information website .
The first is the best for hypertrophy, while the other is the best for strength.
3. Body Fat
If you want to lower your body fat percentage, start with hypertrophy training since it will burn the most calories and force your body to use more energy for muscles when you recover.
Also, you must implement an adequate diet to support fat loss .
4. Point Feet Inwards?
Avoid pointing your feet inward since that will place more stress on your knees, and you may injure yourself. Your knees should always follow your toes.
5. Tight Hips
If your hips are tight, implement hip mobility exercises before every session.
Stretches such as a frog stretch or deep squat hold will open up your hips and allow for a greater range of motion.
How Do You Target the Outer Quad Sweep?
To target the outer quad sweep, use a lighter weight and focus on isolating it in the outer quad. This will ensure the biggest activation in your vastus lateralis.
What Is the Best Exercise to Grow Vastus Lateralis?
The best exercise to grow vastus lateralis is the leg press. You can significantly load lead press which will allow for greater hypertrophy effects.
How Do You Strengthen the Outside Quad Muscle?
You strengthen the outside quad muscle by doing exercises following a squat movement pattern. All squat variations are excellent for targeting all four quadriceps muscles.
How Do Different Exercises Activate Various Parts of the Outer Quads?
Different exercises activate various parts of the outer quads by targeting specific muscle fibers within the vastus lateralis, the largest component of the quadriceps. For example, exercises like leg presses and squats engage the entire muscle, while leg extensions focus more on the lower part of the vastus lateralis.
What Are the Best Safety Guidelines and Injury Prevention Tips for Outer Quad Exercises?
The best safety guidelines and injury prevention tips for outer quad exercises include starting with lighter weights to master the form and gradually increasing intensity. It's also crucial to warm up properly before workouts and cool down afterward to prevent muscle strains and injuries.
How Does Nutrition Support the Growth and Recovery of Outer Quad Muscles?
Nutrition supports the growth and recovery of outer quad muscles by providing essential nutrients like protein for muscle repair and complex carbohydrates for energy. Adequate hydration and micronutrients like magnesium and potassium also play a vital role in muscle function and recovery.
What Advanced Training Techniques Can Be Applied to Outer Quad Workouts?
Advanced training techniques that can be applied to outer quad workouts include methods like drop sets, where you perform an exercise until failure, then reduce the weight and continue, and supersets, which involve doing two exercises back-to-back with minimal rest. These techniques increase muscle fatigue and growth.
What Are Effective Recovery Strategies After Intense Outer Quad Workouts?
Effective recovery strategies after intense outer quad workouts involve activities like stretching to improve flexibility, using foam rollers to release muscle tightness, and ensuring adequate rest between workouts. Proper hydration and sleep are also key components of an effective recovery process.
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