Raise your hand if you’re obsessed with getting abs! That’d be me. I know they’re in there somewhere, hiding underneath the layers of pizza and take-out. Can I give you a little advice, though? Instead of dwelling on your abs (or lack thereof), what you should really be obsessing over are your quads. Here’s why: you can’t get by without them. They’re involved in almost every movement of your legs, and strong quads are often related to a stronger core, because everything in your body ideally wants to work in harmony. Plus, you don’t need me to remind you (although I will) weightlifting helps you stay lean, since muscle burns more calories than fat. So, how can you grow stronger, healthier legs? Here are four of the best quad exercises.
1. Front and Back Squats
While properly executed squats indeed work other muscles (like the hamstrings), they are primarily a quad exercise. One of the reasons squats are so effective is because they’re compound movements, meaning they work multiple muscles at the same time — beneficial, considering the quads alone are made up of four muscles.
As an added bonus, squats also work the entirety of your core, front to back, and help you build a bigger booty. For these reasons, barbell squats are considered one of the best things you can do for your body in the gym. (Read: if you have a short amount of time to get your sweat on, squat!)
Helpful tip: master proper technique with a very light load before adding heavier weights.
For these, you can use a barbell, kettlebells, or dumbbells (kettlebells or dumbbells, if you’re a newbie), and do them stationary or as walking lunges. Lunges have so much potential to build your quad strength because they’re technically a single-leg movement, meaning you work only one side at a time. This is good news because it means lunges can point out imbalances in your strength. Most of us have one side that’s stronger than the other, but many of us don’t realize how drastic this imbalance is because we never isolate each side. Lunge for serious quad strength and better balance and stability!
Helpful tip: The knee of your front leg should not pass your toes when you lunge, and your back knee should lightly kiss the floor.
You can use a box, block, or even stacked plates for these. Start with dumbbells or kettlebells, since they’re easier to control. If you want more of a challenge, progress to a barbell. You can also scale this by changing the height of your step-up: lower will be easier, higher will be harder. Like lunges, step-ups isolate each side and point out weaknesses.
Step-ups are a solid quad workout because you start off in a deficit (the bottom of the step-up), and have to work hard to get out of it. Don’t forget that’s only half the exercise. Stepping down from the box is also excellent strength-training!
Helpful tip: Don’t let your torso fall too far forward as you step up — this is cheating! If you have to do that, go down in weight.
4. Bulgarian Split Squats
To be clear, these are a total-leg workout. Bulgarian split squats involve propping your back leg up (by your foot) on a bench, chair, or another surface, and doing stationary lunges with the front foot. Bodyweight is already challenging, but you can make it more difficult by adding a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells. Take your time on these, and don’t rush in the down-phase or up-phase. These are a serious muscle-burner and undoubtedly one of the best quad exercises you can do.
Helpful tip: Like lunges, don’t let that front knee drift past your knees, and gently tap the back knee to the floor.