The longest bones in your body are your femurs, which are located within your upper legs. Connected to your femurs are your quadriceps, which are behind practically every movement that you do. This is why quad exercises should play a fundamental role in your workout regimen.
When people reference the quads, they’re really talking about a group of four muscles. “Your quadriceps are a group of four muscles on the anterior upper leg: the rectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, and vastus lateralis,” says Yusuf Jeffers, head coach at Tone House. “Running, standing, squatting, kicking, and jumping all don’t happen without your quads.” In other words: These muscles are major. Keep scrolling to learn more about your quads’ role in your overall body strength and what exercises can help to strengthen them.
Why quad exercises are important
If you think of your body as a building, your legs are the foundation on which everything stands upright. So not only are they essential in your day-to-day movements, but your quadriceps especially are important from a longevity standpoint. “It’s important to do quad exercises because this is a majority of your leg strength,” says Devan Kline, co-founder and CEO of Burn Boot Camp.
Having strong quads will also help to boost your performance in all of the workouts that you do. “Training to have strong quads will help with performance,” says Jeffers. And training your quadriceps muscles properly will boost the training of your lower body as a whole. “Quads don’t work in isolation, and most lower body exercises require co-activation of hamstrings and glutes, which will help inform how exercises are performed,” he adds. It’s all connected.
Not only will strong upper leg muscles help with all of your movements, but training your quads boosts your joint health on top of your muscular strength. “Quad strength is crucial to build over time because it provides stability to your knees and hip flexors,” says Kline. That’s because those two muscles and surrounding joints are intertwined with every quad movement that you make, and moving your joints means that you’re lubricating them (another perk from a longevity standpoint).
How to train your quads
Since your quads are involved in endless movements that you do in your everyday life, it would seem that you’re technically working them every day. Despite this, Kline recommends focusing on one muscle group once or twice a week for your best strength results. Jeffers echoes this, pointing to two to three times a week as a good guideline for adding in quad exercises, though it really depends on your fitness goals. “A runner and weightlifter might be on different ends of the spectrum, but for general gains in strength, a couple of times a week should be enough,” he says.
Regardless of how often you’re training your lower body, having proper form in your exercises is crucial in order to reap the benefits. “Proper form is required not only for proper activation of the correct muscles, but also to prevent placing stressor forces on the surrounding joints such as knees, hips, and lower back,” says Jeffers. So, for instance, if you’re working through a bunch of squat reps and your form is off, you could wind up with pain in a nearby muscle group or joint afterward.
This pain can also come from overcompensation. “Proper form when doing quad strength movements is vital because if, over time, you aren’t focusing on those muscles, other parts of your body are going to try to compensate for that, which could cause you lower back issues or even joint issues down the road,” says Kline. In other words, let your all-powerful quad muscles work. Keep scrolling for how.
11 quad exercises to add to your workouts
Jeffers is a big fan of the classic squat. “It’s a pretty fundamental movement that carries over to all sorts of sports and everyday life,” he says. With your feet a little more than hip-width apart, bend down as you stick your glutes out while keeping your torso upright. Press back up against your heels and squeeze your glutes as you stand back up.
Another OG that does the trick for your quads? The lunge. “Lunges help improve unilateral strength, which similarly mimics our normal movement patterns,” says Jeffers. “Strength gains here will improve stability at your hips and knees.”
Put one foot in front of the other and drop your torso down as your front knee and back knees bend. Your front knee should not extend past your toes, and your back knee should hover just above the floor before pushing back up to standing.
3. Jump squats
Kline turns to jump squats, which are a cardio variation of the classic squat, for a quick, effective quad burn.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, squat down until your quads are parallel, and power yourself back up by jumping off of the floor ever so slightly. Do this as fast as you can for a minute.
4. Split squats
Another squat variation that strengthens your quads is the split squat. “Split squats will help you focus on your form because the movement is slower and more targeted,” he says.
Stand with your left foot forward, right foot back, and slowly bend both knees until your right knee slightly touches the ground. Then, use your quad muscles in your left leg to push yourself back up.
5. Jump lunges
For another exercise that challenges your quads, the jump lunge will do the trick. Heather C. White, CEO of Trillfit, loves the plyometric exercise because the jumping causes you to double down on the core work to keep your body stabilized. “The jump also turns this into a cardio movement, so you’re targeting your lower body and sweating a ton at the same time.”
Get into a standard lunge position, sink low into a deep lunge, and jump upward, using your core muscles to stabilize yourself. As you jump in the air, switch your legs to reverse and land with the other foot forward. Make sure to keep your knees stacked over your ankle in the lunge, your chest tall, and land as softly as you can.
6. Spiderman push-up
Though this feels like an arm workout, White loves the Spiderman push-up because it also secretly works your quads and your hip flexors.
Get into a standard push-up position. As you lower down, connect your knee to your elbow. After making contact, extend back into a push-up position.
7. Social justice squats
White recommends social justice squats as a really hard but really effective exercise that targets your quads, glutes, and hamstrings all at once.
Bring your hands behind your head and keep your chest tall as you bring your legs hips-width distance apart. Sink down into a squat with your hands still behind your head. While holding low and keeping your chest tall, slowly lower one knee down to the ground, then the other. Inhale, exhale, then step one leg back up into your squat position, followed by the other leg. That’s one rep.
8. Bear crawl
“You’re balancing throughout the entire exercise,” says White of the bear crawl. So it requires core stability, and the movement hits all of your muscles.
Start in a tabletop position. Stack your shoulders over your wrists and hips over your knees. Lift your knees off of the floor so that they’re hovering. Move your opposite hand with your opposite foot to crawl forward. You can also incorporate moving sideways or backward. Keep the weight in your hands and toes as you move, and keep your back flat, hips tucked.
9. Breakdancer kickthrough
Another quad exercise that tests your balancing skills: the breakdancer kickthrough. “This is super challenging, but it’s a great way to work your core, hips, and full body,” says White.
From a bear crawl position, lift your right arm and left leg, pivot your body, and kick your left leg through so that your body is elevated off of the ground and you’re in a hovering seated position. Repeat on the other side.
“Explosive movements like this work the whole body and are very challenging,” says White of the tuck jump, which really hits your quads, glutes, and hamstrings hard.
Begin by standing with your feet hip-width distance apart. Extend your arms in front of you. Sink into a slight squat and jump up into the air, pulling your knees into your chest while keeping your arms extended. Land as softly as you can.