The Best Quad Exercises

Man performs squat exercise
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Squats, squats and more squats. If you’re looking to strengthen the muscles on the front of your thighs, there’s really no need to look beyond squats. But it is worth varying the type of squat you do, because some are more effective and should be included in your quad workouts.

As you can probably guess from the name, there are four muscles that make up the quadriceps. “You’ve got the vastus lateralis on the outside of the thigh, the vastus medialis on the inner portion of the thigh, the rectus femoris sitting between the two and the vastus intermedius beneath this,” says Keith McNiven, founder of personal training company Right Path Fitness.

“Because these large muscles stretch from your hip to your kneecap, keeping your quads strong can help to reduce the likelihood of injury from exercises like running and walking.”

We asked McNiven for his favourite quad exercises and to stick with the quad theme, he provided and explained four squat variations that are well worth adding into your next leg workout.

Wall squat

People perform wall sit squat variation

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Stand with your back flat against a wall and your feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping your back straight, press it into the wall from your head to your hips, then lower into a squat until your knees are bent at a 90° angle. Hold for 60 seconds, then return to the top position.

Barbell hack squat

Man performs hack squat exercise in hack squat machine

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An alternative to using the hack squat machine (pictured) is the barbell hack squat. Grab a barbell and place it behind you on the floor, then stand tall with your legs shoulder-width apart. Squat down to pick up the barbell behind you using an overhand grip (with your palms facing backwards) and stand up so it’s behind your thighs. From this starting position, lower into a squat using your quads until the barbell is on the floor behind you, then rise back to standing.

Squat on toes

Man performs squat on toes to isolate the quad muscles

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This is one of the hardest of all squats to do because you’re relying purely on your quads to do the work, so this exercise is usually best reserved for those with a good level of fitness and without any pre-existing knee issues.

Grasp the squat rack with one hand, with your feet in the usual shoulder-width apart position but raising your heels so you are up on your toes. Then lower into a squat, hold it for ten seconds, then rise back to the starting position. As you improve, you can add an extra challenge by holding a weighted plate with your free hand.

Front squat

Woman performs front squat exercise with barbell

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This is another seriously challenging exercise. For the front squat you need a barbell which you can place inside a squat rack so that it is in front of you, just below shoulder height. To start, cross your arms over and grab the bar with an overhand grip so that it sits just under your shoulders with your elbows forwards and up in front of you. Unrack the barbell and take a step away from the rack to give yourself the range of motion required. Then lower into a squat, mimicking the motion of sitting on a chair. When your knees are bent at 90°, carefully push back up to the starting position.

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.