With more meat than a deli counter, and tricked out with vertical ravines and horizontal etchings, quadriceps can be showstoppers. Unfortunately, most bodybuilders never maximize their quads, because they are forever shortchanging their leg workouts. This month, we’ll examine the most frequent quad-training blunders and lay out a course of action for correcting each so that the time spent at the squat rack and leg press earns you an A in leg gain.
#1 Incorrectly targeting areas
Here’s a prevalent myth: to focus more on your quads and less on your glutes during Smith machine or hack squats, move your feet further forward. In fact, the opposite is true. Likewise, many believe that a wide stance will work outer quads and a narrow stance hits more of the inner area–wrong again. The fact is that even many experienced bodybuilders simply do not know how to best target the four quadriceps muscles (the vast lateral, rectus femoris, vastus intermedium, and vast medial) and the various muscles of the upper, inner thighs.
- Point your toes in to work the outer quads (vast lateral) more; point them out to work the inner quads (vast medial) more.
- Keep your feet under your hips during exercises, such as Smith machine squats, to target the quads more and glutes less.
- Taking a narrow stance will focus more on the outer quads; taking a wide stance (and pointing your toes out) will focus more on the muscles of the inner thighs.
# 2 Using truncated range of motion
You see it in every gym. Guys load up the leg press for–at best–half reps, bending their knees only far enough to keep the weight moving. That same abbreviated bending occurs at squat racks, hack squat machines and often even for leg extensions. Whenever a bodybuilder trains quads, the odds are that he will go through the motion of not going through the whole motion; primarily because doing leg exercises for sets of full reps is hard and doing half reps allows heavier training–providing the illusion of training harder–so quads get “short repped” and thus shortchanged. By limiting the length of movements, you’re limiting your growth.
- Each rep of most sets of squats should descend to where your quads are parallel to the floor or platform, if not deeper. The exception to this rule is when doing half squats to focus more on the medial, which research shows are effective.
- Any form of leg press should descend at least until your quads are parallel to the foot platform. In a 45-degree leg press, your knees should brush your chest without your glutes coming up off of the leg press seat, which would place a lot of stress on your lower back.
- Squats or leg presses should briefly lockout, or stop just short of lockout, at the top.
- When performing leg extensions, go from a full stretch (calf perpendicular to thigh) to a full contraction, wherein you briefly lock out your knees and flex your thighs.
- Lunges, thigh addictions, and any other leg exercise should have a full stretch and contraction.
- You may wish to extend sets of some machine leg exercises via partials, but do this only after reaching failure with full-range reps.
# 3 Going too heavy
This mistake almost always travels in concert with the one that precedes it, since going too heavy leads to truncated reps and truncated reps allow you to go too heavy. This is especially true of leg presses because it’s very likely that you can use more metal with this exercise than any other. This stokes your ego, and because the guy before you used 800 for half reps instead of 500 for full reps, you want to crank out those 800-pound partials, too. What’s more, even if you’re squatting deep in the hole, you may pyramid up to singles and doubles just to slap on as many plates as possible each workout, thus feeding your pride, but not building much–if any–muscle.
- Do full-range movements (see mistake #2).
- Keep the reps for most sets in the eight-to-12 range.
- Focus on your muscles, not on the weight.
#4 Squatting with incorrect form
Stopping far short of parallel isn’t the worst squatting offense. Many bodybuilders lean too far forward and push their hips too far backward, working their backs, hips and butts more than their quads. What’s worse, this could potentially strain your spinal erectors. If you’re going to do barbell squats wrong, it’s best not to do them. A better option is to practice the correct form of this invaluable exercise until you squat right every time.
- Generally, when you take a stance that’s beyond shoulder width, it’s best to do so with your toes angled slightly outward, but find the stance that lets you remain as upright as possible. Often, taller bodybuilders need a wider stance.
- Overemphasize the arch in your lower back.
- Look straight ahead throughout each rep.
- As you drop down, keep your butt over your heels, as if you’re going to sit down on a chair.
- Driving out of the hole, move your hips before you move your knees.
- Practice proper upright form by sitting to (butt just touching) and rising from a bench, chair or box set at parallel. Use no weight or a light weight until you master this.
- Consider starting with Smith machine squats until you master the form, then move on to free-weight squats.
#5 Failing at failure
Leg training is a bitch. Pushing sets of such exercises as front squats, leg presses and walking lunges to their max will feel like someone is firing a blowtorch at your thighs, and most bodybuilders don’t stay under the blowtorch long enough. You might regularly superset biceps and triceps exercises, do force reps when bench pressing and drop sets during side laterals, but it’s less likely that you apply the same intensity to your leg workouts–simply because of the pain quotient. As we’ve already explained, bodybuilders frequently go too heavy (with truncated reps) on the leg basics. Low-rep training is the easy way out.
Max out on five reps of the leg press and max out on 15 reps, and there’s little doubt that pushing yourself to the limit (with a lighter weight) for 15 will bring on greater torment. Immediately follow those 15 reps with another 15 of hack squats or lunges, and you’ll start to understand maximum leg-day intensity.
- Use reps in the 10-15 range to boost intensity.
- On occasion, use intensifying techniques like partials, supersets, and rest-pause to push sets beyond full-rep failure.
- Accept pain as a necessary component of full-bore quad workouts
- Position your feet to target different quad areas.
- Make each rep a full rep. When squatting or leg pressing, this means bending your legs until your thighs are at least perpendicular to your calves.
- Generally, keep your reps in the eight-to-12 range.
- Practice proper squat form.
- Push sets to failure and sometimes beyond.