best quad-dominant exercises

8 Best Quad-Dominant Exercises You Need To Know

Your thigh muscles, also known as your quads, are some of the largest and strongest in your entire body, so building strength in them should be an important part of any workout routine.

There are plenty of quad exercises and leg exercises to choose from when it comes to gaining muscle mass, but it can be difficult to know which are the most effective.

Here, we’ll run through some of the best quad-dominant exercises to provide you with a killer leg workout and help you build a solid foundation.

1. Barbell squats

How to

  • Stand under a loaded barbell in a squat rack with your feet hip-width apart. Take the bar onto your traps and upper shoulders, with your hands on either side in an overhand grip.
  • Bend at the knees and hinge slightly at the hips to squat down until your quads are roughly parallel with the floor.
  • Drive back up through your heels and quads to return to the starting position. Repeat for 10-12 reps.

Why it works

Though you could theoretically choose any squat variation to work your quads, the classic back squat is hard to beat in terms of effectiveness. Not only does it blast your quads, but it also activates other key areas like your core muscles.

2. Leg press

How to

  • Sit in the leg press machine with your back flat against the seat. Place your feet onto the platform, keeping them flat and in the center of it. Your knees should be at a 45-degree angle. 
  • Hold onto the handles at either side of you, and push off the platform with your feet to straighten your legs, but don’t lock your knees out.
  • Lower back down to the starting position and repeat for 12-15 reps.
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Why it works

This machine allows you to use heavy weight, helping you to build monster-sized quadricep muscles. It also keeps you through a safe range of motion, meaning there’s a relatively low injury risk.

3. Front squat

How to

  • Clean a barbell up onto the fronts of your shoulders, and cross your arms underneath it to take hold of the weight. Stick your elbows out in front of you; this is the starting position.
  • The range of motion is the same as the regular back squat; bend at the knees and sink down into the squat position, then drive back up to standing.
  • Repeat for 10-12 reps.

Why it works

This is the very definition of a quad-dominant exercise, as you’re taking the weight on the front of your body, rather than the back, meaning your quads are having to work harder. 

4. Walking lunges

How to

  • Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in either hand by your side, arms straight and spine neutral. 
  • Step forward with your right foot, and bend at the knee to lower down until it’s at 90-degrees, with your back knee just above the floor.
  • Drive up through your right foot, and step forward with your left to repeat the same motion on this side.
  • Keep alternating legs for time or distance.

Why it works

Although you’re not going to be using a heavier weight than other exercises on this list, walking lunges isolate each leg at a time and keep them working for longer. The motion helps develop them into true power muscles, as you have to use them to propel yourself forward with each lunge. You can also perform these with just your body weight.

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5. Bulgarian split squats

How to

  • Stand in front of a box or bench, holding a dumbbell in either hand. Lift your left foot and place it on the bench or box behind you, keeping your right leg straight. 
  • Bend with your right knee to move down into the squat position, keeping your left foot planted on the platform.
  • Push back up to the starting position and repeat for 8 reps on the right leg, then switch legs and do another 8 reps.

Why it works

Not only is your quad working to perform the squat, but it’s also having to keep your body stable while your other leg is balanced behind you.

6. Barbell step-ups

How to

  • Stand in front of a bench or box with a loaded barbell on your back.
  • Step your right foot onto the platform, then drive up with it to bring your left foot up as well.
  • Step your left foot back down onto the floor, then your right. Repeat this movement, alternating legs with each step-up.

Why it works

Like split squats, you’re targeting one quad muscle at a time, meaning it has to work harder. You’re also forcing the muscle to drive your body into an elevated position.

7. Leg extensions

How to

  • Sit in the leg extension machine with the padded bar sitting across the front of your ankles, your knees bent.
  • Keep your back flat against the seat. Lift your feet to straighten your legs and lift the handle up.
  • Lower back down under control and repeat for 12-15 reps.
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Why it works

This machine allows you to target your quads more effectively than any other exercise. They are the only muscle working here.

8. Weighted jump squats

How to

  • Hold a pair of dumbbells by your side and stand up straight.
  • Bend at the knees and sink into the squat position, then explode upward into a jump.
  • As you land, sink straight back down into a squat and repeat for 10-12 reps.

Why it works

This move builds strength and explosiveness in your lower body, making it an extremely dynamic exercise and one that will torch your quad muscles.


If you’re looking to build strong quads (and why wouldn’t you be?) then all of these quad-dominant exercises are excellent inclusions in any workout routine. They can all be adapted to suit your needs, and they all activate your quads as the primary muscle.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I strengthen my quads with bad knees?

Make sure your knees are wrapped and supported when exercising and don’t use an excessive amount of weight when lifting. Also, use partial ranges of motion; for example with squats, don’t go as deep. This puts less strain on your knees but still works your quads. 

George Gigney

George is a Level 3 Personal Trainer and qualified Behavior Change Specialist. He has been training clients for several years and writing for over a decade, focusing on sport, wellbeing, and fitness.

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