The Thunder Thighs Series continues!
We talked about the science of thigh fat, how to get rid of cellulite, now it time to specially target our problem areas.
Today, we will target the front of our thighs, the Quadriceps.
As most people have jobs that require them to sit all day, many have chronically tight quadriceps and hip flexors. This does not only lead to joint injuries but can also make your workouts inefficient. This is why most of my workouts focus on strengthening the posterior chain, the glutes and hamstrings, while passively lengthening the quadriceps and hip flexors.
However, that a muscle is tight does not mean it is strong!
Especially if you are dealing with knee-joint pain, you should strengthen your entire leg muscles: Glutes, Hamstrings, Quadriceps, Inner and Outer thighs.
I have already written a long article on muscle activation for the legs, which is actually my most popular article on this blog:
Today, I would like to share the best exercises to strengthen the Quadriceps muscle. Make sure to use these exercises along with other exercises that target your glutes and hamstrings and you will have a great workout that leads to a balanced physique and prevents injuries.
Best exercises to tone your Quads
The Box Squat is one of the first moves you should learn when you start working out. Especially if you are struggling with keeping your upper body upright, this will improve your form. Also, gluteal activation increases as you sit back and then push up from your chair or box. Make sure to push through your heels and tuck your pelvis under when you arrive at the top. Squeeze your glutes and core before continuing with the next repetition.
Lunges are one of the best exercises to shape your entire lower body. There are many different variations, which makes working out much more enjoyable too. The forward lunge targets specifically the front of our thighs but will also engage your core, glutes, hamstrings and upper body. This is a compound movement, as it activates your entire body. Thus, it will burn more calories and speed up fat loss.
- Stand up straight and activate your abs and glutes before you step forward. Push your shoulder blades back and keep your back straight.
- Now, take one step forward but don’t step out too far. You should step forward in a straight line and your knees should not cave in our out.
- Keeping your core and glutes tight, slowly lower down into a lunge. Only go as deep as you can without feeling any pain in your knees.
- Then, pushing through your front heel and activating that glute, push yourself back up and step back to the starting position. That equals one repetition.
Low heavy Step up
Step ups are one of the best exercises to shape your glutes. There is no other exercise that build single-leg strength and builds stability as this one. By using a high box, you can target more your glutes. As we want to activate the quadriceps today, we will use a lower box but use more weight. This way, you will be able to build more muscle in your thighs.
- Stand up straight in front of the box with the weights at your sides or hold one weight in front of your body at chest level. Contract your core and glutes.
- Put one leg on the box and now before you raise your body, just push your foot as hard as you can into the box.
- Now, using the force of that push, raise your body by using your front leg only. The back leg should not be utilized at all during this exercise.
- Once you are at the top of the step, thrust your hips forward and squeeze your glutes and contract your core.
- Now, slowly lower you body back down but keep your foot on the step.
- Complete all repetitions on one leg before switching to the other.
The Squat is the king of all exercises and again, a compound movement. It activates your entire body and burns major calories. The front squat specifically targets your core and quadriceps. However, if done properly, you will also feel this activate your glutes. This is an excellent exercise for anyone struggling with proper squat form. The position of the weight will practically force you to stay upright and not lean forward.
The one-legged Squat is the hardest exercise in existence. It requires full body activation and stability, as well as a strong mind-muscle connection. To protect your back, your core has to be fully activated and your glutes should be the primary muscle working to push you up from the bottom.
There are many ways to progress to this exercise. You can squat down on one leg on a chair and stand up. Also, you could slightly touch your front leg on the floor and squat down with your back leg. Another variation I like is by holding onto a chair and squatting as deep as you can.
While trying out these variations, look into the mirror and watch your lower back. I don’t recommend to squat down so deep that your lower back rounds. A pistol squat just hitting parallel is enough to work your entire leg and core. There is no need to put unnecessary pressure on your lower back.
Close stance squat
Picture by Popsugar
The same rules apply here as for the front squat. As your feet are close to each other, you will feel this much more in your inner thighs as well. Only go down as deep as you can keep a straight back. It does not matter if your thighs are parallel to the ground or not.
Leg extension machines can be found at every gym and it is easy to create a home version of this exercise too. This exercise is the single best on to isolate the quadriceps muscle and build strength. You will often see this exercise in a workout routine for people with knee arthritis too. It strengthens the entire front of the leg. Make sure to really concentrate on the muscles and touch it with your hand while extending your leg. This will improve mind-muscle connection.
Lying Leg Raise and Extension
This is another variation of the leg extension I like to include in my workouts. In addition to the quadriceps, it also engages your core heavily and your hip flexors. Make sure to press your lower back on the ground at all times and only lower your legs as far as you can hold the abdominal contraction. Just as in the sitting version, bend your knees and contract your quadriceps muscle as you extend them.
Exercise tips to increase Quadriceps activation
The following exercise techniques use many of the exercises listed above and demonstrate ways to increase muscle activation. If you try these out, you will notice that you don’t need much weight to get in a great strength training workout.
Leg Extensions Burnout: Single leg – both – single leg
This technique can be used with any exercise and is effective for muscle-building, especially if you don’t have a huge selection of weights. Fist, you will perform the desired number of repetitions on one leg. Then, you will immediately do Leg extensions with both legs, for the same number of repetitions. Lastly, switch to the other leg and complete all repetitions on this side too. That equals 1 round. Rest for 30-60 seconds and repeat as many times as you like.
Leg Extension Hold
Holding the contraction at the top will maximize metabolic stress and time under tension, two very important mechanism for muscle hypertrophy. You can add this in at the end of a set, to really burn out your muscles.
Squat variations: Hold 5 sec. at the bottom, shoot up, immediately back down
These are also called tempo squats. You are lowering down into the squat position and then hold the contraction at the bottom for 5 seconds. During those 5 seconds, I want you to contract your core and glutes as tight as you can and push your feet into the ground. Your back is flat and neither rounded, nor hyperextended. After 5 seconds, push up from the squat with power and squeeze your glutes at the top.
Pause squats are performed like regular squats but really slow. You can use a 3-2-1 tempo or even take up to 10 seconds to go down and up. This is very effective and you won’t need much weight to feel the burn.
To burn fat and build muscle, plyometric movements need to be part of your exercise routine, unless you have hip or knee-joint injuries or are a complete beginner. The movements require full body activation and you need enough strength to absorb the force of the jumps. Add these in at the end or in between strength exercises to keep your heart rate and fat burn high.
If you have been subscribed to my blog for a while, you already know this workout. I shared this workout on a page I created exclusively for my subscribers, with workouts and the meal plan and guide to weight loss.
Try this workout and if you are up for a challenge, use one of the advanced exercise techniques I explained above.
Make sure to foam roll your quadriceps the day after, as that will speed up the healing process and reduce soreness.
Did you like the workout and exercises? Please let me know my sharing and commenting below!
Next article, we will target the inner and outer thighs specifically.