Chris Bumstead leg pressing. / Instagram
“Did you hear Tom Platz once squatted 225 nonstop for 10 minutes?” Leg legends are circulated in gyms, for they fuel otherwise forlorn marches to squat racks. There’s the time Branch Warren did circuits of leg presses, hack squats, and leg extensions until he could only crawl and puke. There’s Ronnie Coleman lunging across a scorched parking lot carrying a ridiculous 315 pounds. And, back to the ultimate man of gym inspiration, there’s the video of Tom Platz squatted 500 for 23 reps.
Legendary leg workouts always reach some new level of torture because ordinary quad workouts are already brutally difficult. To shock muscles accustomed to hard work requires imagination and will. The Barbell is taking care of the imagination part. After our basics routine, we have five more unique quad workouts that focus on unique techniques and exercises. It’s up to you to supply the will. These are the best quad workouts.
QUAD WORKOUT 1: BASICS
We’re going to start with the basics. This is a bread-and-butter routine of tried-and-true quad classics. Start with leg extensions as a working warmup. Then pyramid your squats from 12 reps to 6. Leg presses and hack squats for moderate reps finish off the routine. Beginners go with three sets per exercise. More experienced lifters can go with four sets.
BASICS QUAD WORKOUT
Leg Extensions — 4 x 10-15 reps
Squats — 4 x 12-6 reps
Leg Presses — 4 x 10-12 reps
Hack Squats — 4 x 10-12 reps
QUAD WORKOUT 2: ALL-SQUAT
This one can shock quads accustomed to three or four sets of three or four exercises (see Quad Workout 1). High-volume squatting has been around since the beginning of bodybuilding. In more recent decades, teenage Arnold Schwarzenegger and friends took a barbell into the woods and squatted till they couldn’t stand. And there seem to be no end to stories of Tom Platz squatting and squatting and squatting.
You may want to warmup with leg extensions, but this quad workout itself consists of nothing but free-weight squats. Do at least 10 sets and aim for at least 10 reps per set. Don’t focus on the sets ahead, as this can lessen your intensity. Instead, push each set as if it’s your last. Use a spotter and/or safety racks, because if you’re training hard your final reps of your final sets may be wobbly. If you find this especially taxing, limit such high-volume squatting to no more than once per month, and do other quad workouts, such as our basic routine, on the other leg days.
Squats — 10-16 sets x 10-15 reps
QUAD WORKOUT 3: SLOW MOTION
Speed is a crucial but underappreciated factor in every repetition. By dramatically slowing down exercises you can stress muscle fibers that you normally miss. The use of slow reps is a favorite shock technique of master trainer Charles Glass, and Glass especially likes to go slow-mo on leg days. Take 10-15 seconds on the negative halves of reps and another 10-15 seconds on the positive halves. Keep moving, though only slightly, throughout each rep. Do not stop at the bottom or lockout at the top. A partner can time you, or you can count off the beats yourself. For safety, do not do slow reps of free-weight barbell squats. Safety bar squats are okay, and hack squats or Smith machine squats are excellent choices for this technique. Because slow-motion can quickly become exhausting, you may want to make your slow-motion sets drop sets, using progressively less weight throughout sets.
SLOW MOTION QUAD WORKOUT
Slow-motion Leg Extensions — 4 x12-15 reps
Slow-motion Leg Presses — 4 x 10-12 reps
Slow-motion Hack Squats — 4 x 8-12 reps
QUAD WORKOUT 4: SUPERSETS
More bodybuilders superset arms than legs, but it’s the larger muscles of your lower body that can best withstand this intensifying technique. Try supersetting your quads with your hamstrings (such as alternating sets of leg extensions with sets of leg curls). And to truly shock your muscles, superset two quad exercises. A great way to do this is to immediately follow one quad exercise with a set of weightless walking lunges or sissy squats. The Barbell’s quad superset routine features two such supersets.
SUPERSET QUAD WORKOUT
Leg Extensions — 4 x 12-15 reps
↕️ superset with
Sissy Squats — 4 x 12-15 reps
Leg Presses — 3 x 8-10 reps
↕️ superset with
Walking Lunges — 3 x 30 steps
QUAD WORKOUT 5: GIANT SETS
The large and complex quadriceps muscle group should be hit from several different angles, and you can hit one angle after another. Choose three or four exercises and perform a set of each with minimum rest between sets. One set of every exercise constitutes one giant set. Do three or four such giant sets.
GIANT SETS QUAD WORKOUT
Leg Extensions — 3 x 12-15 reps
↕️ giant set with
Sissy Squats — 3 x 10-12 reps
↕️ giant set with
Thigh Adductions — 3 x 12-15 reps
↕️ giant set with
Leg Presses — 3 x 10-12 reps
QUAD WORKOUT 6: UNILATERAL
We started with a basic routine, and we’re ending with a unique one. This is an all-unilateral quad routine, meaning you train one leg at a time, alternating between the two (reps for the left and right quads equals one set). You can, of course, include any one or two of the following exercises in your leg routine, but try hitting your quads with all three in the same workout. (See also: Unilateral Exercises: Complete Guide)
The split squat, aka Bulgarian split squat, is a single-leg squat with the back leg bent and that foot elevated on a bench, box, or similar object. It’s a more like a lunge (with only the down-up motion) than a squat, but it is a unique exercise that will work the quad and glute of one side individually. Balance can be tricky, so you may want to perform split squats on a Smith machine. Experiment to find the best front and rear foot placement to get deep reps.
By performing leg presses unilaterally you’re able to isolate the quad muscles and lessen momentum. You can also get a fuller rep and place each foot directly in the center of the sled, thus better stressing the vastus lateralis (outer quads) as well as the glutes.
Top One-leg Extensions
This is a favorite of Frank Zane, who didn’t possess big wheels, but did display deep quad separation. This was his secret exercise for etching in those distinct lines. Not only did the 3-time Mr. Olympia work each leg individually, but he focused on only the top halves of reps to keep constant tension on the quad muscles. Squeeze hard at the contraction of each rep and hold for a second. When you complete all the reps for one leg, immediately begin the reps for the other, back and forth until all reps are done; and keep reps in the 15-20 range. Like Zane, we scheduled this one last so you can fully blast your quads.
UNILATERAL QUAD WORKOUT
Split Squats — 4 x 10-12 reps per leg
One-leg Presses — 4 x 10-12 reps per leg
Top One-Leg Extensions — 4-6 x 15-20 reps per leg
A LITTLE ANNIHILATION
“Stimulate, don’t annihilate,” is 8-tme Mr. Olympia Lee Haney’s famous maxim. It’s generally great advice. However, when it comes to leg training, you may need to make an exception. As quad workouts are always brutal, breaking out of stagnation to kick-start growth requires an occasional torture session. If used judiciously, the last five workouts here should provide maximum stimulation and a little annihilation.
See also: The Best Hamstring Workouts