How to Workout your Quads

Written by: Elsie Velazquez, cert. Personal Trainer at Prescription Fitness (CLE, Ohio)

Although you may think that the quadriceps (also known as “the quads”) muscle is one muscle, it is actually a group of four muscles located in the front of the thigh. These four separate muscles are:

  • vastus lateralis – this muscle is located in the outer portion of your thigh and is the largest of the four. The vastus lateralis muscle’s main role is to extend the lower leg and allow the body to rise up from a squatting position.
  • vastus medialis – this muscle is located in the inner side of the thigh and ends at the knee cap. This muscle is used to extend the leg at the knee and to stabilize the patella, which is also known as the kneecap.
  • vastus intermedius – this muscle is the deepest of the 4 and is located below the other 3. This muscle extends the entire length of the thigh.
  • rectus femoris – this muscle is located on top of the thigh between the vastus medialis and vastus lateralis. This muscle is used to flex the thigh and is the only quadriceps muscle that can also flex the hip.

Each of the three vastus muscles originates on the femur bone and attaches to the patella (kneecap). The rectus femoris partially covers the 3 vastus muscles and also attaches to the kneecap.  The rectus femoris also inserts into the hip bone unlike the 3 vastus muscles.

In order to achieve strong and attractive looking legs, you should pay special attention to the vastus lateralis and vastus intermedius. When you focus on these two quadriceps muscles while training, you are essentially developing the outer portion of your thighs.  This is also helpful in preventing your knees from turning inward while squatting.

The exercises that best work the rectus femoris are lunges, curtsy lunges, squats, leg press and step ups.  Adding weight to the lunges and steps ups is a good idea once you are comfortable doing these exercises with body weight.  When performing step ups, keep in mind that stepping closer to the bench will activate the quadriceps more while stepping further from the bench will activate the glutes and hamstrings more.

The best way to target the vastus medialis is to perform wall sits while squeezing a ball between the knees.  It is important to work on strengthening this muscle to help with knee stabilization.  Other exercises that target this muscle are lunges and leg extensions.

It is important to do a wide range of exercises when training your quads in order to fully engage the four muscles.  Plyometric exercises are another way to activate and strengthen your quads muscles. Plyos that I suggest you incorporate at least weekly include but are not limited to squat jumps, box jumps, and lateral hops.

To better understand your quads, please respond on our facebook page with questions.