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Quadricep Training For Bodybuilders

Let’s face it; there is no easy way to develop awe inspiring massive quads. You ask most enthusiasts of the iron game what their most dreaded weekly session is and the most common response is legs. Irrespective of whether you welcome or shun the pain that is synonymous with gruelling leg sessions, everyone agrees, it hurts, plain and simple. If you aren’t getting that nervous apprehension, nauseating tremor and heart pounding thump before stepping up to the rack, we would suggest that you need to re-evaluate the way you are training. The quads without a doubt are the largest and most powerful muscle group within the body. A massive, fully developed, ripped to the bone, separated and striated set of quads are simply awesome. The part timers out there who are concerned only with how good they look in a bonds t-shirt won’t have a clue what were talking about. For the rest of you, who know only too well about the pain involved in nailing your quads week after week, read on: we are going to tell you everything you need to know in order to maximise your efforts.

Basic Anatomy & Physiology of the Quads

The quadriceps consists of four muscles: the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius and the vastus medialis. The rectus femoris is located at the front of the upper thigh and pelvis and it extends straight down the middle of the upper leg to the top of, and the inside of the knee. It is the only one of the four quad muscles that has it’s origin on the pelvis. It is responsible for bringing the thigh up toward the waist and for straightening the lower leg. The second muscle is the vastus lateralis. This muscle is located on the outside of the thigh and extends down to the same point as the rectus femoris. The vastus lateralis is responsible for straightening the lower leg and gives the quads that nice outer sweep when fully developed. The third muscle is the vastus intermedius. This muscle lies below the rectus femoris and between the vastus lateralis and medialis. It extends down to the same point as the rectus femoris and is responsible for straightening the lower leg. The fourth muscle is the vastus medialis. This muscle is located on the inside and lower portion of the upper leg. It extends down to the same point as the rectus femoris and is responsible for straightening the lower leg. The medialis is what gives the lower inside portion of the quad that tear drop effect when fully developed.

Advanced Anatomy & Physiology of the Quads

The quadriceps consists of four muscles, which are as follows: Rectus Femoris (rectus = straight & femoris = femur) - The rectus femoris originates on the anterior superior iliac spine and the superior margin of the acetabulum. It inserts into the patella and tibial tuberosity via the patella ligament. It is responsible for the following muscle actions: hip flexion, and knee extension. Vastus Lateralis (vastus = large & lateralis = lateral) – the vastus lateralis originates on the greater trochanter, intertrochanteric line and linea aspera and its insertion is as per the rectus femoris. Its muscle action is knee extension. Vastus Intermedius (vastus = large & intermedius = intermediate) – the vastus intermedius originates on the anterior and lateral surface of the proximal femur shaft and insertion is as per the rectus femoris. Its muscle action is knee extension. Vastus Medialis (vastus = large & medialis – medial) – the vastus medialis originates on the linea aspera and intertrochanteric line. It insertion is as per the rectus femoris and is responsible for knee extension. The following table identifies exercises for the rectus femoris and the percent (out of 100) EMG activity:

Exercise

% EMG

Safety squat

88

Leg extension (toes straight)

86

Hack squat

78

Leg press (110-degree angle)

76

Smith machine squat

60

 

In addition to EMG studies, MRI has also been used to determine how the rectus femoris responds to other exercises. The results are as follows:

  • Leg extension – to maximise the recruitment of the rectus femoris in a seated leg extension, the toes should be pointed and either turned out or in a neutral position. Additionally, because of its origin on the pelvis, the rectus femoris should be stretched, which is achieved by leaning backwards whilst seated on the machine.
  • Lunges – the rectus femoris, although being a knee joint extensor, is only recruited minimally.
  • Traditional hack squat (when the bar is secured behind the thighs) - recruits the rectus femoris maximally.
  • Back squat – with a normal or narrow stance recruits the rectus femoris moderately.
  • Front squat – where the feet are directly under the body recruits the rectus femoris moderately.
  • Machine hack squat – where the feet are forward of the body recruits the rectus femoris minimally.
  • Semi supine angled leg press – with the feet high or low recruits the rectus femoris minimally.

Furthermore, this muscle is most effectively recruited in single joint movements. Studies reveal that there is little involvement of this muscle when hip flexion is coupled with knee extension. We have been unable to source EMG data for the other three quadriceps muscles; however, MRI data is available and the results are as follows: Vastus Lateralis: Leg extensionwith the legs in a neutral position or turned slightly out, the lateralis contracts maximally. When the legs are turned in, the contribution diminishes. Free standing squats, machine hack squats and leg presses – recruitment is maximal. Vastus Medialis: Leg extension - when the legs are turned out, or in a neutral position, the medialis contracts maximally. When the legs are turned in the contribution is moderate.

  • Free standing squats – the medialis is a major contributor.
  • Machine hack squats – the medialis is used only moderately.
  • Leg presses – irrespective of foot position, the medialis contracts maximally.

Focussed Quad Training

So, what does it all mean? If you need to develop the outer sweep of your quads, focus on free standing squats, machine hack squats, leg presses and leg extensions with the legs turned out or in a neutral position. If it is the tear drop you want to develop, then we suggest using leg presses and leg extensions with the legs turned out. For overall development and maximum stimulation of all three quad muscles that originate on the femur, use a combination of squats, leg presses and leg extensions with the legs turned out. To maximally recruit the rectus femoris you should alternate traditional hack squats with leg extensions whilst leaning back in the machine. As always, do not look for examples of sets and reps in this article, detailed examples including variable manipulation for the development of muscular endurance, strength and hypertrophy will be available in later articles. This article aims primarily at helping you understand the function of the quadriceps and to identify the most effective exercises you can use to develop them.

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