If you’re leaving the gym after a leg work out, walking exactly the same way as you did on the way in, then you didn’t go hard enough. You use your legs EVERY DAY (even on a duvet day, trips to the fridge, toilet breaks) and because of this, you really have to push them to the limit in order to bypass that lifelong endurance that they’ve built up. You need to put in that extra work, more so than any other workout. You literally have to brutalise the target muscle. So, how do you do it right? There’s a number of different ways to ‘get it right’. Some believe in compound moves first, others believe in pre-exhaustion sets. So let’s explore…
Compound moves are the perfect way to build up the thighs and influence all over leg growth and our exercise of focus is back squat! There’s conflicting information as to the ‘ideal’ rep range, some say 3-5, others’ will say 6-8. However, what’s important is that you’re concentrating on form and rest. Form will ensure that you’re incorporating the muscles in the right fashion, whilst rest will ensure that you continue to use the muscles correctly and prevent injury (hunching over, too tired to hold your core together, and herniating a disk). You should be looking at 2-3 minutes rest if you’re hitting heavy, low reps and the best way to get there in a pyramid style. This will help you to gauge the weight that’s right for you without breaking yourself.
As an addition to squats (or an alternative for injury reasons), leg press also supports leg and quad development, as long as you’re doing it right. What I mean by this is treat it like you would with squats, NO QUARTER REPS! Depending on how you’re placing your feet, will depend upon the gains that are made. By keeping your feet close and low, this will enhance the appearance of the outer quads (vastus lateralis). The hack squat can also be used to develop the vastus lateralis if you get a little bored of the leg press, and in the same manner, keep your feet close and low. Rest time? 1-2 minutes, please.
However, if you want to build your VMO (vastus medialis, otherwise known as the tear drop), you need to keep your feet as low as possible (lower than the previous technique) without lifting your back or ass off the seat. To ensure that these particular reps remain concentrated on your VMO’s, you need the rep as low as possible depending on your limb length and active range of motion. Remember not to lock out on the leg press/hack squat to minimise knee injury. Try only to extended ¾ of the way; this will also keep tension on the desired area.
To finish off the look of those quadzilla-ish legs, we want that curve! You know the one I’m talking about, that curve that when you stand sideways in the mirror and think ‘oh my, my quads look thick and swooping’. Well, this is the rectus femoris and it runs right down the front of your thigh. In a perfect world, you want this one protruding ahead of the other quadriceps. Your key weapon, the quad/leg extension. There are two ways to position feet here: firstly, toes up, so your ankle maintains a 90 degree angle (otherwise known as the ‘hammer’) and this will incorporate the outer sweep too! Secondly, and my favourite, is with pointed toes (or you could call it the ballerina, for obvious reasons, but not so manly, I know), so it’s streamline from your knee, along your shin, all the way to your big toe. You’re looking at a rep range of anything from 3-25 and a 45-60 second rest period. Make sure you squeeze the muscle at the top of the rep and slooooooowly release to the bottom. Keep the reps controlled and do NOT let the momentum take over!
Due to the fact that you cannot carry as much weight on lunges as you can when you’re squatting, sometimes they can go overlooked. In actual fact, they can be great mass builders and fantastic for stretching out already pumped muscles. They also have a million and one variations. Yaaaaay! Forward lunges, backward lunges, side lunges, walking lunges, so on and so forth. Choice is what we like. For forward and backward lunges, aim for a 8-12 rep range with a 1-2 minute rest, to grow, grow, grow.
Partial reps look questionable to any innocent onlooker or a fly on the wall. Obviously, if you’re looking on Instagram and see a quarter squat labelled ‘MY NEW SQUAT PR’, something’s not right. However, if partial squats are used correctly, they can be beneficial in growing your quads, but can be counterproductive if you’re attempting to develop your whole leg as partial squats will neglect your hamstrings and glutes. If you don’t bring your thighs to a point where they’re parallel to the floor, your posterior muscles won’t activate. Therefore, if you’re using this technique to build your quads, make sure you’re working on some glute and hamstring focused exercise to prevent an imbalance, otherwise, when it comes to working on ‘real’ squats, you’re going to get yourself stuck at the bottom of the movement. For partial reps, throw on 30% extra weight than what you would for a full motion movement and focus on a 6 rep range.
WHAT ABOUT PRE-EXHAUSTION? This might sound ridiculous, exhausting your quads on leg extensions before jumping into heavy compound moves? Well, not as ridiculous as you may think. Ever jumped into squats and had to throw in the towel because of your darn undeveloped hamstrings or glutes? Let’s not let them be the reason that prevents your quad growth and pull out of that last set. Let your glutes and hamstrings be the reason to pull you through your last reps and really exhaust those quads!
So as a final sign off, here’s a quick cheat sheet of extra ways to really annihilate those quads:
- Forced reps (a bit like cheat reps): you get your training buddy to ‘assist’ with lifting the weight so you can focus on the eccentric phase.
- Drop sets (my favourite): you will feel like you want to die and quit on every round, but when you reach failure at one weight, drop by 20-30% and continue to go until failure, and again, and again, until the weight feels so pathetic that there really is no point! When to use this? As a finisher to your workout.
- Super sets: one exercise straight after the first, no reps, just hitting hard, then you break.
YOUR CHALLENGE OF THE WEEK; to trip over your own feet (I accept no liability for any injuries caused in this challenge). A true leg day should result in tears or atleast throwing up once in your lifetime, go get ‘em tiger!
Cutler, J. (2017). Build Up Your Quads. Retrieved from: http://www.flexonline.com/training/legs/build-your-quads
Geiger, B. (2017). 8 Techniques To Build Monster Quads. Retrieved from: https://www.bodybuilding.com/content/8-techniques-to-build-monster-quads.html
Muscle and Fitness. (2017). Get Bigger Quads With Classic Exercises. Retrieved from: http://www.muscleandfitness.com/workouts/legs-exercises/get-bigger-quads-classic-exercises
Schwarzenegger, A. (2017). Arnold’s Tips For Building Up Your Quads. Retrieved from: http://www.flexonline.com/training/legs/quads/arnolds-tips-building-your-quads