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10 Best Quad Exercises (For Building Strength & Hypertrophy)

Michael Garrico
Published by Michael Garrico
Last updated: March 31, 2023

Quadriceps is one of the biggest and most powerful lower body muscles consisting of 4 parts.

Sometimes it may be challenging to hit all four quad muscles since multiple planes of motion, types of equipment, and stances need to be implemented.

That’s why I created a list of the best quad exercises according to specific criteria and my previous experience in the fitness field.

After over 20 hours of testing more than 40 quad exercises, our research indicates that the 10 quad exercises below are the best for building strength and hypertrophy.

Keep reading below to learn about the best quad exercises, how to do them correctly, benefits, warm-ups, and more.

Quick Summary

  • The best quad exercises include front squats, heels-elevated goblet squats, sissy squats, rear foot elevated split squats, seated dumbbell leg extensions, and more.
  • The most important benefit of quad training is injury prevention, especially in the knee joint.
  • Perform specific dynamic warm-ups to get your body ready for the quad workout.

The 10 Best Quad Exercises for Building Muscle

Performing quad exercises

My team and I tested all the quad exercises from the list below to ensure they are safe and beginner friendly.

We selected all exercises based on the criteria of strength and hypertrophy development.

Always perform dynamic warm-ups before every quad session to avoid injury and increase your body's performance and longevity [1].

Read below to learn about the 10 best quad exercises for maximal muscle-building effects.

"A well-rounded leg workout should include exercises that specifically target all four muscles of the quadriceps."

- Tara Laferrara, Certified NASM Personal Trainer

1. Front Squats

Front squats are one of the best exercises for building quadriceps muscles and are a variation of traditional back squats.

The barbell placed in front of the body’s center will shift the weight forward, activating your quads more due to increased bending in the knee joint.

The front squat is a compound exercise that activates large muscle groups and uses multiple joints to complete the movement.

How to Perform Front Squats:

  1. Place the barbell on the squat rack and load it with the appropriate weight, meaning you can perform up to 8 repetitions.
  2. Take a pronated grip shoulder width apart and place the barbell on your collarbone.
  3. Bend your elbows at 90 degrees and hold the barbell on your collarbone with the tip of your fingers.
  4. Step out of the rack and assume a standing position shoulder-width apart with your knees following the direction of your toes.
  5. Start the exercise by bending at your hips, knees, and ankles to lower yourself to a squat position.
  6. Stop when your thighs become parallel to the ground and hold that position for one second.
  7. Reverse the motion by extending all three lower body joints to return to the starting position.
  8. Repeat for 10 reps and 3 sets.

2. Heels Elevated Goblet Squats

Heels elevated goblet squad exercise

Heels-elevated goblet squats are among the best leg exercises targeting all four quad muscles.

Heels elevated goblet squat is performed with kettlebells or dumbbells and is similar to the barbell front squat.

How to Perform Heels Elevated Goblet Squats:

  1. Assume a shoulder-width apart standing position after you select the dumbbell or kettlebell of appropriate weight to complete 12 reps.
  2. Place the equipment of your choice between your feet.
  3. Pick the equipment and place it in the goblet position above your chest and below your chin.
  4. Place your heels on the weight plate and your toes on the floor.
  5. Start the exercise by lowering yourself to the squat position while keeping your back flat. Your knees should follow the direction of your toes without caving inside or moving outside.
  6. When you reach the bottom position where your thighs are parallel to the ground, hold that position for one second.
  7. Return to the starting position by extending your ankles, knees, and hips.
  8. Repeat for 12 reps and 3 sets.

3. Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats

Rear foot elevated split squats are a unilateral compound exercise that will build your glutes, hams, and quads.

Rear foot elevated split squat is easy to progress since the loading of only one leg will increase quad, glute, and hamstring activation, making the hypertrophy element easier to achieve.

How to Perform Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats:

  1. Pick two dumbbells in each hand of appropriate weight, meaning you can perform 6 repetitions with each leg.
  2. Put your left leg on the bench behind your end and step forward with your right foot to create a rear foot elevated split stance.
  3. Your back is flat, and dumbbells are hanging in your hands.
  4. Start the exercise by lowering yourself down by bending your forward foot in all three joints.
  5. Hold it for one or two seconds when you reach the bottom position, meaning you can’t go deeper due to your hamstrings.
  6. Return to the starting position by extending your hips, knees, and ankles.
  7. Repeat for 6 reps with each leg and 3 sets.

4. Seated Dumbbell Leg Extensions

Performing seated dumbbell leg extensions

The seated dumbbell leg extension is a more functional version of machine leg extensions.

It will force core activation and develop balance in the seated position with a limited surface.

How to Perform Seated Dumbbell Leg Extensions:

  1. Pick the appropriate dumbbell size so you can perform 12 repetitions.
  2. Sit on the middle of the bench where your bottom is on its surface, and your legs and truck don’t touch it.
  3. Looking from above, you and the bench are created “X.”
  4. Place the dumbbell between your feet and extend your legs in the knee joint while keeping your glutes on the bench and balancing with your hands.
  5. Start the exercise by bending your knees and entering an eccentric phase of the movement.
  6. When your feet reach 1 cm above the ground, reverse the motion and return to the starting position.
  7. Repeat for 12 repetitions and 3-4 sets.

5. Sissy Squat

The sissy squat is a challenging squat variation that targets the quads by leaning your body backward, making bending forward in the knees necessary.

It can represent a problem with weak knees since your knees and going past the toes create tension in the joint.

If you are a beginner, you can still do sissy squats since it is performed with just your body weight but for 2 sets and 8 reps.

How to Perform a Sissy Squat:

  1. Assume a standing position in front of the squat rack, which will serve you as a balance.
  2. Hold the squat rack with your hands and plantar flex your ankles to get up on your toes.
  3. Start the exercise by lowering to the squat position. Bend your torso backward while bending your knees forward to balance out the body.
  4. When you reach the position where you can’t attain balance anymore, reverse the motions to return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for 3 sets of 8 reps if your knee joint is healthy.

6. Banded Spanish Squats

Banded spanish squats

Banded Spanish squats are one of my favorite quad exercises since they place your hip perfectly to allow your knee muscles to work more.

The most bending will occur at your knee joint, making your quad tenser.

How to Perform Banded Spanish Squats:

  1. Pick one or two strong resistance bands and wrap them around a squat rack or a pole.
  2. Assume standing and enter the resistance band loops so they end up right behind your knee.
  3. Step back to tighten up the band.
  4. Start the exercise by lowering yourself to the squat position while keeping your back flat and hip close to the 90-degree angle.
  5. Stop when your thighs parallel the floor and hold that position for a second.
  6. Return to the starting position by extending your hips, knees, and ankles.
  7. Repeat for up to 8 reps and 3 sets.

7. Front Foot Elevated Reverse Lunges

Front foot elevated reverse lunges are excellent split squat variations targeting your vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, and rectus femoris.

They are also effective at working the stabilizers necessary to keep your body balanced during any movement.

How to Perform Front Foot Elevated Reverse Lunges:

  1. Pick the dumbbells of appropriate weight, meaning you can perform 8 repetitions with each leg.
  2. Place the right foot on the elevated surface before yourself while keeping your left leg behind you. This will create a front foot elevated split stance.
  3. Start the exercise by lowering yourself to the floor and entering a split squat position.
  4. Hold that position for one second when your right leg’s thigh parallels the floor.
  5. Reverse the motion to return to the start.
  6. Repeat for 8 reps and 3 sets with each leg.

8. Sitting Leg Extensions

Performing leg extension using a machine

Sitting leg extensions are machine leg extensions.

They are the least functional exercise on the list but are effective for inducing quad hypertrophy.

How to Perform Sitting Leg Extensions:

  1. Set the weight on the leg extension machine so you can perform 12 repetitions.
  2. Assume a sitting position on the machine and hold the bars on the side with both hands.
  3. Start the exercise by extending your knee joints.
  4. When you reach the top position, your knees are fully extended; hold it for one second.
  5. Reverse the motion by flexing your knees to return to the starting position.
  6. Repeat for 12 reps and 3 sets.

9. Dumbbell Hack Squat With a Foam Roller

A dumbbell hack squat with a foam roller may be one of the hardest exercises if you are new to quad training.

However, it is one of the most effective knee extension exercises targeting all quadriceps muscles.

How to Perform Dumbbell Hack Squats With a Foam Roller:

  1. Pick two dumbbells of appropriate size and place them near the wall where you will perform the exercise.
  2. Place a foam roller behind your back, and on the wall so it doesn’t fall to the ground.
  3. Bend down and pick up the dumbbells. Assume a standing position with the foam roller between your back and wall and dumbbells hanging in your hands.
  4. Feet shoulder width apart, back flat, and your eyes looking straight ahead.
  5. Start the exercise by lowering yourself to squat while the foam roller enables the sliding motion.
  6. Hold the position for one second when your thighs become parallel to the ground.
  7. Reverse the movement to return to the start.
  8. Repeat for 8 reps and 3-4 sets.

10. Pistol Squats

Pistol squat in gym

Pistol squats is an excellent unilateral lower-body exercise that will strengthen your glutes, hamstrings, and quads.

However, they will also build lower body dynamic stability essential for team sports such as basketball, football, hockey, etc.

How to Perform Pistol Squats:

  1. Assume a standing position, feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Place your left foot in the air, so your balance is on the right leg.
  3. Start by bending your right knee and entering the single-leg squat position.
  4. As you move closer to the floor, start extending your left knee.
  5. When you enter a deep squat position, reverse the movement to return to the start.
  6. Repeat for 6 reps and 3 sets with each leg.

3 Benefits of Training Your Quads

Good quad muscles after working out

Strong quads are paramount to a healthy knee joint and functional lower body [2].

Strengthening your quads can decrease the chance of ankle, knee, and hip injury.

Below you may find the most notable quad training benefits.

1. You’ll Improve Your Bigger Lifts

If you strengthen your quads, you will improve all your 1RM (1 repetition maximum) from lower body exercises, including knee bending.

Quads are the strongest knee extensors, that’s why having strong quads is essential for improving all major lifts consisting of knee bending.

This counts for both lower body compound bilateral and unilateral exercises.

However, it also counts for the isolation exercises.

Strengthening your quads will increase the 1RM of exercises such as the back squat, front squat, deadlift, rear foot elevated split squat, single leg squat, pistol squat, sissy squat, and more.

2. You’ll Be Less Prone to Injury

A woman having a knee injury

Strong quads positively correlate with a decreased chance of injury in the lower body [3].

By strengthening your quads, you will also lower the chance of injury associated with the hip, knee, and ankle joints.

Weak quads can make your body compensate with muscles above and below the knee joint.

This places much more stress on the ankle and hip joints, making them more prone to injury.

Strong quads will also improve the stability of your knee joint, decreasing the chance of ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injuries, torsions, and ruptures.

"The quad muscles give strength and structure to the lower body and help protect the knee and hip."

- Jake Boly, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist

3. Quad Training Can Keep You Moving

Your quads work in eccentric and isometric contraction during walking and running [4].

If you strengthen your quads, you will move more efficiently and become more resistant to long-form cardio exercises.

However, this only assumes you already do some form of cardiorespiratory exercise.

Quads are one of the most important walking and running muscles that must be preserved to carry out normal daily functions and movements.

How to Warm Up Before Training Quads?

Stretching outdoors for quad workout

To warm up before training quads, you must raise your body’s temperature, perform a dynamic warm-up, and activate the necessary muscles.

Here are these three phases explained separately and in chronological order:

  1. Raise your body’s temperature - It is essential to raise it before every quad workout session since that reduces the chance of injuries. Raising your body temperature will also make your muscles more effective and elastic.
  2. Perform a dynamic warm-up - After you raise your body’s temperature, you must do a dynamic warm-up to perform your body for an intense quad session. Bodyweight dynamic warm-up exercises such as skips, high knees, walking lunges, and similar are all welcomed in the preparation phase. You should only perform lower body dynamic movements since you are exercising the quads.
  3. Activate - Activation is the last part of the warm-up phase. It includes exercises such as hip bridges, hamstring sliders, and hip glute abduction. These exercises ensure the activation of necessary muscles to support quad training.

Exercises from each phase may change, but the order of phases must stay the same.


What Is the Most Effective Quad Workout?

The most effective quad workout is front squats. Front squats will shift your weight forward, targeting all four quad muscles more effectively.

How Do You Hit All 4 Quad Muscles?

You hit all 4 quad muscles by doing knee-bending exercises. Some include squat variations, leg machine extensions, and a leg press.

How Often Should I Hit Quads?

You should hit quads 2 times a week. Your body needs up to 48h to recover, so two quad sessions are a bare minimum to increase hypertrophy and strength.

What Is the Best Workout for Building All 4 Quad Muscles?

The best workout for building all 4 quad muscles is front squats.

Front squats are the most effective lower body exercise to activate your quads more due to the body weight shift.

Based on our observations, to get the most out of the quad workout, you only need a barbell and some weight plates; the whole workout can be performed at home.

Check our guide on recommended barbell for your home gym to choose a high-quality and durable barbell that will last you for ages.

Let me know what quad exercise is your favorite and why.


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