Having to actually think about a quad workout always sends chills up my spine. I guess this is why many people steer clear of this aspect of training and, instead, focus on bench press and biceps curls. I'll agree that a real quad workout is grueling and torturous, but it is the most important workout. I say this because legs are the foundation of a person's body. You can't have a well built house without a sturdy foundation. Also, I really believe that if your legs are growing, so is everything else on your body. Since I've already discussed hamstrings, I'll concentrate on quads for now (if you are not serious about lifting, you might want to try another article because this will not be for you).
I agree that quads can be very stubborn, as far as growth goes. I have always had trouble making mine grow, and I never knew why. Others are genetically gifted, having naturally big quads (such as my workout partner), and can do a half-ass workout and still get more out of it than someone of opposite status (like myself). I have always incorporated squats into my training, and I have always felt like I had been run through the cleaners after a hard leg workout. However, no matter what, I could never get substantial growth in the leg department. My legs were always sore as hell after a workout, so what was the problem?
Train to Failure...What?!
Many people do sets of shoulders or chest until absolute failure every workout, but fail to lift with this intensity for legs. Why is that? I know why, because it hurts; really bad too. But you can't be a pussy. Forced reps are the key to making your legs grow. And yes, this applies to squats also.
You need to get your legs good and warmed up before you ever step under a bar to squat. I recommend starting on a treadmill or stationary bike for at least 5-8 minutes. Go at a medium pace, enough to barely work up a sweat. Immediately after this, go and stretch for about ten minutes. Remember, you need to stretch all of the muscles in your legs and lower back, not just your quads. To complete the warm-up stage, go over to the leg extension and do about two or three sets of 20 reps, 18 reps, and/or 15 reps. You shouldn't be struggling that bad, but by the end of you last warm-up set, you should have a good pump and a good sweat working. Make sure you concentrate on keeping your back against the seat, and your hips down during the sets. Above anything else, squeeze your quads as hard as you can. If you think you're doing too much, as far as warming up is concerned, don't worry, it's necessary. Now, you're ready to get down to business.
How to Squat...the Right Way!
Squats are a difficult movement for most people, especially beginners. It seems easy, bend your legs, crouch down, and then stand up. Well, unfortunately it's not that simple. Before you even begin piling on the weight, I recommend starting at a light weight, enough to get a little bit of resistance, but not so much that you are actually straining to squat. For me, as an example, that weight is 135 pounds. It's light weight, but I can manipulate my form throughout the set and get a feel for the effects. Some tips on form are to always keep your chest out; arch your back slightly to do this. I always squeeze my shoulder blades together, look up, stick my chest out, and arch my back. This ensures that the weight stays in a straight line throughout the set, and you will be able to utilize your quads more and your lower back less. Your feet should be about shoulder width apart, maybe a little wider depending on your height. Taller people should have a little wider stance. Your goal should not be to simply get the weight up. You need to really concentrate on pushing with your quads. This means keep your knees from coming in on the way up, keep the weight on your heels, and don't ever round out your back, which is usually from using too much weight. Once you get the form down, the weight will come. The form is what will make you grow.
Hack Squat and Leg Press Tips
Another good exercise is hack squats. This is a very good exercise for hitting the front sweep of your quads and developing the tear drop. If you do it right, the upper part of your quads can get a good workout as well. I think that it is a good idea to constantly change your foot positioning every set so that you can hit all aspects of your quads. Make sure that you are always pushing with your heels, and not your toes. The key to this exercise is to make sure that the emphasis is on extending your legs, and that the force is a result of straightening your knees, not pushing from your hips. This will make all the difference in the world.
Remember to keep your back and hips pressed against the pad throughout the set. If you don't do this, you take a real risk of damaging your sciatic nerve, which will probably never completely heal, trust me. To hit the upper part of your quads, you have to really concentrate on what you're doing. As you reach the top of a repetition, try to push your heels outward from your body, like you're kicking. It doesn't take a whole lot of force to do this, so don't push so hard that your feet come out from under you because, well, you can imagine the consequences.
Leg press is a good exercise for building size. Once again, it's not about how many people you can get to stand on the leg press machine because the makers were obviously not thinking of your superhuman strength when designing this piece of equipment that only holds 50 plates on each side. It's all about how you do it. You want to bring the weight down to a point just before your hips begin to roll back and come off the pad. You don't want your hips to move so don't go past that point. When you push the weight up, once again, try to push your heels out, just like on hack squats. This will enable you to develop the upper part of your quads. It's true that once you begin to master the technique, you can load on large amounts of weight. However, always change your foot positioning, always push with your heels, and never put your arms across your chest in order to give yourself padding for your legs. If you can't handle the weight as is, don't do it.
Leg Extensions and Lunges For Growth
Leg extensions are useful as both a warming-up movement, and as an exercise to do late in the workout. Since this is more of an exercise for development, you want to be extra cautious of your form. It seems like a simple movement, but trust me, I have seen many people trash this exercise. Basically, you want to make sure that the back of the seat is at the right setting. The pad for your legs should be right at your ankles when sitting still. During the set, your feet should be at right angles to your shins, and you should be flexing your entire leg, quads to calves. How you flex is also an issue. Definitely flex by squeezing your quads, but also flex by trying to conjure an inward force in which you try to pull your feet in towards your body on the way up. Make sure that your back is pressed against the pad, and that your hips remain stationary.
Finally, lunges can never be deprived in designing a quad routine. You'd be surprised at all the people that rape this exercise and do it completely wrong. I can be put in this category, at times, as well because at the end of a quad workout, it's all I can do to walk correctly, much less lunge correctly. However, I'll have you know that a conscious effort is always made. If done correctly, the benefits of lunges is the development of a well defined outer line between quadriceps and hamstrings, and firm glutes, for all you women. First off, you want to start in an upright position, with chest out, and head up. When you lunge forward, you want to make sure that you stay tight, and lunge far enough so that you feel a stretch in your butt, but not so far that you're one step away from splitting your pants. Next, step forward with the lagging foot while extending your leading leg. I would avoid coming back to an upright position with feet together. Always make sure that you come all the way up, your weight is centered, and that your back is slightly arched with chest out. Don't drag your lagging foot; pick it up like an exaggerated step.
With these exercises, I am confident that you can hit all aspects of your quads. I can't stress enough the importance of form and intensity. Quads are by far the most mentally and physically punishing body part. However, how you handle that during the workout will determine whether you rise above the rest, or continue to mix in with the crowd.
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