If you want muscular legs, don't forget your quads

The quadriceps are the muscles at the front of the upper leg. In the 10 minute YouTube video above, bodybuilder and personal trainer Steve Cook demonstrates some great exercises for this muscle group. ( You can click away the pop-up windows in this video by hovering your mouse over the top right hand corner of each mini-window and click).

Watch this video carefully, you're watching a master at work. You'll see Steve demonstrate barbell squats at the squat rack (use a spotter if you go heavy). "If your central nervous system isn't taking a hit," he says, "you're doing something wrong." In short, if you want to grow your quads, you have to go heavy. But build up to it incrementally with good form at all times, or you'll get injured.

Steve Cook then moves on to the leg press, and as any good personal trainer will advise you, he demonstrates full range of movement and slow controlled reps. Next, the seated leg extension machine, which gives the best burn of all quad exercises, particularly just above the knees. Again, go slowly to avoid injury to the knee joint, and don't lock out completely at full extension.

Most people who seek a muscular physique make the mistake of neglecting their leg development, and work just on the muscles of the upper body. See how many guys in the gym wear long gym pants to conceal their skinny legs! However, neglecting your leg development leads to an unbalanced physique, and also impedes upper body development because there's nothing like heavy leg workouts to stimulate the hormones (testosterone, and human growth hormone) which enable optimum muscular development of the whole body.

The iconic bodybuilder, Arnold Schwarzenegger (who started his bodybuilding career in a gym on Romford Road, London E7 in the late 1960's) knew the importance of leg workouts. Here's what he had to say on the subject:

"I accepted the fact that leg workouts simply have to be brutal to be effective. This involves a mental effort almost as great as the physical one." (Arnold Schwarzenegger, Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding).

For sound evolutionary reasons, the leg muscles have the dual quality of great strength and great endurance, unlike the muscles of the upper body whose endurance is limited. So when you train your quads, you need to combine high reps with heavy weight in order to stimulate growth.

As I explain in more detail below, the king of quads exercises is barbell squats. There's no substitute. For maximum quad development, include front squats.

Arnie speaks with great authority when he says:

"Squats have a complicated mechanical effect on the body. As you begin the squat, the thighs bear most of the effort. The further down you go, the more stress is transferred to the hamstrings. At the bottom of the movement, the buttocks (glutes) take up a larger proportion of the strain."

Your quads straighten the leg at the knee, and flex you leg forward at the hip. You can build your quad muscles at home with bodyweight and dumbbells, without going to the gym. If you're looking for a personal trainer in London to help you achieve more muscular legs, click the link.

The quadriceps (quads for short) are the most powerful muscles of your body (gluteus maximus comes a close second), so they can withstand heavy training. As the name suggests, they comprise 4 distinct muscles:

Rectus Femoris

This is the only quad muscle to straddle the top of the femur (the upper leg bone) as its origin is at the front of the ilium (pelvic bone). It inserts into the patella (knee-cap) and the top front of the tibia (one of the bones of the lower leg). So this muscle both straightens the leg at the knee, and flexes the leg forward at the hip. A very important muscle in walking, running and kicking. It's the central muscle of the quads.

Vastus Lateralis

This muscle originates at the top of the femur (lateral side), and inserts at the patella and top front of tibia. It extends the leg at the knee. The vastus lateralis is at the outside of the front of the thigh. This gives the quad muscles a wide appearance - see the pic on the right.

Vastus Medialis

Originates at the top of the femur (medial side), and inserts at the patella and top front of tibia. It extends the leg at the knee, and is located at the inside of the front of the thigh.

Vastus Intermedius

This muscle originates at the upper 2/3 of the femur, and inserts at the patella and top front of tibia.

The most effective exercises for your Quadriceps

Barbell Squats - the king of leg exercises - make sure you use correct technique to prevent injury. Have someone to spot you from behind if you go heavy. Front squats put even more tension on your quads, and most people shy away from this exercise as it's uncomfortable to rest the barbell at the front of your shoulders (ie with the bar in front of your neck rather than behind the neck in the traditional barbell squat), so use lighter weights if necessary.

Split Squat - hold a pair of dumbbells, arms extended downwards. This is effectively a one-legged squat, with the other leg moving back and balancing you with the toes of the back leg. Don't bend the front knee more than 90 degrees, and don't let your front knee move forward of your front toes. Then return to the  start position, and squat with the other leg. Keep your upper body straight at all times, shoulders back, looking straight ahead.

Leg press machine - vary the width of your feet, wider feet targets the outer quads (vastus lateralis) and close feet target the inner quads (vastus medialis), while feet normal width apart targets the whole of the quads. It's a safer alternative to barbell squats, and you can do this exercise on your own without a spotter. Make sure your bum is firmly up against the back of the seat, and your back is in full contact with the back-rest. And perform the movement slowly and smoothly, to protect your knee joints. If you're new to this machine, use light weights to start, and make sure you're familiar with the seat adjustment, and the release/lock lever for when you start and finish each set.

Seated Leg Extension machine - be sure to execute the movement slowly and smoothly, to engage the muscles for longer, and also to protect the knee joint.

Lunges with barbell or dumbbells - lunges are an awesome exercise, not only for the quads but for the hamstrings and glutes too. Keep looking forward (and slightly up) as you lunge, keep your chest puffed out, don't round your back, and take a confident long stride so that your knee doesn't end up ahead of your front foot when you're at the deepest phase of the lunge. If you've not lunged before, I suggest you perfect your technique without any weights, and build up to 3 sets of 20 reps without weights for at least 4 workouts before you start lunging with weights.