The quads are one of the most painful muscle groups to train. Perhaps this is why so few people have big, strong quads! If you want to upgrade your “chicken legs” then you don’t want to miss these 7 quad workout routines for mass!
- Part 1: Post-Exhaustion Tri-sets
- Part 2: Stan Efferding’s 20 Rep Quad Routine
- Part 3: The Best VMO Superset You’ve Never Heard Of
- Part 4: The Deficit Snatch Grip Deadlift Superset From Hell
- Part 5: Mechanical Advantage Drop Sets
- Part 6: Escalating Density Training For Massive Quads
- Part 7: Milos Sarcev Style Giant Sets
- Part 8: Conclusion
Consider this article an all-you-can-eat buffet of some of the greatest quad training methods ever invented!
Not only will you learn 7 gut-busting quad workout routines for mass, but you will also learn the science behind why they are so effective.
These workouts are not designed for beginners! As a rule of thumb, I recommend you have at least 1 year of hardcore training experience under your belt before attempting these routines.
Now let’s get down to business…
Part 1: Post-Exhaustion Tri-Sets
It is no secret that I am a huge fan of using tri-sets to blast through hypertrophy training plateaus.
For the majority of trainees tri-sets can be an incredibly effective tool in your training toolbox!
The idea behind a tri-set is simple: you perform three different exercises back-to-back for the same body part with only 10 seconds rest in between each exercise.
For example, a tri-set would be set up like this:
- Perform exercise “A” for the desired number of reps
- Rest 10 seconds
- Perform exercise “B” for the desired number of reps
- Rest 10 seconds
- Perform exercise “C” for the desired number of reps
- Rest 2-3 minutes
After taking your 2-3 minute rest break you would repeat this whole cycle several more times. A good target is to complete 3-5 total rounds of a tri-set for a given body part in a given workout.
Now there is a reason the tri-set I am about to share with you is called a “post-exhaustion” tri-set.
This is because we are starting with a compound, multi-joint exercise and finishing with an isolation, single-joint exercise.
The opposite of this would be a pre-exhaustion tri-set, where you start with an isolation exercise.
The scientific literature has repeatedly shown post-exhaustion supersets and tri-sets to be superior to their pre-exhaustion counterparts.
Something to keep in mind if you ever want to design your own results-producing quadricep tri-sets!
Here is the quadriceps post-exhaustion tri-set:
- A1: Back squat (heels flat / medium stance), 3-5 x 6-8, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Leg Press (medium stance), 3-5 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Bilateral Leg Extension, 3-5 x 15-20, 1/0/1/1, 180 seconds rest
Please note: if you have trouble reading this routine, then you might want to check out my article “How To Read A Training Program!”
It should answer all of your questions 🙂
This tri-set is far more demanding than it looks. This is especially true when you consider that every set should be taken to one rep short of muscular failure!
Let’s take a look at some training videos:
Back squat (heels flat / medium stance)
Leg Press (medium stance)
Bilateral Leg Extension
I normally don’t recommend leg extensions to my readers or my online coaching clients.
The exercise places significant shearing forces on the knees and frankly there are plenty of other superior quad exercises to choose from.
However, in this tri-set, I am happy to make an exception.
The fact that the leg extension is performed immediately following two other multi-joint quad movements and the fact that the repetitions are relatively high means they will be EXTREMELY easy on your knees.
Perhaps the biggest drawback of this routine is that it is damn hard! The lactic acid buildup is simply outrageous.
I recommend you perform between 3-5 total “rounds” of this tri-set, depending on your performance during the workout.
If at any time your performance on the “A1” exercise drops by more than 20% relative to your first set then you should terminate the tri-set and move on.
For example, if you are using 300 pounds on back squats on your first tri-set, but reduce the weight to 210 pounds on your fourth tri-set, then you would NOT perform a fifth tri-set.
This is because you have already reduced the load by 20%. Doing the fifth tri-set would do more harm than good and just unnecessarily dig into your recovery reserves.
Actually, this 20% fatigue drop-off rule applies to all 9 of these routines presented here today.
Part 2: Stan Efferding’s 20 Rep Quad Routine
If there is one body part that seems to respond really well to higher rep ranges when training for hypertrophy, it is the quadriceps.
This makes a lot of sense, as muscle biopsies have shown that the quadriceps are largely Type IIA muscle fibers.
For the longest time Stan Efferding had a huge problem with adding muscle to his quads. They looked downright skinny on the bodybuilding stage next to his monstrous upper body!
It wasn’t until Stan started training with Flex Wheeler that he was finally able to bring up his thighs to match the rest of his body.
Flex Wheeler’s secret to bringing up Stan’s quads was his use of 20s.
For example, here is how you might want to structure a hamstrings / quads leg workout:
- A1: Standing hamstring curls (unilateral, feet plantarflexed / pointed in), 4 x 6-8, 90 seconds rest
- B1: Leg Press with bands (feet relatively low / narrow), 7 x 20, 2/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
- C1: Walking lunges, 4 x 20, 1/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- D1: 45 degree back extension w/ bands, 4 x 12-15, 2/0/1/2, 90 seconds rest
Here are the training videos:
Standing hamstring curls (unilateral, feet plantarflexed / pointed in)
(Just imagine Dorian’s foot was plantarflexed and pointing in the whole time!)
Leg Press with bands (feet relatively low / narrow)
45 degree back extension w/ bands
According to Stan, three of the biggest keys with making this type of routine work for you are proper weight selection, training frequency, and progression
Stan would say the key with this type of workout is to select the correct weight on the leg press with bands.
You want to pick a weight where the first couple of sets are only moderately challenging. Don’t worry, it is the cumulative effort across all seven sets that provides the massive stimulus for hypertrophy.
While the first 2 sets won’t be too bad, sets 5, 6, and 7 will be amongst the hardest of your entire life!
Make sure that you are NOT locking out your knees on the leg presses! You want to keep all the tension on your quadriceps throughout the entire set to make them work as hard as possible.
Stan was training body parts twice per week during his bodybuilding heyday. If I were you I would strongly consider the following training split to bring my quads up on this ‘20s’ routine:
- Day 1: Upper
- Day 2: Lower
- Day 3: Off
- Day 4: Upper
- Day 5: Lower
- Day 6: Off
- Day 7: Off
This 4 days per week upper / lower split is a little different from the one Stan utilized, but unless you have Stan’s super-human genetics I don’t recommend training twice per day, six days per week!
One of the advantages that Stan likes about this type of higher-rep accumulation workout is that there are so many different ways to progress!
You can increase the load, increase the number of sets, decrease the rest intervals, increase the training frequency, or any combination of the above factors!
This reminds me a lot of escalating density training where there are a multitude of different ways to progress such as increasing the density of your workout.
Bottom line: 20s are a classic training strategy for boosting quadriceps mass that will never go out of style!
Part 3: The Best VMO Superset You’ve Never Heard Of
The VMO, or Vastus Medialis Obliquus, is the “teardrop” shaped quadricep muscle located on the inside of the knee.
This muscle rarely gets the love and attention it deserves. In reality it is a true rockstar!
The VMO is the primary muscle responsible for stabilizing the knee joint. If you want to squat or deadlift big weights, run fast, jump high, or just prevent a nasty ACL injury, then training the VMO properly is a must!
In fact, the VMO is the number one lower body structural imbalance that I see with all of my first-time online coaching clients.
There is a reason I focus on this muscle so much!
While a bodybuilder may not necessarily are about building a bigger squat, they certainly do care that a well-developed VMO adds a totally new 3-dimensional look to the quads!
If you have been neglecting your VMO then I highly recommend you “pay the price” for your mistake with the following superset workout:
- A1: Front Squat (heels close / elevated), 3-5 x 4-6, 3/2/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Peterson Hack Squat, 3-5 x 12-15, 4/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Seated hamstring curl (feet plantarflexed / pointed out), 3-5 x 4-6, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- B2: Standing good morning, 3-5 x 12-15, 4/0/2/0, 180 seconds rest
I have included exercises for the hamstrings and posterior chain, but we are really going to focus on the quads portion of this workout.
Many of you reading this will not be familiar with either of the two quadricep exercises listed. I think you will find the following videos helpful.
Front squat (heels close / elevated)
Talk about a front squat!
By elevating the heels and bringing them in close to each other we are increasing the recruitment of the quadriceps muscle and especially the VMO.
Do not be afraid if your knees travel over your toes more than normal on this exercise. This is par for the course for this exercise!
Peterson hack squat
Here is John Meadows giving a perfect demonstration of a Peterson hack squat!
Notice that as John goes down into the “hole” his heels are coming up off the platform. This is exactly what we want with this exercise variation!
The heels come up and your knees shoot further forward, with all the weight coming onto the balls of your feet.
There is a very specific reason why it is so important that you go up on the balls of your feet during a Peterson Hack Squat:
Shifting the weight to the balls of the feet increases the activation of the VMO (Vastus Medialis).
For our purposes you can ignore the high-intensity techniques John performed on this exercise with the help of his training partner Tom Platz.
The heels elevated front squat and the Peterson hack squat are two AWESOME exercises for hypertrophying the VMO.
Finally let’s have a look at the two hamstrings exercises from this routine:
Seated hamstring curl (feet plantarflexed / pointed out)
Standing good morning
If you are on the fence about this routine I implore you to give it an honest try for 3-6 workouts. I am sure you will be pleasantly surprised by the results it delivers! Remember, this routine doesn’t work unless you do!
Part 4: The Deficit Snatch Grip Deadlift Superset From Hell!
I first learned about this brutal quadriceps superset from world-renowned strength coach Luke Leaman in 2010.
This superset is truly unlike anything you have ever tried before.
Luke jokingly called this the “prison rape complex.”
Why did Luke give this routine such a name?
World-renowned strength coach Charles Poliquin once remarked that if he knew he was going to prison and he didn’t want to become another man’s girlfriend then he would use the deficit snatch grip deadlift to build muscle in record time.
Here are the specifics:
- A1 Deficit snatch grip deadlift, 3-5 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 10 sec rest
- A2 Alternating drop lunge, 3-5 x 6-8 (per leg), 1/0/X/0, 180 sec rest
If this looks easy, then you would be WRONG!
If you are familiar with my previous writings then you probably already know how much I like deficit snatch grip deadlifts.
Let’s take a look at the videos:
Deficit snatch grip deadlift
In an ideal world the lifter would maintain a more vertical spinal alignment, but you get the idea.
The combination of the deficit and snatch grip basically makes this the longest range-of-motion deadlift that you can do.
It takes the best of both worlds of the squat and the deadlift and combines them into one brutal exercise!
Just as importantly, the fact that you are practically squatting down to the bar in the starting position means that you are getting some serious quadricep and even VMO stimulation.
After you complete your 6-8 reps of deadlifts you will rest 10 seconds and do 6-8 drop lunges per leg.
Alternating drop lunge
Simply use the platform you were using for the snatch grip deadlifts and proceed with your drop lunges!
The advantages of drop lunges over regular lunges is that the increased starting height means that you will be increasing the eccentric stress on your quadriceps during the exercise.
If the drop lunges with just your body weight are too easy then you can do them with added dumbbells.
All in all this superset is a great way to add size to not only your quadriceps, but your entire backside as well!
Part 5: Mechanical Advantage Drop Sets!
I have a confession to make: I absolutely LOVE using mechanical advantage drop sets with my bodybuilding clients.
This is not only because they are incredibly convenient to perform in a commercial gym (you only need to hog 1 training station at a time).
It is also because they just flat out produce results!
One of the best ways to perform a mechanical advantage drop set for the quads is to superset front squats with back squats with only 10 seconds rest in between sets.
Basically you perform 1 set of front squats, rack the weight, and then IMMEDIATELY get under the bar and walk it out in preparation for a set of back squats.
So you do a set of front squats to 1 rep shy of failure, rack the bar, walk it back out with the bar on your traps, and perform a set of back squats to 1 rep shy of failure.
You do all this without changing the weight on the bar.
The reason this works is that front squats are more mechanically demanding than back squats.
That is, you can’t use as much weight on front squats as you can on back squats.
By going from the more difficult exercise variation to the easier one, you can perform a superset without having to change the weight on the bar (hence the name mechanical advantage drop set!).
Here is a sample lower body routine you may want to try:
- A1: Front Squat, 3-5 x 4-6, 4/0/X/0, no rest
- A2: Back Squat, 3-5 x AMRAP**, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A3: Lying leg curl (Poliquin method / feet neutral)****, 3-5 x 4-6, 120 seconds rest
- B1: 90 degree back extension (barbell on back), 3 x 7-9, 2/0/1/2, 90 seconds rest
**AMRAP stands for “as many reps as possible.” So rep the weight out stopping 1 rep short of failure. You will probably get in the range of 2-4 reps here.
****The “Poliquin Method” on leg curls involves dorsiflexing (pointing your toes up towards your shins) your ankles during the concentric range and plantarflexing your ankles (pointing your toes down away from your shins) during the eccentric range.
The Poliquin Method is a great way to increase the eccentric stress on your hamstrings as your gastronomic muscle is actually helping to lift the weight during the concentric range, but not on the eccentric range!
FYI I go into more detail on the Poliquin Method for leg curls in this article.
Now let’s have a look at the videos.
Lying leg curl (Poliquin method / feet neutral)
90 degree back extension (barbell on back)
You would probably be wise to use this during an intensification phase in your overall programming.
Part 6: Escalating Density Training!
As Stan Efferding likes to point out, there are many ways to progress on a higher-rep accumulation style workout.
You can increase the weight, increase the reps, decrease the rest intervals, increase the training frequency… the possibilities are endless!
However, an often under-appreciated way to progress a workout is by increasing the density of training.
Instead of trying to increase the amount of weight you lift from workout to workout, you increase the number of sets performed in a given time period!
In effect you are increasing the “density” of your training! This is indeed a very novel way to train and can help you tap into your full potential for quadriceps hypertrophy.
While Charles Stacey was the man who brought this idea to my attention, it was Charles Poliquin who truly optimized this training method.
Charles’ version is like a hybrid of escalating density training and high-rep cluster sets training!
Here is one such “optimized” version of Charles’ escalating density training protocol:
- A1: Back squat (heels flat / narrow stance), sets of 2, 3/0/X/0, no rest
- A2: Lying hamstring curl (bilateral, feet plantar flexed / neutral), sets of 2, 3/0/X/0, no rest
- B1: Leg Press, sets of 8, 2/0/X/0, no rest
- B2: Seated BB good morning, sets of 8, 2/0/X0, no rest
- C1: Leg extension, sets of 20, 1/0/X/0, no rest
- C2: 45 degree back extension (DB held at chest), sets of 20, 1/0/X/0, no rest
This routine is probably unlike any you have ever seen before, so please take the time to read the following explanation carefully.
Here are the videos:
Back squat (heels flat / narrow stance)
Lying hamstring curl (bilateral, feet plantar flexed / neutral)
Seated BB good morning
45 degree back extension (DB held at chest)
For the “A” exercises you are going back and forth between the two exercises with no rest for a total of 30 minutes.
No, this is not a typo: 30 minutes! I suggest you use your 8-rep max on the “A” exercises the first time through the routine.
For the “B” exercises you are again going back and forth with no rest between sets. This time, however, you are performing sets of 8 for a total of 15 minutes.
The “C” exercises are similar: You go back and forth between the two “C” exercises for a total of 15 minutes performing sets of 20.
Your next time through this routine your goal is to keep the weights the same but increase the number of total sets that you perform!
Your goal is to perform at least 20 sets for each of the “C” exercises, at least 10 sets for each of the “B” exercises, and at least 10 sets for each of the “C” exercises.
This means you are performing a total of 80 sets (or more!) in a 1-hour time period! Talk about training density!
After using this training routine for 3-6 workouts (my usual recommendation before switching to another routine) you may find your work capacity dramatically increasing in addition to the size of your quads!
Part 7: Milos Sarcev Style Giant Sets
If you’re hunting an elephant then you’re going to need some heavy artillery to take it out.
No, a Boy Scouts BB-gun isn’t going to cut it.
But what about a bazooka? It’s probably overkill but I can guarantee you that bazooka will get the job done.
What does this have to do with training?
Sometimes in training your typical run-of-the-mill routines just stop working.
Despite you busting your ass in the gym your old routines just aren’t getting the job done anymore.
This can be for any number of reasons. Sometimes you aren’t using enough variety. However, other times your muscles have adapted to the level of stress you are exposing them to.
Sometimes you need to dramatically increase the amount of stress you are placing on your muscles to break through that dreaded plateau.
If this describes you, if you are stuck at a hypertrophy plateau, then Milos Sarcev style giant sets are the bazooka that you need to kick-start your progress again.
I have to warn you: giant sets require a very high pain-threshold to perform.
Out of all the training methods I have presented so far giant sets probably produce the most lactic acid.
In other words, make sure you keep a trash can nearby!
Here is the routine I have in mind for you:
- A1: Front squat (heels flat / medium), 4 x 6, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Back squat (heels flat / medium), 4 x 12, 2/1/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Walking DB lunge, 4 x 12 (each leg), 1/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A4: Alternating front step up, 4 x 12 (each leg), 1/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A5: Leg press, 4 x 12, 2/0/2/0, 180 seconds rest
That’s right: you have to do five exercises back-to-back for the quadriceps with only 10 seconds rest in between sets!
Not only that, you have to complete this giant sets workout for a total of 4 circuits!
Before you say this is ridiculous, please keep in mind this is just a warm-up for the real Milos Sarcev giant sets routine.
Milos’ workouts typically involve 10 (or more!) exercises performed back to back with NO REST between exercises!
Besides beefing up your quads, this workout is awesome for shedding some unwanted body fat as I talked about in this article.
Let’s take a look at some sample training videos:
Front squat (heels flat / medium)
Back squat (heels flat / medium)
Walking DB lunge
Alternating front step up
Make no mistake, this Milos Sarcev giant sets routine is probably the most difficult routine in this entire article!
Do you have what it takes to make it through this workout? For your own sake I sure hope so!!
Part 8: Conclusion
The quads definitely deserve the reputation as being one of the most painful muscle groups to grow.
These 9 quad workout routines for mass won’t do anything to change that reputation, as I am sure you will find out for yourself!
However, if you have the guts to complete any one of these routines, you will surely be rewarded with some new-found quadriceps size.
So what are you waiting for? Get in the gym and don’t forget your “ squat puke bucket!”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck with your strength training endeavors!
Chad Wesley Smith is one of the brightest minds in the fitness industry today. Chad has competed at the absolute highest levels in three different sports: shot put, powerlifting and strongman....
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