Best Quad Workout For Mass
A random sequence of events meant I couldn’t train my upper body for a while, so I doubled down on my legs. After spending the last 12 months working on my wheels this is the best quad workout for mass I’ve ever followed. Stick around, I even have the pictures to prove it
How I Built My Quads - A Mass Journey
I put together this guide to the best quad workout for mass as this is something I’ve been working on myself in the last 12 months. This guide will look at the 4 heads of the quadriceps, how to train them, what rep range to focus on and a sample workout plan you can follow too.
To the point
First up, as the writer here, I am PT trained in the UK, a certificated Speed Agility and Quickness Trainer (non-practising) and have been in the gym working out for 2 decades. Okay, maybe it’s 19 years – but there isn’t a workout, split, or fad diet I haven’t tried. At 40 I still keep 4 weeks from a reasonable six pack and have been hitting PBs like I’m 21 lately. I put it down to changing up the workouts, tracking progress and setting goals – I think I’m fairly qualified to talk. But there is an additional back story I thought I’d throw in too.
My own Quad exercise journey
About 18 months ago I took a bar off a squat rack, cold, and dropped the weight down to my waist level, as if I was lowering a clean. Something if you’re used to lifting barbells you often do without thinking. Well, father time is catching up with me and cue months of aching forearms as I picked up double tennis elbow.
Sharp pains in my lower bicep and brachialis areas meant it got to the point I was dreading – I’m going to have to avoid using my arms in a gym for AT LEAST 30 days.
A few weeks before, a friend of mine, the most medically qualified person I know told me to expect this. I ignored him. Eventually I couldn’t any longer and I got to work thinking how I can make intelligent use of my time.
I decided I was going to train legs 3 times a week and work on getting myself some teardrop quads. Alongside this, I would throw in a healthy diet, maybe some cardio (as if) and all would be fine in 30 days time.
The outcome – 18 months later, I still haven’t done much cardio, there is a peri peri burger under my desk I will be eating after I’ve written this but my legs have gained real size AND I still hit my legs at least twice a week. I don’t think I can ever go back to one day a week legs. Now, I do a devoted a anterior chain / quad workout day, and another for posterior chain, tying them both intogether with a little of the other on opposing days. This way, quads, hamstrings and glutes both see some two times a week love.
Anyway, I had some time to do some science and try to come up with what I feel was the best quad workout for mass – for me, and you might like it to. So here goes.
Anatomy of the Quads
Might seem like a simple thing to ask to some, but there are no silly questions, only silly answers. Let’s talk about the quadriceps.
What are the Quads exactly?
The quads, or quadriceps, are the four muscles that make up the front of your thigh. Knowing their anatomy is key to understanding how to effectively work them for the desired results.
The quads consist of four separate muscles:
Rectus femoris: located in the centre of your thigh and helps extend your leg forward as you walk or run.
Vastus lateralis: located on the outside of your thigh and helps extend your leg at the hip and knee joints.
Vastus medialis: located on the inside of your thigh, next to your kneecap, and helps extend your leg slightly at the hip joint as you take a step.
Vastus intermedius: located underneath the rectus femoris and helps extend your leg at both hip and knee joints.
Each muscle of the quad plays its own part in contributing to movement and overall leg development. But when all four are worked together, they can make sure that you get a balanced appearance that looks great from all angles.
You can see in the picture above the impact of a well developed lower body anterior chain. Aka, quads.
What kind of muscles are quad muscles?
The quadriceps muscle is primarily composed of fast-twitch muscle fibres, with a higher proportion of type II muscle fibres compared to type I muscle fibres. Type II muscle fibres can be further divided into type IIa and type IIx, with the former having a higher oxidative capacity and greater endurance than type IIx fibres.
According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, the vastus lateralis muscle (part of the quadriceps muscle group) in young healthy males was found to have approximately 57% type II muscle fibers and 43% type I muscle fibers (Lexell et al., 1988). Another study published in the Journal of Biomechanics found that the quadriceps muscle group in elderly individuals had a higher proportion of type II muscle fibers compared to young individuals (Suetta et al., 2004).
Less boring answer
The easiest way to picture the difference in the two fibre types is sprinters vs marathon runners. Sprinters rely on anaerobic power and exhibit more explosive – quicker muscle contractions and extensions, whereas marathon runners are more aerobic, exhibit a slower muscular cadence but do it for longer – endurance. Big and explosive = fast twitch fibres, long and wiry marathon runners = slow twitch.
This is why when we look to build quad muscle mass, fast twitch fibre focus is going to be central and it formed the spine of my own quad training regime.
In short – the quads are made up of a lot of larger fast twitch fibres and so our workout will need to be focused with them in mind for building size.
What is the best rep range for fast twitch leg muscle fibres?
This question played into how I planned the rep ranges in my workout. I knew roughly what I would be doing, but I had a bit of time on my hands and thought I’d take a scientific approach. If I knew that the quads were a larger part fast twitch fibres and identified the best exercises to train that feature as well as incorporating the exercises which released the most testosterone and growth hormone, I would create the optimal training plan for building quad mass.
So what did the science say?
A study by Grgic (4) in 2020 found that moderate to heavy weights in the 6-12 range of reps elicited the optimal growth for fast twitch fibres, with the higher end of the rep ranges tending to favour slower twitch fibres (5). Taking that to its logical conclusion and the fact I have never:
a: Seen a skinny powerlifter
b: Seen a skinny legged 100m sprinter
And knowing from my own days of sprinting the explosive lower rep training we would perform to improve our sprinting power, I settled on a workout built around a base of 5-6 reps, with some lower body finishers that took me to 10, 12, and even 25 reps in some exercises.
A Quad Workout Built By Science
So there you have it, my science led quad plan. A workout that would start with a free weight heavy focus in the 5-6 rep range, moving to a still heavy second core exercise which could be in the same range again or a touch higher eg: 8, before finishing up with some more isolation or ‘bells and whistles’ style leg exercises, including some that would stimulate other parts of the legs a little, if nothing more than to leave with that psychological pump.
Tip: Pair this guide with our Posterior Chain Workout Plan for a weekly programme.
Top Quad Exercises for Mass
When it comes to building up your quads, there are few exercises that will get you the most bang for your buck. From squats to lunges to presses, these are the heavy hitters and must-do moves you should be doing to build massive quads.
Front squats, where the barbell rests across your collarbone and front of your shoulders, put more emphasis on your quad muscles than traditional back squats because of how the weight is distributed across your body. Make sure you can keep an upright torso when performing them and keep the load light in order to learn how to properly execute them.
Primary Mover – Quads
Secondary Muscles – Glutes / Upper Back
Advanced Modifications – One front squat variation I am a big fan of, is to adjust my foot position by elevating my heels with a plate or squat wedge to place more emphasis on vastus medialis (teardrop)
Better Than: In studies it was shown that front squats were more effective for quad development than the traditional back squat due to amount of knee flexion of the lifter as the front squat pushes you forward. This takes the stress off the hips and glutes and increases the load on the quads.
Forward / Walking Lunges
Forward or travelling lunges target the quads, glutes, and hip flexors all at once and provide a functional training element that’s good for day-to-day activities with more of an emphasis on the anterior chain. To mix things up, try varying the range of motion by lunging forward as far as you feel comfortable or add a hop at the end for an extra challenge.
Primary Muscle: Quads
Secondary Muscle: Glutes / Hamstrings
Advanced Modification: Pulse travelling lunges are suitably disgusting. These are favoured by Ronnie Coleman back in the day and involve you coming up 1/4 before popping down a touch and then returning to the upright position. It’s a great finisher, but don’t think you’ll start your workout with these.
Better Than: Unlike the reverse lunge which puts more emphasis on the posterior chain, the travelling lunge and also the split squat when you lean forward puts more weight over the front leg and therefore engages the quads more. Therefore the forward lunge is the better choice for quad goals.
NB: I also like the Bulgarian split squat but this for me puts far more emphasis on my glutes and I think there are better ways to target the quads with more potent tension.
If you’re looking for pure quad intensity with a bit less risk to your lumbar region, then a decent leg press is a great option.
Do I love it as much as a barbell squat for pure total body engagement? No, however it does afford you some personal safety assurances when training alone and the potential to play with foot position.
From high foot placement for hamstring engagement, to low and close with the toes out to blast the rectus femoris.
How I tend to use the leg press is if I feel a little twinge in my lower back – i’ll run heavy plate loaded presses in place of a back squat; or as part of a burn-up/warm up set.
If you’ve not heard me mention the burn-up before, I’ll speak on it now, but I mention it as well in my GVT legs guide.
So, the burn-up, I’ll get my legs ready to train by setting a pin loaded leg press on the lightest weight, crushing 6 reps and increasing the weight. I do this all the way to failure. That’s my quad session warm up!
The leg press is pretty versatile and for safer quad training it gets a mention here.
Primary Muscle: Quads
Secondary Muscle: Glutes / Hamstrings
Advanced Modification: Go single leg for a deep rom. During summer months when I’m training higher rep, higher volume and shorter rest periods, I love the single leg press for utter brutality, but there is no reason you can’t use it for heavy sets too.
Where I think a single leg becomes a highly effective exercise, is the ability to open up the hips a bit more and go deeper. Leg presses can sometimes stop out too high and your thighs hit your abdomen and ribcage. Single leg allows you to come to the side slightly, opening up those hips and get a superior range of motion.
The leg extension forms many a lower body finisher set, and it’s a major ingredient in nearly everyone’s leg workouts. As quad exercises go, I favour this more for my bucket of isolation exercises due to the risk of damage to knee extensors, with the shearing forces that are applied on the knee from heavy lifting.
I love how you can visualise the exercise while performing the movement. I love how it feels as you finish off a quad workout, driving the blood into the muscles and leaving you with that pump, but I keep my rep ranges here higher.
This makes the list of most important quad exercises for mass as it’s 100% isolation of the quadriceps and providing you don’t slam the weights down, you are able to maintain constant time under tension compared to barbell compound exercises.
Primary Muscle: Quads
Secondary Muscle: Hip Flexors
Advanced Modification: Sissy Squats potentially, but my personal take – not really necessary. There is also some debate on whether sissy squats aid or impact on knee health.
Better Than: I think the isolation aspect of leg extensions, make them the superior thigh isolation move.
Bonus: Sumo Deadlift/Sumo Squats
Wait…what??? A deadlift – for a quad plan?
I know what you’re thinking – it’s a pulling move.
So, you may wonder how this one makes it on the list as it’s primarily for a posterior chain workout day, but as deadlifts go, a wide stance sumo lift with toes pointing out can really activate that vastus medialis. So, I’ve added it in, in case you feel the need to deadlift and try to do a front and back of legs session on the same day. Sumo is mostly for my glutes but I do see some significant secondary engagement from the teardrop area when I’m doing it. Thought I’d add it in.
In fact, what I tend to do, is set up two step boxes and do sumo squats, so less of a deadlift and more sumo quarter squats, while holding a kettlebell to failure on them. Being on the boxes means you can go really low and get a good ROM. A finisher and not necessary, but I thought I’d add it in.
Other Quad Exercises For Mass
– Traditional Squats (Back Squat
– Hack Squat
– Pistol Squat
– Step Up
– Landmine Frogger Squats
Ultimately there is a host of ways to train your quads but eventually they all become a much of a muchness. Not everyone can rock a pistol squat, not every gym has a frogger landmine attachment, some struggle with knee pain from hack squat machines and the demand lunges draw from the non working leg means you are often too slammed from the first half of the set to get good balance (or equivalent) reps on the second half.
These are all great quad exercises that will aid a muscle hypertrophy program, but are not bringing anything new to the party.
So let’s look at what I’ve been doing.
My Quad Workout For Mass
I mentioned I trained legs 3 times a week, these days it’s about twice a week, and that’s a red-line. Legs get hit twice a week without fail.
1.) Leg press – pin loaded – Burn up set
How to do it?
6 reps on the lowest weight setting, then increase the weight. Continue until you can’t complete 6 reps.
2.) 5 x 5 – Barbell Back Squat
Set 1: 65% of 5 RM | Set 2: 85% of 5 RM | Sets 3-5: 100% of 5 RM
3.) 5 x 5 – Front Squat
Set 1: 65% of 5 RM | Set 2: 85% of 5 RM | Sets 3-5: 100% of 5 RM
4.) 3 x 10-12 Split Squats
Quad Workout Finishers
5.) 1 x Failure Walking Lunges (with pulse)
6.) Leg Extensions
Sets 1 – 3 at 12 reps
Set 4 at 25 reps with the same weight as set 3. This is a rest pause method of training to failure.
Workout weeks 7-10
Every 6 weeks I follow an unload period of 4 weeks with the heavy lifts changing slightly. The remainder remains the same generally, unless I’ve got a little bored.
Week 7 & 10: Leg Press 5 x 5 – Front Squats 5 x 10
Week 8-9: Front Squats 10 x 10 @ 60% of 1RM (60-90 seconds rest between sets)
The 10×10 approach borrows from the German Volume Training workout approach. Read more about it in that link.
NB: this workout gets me done in 60 minutes and leaves me with sufficient training volume to feel blasted. I used to feel I need to do dozens of sets for quad activation but with the right attitude and playlist I get the benefits of progressive overload and tend to remain injury free.
Speaking of which…
Preventing Injury While Working on Quad Hypertrophy
When it comes to adding mass to your quads, safety is always a number 1 priority. After all, nobody wants to be sidelined by an injury while they’re trying to grow those wheels. So here are some tips and tricks you can use to effectively work your quads while avoiding injury in the meantime.
Warm Up Appropriately
It goes with out saying, warming up is probably the most important thing you can do before starting any workout routine. Not all warm ups are created equal, however — if you’re looking to grow your legs, dynamic stretching is the way to go. For example: leg swings, hip rotations and side lunges are great dynamic stretches that target your quads and help you get motivated for the exercises ahead.
This means, less of the static standing on one leg stretches, but more about moving in the range of motion you are going to be working out in. It’s why I focus my warm up into a ‘Burn-up’ on the leg press. I start out so light, it’s never going to injure me, and gradually add on weight. This leaves me ready to hit the heavier loads later on.
Weightlifting belts are not for posing, they are for helping you brace your core muscles when lifting heavy. Bracing your core, supports your lumbar region and helps avoid spinal injuries or damage to muscles around the erector spinae. I’m a fan of a belt for this, even when not lifting too heavily. I also like the peace of mind it gives me, which helps me ensure the next step is observed too.
Be Mindful of Form
Having a strong mind-muscle connection is essential when trying to bulk up. Make sure that no matter what exercises you’re doing, you keep proper form the whole time — arching your back during leg press or using momentum during squats can compromise your results and potentially cause an injury in the long run. The goal here isn’t about how much weight you can move — it’s about efficiently and safely working each muscle group with proper form!
Just to add to this point, mirrors to look at when barbell squatting in a power rack, I feel are a major safety feature, and the absence of them creates a real risk of injury. Why? Being able to monitor your descent and ascent, foot positioning and more, drive you to monitor your form. Don’t neglect this – not being able to exercise your lower body, even walk or sleep comfortably, is a lot worse than the tennis elbow that brought me to this type of training. Injuries from quad workouts are no joke.
How to Maximise Muscle Gains
Okay, you’ve been great for sticking with me this long, let’s get to the final stage of all of this – maximising quad gains. Leg workouts are great and get us a good way toward achieving our goal of huge quads, but we need sleep, nutrition and recovery to really ensure quadriceps hypertrophy
If you want to get the best results when it comes to making major muscle gains, these are some of the key points that can help you to achieve your goals with maximum efficiency.
One key aspect is nutrition: the fuel you give your body affects how successfully you will be able to build muscle mass. Weight trainers generally recommend one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight every day. Eating a variety of nutrient-dense and protein-packed foods will ensure your body is getting what it needs in order to make gains.
Sleep is also an important factor when it comes to muscle growth. Your body repairs itself while you sleep, and so if you are not getting enough rest then this will impact your ability to build muscle. Research has found that adults should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night in order for their bodies to properly recover and grow muscles effectively.
Form and technique
Finally, as already mentioned, form and technique are essential considerations when performing exercises, such as squats or leg presses, for quad development. Practising perfect form for each exercise ensures that the targeted muscles are working instead of other muscles, maximising the impact of each set and getting better results from your training sessions.
From using squat wedges to elevate your heels during front squats, to pointing your toes out slightly to target those teardrops.
Before and After Quad Workout For Mass
As with many of these workout guides, you are left wondering if they actually make a difference. So here goes, my before and after across a year. The first picture is me looking like a sap in Mexico 9 months before the second photo was taken.
As for supplements I have taken which I wasn’t using before, I added creatine, ZMA, and a bigger diet. I don’t take anything else, mostly because I’m not up for the idea of jabbing myself, though I might give the cream a go though soon 😉
The creatine I swear has been a game changer. If nothing else, taking supplements made me feel like I should train harder – so it could have all been Placebo. Still, I like the outcome.
Outro & Closing Tips
A marathon read, so if you made it this far – respect and thank you. I’ve tried to add science to this guide, to set out exactly why I followed these steps and as you can see, while I am no Tom Platz in the leg department, I’ve made so personally solid progress. The best feature of this workout approach is it tends to focus more on barbells, and that makes it very doable in some of the best hotel gyms we have reviewed. So it’s a quad workout for mass that you can keep on doing while you’re on your travels.
Now, time to see what happens when you do the same?
2. Lexell, J., Taylor, C. C., & Sjöström, M. (1988). What is the cause of the ageing atrophy? Total number, size and proportion of different fiber types studied in whole vastus lateralis muscle from 15- to 83-year-old men. Journal of the neurological sciences, 84(2-3), 275-294.
3. Suetta, C., Aagaard, P., Magnusson, S. P., Andersen, L. L., Sipilä, S., Rosted, A., … & Kjaer, M. (2004). Muscle size, neuromuscular activation, and rapid force characteristics in elderly men and women: effects of unilateral long-term disuse due to hip-osteoarthritis. Journal of biomechanics, 37(9), 1437-1446.
4. Grgic, J., Schoenfeld, B. J., Skrepnik, M., Davies, T. B., & Mikulic, P. (2020). Effects of Rest Interval Duration in Resistance Training on Measures of Muscular Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review. Sports Medicine, 50(2), 385-402.
5. Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2017). Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of sports sciences, 35(11), 1073-1082.