< TRAINING INTRODUCTION > Question: I keep hearing that squats are the best exercise for developing quads, but all they seem to do for me is make my butt bigger. Am I doing something wrong?
Squats are a compound movement, and are considered by many to be the best overall exercise for leg development. But as you're learning, how you perform them depends on what body part you wish to develop. Our experts provide you with a two-pronged approach to quad development.
Using proper form is critical for getting the most from your squats. "A lot of guys have tight hamstrings, which doesn't allow them the hip motion needed to properly perform squats. In fact, I use squatting as a way to assess new clients to see how they move, to learn their limitations, and to discover which muscle groups they emphasize. I can see if they overuse their knees because they're favoring the weakness in their hips, or if their hamstrings are tight, forcing their hips to roll under as they lower their body. Based on the assessment, I develop what each individual needs."
I will offer the following general advice. "To begin, find a stance that's comfortable for you. Ideally, you want a stance that's hip-width apart, but you may not have the hamstring flexibility to perform squats in that stance. Place your feet as dose to shoulder-width distance as you can, such that, as you lower your body, you're able to keep that natural arch in your lower back. If your hips start to roll under as you squat down, then you need to take a wider stance. If you need to widen your stance, you should turn your toes outward to create alignment--keeping your feet parallel will place too much pressure on your patella. Bringing your feet out will change the emphasis on your prime movers slightly, placing more focus on your adductor and abductors. It'll also give you more balance and stability. Of course, this will begin to transfer some of the load off your quads and into your glutes, which may be what you're doing now."
To get more quad development from squatting, I recommends working more on hamstring flexibility to improve your technique and narrow your stance. "Work on seated straddle stretches, seated stretches with your legs together, and stiff-legged hanging stretches. During these stretches, emphasize your hamstrings and glutes while trying to keep that natural curve in your lower spine."
As your flexibility improves, I advises narrowing your stance closer to hip width so that you de-emphasize your glutes and put the load on your quads. "Also, lighten the weight while you're trying to improve your technique," he adds. "You'll get much greater benefits from improving your technique than you ever will from improperly lifting a heavy weight."
If you don't like squats, or if they feel uncomfortable to you, other exercise options can give you excellent quad development. "The simplest exercise is leg extensions," "If you do them properly, you feel a nice contraction and tension on the top of your legs," "Keep each rep nice and slow, with isometric stops at the top of each rep."
This means that you need to hold the weight and contract the muscle. Keeping the weight light enough so that you can control it is crucial. "Most people use too much weight and they kick to the top of the movement, then instantly release it, that drives me bananas."
The leg extension is the most basic of quad movements and will help you learn to feel how your quads work. Once you're accustomed to this feeling, you can transfer what you've learned to leg presses. "To target quads with this exercise, I have my clients place their feet about four inches apart," "This restricts the range of motion and forces you to move the weight with your quads instead of your hamstrings and glutes. It really helps build the outer sweep of your quads.
"I love hack squats, too. They're similar to leg presses, but because of the difference in the alignment between your upper and lower body, you have a different range of motion." Again, you should focus on keeping the feet fairly close together, no wider than your shoulders, to more directly target the quads.
Finally, I swears by sissy squats. Perform this movement by grasping a fixed object with one hand. Then lean back and lower your body down while simultaneously rising up on your toes until your upper thighs are almost parallel to the ground. Flex your quads as you come back to a standing position. This stance keeps your knees in perfect alignment over your toes. It's a good way to squeeze and burn your quads.
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