We don’t skip leg day at Orchard City CrossFit—we embrace it. After all, our legs carry us from point A to point B ery-damn-day. The strength and health of our quadriceps have a large part to do with that, so we must ensure that we’re doing all that we can to keep them in tip-top condition (if that means that we can’t fit into fa pair of skinny jeans anymore, bonus!!).
“Quadricep” 101 The “quadriceps” is a group of 4 independent, yet communicating muscles in the front of the thigh. These are the vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, and the rectus femoris. The vastus muscles originate on the femur (the thigh bone) and attach to your kneecap. The rectus femoris inserts on to your hip bone, but it also partially covers your vastus muscles. All 4 of these muscles help your knee joint to extend, resulting in a straight leg. Due to the rectus femoris’ attachment to the ilium (the biggest bone in the pelvis), it’s also a flexor of the hip. As such, the muscle group is so important in walking, running, jumping and squatting. But because we use them so often in daily life, they are prone to injuries like strains and tears.
Strengthening the quads
One of the best ways to ensure that the quadriceps don’t get damaged is to ensure they’re strong enough to handle whatever you throw at them during the day. Furthermore, strong quads equal a stronger squat, acceleration in sprinting, balance, power production and sex appeal. They also help to protect the knee joint (which is a very unstable joint that relies on ligaments and muscles to ward off injury). In fact, possessing weak quads significantly raises the risk of developing knee arthritis in later life. To that end, here are some of the best drills you can perform for strong quads:
Front Squats: Any type of squat will work your quadriceps, but the reason why front squats are listed asthe best variation for quad development is due to the angle of the tibiae (shin bones) and the angle of the torso. The more angled the tibia is, the more quad dominant the exercise will be. The more vertical the tibia(e) is, the more hip dominant the exercise will be. At the torso, similar rules apply. The more upright the torso is, the more quad dominant the exercise will be. The more angled the torso is, the more hip dominant the exercise will be. So, when you start to put these pieces together, it looks something like this
Angled Tibia + Upright Torso = Quad Dominant Vertical Tibia + Inclined Torso = Hip Dominant”
Since the front squat allows you to maintain a more vertical torso through the position of the barbell in the front rack, and there is more pronounced forward incline of the tibia, the greatest stress is placed on the quadriceps.
Single leg squat: aka pistol squats, are a great unilateral exercise that highlight muscular imbalances between your quads, but also help to correct them. Add in that one leg is now doing the work of two you are now adding a balance and coordination factor not seen in any 2-legged squat. Back to point #1, in the pistol squat, while your back might not be as upright compared to a front squat, your tibia is going to be much more angled putting the emphasis on the anterior chain to get up and out of that hole.
Bulgarian Split Squats: Bulgarian split squats are a great unilateral exercise that highlight muscular imbalances between your quads, but also help to correct them. The big difference between these and pistols is that we are adding stability in both feet are still in contact with a stable surface. Once again, the nature of the movement forces you to keep an ideal shin angle, placing greater emphasis on quadricep recruitment to extend the knee with each rep. The closer your front foot is to the bench or box, the greater tension is placed on the quads.
Not to be forgotten in any good Strength Program is a corresponding mobility program. Many athletes overlook how important it is to keep the quads flexible. We need them to move through a full range of motion during exercise. However, if we never stretch them they’ll become short and tight. As a result, you’ll struggle to fully extend your knee and flex your hip.
All fours quad stretch
Start on the ground on your hands and knees. Bend your right leg up and take your right hand to grab the ankle of your right foot. Hold in this position, ensuring the knee is fully flexed and that you extend your hips by thrusting them towards the floor. Hold this position for 30 seconds, and switch.
Hip Flexor stretch
Kneel with one knee on the floor and the other foot in front of you to the side. It should look like you’re in the bottom position of a lunge. Push your hips forwards, maintaining a a flat, tall back. You should feel this stretch working at the top of your thigh and front of your hip. Hold for 30-60 seconds, and switch.
Hip Flexor wall stretch
Start in the same position as you would for a regular hip flexor stretch, except this time position your back knee about eight inches away from the wall, resting your toes against the wall. Your front foot is in front of you (with the knee directly above the ankle), slightly to the side. Keep your chest up and back flat—you may need to hold on to a PVC pipe for stability. The closer you bring your back knee to the wall, the tougher the stretch becomes.