by Jim Cordova

When I first began bodybuilding, I was honored to hear that people were amazed at the development of my upper body. I never got a big head mainly because such praise was offset by the painful reminder that my upper body stood atop a pair of chicken legs. And this was true, as I couldn’t even win a local contest a few years back, mainly due to a lack of muscle, shape, and separation in the quadriceps region. Thankfully, this fueled my desire to turn my lower body into a masterpiece and I believe it will eventually earn equal share of the respect and admiration of my physique. Though I haven’t quite reached that point yet, my quad development has taken a complete 180-degree turn, and throughout this four-part series, I desire to share with you how I did it.

If your goal is general fitness, you are in luck. Not only will you know how to perform the key exercises safely and effectively, but your regimen will entail only a mild form of the effort and pain required to fully maximize the size and development of the quadriceps region. While many of the advanced techniques discussed will not apply to you, I encourage you to read them, as I’m sure you will at least get a kick out of what a bodybuilder must do to stand out among the pack come stage-time.

There are many exercises that you can use for the quads. Yet, most experts agree that the best three to ensure dramatic stimulation and sound development are squats, leg presses, and extensions. Assuming sound health, one of the many variations of these three exercises should be incorporated into your regimen regardless of your fitness goals. Because the most rapid development will entail performing some form of them during every quad workout, this series will be devoted toward strategies with regard to each.

Arguably, the most rapid and effective development comes from one of the most popular exercises for the quads, and that is the free-weight barbell squat. This is an awkward movement for many and improper form will make it that much worse. One of the biggest factors that will determine if this exercise is going to benefit your quads or break your back involves the placement of the bar. Simply put, don’t place it high on the shoulders near the neck, but roll it down and let it rest near the mid-trap region. To make the movement more natural, arch your back slightly and keep your chest out…and whatever you do, don’t look down!

For most people, squatting to where the legs are parallel to the ground or just below is ideal for optimal stimulation. Don’t listen to the guy with gargantuan hamstrings, glutes, and calves if he tells you to touch your butt to the ankles! All of his muscle provides a huge cushion and, for the sake of illustration, stripping it down to average proportions would expose that his skeletal structure was actually in the vicinity of parallel. Squatting down much lower than parallel takes emphasis off of the quads and weakens their potential to generate explosive power. In addition, it puts a tremendous amount of stress on the knees and lower back, both hindering progress and increasing the risk of injury. If you have under-developed legs, your chances of experiencing these problems will triple! With regard to the leg press, the optimal depth lies just before the point where your hips begin to roll back off of the pad.

Assuming correct form, there are still many traps that you can fall into when working the quads and one of the most important to avoid is using so much weight that you are hindering progress. If you are injury free, have warmed up and stretched thoroughly, and yet you still feel pain and pressure in the hips when pressing or squatting, it is because you are using too much weight. A telltale sign that you are using too much weight on these movements is when your knees bow inward on the ascent. Aside from wreaking havoc on your knees and hips, a great deal of emphasis is being taken away from the quads and placed on surrounding bodyparts, such as the glutes. Over time, the results add up to a big butt that tapers into a pair of oddly developed thighs, with a guarantee of a walker in your future. If you ever expect to progress, you will inevitably have to drop the weight and make use of proper form.

Utilizing proper form without adequate intensity equates to wasting time. The body has a built in survival mechanism that triggers the muscles to adapt to foreign stress, such as that generated through intensive resistance training. The body strengthens itself to endure such stress by causing the muscles to become bigger, stronger, and more toned, doing so for the sole purpose of keeping you alive and healthy. As a bodybuilder seeking to maximize your potential, this means you have to work them with as much intensity as you put forth for your upper body. This is important because optimal health demands that the body maintains muscular balance. In simple terms, you can’t fully develop your upper body without doing the same for your legs.

Despite being aware of this fact, you will find that a respectable number of fitness buffs possess leg development that doesn’t quite match that of their upper bodies. Moreover, if they became familiar with every top stimulation secret known to man, I am willing to wager that this would not change. Truth be told, it isn’t a lack of knowledge that is causing this all too common weakpoint. Rather, the primary reason is because it takes an extreme level of intensity for wheels of steel, and this will entail a great deal of suffering! This is understandable, as nothing makes me second guess my bodybuilding pursuits more than the anticipation of a quad workout, except maybe after my first set of squats or leg presses! Even so, the first step toward the maximization of quadriceps development is to be willing to consistently put forth a high level of intensity. As a result of the cardiovascular system replenishing the vast amount of fiber in the quad region between sets, the utter exhaustion that you will experience is proof positive that you are doing so correctly.

In correlation to this, I have some unfortunate news that might make you think twice if your goal is to maximize the development of your quads. It is quite common that more than fifty percent of the muscle fiber in your quads (and there is a lot) will consist of slow-twitch endurance fiber. In addition to those performed in a low rep-range, you must perform frequent sets to, or near, failure at a high rep range in order to tap into this fiber and develop your quads to their fullest potential. This was made painfully obvious to me through observing the training regimens of Olympic speed skaters, who just so happen to have enormous quadriceps. That pain tripled when I began performing sets of squats, leg presses, and extensions at 15-20 reps per set…or more!

If you are willing to put equal effort into the upper and lower body, your battle toward maximizing your potential is half over. All you need is the know-how and the time to implement it. But before you set out to build a set of quads fit for the gods, you should know that we’ve only covered the basics thus far. There is much more to keep in mind if you seek to avoid injuries and make the most of your efforts. I encourage you to read the quadriceps article (Olympian Quads) in the advanced training section of this site, as they cover essential form practice and strategic principles in much more detail.