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Focusing Leg Training For Better Quads

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“Styles win fights!” That is a pretty well know saying in combat sports. Simply put it means if you always attack an opponent the same way every time one time or another that style is not going to work and you’re going to find yourself on the short end of the stick. Varied approaches will always work best on varied opponents. The same method of thinking can be applied when training muscle groups. One theory that bodybuilders have mastered is attacking muscle groups with a variety of exercises and angles develops growth in many ways. Two people can use the same exercise for a muscle group but how they perform it can have a profound difference on how their muscles develop. The squat is a perfect example of how sometimes a person can be doing the right thing but not getting the results they want.. The squat is the best mass builder for legs period! The problem some people run into though is with squatting sometimes their quads do not get enough work in comparison to their glutes and hamstrings. Today we are going to look at what can be done so someone’s quads can get a good hammering next leg training session.

Two is usually better than one-

For most people, leg training consist of doing some exercises that involve the legs. Most people go in to work the legs but do not individualize the parts. The problem with this is when doing multi joint exercises “The strong will dominate!” This means if one particular muscle group in the legs are stronger than another, it is going to end up doing most of the work. For a massive muscle group like legs, I think they should be broken up into individual days. People break up their biceps and triceps into individual workouts all of the time.  It often amazes me how people are always willing to break their posteriors down into workouts for the back, the rear delts, and the traps, but when it comes to some of the biggest muscles in the body one workout for the entire leg region is sufficient. If you’re really serious about growing your legs, and they are not growing now, try splitting them up into quad and hamstring workouts. Understand the muscles of the legs are some of the biggest in our bodies and it will take a lot of work to develop them. By splitting your leg training up you can also focus more on the individual body parts of the legs. By splitting things up you have more energy for each part and one part does not become an afterthought after one long leg session. Another benefit is you can concentrate on the individual parts more and not use a “one size fits all” approach.

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Examining what your doing-

Do you work your legs routinely but your thighs have little to show for it?   Do they lack that outer sweep look that makes them look like they bulge out rather than go straight down? Do you have “Turnip Legs”?  Are your butt and hamstrings doing all your leg work and you are not getting a lot out of your thighs? The first thing you want to do is look at how you are training your legs. The first question I am going to ask is “Are you training your legs?” If you answered no to that question first thing you want to do is stop reading this article and start actually doing legs. If in a few weeks you are still having problems then you can continue on reading this article for some fixes. Now assuming you are faithful to your leg training but are having quad trouble, examine your exercise selection. Once you study your exercise selection, ask yourself the five W’s(well really 4 W’s and an H)

  • What leg exercises are you doing?
  • Why did you choose those exercises
  • When are you doing them in comparison to your other leg exercises
  •  Where in your leg are you actually feeling the work
  • How is your form on lifting the weight.

 

I am almost willing to guarantee, once you go through the questions your going to get a couple of answers you didn’t expect to get. Probably the most common will be not feeling some of the exercises in the quads.

Sure leg exercises work legs but they are not all created equal. This is where exercise variety and angles come into play. Legs are just like your other body parts and especially with multi joint exercises the strongest muscles are going to take over. Multi joint exercises tend to work more muscles overall but the stronger muscles will always dominate.  Sometimes this can mean your glutes and or hams doing some of your quad work. In situations like this, because your other muscles are doing more work, you’re not working your quads to the full degree you should be.

 

Understanding foot placement-

One very important factor when trying to emphasize quads when leg training, is where you have your foot placement. On almost all leg exercises foot placement plays a more crucial role than you would think. By varying the placement of your feet on exercises, one very important thing happens. What happens is you vary the leg muscles that are actually worked harder. Through the movement the entire leg will be worked but more emphasis will be placed on certain muscles due to foot placement.  For example wider stance movements tend to emphasize the hip and glute area more, while closer stance movements tend to emphasize the quad area more.  The same principle can be applied for stride movement exercises. Stride movement exercises are exercises that are performed with the legs performed at different step lengths. Exercises like lunges, spit squats, and some squat machines all considered stride movements because the legs are usually working at some distance apart.

When the stride is shorter on these type of exercises, more quads are involved. A longer stride will emphasize more glutes and hamstrings.

 

Foot Placement  For Leg Exercises

Exercise

WideStance

(primary muscles worked)

Medium Stance

(primary muscles worked)

Close Stance

(primary muscles worked)

Squats

Adductors, Glutes,Hams,

Adductors,Hams,Glutes,Quads

Quads

Exercise

Feet 18+ inches in front

Feet 6-12 inches in front

Feet Underneath

Smith Machine Squats

Glutes Hams,

Hams,Glutes,Quads

Quads

Exercise

WideStride

(primary muscles worked)

Medium Stride

(primary muscles worked)

Close Stride

(primary muscles worked)

Lunges

Glutes,Hams

Glutes,Hams,Quads

Glutes,Quads

Split Squats

Glutes,Hams

Glutes,Hams,Quads

Glutes,Quads

 

A second aspect of foot placement is foot elevation. Changing the height of your feet on certain exercises will also have an effect on which parts of the legs get more work. A simple act like elevating your heels or toes can shift quad and hamstring dominance. By elevating your heels your quads are placed in a position to do more work.  If you have ever seen or worked out in a pair of Olympic squat shoes, you have noticed the heel has a slight elevation.  Heel elevation causes the need for less ankle mobility. When you do not need as much ankle mobility you can control the weight better and can get deeper into the squat.

  The Good Morning is an exercise that is hamstring and glute dominate. There really is not a lot of stress placed on the quads with this exercise. Now get yourself a block of wood and try a good morning. Sure it is still a hamstring and glute dominate exercise but now due to the elevation on the heels, you begin to feel it in the quads more. Now imagine taking that use of heel elevation to an exercise like the front squat which is a quad dominate exercise anyway! Heel elevation also does another important thing for leg training. Heel elevation helps increase squat flexibility. A lot of people have trouble squatting because of lack of flexibility in the hamstring area. By elevating the heels the quads are placed in a more mechanically advantageous position for someone with tight or inflexible hams. The hams end up doing less of the stretching but do to the elevated heels a person can get down deeper in their squat. Heel elevation can be anything from a 5 pound plate under the heels to a 6 inch block under the heels. Ultimately you should work towards improving hamstring flexibility and ankle mobility but heel elevation can be a great training tool for quad focus and deeper squats.

 Quad Dominate Exercises-

Well now that we have a little better understanding of techniques to improve quad muscle recruitment when doing legs, let’s look at some squat exercises that put a majority of the workload on the quads when leg training.

 

  • Close Stance Heels Elevated Squats-This exercise really puts a major shift of the workload to the quads. Earlier we talked about both foot placement and heel elevation. This form of the squat utilizes both techniques to achieve quad recruitment. These are done much like the traditional squat with two major differences. The first difference is you only want your feet spread 6-12 inches apart. Normally when you squat you want your feet about shoulder width apart. You will be well within that range when performing these squats. The closer your feet are the less balance you will have so master the technique before you try loading up the plates on this one. The second major difference between this type of squat and the traditional will be feet elevation. You want to elevate the heels on this exercise. Start off small with a 25 pound plate. Eventually you want to work your way up to about a six inch lift after a few weeks. You also want to keep the bar higher on the shoulders for this one.  A lower bar placement means more of a forward lean. A higher bar placement means less of a lean and also more quad involvement. This exercise works extremely well with a safety squat bar but if you don’t have one just wrap a very thick towel around a regular bar to make it sit higher up on the shoulders.

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  • Close Stance Front Squats-Front Squats are probably the king of the “quad recruitment” squat. Because of the bar being in the front and the upright position you have to keep throughout the movement, these are true quad blasters. They work exceptionally well for developing the teardrop region of the quad. If you suffer from “turnip legs” you should definitely incorporate front squats in your workout. For the Close Stance Front Squat, the feet should be pointing ahead and slightly a little narrower than your hips. There is no need to go ATG (ass to the ground) with these. You do want to hit parallel or slightly below. You also do not want to lock out at the top of the movement. Once you get three to four inches from the top begin to descend for another rep.

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  •  Hack Machine or Smith Machine Sissy Squats-They may be called sissy squats but they will make a tough individual out of you quick. If you are not doing some form of sissy squats for quads, then you’re shortchanging your legs. Sissy squats are great for bringing out that outer quad sweep of the legs. If you want to do sissy squats or are currently doing them, be sure to do either the hack squat or smith machine variety. These are two of the lesser known versions of the sissy squat but probably two of the most effective versions.   

Hack Machine Sissy Squats- Place your shoulders into the pads like you would a normal hack squat. Keep your feet underneath you and bow your body out. With your shoulders still on the pads push your body and butt as far away from the pad as possible. Slowly lower yourself down into bottom position. Once as far down as you can go slowly reverse directions until your back in starting position.

 

Smith Machine Sissy Squats- Line up in a Smith Machine with the bar against your chest. Place your toes about three to five inches behind you so you are leaning up against the bar. You can either hold the bar against your body or hold the bar in front squat position. Go up on your tippy toes and unhook the bar from the machine. Because the Smith Machine travels in a straight path, with your toes behind you will go down in a sissy squat angle. Once you are down to where you feel a good stretch in the quads. Slowly reverse direction until you at start position.

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  • Lumber Jack Squats- I’m sure not a lot of people have heard of or use this exercise. The Lumber Jack squat is one of the best ways to teach proper squat form and develop quad power and size. Another plus is there is much less spinal compression from this exercise.

Execution-Use a t-bar row or place one end of a Olympic bar in a corner. Load the opposite side up with weight, grab the bar with both hands and hold at chest level. Keep feet about hip distance apart. Then begin to perform squats.

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  • Feet Together Leg Press- The traditional leg press is great for leg mass in general. It is also a great alternative to those who have issues with squatting. To make the leg press more quad friendly, just change your foot positioning. To hit your quads more on the leg press keep your feet lower on the foot pad and closer together. By making these simple changes you really feel your quads work on this one!

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  • Short Stride Lunges- Again this is taking a regular exercise and adding just a slight tweak. Set up like you would do for a normal lunge. Now instead of taking a normal lunge stride, place your foot just one footstep forward and squat down like a lunge. Stand back up and repeat alternating between feet.

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Developing a great set of quads may not be as complicated as you would think. It may simply boil down to examining what your doing, how you place your feet, or the elevation you are using when you train. Improving your quads may even be a matter of finding the right exercises for your goals. If developing a better set of quads is your goal try a couple of these changes. If you’re looking for some variety in your quad training, why not try a couple of these quad dominate exercises? It all comes down to what style you are going to use for this fight.

All articles on this site are authored or co-authored by Jarueba Taylor. They are the copy written  property of Taylored Nutrition.