The quadriceps or thigh muscle group is the strongest in the body and therefore needs to be worked hard with relatively heavy weights to be stimulated to grow. Big weights = big legs.
I say relatively heavy because 1 persons idea of heavy may not be someone else’s. As long as the weight you use for your quadriceps growth is heavy by your standards they should grow.
A good quality weight lifting belt is strongly recommended whilst performing most leg exercises due to the heavy weights being used and the position of the bar in some exercises.
A good leg workout should concentrate on the 3 main area’s of the legs. Front thigh (quads), rear thigh (hams) and calves. All 3 parts must be trained to have an over-all balanced shape to your legs. Do not neglect 1 part in preference to another.
Exercises For The Quads
We put the dead lift exercise in the quads section, however it is one of the power exercises that will work many parts of the body not just the quads. Due to the complex movement of the dead lift and sometimes the enormous weights being lifted it will actually work the traps, shoulders, lower back, arms, grip strength as well as the legs.
Starting with a bar-bell on the floor, using a overhand grip around shoulder width or slightly wider, move as close to the bar as possible, crouch down bringing your hips low, keep your back and arms straight and use your leg strength to lift the bar in one movement untill your legs are fully straight and your back is upright. Lower to starting position using your leg strength whilst maintaining a straight back.
Sometimes an alternate grip is used with 1 hand overhand grip and the other hand underhand grip. Use whichever one gives you the most power. Wrist straps can be beneficial when you are using heavy weights. Due to the immense strain on the lower back when performing this exercise it is strongly recommended you use a weightlifting belt and start with low weights and build up over time as your lower back strength develops.
This is another power exercise that will work other parts of the body at the same time. Start with a bar-bell on a rack or stands around the height of your chest. Duck underneath the bar and position yourself so that the bar is resting comfortably across your rear delts and traps.
Lift the bar away from the stands and position your feet just a little wider than hip width with your toes pointing out slightly.
Take a big breath in and then squat down by bending your knees. Keep your back as straight as possible, look forward during the exercise (this will help keep your back straight).
Squat down as low as you feel comfortable at first. After a while you will get to know how low you are able to squat to avoid injury to your knees. Obviously the lower you squat the greater the range of movement is and therefore potentially better muscle gains.
At the bottom of the movement use your thigh strength to push your upper body back up to the starting position. Blow out as you are pushing up.
As the back squat, but the bar position is across the front delts and front of the neck. This exercise alters your center of gravity from the back squat and will allow you to squat a little deeper. Usually, less weight is used with the front squat but a few people are able to use the same or even more weight with this exercise.
This is a machine exercise where the weight is pushed directly upwards or on an incline of around 45′. Weights are loaded onto the machine weight bed. You lie on your back on a padded seat and bring your feet up to the foot plate. Using just your thigh muscles you then push the weight bed up, remove the safety stops and perform a full leg press by pushing the weight bed up to full leg extension and then controlling the weight bed down to full knee bend and pushing up to full leg extension again. Huge breath in on the way down and blow out on the way up.
This exercise is good for building huge thighs because a lot of weight can be used with relative safety due to the fact that the machine has built-in safety stops.
Not a very common exercise this one, but good if you are looking for something extra in your leg workout.
Stand in front of a vertical bar like the vertical support of the parallel bars for example. Place your feet either side of the vertical bar around hip width apart with your toes in line with the bar pointing forward. With a reasonably heavy dumb-bell in one hand and the other hand gripped around the vertical bar around lower chest height, squat down by bending your knees at the same time bringing them forwards towards the bar and then eventually passing them either side of the bar. Keep the arm straight that you are using to grip the bar. You are moving down in a forward arc motion and towards the bottom of the movement you will need to bring your heels up off the ground so you are just on your tip toes. The bottom of the movement is when your legs are fully bent and your hams are touching your calves. Then just using your thigh muscles and keeping your supporting arm straight push back up to starting position in the same arc motion.
This one sounds a little complicated but with a bit of practice it is a good finish off exercise to your thigh workout. It stretches out the quads, gives them a full range of movement and gives them that extra ‘burn’.
Another machine exercise. Sitting on the padded seat, facing forwards with your feet tucked under the ankle pads. Grip the sides of the seat with your hands and then bring your feet up to straighten your thighs. Feel the quads contract at the top of the movement and hold for a second to get the maximum effect from this exercise. Lower slowly to starting position. Breath in just before the effort and blow out on the way down.
This one is good for overall thigh development and can be performed with either barbell or dumb-bells.
In an open space stand with feet hip width apart, toes pointing straight forward and pick up 2 dumb-bells. Stride forward with your right foot about 2feet (60cm) and carry on the momentum forward bending your right knee into a full lunge position. When your right knee is fully bent, hold for a second and then push back up to straighten your right leg and then bring your right foot back to the starting position in line with your left foot. Repeat the movement with you left leg.
This can also be performed with a barbell across the back of your shoulders but requires a little more control of balance than using dumb-bells.
Exercises For The Ham Strings
A machine exercise. Lying face down on the machine bench, hook your ankles under the ankle pads then bend your knees to bring the machine arm with the weights on it up as far as you can go. Try to bend your knees past the 90′ point, hold for a second and then lower back to starting position in a controlled manner.
Straight Leg Dead Lift
Standing upright behind a barbell with your feet at hip width, toes pointing straight forward. Bend down to grip the barbell around shoulder width then stand back upright with the barbell resting on the front of your thighs.
Keeping your legs as straight as possible, bend at the hips to lower the bar towards the floor. Look forward as much as possible (this helps keep your back straight). Lower the bar as far as you can, you should feel your ham strings stretch. If you feel pain in your ham strings, bend your knees very slightly. The more you practice this exercise the less pain you will feel in your ham strings and the straighter you will be able to keep your legs. Then return to the starting position and repeat for the required amount of reps.
Use relatively light weights for this exercise at first, until your ham strings are used to stretching in this way. Add more weights gradually over time.
Exercises For The Calves
Usually performed on a machine. Place the balls of your feet onto the back edge of the foot plate of the machine, tuck your thighs under the lift pads of the machine close to your knees. Then raise your heels as high as possible by pushing off from your toes on the foot plate. Remove the safety stop and then lower your heels as low as possible beyond the foot plate. Hold for a second and then push up again so that your heels lift as high as possible and then hold that position for a second. Repeat for the required amount of reps.
Stand with your heels on a sturdy block around 4″ (10cm) deep with your toes hanging over the edge of the block. Lean forward slightly, supporting yourself against a wall or similar. Lower your toes to touch the floor and then raise them again as high as possible. You should feel a slight burn in the front of your shin.
This exercise doesn’t really build muscle but in does increase tendon strength and flexibility around the ankle area therefore helping with other related exercises.