"If anyone can finish this workout the first time through clean and without faltering, I'd be down to eat my own toe," says Hannah Eden, RSP Nutrition athlete and owner of the PumpFit Club in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Not that we'd hold her to that—we'd prefer she keep all 10 of her little piggies, TYVM—but Eden has indeed created a quadriceps workout packed with such destructive force, your muscles will have no choice but to respond and grow. That is, of course, after they stop quivering like Jell-O once you've completed the session.
This workout aims for a maximum muscle pump, engorging the muscles of the upper thigh. It does so through focused work in three ranges of motion and abbreviated rest periods. You'll receive only enough rest to press onward.
"This will flood the muscles with blood, which carries all the necessary components to nudge muscle growth," says Eden. "And don't get it twisted—it may involve shorter ranges of motion, but it is a huge challenge for anyone. Forgive the oxymoron, but you'll feel so much good pain in your legs."
Second by Second
The workout consists of three rounds of action, using just two quad-and-glute-targeting exercises: banded squats and Bulgarian split squats.
For the banded squats, you'll put a band around your upper legs just above the knee. (Eden uses Mark Bell's Hip Circle bands, but there are other quality brands out there.) As Eden explains, adding a band around the top of the knee "triggers hip and glute activation, since you push out against the band."
She further explains how adding a resistance band to any workout places more stress on the targeted muscle throughout the range of the motion. This is why you get a massive pump from bands—the more stress on the muscle, the more blood pumping to it.
Beginners can go unweighted for this exercise and the one following, but more advanced lifters are free to add some light kettlebells or dumbbells in the front rack position.
Start with 30 seconds of as many good reps as possible in the bottom half of the range of motion—thighs parallel to the floor to start, then lowering your glutes downward a few inches.
"These are 'pulse' reps, so you're doing a smaller, consistent range of motion," Eden says. She warns not to use momentum on this movement if you want to see results. "It's not bouncing; it's controlled, a few inches up to thighs parallel, then a few inches down as deep as you can get without losing your balance," she says.
Use a gym clock with a second hand, a stopwatch app on your phone, or a partner who can monitor the time for you. After the 30 seconds are up, immediately switch to the upper range of motion—thighs parallel to start, then moving up to standing and back down to parallel. Continue repping in this upper range for 30 seconds. Finally, without rest, perform full range-of-motion squats for a final 30 seconds.
Now you can rest for 30 seconds—see the pattern here?—before moving right into Bulgarian split squats. Elevate your left foot back on a flat bench and assume a split squat lunge position. Place the top of your foot on the bench with the sole facing up. Do pulse reps for 30 seconds in the bottom half of the ROM, then pulse 30 seconds in the top half, followed by 30 seconds of full-range squats.
"Your front foot should be placed so that when you lower yourself, your knee doesn't track out past your toes in the bottom position," Eden instructs. "Also, keep in mind you're resting only 30 seconds at the end, after you do all three: the lower, upper, and full squats."
Following your 30-second breather, repeat the split squat on the other side, placing your right foot on the bench behind you and your left foot in front. Complete as many clean reps in 30 seconds as you can of each variation. Rest 30 seconds at the end before starting the entire circuit from the beginning. Yep, you read it right—another full round of banded squats and Bulgarians.
"You'll do the circuit three times through," Eden says. "It's very simple with just two exercises and the same 30-second upper/lower/full/rest design throughout. Once you get that down, you'll be able to power through the workout without having to stop and think about what's coming next."
Not thinking too far ahead is probably a good thing considering the pain you're about to experience.
"Oh yeah, this will hurt for a while," Eden laughs. "I haven't met anyone who could complete this without their form breaking during a set or needing to pause to gulp some air and regain some use of their quads. But this is a really efficient, fast way to develop and shape your quads and glutes without a long, complicated workout."
Most people assume a bodyweight squat is easy, but in Eden's own words, "there is so much that can go wrong." Here are some of her cues to keep your squatting form on point when performing banded squats, weighted or unweighted:
- Set your feet hip-width to shoulder-width apart. Your toes can be slightly turned out, based on your personal preference and body alignment.
- Think functional. You sit down and stand every day, so when you squat, imagine there is a chair behind you. Engage your core, retract your shoulder blades to keep your chest up, and push your hips back to tap your booty on the imaginary seat behind you. Drive up through your heels, squeezing your glutes and quads at the top of the rep, to create a straight line from your shoulders to ankles.
- Do a visual check—use a mirror if you have one—to ensure your weight is in your heels and your knees are not past your toes at the base of your squat. Keep your feet flat on the floor. Don't let your knees buckle or cave in during the set.
For Bulgarian split squats, beginners can forgo the bench and keep both feet planted on the floor. "Elevating the back foot just gives you a deeper range of motion," explains Eden.
- At the base of your rep, your front leg should form a 90-degree angle, with your knee behind your toes. Stack your knee on top of your ankle, ensuring the weight is evenly distributed in the middle of the foot.
- Keep your chest up during your reps, engaging your core to help with balance. Resist the urge to lean forward, and try to keep your back knee under your hip. Look in a mirror—your back knee, hip, and shoulders should all be in line at the bottom of the split squat.
There's no denying it—this workout is a beast. Here are three things you can do to ensure you make it to the end:
- Come in fresh. Don't try to do any other body parts or exercises before doing this workout. All you need is a simple 5-10-minute warm-up. And avoid this workout after a regular cardio session…unless you want to drag yourself back to the locker room.
- Breathe. Concentrating on breathing helps you accomplish two things: It brings in the oxygen you need to keep going, and breathing keeps you focused on something other than the uncomfortable lactic acid buildup in your quads.
- Stay hydrated. Keep water on hand, and make sure to take a couple swigs during your rest periods—especially in a hot environment or any time you're sweating profusely. Water can help ramp up energy levels and transport nutrients your body needs before and during your training session. RSP Nutrition makes a great nitric oxide pre-workout supplement for this purpose, called DyN.O.