Training the Quads for Maximum Size Gains – Part Two

In part one of this two part series we discussed the anatomy and function of the group of muscles on the front of the upper leg known as the quadriceps. We saw that the quads consist of four primary muscles, the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius.[i]

Understanding the structure and function of the quadriceps muscles is crucial to designing an adequate plan of attack when it comes to putting together an effective training routine. It is one thing to throw together a handful of random exercises; however, it is quite another to design an intelligent, well-rounded program that will be both effective and sustainable.

As the largest group of muscles in the body, the legs as a whole tend to be the most challenging body part to train. Exercises like heavy squats and leg presses will leave you with sucking air with blurred vision and black spots in your periphery but it really comes down to you to determine your own level of training intensity. When it comes to building big, strong quads, it isn’t all about moving as much weight as possible.

As we will explore in this part, there are many intensity techniques at your disposal that will allow you to beat the living heck out of your quads without having to load up a metric ton on the leg press and blow out a knee or a hip.

Best Quads Exercises


The almighty squat is revered by many as the king of exercises.[ii] A lot of relentless practice is required to master the squat so begin with a weight you can squat to parallel or lower and slowly work your way up in weight from there. To get the most bang for your buck, reps should be in the region of 6-10. Start at the higher end and ramp up the weight to your heaviest 6 with solid form.

Smith Machine Squat

Squatting in the smith machine will allow you to take a much narrower stance to really hammer the teardrop portion of the quads and overload the adductors without having to worry about losing balance. Go for higher reps with these, sets of 12-15.

Leg Press

Plate-loaded sled-style or horizontal, the leg press is a fantastic piece of equipment that will allow you to drastically and safely overload the quads from a variety of angles.[iii] Depending on foot placement and rep tempo, reps can be anything from 8-25.


If you have adequate space in your gym, walking lunges can be a brutal way to toast the legs.[iv] Make these the second or third exercise in your workout so that your hips and knees are warmed up without you being so fatigued that balance becomes an issue. Never perform lunges as the first exercise in your workout. Keep reps fairly high, sets of 12-15.

Leg Extensions

I would suggest using leg extensions either at the very beginning of your workout to flood the quads with blood and warm up the knees, or at the very end to finish off the quads. Honestly, I do not think leg extensions are necessary until you have already attained a certain level of leg development. This will be for you to decide; however, the meat-and-potatoes of your quadriceps workout should consist of squat and leg press variations. Use sets of 12-20 as a relatively light weight will enable you to keep your form strict and squeeze hard at the top.

Quads Building Routine

To make sure your hard work continues to pay dividends it is important to realize that you cannot annihilate a muscle group with umpteen sets week-in and week-out without recovery becoming an issue. With some of the intensity techniques mentioned below, you will find that in the early stages of the routine, less really will be more.

We are going to cycle volume by starting week one with just five sets, not including warm ups. and adding one to two sets each week until we reach around 9-11 sets. Up to this point you will be learning to apply increasing levels of intensity to your training and your body will be adapting accordingly. At this point we will use a low-volume approach of four to six sets; however, those sets will be incredibly high intensity and will truly test your mettle.

Example Workout – 9 Sets (High Volume)

Leg Extensions

Increase the weight with each set.

One set of 25
One set of 12-15
One set of 10

These sets should not be taken to failure. Focus on squeezing hard at the top to pump the quads with blood. On the third set, drop back down to the weight you did for 12-15 and do 30 partial reps out of the bottom.

Leg Press

Three sets of 12-15

Increase the weight with each set.

Make your stance slightly narrower than shoulder-width and relatively low on the platform. Do not be afraid to go heavy on these and, if you need to, push with your hands on your knees to help yourself out of the bottom.


Three sets of 10

As we are doing these last in the workout you will not need as much weight. Go all the way down in a controlled fashion and then explode up. Do not lock your knees at the top as this will keep constant tension on the quads. On the third set, complete 10 reps and then lower the weight by 30-50% and perform another 15-20 reps.

Recovery & Injury Prevention

It is important to monitor your recovery and decide when you need to take a break. For most this will usually be around the 12-16 week mark; however, this is highly individual. After two to three weeks of the low-volume, high-intensity phase you will have been hammering away with heavy partial reps, drop sets and a lot of time-under-tension so it would be wise to take a week or two of lighter training. Go into the gym, get a pump and leave. Do not try to set any personal records. Allow your body to recuperate.

Safety must always come first and there are no exceptions to this rule. This ties in with recovery so if you feel aches and pains in your hips and knees that won’t go away then perhaps it is time to take a break, lay off of a particular exercise like heavy squats, or just train lighter with higher rep-counts for a week or two.


So there you have it…your one-way ticket to Quadsville. It is important to remember that experimentation is the key to continued progress. Experiment with exercise variations, rep-ranges, and intensity techniques to find what works best for you. I have provided an example workout but I encourage you to mix it up and try your own combinations. Perhaps try 20-rep sets of Smith Machine Squats with a two-second pause at the bottom, or you could try Horizontal Leg Press with a three-second descent.

Whatever you do, make it count and track your progress over time. By applying these methods I am confident you will begin to see your quadriceps take shape in no time at all.





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