If you’re looking to grow you’re quads and you have a barbell you’re in luck. Some of the most effective exercises for growing the quads are performed with barbells so achieving your goal should be very realistic. Here we have provided 5 barbell exercises for quads that you can consider adding into your training programme, all of which are squat variations.
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The barbell itself and the position it is placed onto the body make it extremely easy to load. This may seem trivial, but dumbbells and kettlebells simply cannot provide the same results as barbells due to the difficultly loading them. With dumbbells and kettlebells it can be very hard getting the weight into position to perform the first rep let alone trying to create a lot of fatigue in the muscle using an exercise. Take a back squat vs a goblet squat, it’s highly likely that with well trained individuals the first part of breakdown will be the arms from holding the kettlebell rather than the muscles your training to grow in the legs. This makes the barbell an extremely valuable tool to have in your tool kit when it comes to training.
With barbells we have the ability to use fractional plates, meaning we can easily manipulate the weight being used. This means we can alter the weight for a percentage based programme, or manipulate the weight easily when using RPE to dictate training loads. This means creating long term programmes with barbells is much more effective than with dumbbells and kettlebells, especially if your training at home with limited equipment.
The barbell exercises used to develop the muscles in the quads are compound lifts like the back squat and the front squat, this means that they will also develop other areas of the body at the same time as the quads. This is an excellent advantage when using barbells to grow the quads instead of machine, the body is working in unison rather than isolating individual muscles, this can save time and effort.
The barbell can make it very difficult to just isolate the quad muscles, if your looking for an exercise that only works the quad muscles then the barbell isn’t your tool. The only exercise that isolates the quads over other muscles in the legs using the barbell is the landmine narrow stance squat, but even this exercise still requires the bar to be places on the back and for a lot of stability to be generated. These exercises provided when performed for high repetitions and sets will create a lot of fatigue and be very difficult to do, which can make training sustainability a problem.
The barbell doesn’t allow for much work around injuries like machines do. When you injure your foot for example you cant keep doing back squats, but you can keep perform curls on a machine. This can be a negative about not having access to machine and only having access to a barbell, but it by no means takes away from the effectiveness of barbells at growing the quads when fit an healthy.
Growing the quadricep muscles will require a successful executed hypertrophy training plan that progressively builds volume in the movements that create quadriceps growth as listed below. When designing a training programme people often get stuck on how many sets and repetitions they will need to perform to be successful at achieving hypertrophy. For the quadriceps to grow a weekly minimum of 8 working sets will need to be performed, this is known as the minimal effective growth. For the optimal growth of the quadriceps between 8-15 sets will need to be performed per week, this is known as the adaptive volume. So if your looking to grow your quads, performing squats of the variations below two times per week for 4-6 sets per session can be a sustainable way to grow the legs.
The back squat is one of the best exercises available to growing the quads. If you have ever seen an olympic weightlifter you will know that back squat and front squats are the bread and butter for growing bigger quads. Just be aware that they can cause a lot of general fatigue as they are so taxing on the nervous system meaning they may affect some of your other training. The squat when being done for purely hypertrophy (muscle growth) may be slightly different from when it’s being done for strength training, the repetitions might be a little slower when hypertrophy is the aim, also putting emphasis on getting a full strength at the bottom of the back squat will be beneficial.
The front squat is an excellent alternative to the back squat, it puts more emphasis on the anterior chain than the back squat and therefore requires a great deal of work from the quads. It also carries less systemic fatigue with it than the back squat as less weight can be used due to its positioning on the shoulders. The front squat can also cause some people difficulty due to mobility restrictions in the wrists, long term the good approach is to start with a light weight and get comfortable with good positions.
The squat in lunge is another barbell quad exercise that you can consider adding to your training regime. It provides both beginners and advanced individuals the ability to work the quads and generate high amounts of fatigue. A lot of single leg exercises require high levels of balance and coordination, which is great but can distract from producing a lot of work in the muscle to get the best signals for muscle growth. The squat in lunge doesn’t require much balance or stability as both feet are planted and stay in a fixed position throughout the movement.
The narrow stance squat is an excellent quad specific exercise that can be done with a landmine as shown in the video above or it can be done with the bar on the back in the same position as the back squat loading. This exercise will put a lot of pressure on the quads specifically and is the only barbell exercise that truly isolates the quads. Make sure you have good ankle mobility when performing this exercise as it will be required to perform this exercise correctly to achieve growth.
The rear foot elevated barbell squat in lunge is one of the most challenging lunge positions that can be used to grow the quads. It should only be performed by those who have a lot of experience in the lunge position as it requires a lot of both balance and stability. This exercise will allow the loading of the single leg position and can be a great way for advanced individuals to grow their quads.
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This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.