6 Best Compound Quad Exercises (with Pictures!)

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
October 26, 2022

The quadriceps muscle is one of the muscles that are fairly easy to isolate, and do not require much variation to hypertrophy. However, quad isolation exercises run the risk of muscle imbalances which may cause increased stress on joints and tendons that may further lead to injury.

Compound exercises meant to target the quads also strengthen multiple other muscle groups. These exercises include but are not limited to multiple variations of squats, leg presses, box jumps, and others.

Strong quadriceps are crucial for performance and healthy mobility whether you are a strength athlete, lift weights for fun, or play a sport. It isn't difficult to build robust quads, but  aside from taking time and effort, choosing the right exercises is crucial as well.

What Are Compound Quad Exercises Good for?

Compound exercises are a type of workout that is capable of working multiple muscles in one performance. Compound quad exercises primarily target the quadriceps femoris muscle but employs other muscle groups to aid in stabilization or to complete the movement.

Strengthening the quads through compound exercises helps with knee stability and reduces the risk of knee injuries by reducing muscle imbalances brought on by improper programming of isolation exercises. 

Furthermore, making use of compound exercises to train the quads improves athletic performance as they mimic natural movements and utilize multiple muscle groups to perform a single maneuver. Also training the muscle groups that aid the quads in movement improve coordination to make everyday actions easier to do.

Quadriceps Femoris: Anatomy and Function

The quadriceps femoris muscle is one of the human body's largest and most powerful muscles. It forms the front of the thighs together with the sartorius. It is made up of four separate muscles, which are the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius.

quadricep muscles

These muscles originate from different points of the femur except for the rectus femoris which originates from the ilium of the pelvis. These four muscles converge just proximal to the knee and attach to the patella through the quadriceps tendon.

Its main function is to extend the knee, but because of the rectus femoris’ attachment to the hip, it also acts to flex the leg at the hip joint. 

Why Strengthen the Quads?

The main muscles involved in knee extension are the quadriceps femoris' four individual muscles. Hip flexion is also aided by the rectus femoris. The functional actions that involve force generation in the lower extremities, such as walking, running, leaping, and other daily tasks, are therefore aided by quad strength.

How to Strengthen the Quads?

Quadriceps workouts can aid one's training routine resulting in quads that are stronger and larger. For novices, straightforward bodyweight workouts that target the quadriceps may be sufficient, but incremental loading is necessary to affect muscle growth and boost strength.

The only way to gradually work a muscle such that it becomes stronger is through progressive overload. Exercise progression is often accomplished by increasing the weight raised, whether it be with free weights or a machine.

Resistance bands are useful in this situation since they not only create more external resistance but also maintain tension throughout the range of motion and don't depend on gravity to work the target muscles.

Compound Quads Exercises

Compound exercises provide the opportunity to engage several leg muscle groups at once which makes them excellent for increasing the size, strength, and explosiveness of the muscles of the legs. The following exercises also help with mobility and coordination which are useful in a variety of sports.

1. Barbell Front Squat

The barbell front squat is an excellent workout to target the quadriceps and multiple other muscle groups. It is basically a traditional squat that makes use of a barbell placed above the chest area right in front of the neck or in a front rack position.

front squat

To perform this, place a bar on a squat rack at about the shoulder-height level, then position the arms straight out in front to create a shelf right across the shoulders. Move forward with the feet until the barbell is placed above the shoulders. 

Then, engage the core and makes sure that the feet are shoulder-width apart. Bend the elbows back, and place the hands above the bar to lock it in place. After, walk back away from the squat rack.

Keep the back straight, elbows staying up and the core tight then squat down by bending the knees and hips, ensure that the knees are kept over the toes to maintain stability, and then come back up to an erect posture. Repeat this motion for the desired number of reps to complete a single set.

2. Leg Press

The seated leg press is a great way to target the glutes, quads, and hamstrings. This exercise is best done with a machine such as the Cybex seated leg press. Overall the machine is pretty easy to use and a couple of seat settings must be taken note of before executing the exercise. 

leg press

The most important seat setting that should be taken note of is the back pad and the adjustment of the seat distance from the footplate of the machine. The distance should be enough so that when going into position, the knees will be bent at a 90-degree angle for the starting position.

To perform, after adjusting the seat settings, take a seat on the machine and place the feet on the footplate of the machine at shoulder-width apart and have the knees bent at 90 degrees. Place the back and the head lying on the back pad of the machine to maintain a neutral spine throughout the performance. 

Extend the knees and push through using the heels of the feet. The knees should never be fully extended, just stopping the push right before the knees lock to avoid injury. Hold the position briefly then slowly come back to the starting position.

3. Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squats

The dumbbell Bulgarian split squat is a variation of the dumbbell lunges wherein the individual elevates the rear foot during the exercise. This activity focuses on the quads and glutes but also includes working other muscles such as the hamstrings, calves, and adductors, and may also engage the core muscles to maintain stability during movement.

dumbbell bulgarian split squats

The activity is carried out by positioning one leg behind and elevating it with a stool, chair, or box. The height of the object used for the hind leg must not be too high so that the balance is disrupted. The height should ideally be at the level of the knee.

To begin, keep the feet shoulder-width apart, the core muscles engaged, and the shoulders rolled back to maintain proper posture. As the front leg lunges by bending the knee, bend forward towards the waist. Then, extend the knees and hips again to finish the exercise.

4. Box Jump

The box jump is an exercise that will work the glutes, hamstrings, quads, abductors, adductors, and calves in one movement. This is an excellent exercise for strength training and creating explosive power in the lower body.

box jump

Start by standing in front of a box with a distance of about a foot. The feet should be shoulder-width apart and the toes facing forward. Slightly bend the knees to squat down and bring the arms behind the body. Use the momentum created from the quarter squat and the arms behind the body to propel the body upward. As the participant jumps, allow the arms to swing forward. 

Land on the box and slightly bend the knees to absorb the impact of landing. Step back down on the ground and then repeat the motion with the desired number of reps to complete a single set. 

5. Cyclist Squat

The cyclist squat is a variation of the traditional squat that puts more emphasis on the quadriceps rather than the hamstrings and glutes. A cyclist squat is known to be a great introduction to a proper squat pattern, this is helpful to develop the ability to execute a proper squat through a full range of motion. 

cyclist squat

To perform this, stand with the feet shoulder-width apart and the heels on an elevated position where the toes are pointing towards the ground with the use of a slant board or an improvised tool. Keep the back straight and the core engaged, then bend the knees and hips to go to a full squat position. 

Stand back up again to an erect position and repeat this motion for the desired number of repetitions to complete a single set. 

6. Pistol Squats

The pistol squat is an advanced single-leg squat variation that requires a high level of mobility, stability, and strength to perform. It engages several muscle groups including the quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and core. Because of its difficulty, it takes some time to master the pistol squat but it is well worth the time and effort.

pistol squat muscles

Start by standing with the feet hip-width apart, toes pointed forward, and holding the arms straight in front of you. Lift the right leg off the ground with the knee extended by slightly flexing at the hip.

Begin the motion by flexing the left knee as the hips are pushed backward to lower the body as far as possible; keeping the right leg off the ground at all times. Pause when the glutes are just above the ground. 

Bring the body back up to the starting position by pushing through the left leg. Repeat the maneuver until a set is completed and then switch sides.

Final Thoughts

Although quad isolation exercises are effective in achieving muscle hypertrophy, it is important to incorporate compound exercises into the quadriceps training routine. Not only do compound quad exercises help with hypertrophy, but they also help with the production of strength and power, and increase muscle gains not only for the quads but for the other muscles involved in the exercises performed as well.

References

1. Waligora AC, Johanson NA, Hirsch BE. Clinical anatomy of the quadriceps femoris and extensor apparatus of the knee. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research®. 2009 Dec;467(12):3297-306.

2. Clark DR, Lambert MI, Hunter AM. Muscle activation in the loaded free barbell squat: a brief review. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2012 Apr 1;26(4):1169-78.

3. Escamilla RF, Fleisig GS, Zheng NA, Lander JE, Barrentine SW, Andrews JR, Bergemann BW, Moorman CT. Effects of technique variations on knee biomechanics during the squat and leg press. Medicine and science in sports and exercise. 2001 Sep 1;33(9):1552-66.

4. Alkner BA, Tesch PA, Berg HE. Quadriceps EMG/force relationship in knee extension and leg press. Medicine and science in sports and exercise. 2000 Feb 1;32(2):459-63.

5. Much HA. How to Do the Bulgarian Split Squat for Leg Size, Strength, and Mobility.

6. AF KJ, Stieg JL, Tran TT, AF LE, AF JW, AF DA. Effects of depth jump vs. box jump warm-ups on vertical jump in collegiate vs. club female volleyball players. Med Sport. 2011;15(3):103-6.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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