Most people spend a great deal of time using their legs. Whether your emphasis is athletic, recreational, leisure-time physical activity, or necessity, strong legs are important for almost everybody.
Stronger legs can help improve muscular endurance for when you take the stairs instead of the elevator, or when your kids want to be picked up (lift with your legs, not your back!). Smart exercise techniques can improve proprioception (your body’s spatial awareness) and balance.
With the right training routine, power, speed and agility can also be improved. And hey, let’s be honest, a few aesthetic improvements along the way never hurt anybody.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
Everyone has different training goals, but for men, there is generally a greater emphasis on upper body physique, whereas women tend to emphasize stronger, toned legs.
I like a good bench press session just as much as the next guy, but I spend a lot more time walking on my legs than my hands, making leg exercises more relevant for function, especially because I’m a runner. So regardless of your preferences, don’t neglect your legs. You don’t want to miss out on the functional benefits of stronger legs.
Of course, every true fitness enthusiast knows that overdeveloping an isolated body part can lead to imbalances, which can potentially progress to dysfunction, or injury.
So smart leg exercises are ones that are complex movements focused on movement patterns, not necessarily isolated muscle groups. Even though the exercises listed in this article target the quads, they don’t isolate them. Instead, they challenge the body in ways that it is meant to move, namely using deep squat and lunge patterns.
Smart Quad Exercises
These exercises will be multi-joint, meaning that the smartest exercise techniques for developing the legs are going to focus on simultaneous movement of the ankles, knees and hips.
I recommend free weights because they force the stabilizer muscles to engage more through a dynamic range of motion, which means a more efficient workout, translating well to real-world tasks.
If you consider yourself a beginning lifter, feel free to start off with light weight, or do some of these exercise techniques using only body weight. Alternatively, many fitness facilities offer machines that isolate specific muscles (i.e. leg extension machine), but can lay a firm foundation before progressing to more complex movements.
For experienced lifters try adding squat cleans, or the low-speed strength version, front squat, as exercise techniques to light up the quads. Squat thrusters are another popular exercise that can be a good transition between front squat and squat clean.
Squat thrusters start out in a front squat position, but they are a powerful movement that finishes with the barbell in the overhead position. Another exercise technique for stronger legs is weighted box steps.
Grab some weight in both hands, or rack a bar like you would a back squat, and step up onto a box one leg at a time. Each of these exercises are smart techniques for stronger quads, but they do require some prerequisite skills, which can be developed using intermediate exercise techniques.
Intermediate lifters will find dynamic lunges a useful addition. An alternative to dynamic lunges could be to slow down the movement, and add some weight. With weights in both hands, simply perform a walking lunge.
Squat jumps are another simple, yet high intensity exercise technique for building killer quads. The smartest way to perform this quad exercise is to squat down as deep as you can in the bottom position before exploding back up. Be sure to keep your core engaged and your back straight at all times.
A medicine ball squat toss is another great way to light up the quads while simultaneously engaging your core. Hold the med ball with both hands against your chest and go into your deep squat.
Extend your ankles, knees and hips to bring yourself back up to full standing posture while you propel the med ball towards your partner, or a wall.
Place your feet wider than shoulder width and point your toes outwards. If you have access to an exercise ball, doing wall squats is a smart quad exercise technique that has low complexity, and is low impact.
Place the ball between your back and a wall and lower yourself down into the squat position, then repeat. Make sure to keep your knees behind your toes.
General recommendations for strength training are to workout 2-3 nonconsecutive days of the week. A smart general principle to consider is that the relationship between load and volume is inverse.
In other words, the more weight you use, the fewer times you should lift that weight. For the advanced lifters, try out 3-5 sets of 5 reps to build high end strength and power for your quads.
A more moderate load can be used for intermediate exercise techniques to build basic strength. 2-3 sets of 6-8 reps is a good starting point. This type of exercise is great for increasing strength while toning your quads.
For beginners, the focus should be on muscular endurance and proper technique. Try doing 2-3 sets of 12+ reps. What I tell my clients is to always “leave one in the tank”. Regardless of your weight, your final rep should be difficult, but don’t let your form break down; reserving some effort will help your technique to remain flawless.
After doing many of these recommended exercises, I actually had a female client request that we stop doing legs! The quad exercise techniques I was using with her were working and she was uncomfortable with the increased tone, and was afraid of getting too “bulky”.
Typically women won’t increase muscle mass much, but as your quads get stronger, the muscular tone changes the shape of your legs. Add some fat burning cardio to your routine, and you’ll really be happy with the results!
Guys can get excited about the dreaded leg day too. The men’s lacrosse team I help coach has seen some great gains this past off-season, which is motivation for on-field performance. Adding these smart quad exercise techniques to your routine will help you feel better, move better, and even look better.