As the first commandment of strength training goes, “Thou shalt never skip leg day.”
And while you're certainly no stranger to the squat rack, have you ever stopped and asked yourself why you're building up your quadriceps? Or why quad exercises such as squats and leg extensions are important?
It's important to note that most athletes are inherently quad-dominant. Therefore, it's crucial to balance any quad exercises by strengthening your glutes and hamstrings. Unless you're recovering from a chronic injury, most individuals carry more strength in their quads than the backs of their legs.
Looking to level-up on your leg workouts? These leg exercises will leave your quads burning so you build strength in your lower body.
To perform a split squat, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, one dumbbell in each hand. Step your right foot back, roughly one stride-length behind your left, in a lunge position. Be sure to keep both feet on "separate tracks" to improve your balance — in other words, do not place your back foot directly behind your front foot.
Keeping the weight on your left foot, squat so your back knee hovers just 1-2 inches above the ground. Then, stand back up. Switch legs.
With a front squat, you'll rest the barbell on the front side of your body — along the clavicles — rather than across the back of your shoulders. To do this, approach the squat rack, and place your palms underneath the bar, keeping your elbows tucked in toward your sides. When you lift the bar, you'll rest it near your clavicles, similar to the bar position when doing a clean.
Once you have the barbell situated across your anterior deltoids and up against your lower neck, step back and away from the rack. Keep your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Push your butt back, and drop your hips into a squat. Be careful: With the bar in front of you, you'll be tempted to roll your shoulders forward, compromising your balance. Squeeze your lats, roll your shoulders back and down, and keep your torso upright as throughout the squat. Finally, squeeze your glutes and keep your knees out as you stand back up.
To do a goblet squat, hold a kettlebell with both hands by the handle. Bring the kettlebell up toward your chest, so the handle rests just underneath your chin and your elbows are tucked in by your sides.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Push your butt back, and drop into a squat position. As with the front squat, squeeze your lats and roll your shoulders back and down, stopping yourself from tipping forward. Keep your weight on your heels and knees out before returning to a standing position.
To perform a Bulgarian split squat, you'll need an elevated surface, such as a TRX, bench, or even your sofa.
Stand in front of the bench with your feet shoulder-width apart. Balancing on your right leg, take your left foot and rest it on the bench behind you, the laces of your shoes facing toward the ground.
Brace your abs, squeeze your right glute, and roll your shoulders back and down. Drop your left knee toward the floor. Once you've reached your end point, return to your starting position. Switch legs. This quad exercise can be performed with dumbbells in each hand or with just your body weight, depending on how experienced you are.
While you can perform a leg extension in a leg curl/leg extension machine, this quad exercise only requires a resistance band.
Wrap a resistance band around a sturdy surface, such as the railing of your stairwell, the edge of the squat rack, or an iron pole. Place your right foot through the loop of the band, and step forward so the band is taut.
Square your hips so they both face forward. Balance on your left leg, and raise your right knee so your right quad is parallel to the ground. Now, straighten your right leg to the best of your ability. Switch legs.
To perform this exercise, you'll need a sturdy, level surface that can support your bodyweight (like a box or bench). The surface should be roughly 1.5-2 feet off the ground.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with a dumbbell in each hand. Raise your left leg, placing your left foot on the elevated surface. Shift your weight to your left leg, driving through your left glute and quadricep as you come to stand on top of the box. As an added challenge, you can drive through your right hip flexor, bringing your right quadricep parallel to the ground (while keeping it in mid-air). Return to your starting position and switch legs.
Essentially, a hack squat is a regular back squat performed at a 45-degree angle.
This quad exercise is best performed in a hack squat machine. Step into the machine with the bar resting on your shoulders, as with a regular back squat. Be sure to keep your feet firmly planted on the base of the machine, even though your body is at an angle.
When the bar (or shoulder pads, whichever is used on your machine) rests comfortably on your shoulders, drop into a squat position. You may need to walk your feet forward, ensuring that your knees don't go above your toes. Range of motion is key with hack squats, so be sure to go down to at least a 90-degree angle, before exploding back up to the starting position.
To do a leg press with bands, lay face-up (supine) on the floor. Be sure to brace your abs, pressing your lower back into the floor. Loop a resistance band around the bottoms of both feet, holding the ends of the band in both hands. (You will need to use an extremely heavy, thick band to perform this exercise. If the band isn’t taut enough, choke up on your grip.)
Squeezing your glutes, extend both legs until your legs are almost straight but knees do not lock. Then,return your legs to the starting position.
Strong quads can help prevent injuries to your knee joint. If you had a previous knee injury, such as a torn ACL, you will need to perform additional quad exercises to facilitate recovery.
While the majority of athletes are quad dominant, it's important to work your quads in your lower body workouts. Quad exercises such as front squats, leg extensions, split squats, and step-ups help build strength in your upper legs.
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