7 Best Hamstrings and Quadriceps Exercises for Strength and Size

front squat barbell

Create Your Own Legs Workout With the Best Hamstrings and Quadriceps Exercises

When you start working out, you usually don't think much about your lower body. Most people work out to look good at the beach and impress women, let's be honest!

So why do we care more about our upper body than lower body? Well, for men, lower body has never been the most attractive part of our body and it is wrong to think that way.

Look at women, they never want to workout their upper body or at least a minimum, scared to look bulky! But hey! That's what we love guys right ? We like to see a pretty woman with good looking quads and glutes.

We should think about training legs more often! Do you think it is really attractive to have a huge thick upper body and a thin lower part? I don't think so.

That was me few years ago. I was living in Australia and the beach lifestyle is some how something that almost everybody follows over there.

You could see really shredded guys and girls walking on the beach everyday and working out.

bondi beach outdoor gym

bondi38.com.au

I remember training at this outdoor gym, pull ups, chins, dips, push ups etc. One day, I thought, why do we only train our upper body ? In fact, there were only gym equipment to train your chest, back, shoulders.

Originally my genetics aren't really great. My upper body seems to get the best results compared to my lower body.

I decided to take things further and train my lower limbs like crazy. I started doing bodyweight leg workouts like jumping squats, pistol squats, lunges etc.

I did get great results and my legs started to look stronger and leaner. On top of that, I started running hills and sprinting, which gave me bigger legs (more on that later).

You see, in my opinion, it is great to have a strong proportional body. It looks definitely more enjoyable to watch.

Even those who care about their legs usually train their quadriceps only and neglect the hamstrings or other parts like calves.Yes quads are much bigger and more visible than other muscles but ignoring them is a mistake.

You see, if you want a strong, lean and proportional body, you need to seriously train all parts of your legs.

That being said, in the following article, we are going to talk about training your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and calves.

If you read this article till the end, you will know exactly how to build strong and good looking legs.

Let's get started.

What are Quads? - Quadricep Muscle Anatomy

Best Hamstrings and Quadriceps Exercises

The quadriceps are a group of five muscles, new scientific research says.

The quadriceps rôle is to extend the knee and flex your hips. In short, when you perform quadriceps exercises, you bring the hip from an extended to a flexed position. And, on the other way, you bring the knee from a flexed position to an extension.

When your quadriceps are strong and developed, they become the « main » muscle of the legs.

As I mentioned earlier, quadriceps exercises training is not only for men. Lots of women like to work out their lower limbs.

What do you prefer honestly someone with strong and lean legs or skinny chicken legs?

skip-leg-day

What about hamstrings?

Pulled_Hamstring

However, getting muscular legs is not easy and it requires lots of commitment from you, especially if your genetics don't help – like me !

Let me show you.

How to get big quads – The most effective way of building quads muscles

huge legs

damncoolpictures.com

If you look on the internet, lots of people will have different opinions about building quads or the best way to train quadriceps.

You will find multiple ideas such as :

  • Squatting is the only way to build quads
  • You need isolation quadriceps exercise
  • High Volume high reps is the best way to get strong legs
  • Heavy lifting is the way to go
  • You should train all leg muscles at once

Etc....

Let me tell you, I tried almost every workout you can find.

In my opinion, back squat, front squat and deadlift are three of the best leg exercises to build quads and hamstrings.

When done properly, these exercises are extremely efficient. You can build leg muscle mass quite quickly.

These exercises are considered as heavy compound movements. They target multiple muscle groups at the same time including your core and back.

Heavy compound movements are the best if you are looking to build really strong quads,hamstrings and the whole leg.

I personally like to train my legs twice a week with one-day heavy compound movements and the second day a bit more volume, high repetitions. In between I will take two or three days off.

So what should you do?

If you already have a good overall base but still want to start a simple leg workout and slowly build up muscles, I will suggest to start with some high reps workout and light weight (60%-70%). For example, a german volume style (10 sets of 10 reps) will suit perfectly.

You could also mix it up with back squat, 5 sets of 10 reps and finish with deadlift for 5 sets of 10 reps. Stay around 100 reps max per workout.

Now, if you are looking to gain strength and size at the same time, I will suggest to focus on heavy free weight movements.

Make sure to always follow the rule :

The heavier you lift, the fewer reps you can do without risking overtraining. You need more recovery time when training heavy and this is particularly true with exercises like deadlift and squat.

Now, if you want to train heavy, stay around 80% to 85% of your 1RM and keep the whole workout around 60 to 70 reps max.

However, make sure you chose the right exercises and know exactly which muscle is involved. For example,a front squat targets the quad and hamstring muscles. If your next exercise is the deadlift, which targets hamstrings, make sure to take that in consideration. You will hit hamstring muscles both on the first exercise and second.

Make sure to take enough rest to allow full muscle recovery. This is the key for building quads and strong legs at the same time.

Now, that you have the basics of leg training, let's have a look at the best hamstrings and quadriceps exercises.

The Best Hamstrings and Quadriceps exercises

When you read the title above, you may think, what about the glutes?! Well, the glutes are involved in squats and deadlifts. But for thisarticle we only focus on the principal exercises. I will probably write another full article about optional exercises such as hip thrust,bulgarian split squat, sumo deadlift etc.

Right now I would like to focus on three of the best compound exercises for legs.

Oops! But wait! I need to tell you something.

If you are trying to lose fat, burn fat or trim down. Heavy compound lifts are the best for that purpose.

Also before giving the best hamstrings and quadriceps exercises, please STAY AWAY FROM THE SMITH MACHINE.

legworkoutsmith

In fact, the smith machine is probably the worst gym equipment ever. It does the opposite of moving your body naturally. Let me explain. 

The smith machine guides your body through a specific linear motion. For that reason, your body moves unnaturally which makes the smith machine the least functional equipment. So, stay away please !

The 7 most efficient hamstrings and quadriceps exercises for strength and size

1. Back Squat with barbell

When done correctly, the back squat is the most efficient leg exercise to build quads and hamstrings. It also involves other muscles such as glutes, back, chest and core.

On top of that, there is one thing you have to focus on, it is the depth of the squat. You see lots of opinions around that squat depth, buthonestly this is where you get the best results.

The perfect depth is found when your butt is slightly below the knee cap.

squat form

Here are the main guidelines for an effective squat training

  • Butt slightly below the knee cap. Try to squat side by side with a mirror. When lowering yourself down stop just when your butt passes your knee cap.
  • Head position aligned with the spine, eyes looking at the ground.
  • The chest is up, retracting your shoulders back.
  • When lowering down, your knees should slightly be in front of the toes.
  • Take a bigbreathe at the top, tighten your core, lower down and exhale when coming up.

Here is a video about how to squat properly:

2. The Front Barbell Squat

The front squat focuses on the quadriceps muscles and core. It is a great way to build quads especially if you have back or knee limitations.

Here is a video on how to front squat properly:

3. Deadlift

The deadlift targets mainly the glutes and hamstrings muscles with lower back. The deadlift is extremely beneficial exercise to build a strong posterior chain.

Let's have a look at this great video explaining how to deadlift correctly.

4. Lunges / Walking lunges

One of my favorite exercise that will target the whole leg. Hamstrings, quads, glutes and core.

5. Dumbbell step-up

Similar to the lunges with dumbbell, the step-up is performed on a step or box. It also targets the quads, hamstrings, glutes and core.

6. Leg press

This is a great way to build up your quads especially if you are a beginner and not really confident about holding a loaded barbell on your back.

The leg press targets the same muscle groups as the squat. It is beginner-friendly because of the seated position which allows better control.

7. Sprints

As I mentioned earlier in this article, I love doing sprints! On top of hitting every muscle group in your body, it is also a great way to lose fat.

Similar to high-intensity training, you sprint and then stop. It creates a fat burning effect, a process proven to burn fat up to 8 hours after training.

PRO Tip: Progressive overload is the key to your success

This means increasing load and tension over time in order to progress consistently. The easiest way to respect the progressive overload rule is to add more weight to the barbell when you squat or pick up heavier dumbbells.

For that reason, if you want to build huge legs and shredded quadriceps, your main goal is to get stronger over time.

What is a good leg workout program?

I've been trying multiple leg workouts in the past but the best results came from a split workout. What I mean is to split the front leg and back leg with two different sessions. In other terms, train your quads and hamstrings separately.

You will benefit much more by splitting your training. It will maximize the overload on each muscle and produce the best growth.

As I said previously, I like to train legs twice a week with at least 2 rest days in between. This will ensure your legs got enough rest to build proper strength and size as fast as possible.

My own leg training program is generally made of one or two compound movements with two other « optional » exercises.

If we keep a full training of 60-80 reps maximum, it will look like that.

Warm Up:

I personally like for my warm up dynamic exerciseslike : lunges and twist, jump squat or even pistol squat.

Here is a video of an excellent warm up you can use before your session.

Main:

BackSquat :

Advanced - 2 sets of 4-6 reps at +/- 80-85% of 1RM
Intermediate- 2 sets of 8-10 reps at +/- 70-75%

FrontSquat :

Advanced - 2 sets of 4-6 reps at +/- 80-85% of 1RM
Intermediate- 2 sets of 8-10 reps at +/- 70-75%

Walking lunges with dumbbells:

Advanced - 2 sets of 4-6 reps at +/- 80-85% of 1RM
Intermediate- 2 sets of 8-10 reps at +/- 70-75%

Leg Press

Advanced - 2 sets of 4-6 reps at +/- 80-85% of 1RM
Intermediate- 2 sets of 8-10 reps at +/- 70-75%

Simple Progressive Overload Principle

Ok, let's say you are on your back squat for 100kg at 6 reps and you feel it is pretty easy for you. What you need to do on your next set is to add like 2.5kg plate each side.

If you can get like 4/5 reps, this will be your weight for the next few sessions. Once you hit your 6 reps with your new weight, you can slowly move up.
The rest period between set is around 3 minutes for advanced level (4-6 reps) if you are doing the intermediate option I recommend around 1-minute rest before moving to the next set.

The Best Leg Training Equipment for Your Home Gym

We've been reviewing the best home gym equipment available today. But, if you are looking for a versatile and affordable gym equipment perfect for your leg training, I recommend you to have a look at the power rack squat cage review. You will find a detailed review of 4 of the best power racks.

I consider a power rack as the best all-in-one gym equipment, perfect for legs and upper body.

Building quads and legs in general, is not easy. You need to be consistent with your training, recovery and your diet of course, which I will cover in a different article soon.

ABOUT ALEX 

Alex is a 27-year-old  health and fitness blogger from France. Former personal trainer and strength coach, he has helped his clients build their own gym.

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