The quads are one of the largest and most powerful muscle groups in the body. And they're super important for driving off the ground and helping to keep the knees stable during cutting movements.
The quads are in fact a group of four muscles (hence "quad")—the vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius and rectus femoris. All four attach to the kneecap, but on the other end, the vastus muscles attach on the femur, whereas the rectus femoris attaches to the pelvis. Their function is to extend the shin at the knee and flex the femur at the hip.
Quad strength comes from performing exercises that can be loaded closer to the knee than the hip. They allow athletes to run, jump, push, pull, lunge, stop and squat. Athletic movements are muti-joint, so quadriceps exercise should focus mostly on structural, knee-dominant exercises, not single-joint exercises like leg extensions.
Quadriceps exercises that are knee-dominant are the most effective at developing bigger, stronger quads. A knee-dominant exercise means that both knee flexion and hip extension are used, but the knee moves through a greater range of motion than the hip. Developing strength and power in the quads helps athletes who need to run backwards, field a ball, stop and change directions, or simply run fast.
RELATED: How to Build Stronger Quads
Many athletes stick to staple lifts such as Deadlifts and Back Squats, but not all athletes can tolerate heavy loads on their lower backs, not to mention the monotony of constantly performing them. Other exercises can strengthen the quads while mimicking other athletic movements.
- Step forward with one foot, then bend both knees.
- Lower your body straight down.
- Push off your front foot to return in the standing position with your feet together.
This exercise is great for deceleration and stopping. Focusing more on the vastus medialis, the Lunge is best for knee injury prevention, because it teaches proper tracking of the knee and stability at the hip. Deceleration occurs as you step forward and slow your forward movement to drop your hips into lunge position.
RELATED: Sport-Specific Lunge Variations
Kettlebell Front Squats
- Hold two kettlebells under your chin, resting between your forearms and your biceps in the crease of your elbows.
- From this racked position, keep your chest up and push your hips back as you lower into a Squat.
- Lift your elbows slightly to keep kettlebells from rolling off your arms. Drive your hips forward, keeping your abs tight, and stand upright.
- Inhale before squatting and exhale at the top of the stance.
With the weight in front of your body, Front Squats require the quads to work more than the glutes. This exercise also requires a more upright torso, placing more load on the legs and less on the lower back. As a bonus, Kettlebell Front Squats engage the core and place less stress on the wrists that using a barbell. Do this three days a week for 4 to 6 weeks and your Barbell Front Squat will get easier. Quad strength and size will increase as well.
Reverse Sled Pull
- Using either a harness or handles, face the sled in a squatting position or athletic stance.
- Push through your heels as you move backwards to pull the sled (however, if your goal is speed, stay on the balls of your feet and use a harness instead of handles to allow your arms to swing).
This exercise can build quickness (use lighter loads) or strength and size (use heavier loads). Since it puts you in an athletic stance, it creates sport-specific speed and strength for several sports.
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