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Quadriceps Anatomy & Training

This article briefly outlines the anatomy and biomechanical role of the anterior (front) upper limb, the area known as the thigh or the quadriceps. It also discusses training of the quadriceps muscle and offers a sample regime that can be used for anyone, ranging from beginners to the advanced bodybuilder.

To Begin, Here's An Example Of A Fantastic Exercise For Quad Development!



Anatomy of the Quadriceps

First a bit of background. In anatomical terms, the leg does not refer to the area from the hip joint to the ankle joint but rather the area from the knee joint to the ankle joint. The entire area from the hip joint to the ankle joint is therefore known as the lower limb. The upper part of the lower limb is known as the thigh region while the area from the knee joint down to the ankle joint is known as the leg. The thigh is made up of three muscle compartments: the anterior (front) compartment, the posterior (back) compartment and the medial (inner) compartment. The posterior and medial compartments house the hamstring muscles and the adductor muscles respectively. This article however will focus on the anterior compartment which primarily houses the quadriceps femoris muscle group (as well as a few other muscles). The quadriceps muscle group consists of four different and quite separate muscles. These four muscles are collectively known as the quadriceps. The names of the muscles that make up the quadriceps are; Rectus Femoris, Vastus Intermedius, Vastus Lateralis and Vastus Medialis. Without going into too much detail, all of these muscles, with the exception of Rectus Femoris, originate from the top part of the femur (thigh bone), cross the knee joint and attach to the tibial tuberosity on the tibia (leg bone). Rectus Femoris also attaches here but instead of originating from the femur, it crosses the hip joint and originates from the pelvis. Thus the vastii (Vastus Intermedius, Vastus Lateralis and Vastus Medialis) only cross the knee joint whilst Rectus Femoris crosses both the knee and hip joints.

Role of the Quadriceps

As mentioned above, the anterior compartment of the thigh houses more than just the quadriceps muscle group. There are other important muscles in this compartment that play similar roles to the quadriceps and that are just as vital to the correct functioning of the lower limb as a whole. The main role of the muscles of the anterior compartment of the thigh are to cause knee extension (straighten the knee joint) and hip flexion (bringing the front part of your thigh to your stomach/chest area). These movements are vital in walking, running and jumping as well as climbing stairs, sitting down and squatting.

Quadriceps Training

Second only to calves and hamstrings, the quadriceps are one of the most neglected muscle groups, especially by those individuals just starting out in bodybuilding or weight training. This is primarily due to the focus on developing a powerful and big upper body, which often comes at the expense of lower body development. Unfortunately for individuals that take this path, the neglect is eventually easy to spot. Training your legs as a whole including your quadriceps especially takes dedication, time, patience and persistence. The muscles in your legs are greater in size than most muscles found in the upper body. As a result, when you train the muscles of your leg, it hurts!! This is a major reason why many weight lifters ignore their legs. On the upside however, leg muscles (with the exception of calves in most cases) have a great potential for hypertrophy and are often very easy to grow in the early stages, if trained adequately and correctly.

Quadricep Exercises

There are a huge number of exercises and exercise machines available that are designed to target the quadriceps muscles. The following list is a very brief account of some of the more basic but also some of the more effective exercises for targeting the quadriceps and the muscles of the legs in general:

  • Squats (the king of all leg/quadriceps exercises – lots and lots of variations in squatting technique that target varying muscle groups and stimulate different muscle fibers)
  • Leg Press (can vary the positioning of your feet/toes to activate different parts of the muscle)
  • Lunges (barbell or dumbbell lunges)
  • Leg Extensions (great exercise for isolating the quadriceps)

You will find with most leg and quadriceps exercises that there is a lot of variation in how the exercise can be performed. While this can be good in some cases, usually what works the best are the basic movements. The different techniques are in many cases very advanced and should be left to the more experienced lifters and competitive bodybuilders as they can very easily lead to injury.

Quadricep Training Reps & Sets

Everyone is different when it comes to training and bodybuilding. Some individuals find that high weight, low reps works for them while others are the opposite and find lighter weight with more reps is beneficial for muscle hypertrophy. There is no point arguing that one is better than the other as what works for one person may not work for another. In regards to legs, I have found that the best approach is to do a mixture of both high rep, moderate-low weight and low rep, heavy weight. Usually the heavy lifting, low rep range scheme is best used on the compound exercises such as squats and leg presses. On the other hand, the high reps with moderate weight technique should be used on the more accessory exercises such as the leg extension machine and dumbbell lunges.

Quadricep Training Sample Routine

Some people may disagree, however, I believe that legs should be trained on a day of their own, as opposed to being trained after an upper body muscle for example. This is largely because the thigh muscles, primarily the quadriceps, are significant in size, containing an increased number of muscle fibers compared to most upper body muscles. As a result they require a lot of stimulation, in terms of reps, sets and weight being used. As you can imagine, training the quadriceps is therefore physically and mentally taxing. If you are throwing in a few leg exercises at the end of an upper body muscle workout, then you are not pushing yourself to your full potential for growth and it is unlikely that you will see results. Furthermore, even though you have just been training an upper body muscle, fatigue will still be evident and will result in a less than satisfactory effort when training legs. This sample routine is therefore designed to be carried out on its own day. Keep in mind that this routine is only specific for quadriceps and does not include exercises for hamstrings and calves which are often also done on this training day.

  • Free weight barbell squats (5 sets, 6-8 reps)
  • Leg press (4-5 sets, 6-10 reps)
  • Dumbell Lunges (4 sets, 8-12 reps)
  • Hack Squats (4 sets, 8-12 reps)
  • Leg extensions (4 sets, 8-15 reps) – don’t need to go too heavy with these, just focus on contracting your quadriceps with each rep

Keep in mind this training program is focused on developing the quadriceps. If you are also training hamstrings and calves on the same day then you may wish to decrease the number of exercises and/or sets so that you don’t burn out too early. When training legs for the first time it is very important to use light weights. Get your form right first and from there slowly increase the weight. Also an important note when leg training is that you may need to rest between sets longer than you are accustomed to, up to five minutes in many cases. This can be hard for many people to get used to. However if you are lifting very heavy weights, especially when doing squats, it is vital you have rested adequately and prepared yourself physically and mentally for the next set.

Bodybuilders Known for their Quadriceps

The following is a list of a few bodybuilders that are known for their massive quadriceps:

  • Tom Platz
  • Jay Cutler
  • Paul Demayo
  • Branch Warren

While the shape and vascularity of these bodybuilders’ quadriceps are largely determined by genetics, there is no doubt that these guys put in a lot of effort and a lot of hours to develop their thighs to this level. Use them for inspiration! The information in this article should now be enough for you to have a basic understanding of the quadriceps muscles and their role in the human skeletal system. Furthermore, with this information you can now start training legs just as you would any other muscle group. It may be hard work but stick to it and you will see results in no time.

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