16 Quad Exercises Ranked Worst to Best

Comprehensive guide to building stronger and bigger quadriceps.

Building impressive quads isn’t just about doing any quad exercise; it’s about choosing the right ones that maximize your efforts and minimize potential drawbacks. In this detailed guide, we’ll explore and rank popular quad exercises from worst to best, helping you make informed decisions about your workout routine. The rankings are based on specific criteria, including effectiveness, accessibility, and the potential for hypertrophy.

And the person who came up with the criteria and ultimately judged 16 quad exercises ranked worst to best was none other than Jeff Cavaliere.

Jeff Cavaliere is a fitness trainer, physical therapist, and the creator of the popular fitness YouTube channel called ATHLEAN-X. He is known for his expertise in strength training, conditioning, and sports medicine. Jeff Cavaliere served as the Head Physical Therapist and Assistant Strength Coach for the New York Mets in Major League Baseball from 2006 to 2009.

16 Quad Exercises Ranked Worst to Best

Starting from worst quad exercises all the way to the top, here are Cavaliere’s quad exercises ranked.

Worst Quad Exercises:

  • Sissy Squat
  • Smith Machine Squats

While the sissy squat strengthens knee tendons, its lack of overload limits its effectiveness for quad hypertrophy. The Smith machine squat, considered the worst version of squats, restricts natural biomechanics, making it less favourable for optimal quad development.

Better Quad Exercises:

  • Drop Squats
  • Goblet Squats
  • Heavy Resistance Bike (Hill Riding)
  • Leg Extensions

Drop squats aid in learning squat mechanics but lack sufficient loading capacity. Goblet squats offer metabolic benefits but are constrained by weight availability and thoracic mobility. Heavy resistance biking and leg extensions present unique challenges, with the latter potentially exacerbating knee issues.

Better Still Quad Exercises:

  • Leg Press (Feet Low)
  • Dumbbell Step Ups
  • Sled Push/Pull
  • Dumbbell Spanish Squats/TKE Split Squats

Leg press allows heavy lifting but demands full range of motion. DB step-ups focus on eccentric quad development but pose challenges with weight and balance. Sled activities offer eccentric-free growth for athletes, requiring adequate equipment and space. Spanish squats and TKE split squats replace leg extensions while engaging assisting muscles.

Leg Press MachineSource: Scott Webb / Pexels
Leg Press

Read More: Good Leg Workouts at Home for Stronger Quads, Hamstrings and Glutes

Almost Best Quad Exercises:

  • Hack Squats
  • Bulgarian Split Squats
  • High Bar Back Squats
  • Dumbbell/Barbell Reverse Lunge

Hack squats improve on Smith machine squats, enabling a more natural range of motion. Bulgarian split squats target one leg, addressing imbalances with heavy loads. High bar back squats, a classic leg exercise, effectively overload but might not solely target quads. Reverse lunges provide overload benefits and are knee-friendly.

Best Quad Exercises:

  • Front Squats
  • Belt Squats

Front squats top the list, offering unmatched quad targeting and overload potential. Belt squats, often overlooked, belong in the best category, providing an excellent alternative for quad development when accessible.

Source: Andrea Piaquadio on Pexels
Front squats

In the end, selecting the right quad exercises is crucial for achieving your fitness goals. By understanding the rankings and criteria outlined in this guide, you can tailor your workout routine to effectively build stronger and bigger quads. Remember, individual preferences and limitations should also guide your choices, ensuring a well-rounded and sustainable approach to quad development.

Watch Cavaliere’s video below where he ranked all 17 quad exercises worst to best and with a deeper analysis and explanation on each of them.

The Insanely Effective and Brutal 100 Rep Leg Workout

Leg Press vs Squats For Lower Body Gains – Which is Best?

The reluctance or tendency of many people to disregard leg training often comes from a combination of factors. Firstly, there exists a widespread aesthetic focus on the upper body, particularly the chest, arms, and shoulders, which are more visible muscles.

A well-defined upper physique often leads people to prioritise workouts that target these muscle groups, neglecting the lower body. Additionally, lower body workouts, especially compound movements like squats and deadlifts, can be physically demanding and mentally challenging. Many individuals may find leg workouts more strenuous, leading to a preference for exercises that feel less exhausting or uncomfortable.

Now take that last paragraph into consideration, especially if you want to lose body fat. If working your lower body is more strenuous, it means you are recruiting more muscle mass and burning more calories for any given exercise. Not only you will be burning more calories for a specific exercise, but you will also be putting more muscle under tension – breaking and, eventually, repairing muscle fibre tissue.

This is the basic principle of building muscle. The more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism is. This, in turn, means your body will be burning more calories simply by keeping it functioning. More muscles, more calories burnt without the necessity of actually exercising, which ultimately leads to a leaner physique.

How Hard Should You Train to Build Muscle Hamstrings and Glute Exercises Ranked Benefits of the Barbell Back Squat Effective 100 Rep Back Workout

Moreover, there is a misconception that training legs is not as crucial for achieving an aesthetically pleasing physique. Some believe that a well-built upper body is sufficient for a muscular appearance, overlooking the fact that balanced muscle development enhances overall symmetry and contributes to a healthier, injury-resistant body.

This misconception, coupled with the discomfort associated with leg workouts and the societal emphasis on visible muscles, contributes to the common phenomenon of leg training being sidelined or given less priority in fitness routines. Overcoming these barriers requires a shift in mindset, recognising the importance of comprehensive strength training and understanding that neglecting the lower body can hinder overall fitness and aesthetic goals in the long run.

5 Reasons to Train Your Quads Regularly

  1. Enhanced Leg Strength: Quad training contributes significantly to overall leg strength, enabling you to perform daily activities with greater ease and reducing the risk of injuries related to weak lower body muscles.
  2. Improved Athletic Performance: Strong quads are essential for various sports and physical activities, including running, jumping, and agility movements. Training your quads enhances your athletic performance, allowing you to excel in a wide range of activities.
  3. Balanced Muscle Development: Focusing on quad training ensures balanced muscle development in the lower body, preventing muscle imbalances that can lead to poor posture and joint issues. Well-developed quads contribute to an aesthetically pleasing and proportionate physique.
  4. Metabolism Boost: Compound exercises targeting the quads, such as squats and lunges, engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously. This not only aids in building lean muscle mass but also boosts metabolism, facilitating more efficient calorie burning and potential weight management.
  5. Functional Fitness: Strong quads are vital for maintaining functional fitness, enabling you to perform daily tasks like climbing stairs, getting up from a seated position, and walking with ease. Quad training supports overall mobility and independence in daily life.

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