Quad Exercises Ranked Best to Worst

Choose the right exercises to target your legs.

Explore this comprehensive ranking of quad exercises from least effective to most effective.

Your quadriceps, the formidable muscles situated at the front of your thighs, contribute significantly to various movements in your daily life and sports activities. These muscles, responsible for straightening your leg at the knee, play a crucial role in actions like walking, running, jumping, squatting, and cycling. Enhancing the appearance of your lower body and achieving overall fitness involves targeting these powerful quads.

If you’re seeking the best exercises to sculpt and strengthen your quads, Jeff Cavaliere has meticulously curated a list.

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.

Delve into Cavaliere’s ranking of 16 quad exercises, ranging from the least effective to the most effective, and pave your way to a stronger and aesthetically pleasing lower body.

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Quad Exercises Ranked Best to Worst

Are you tired of slogging through countless quad exercises, wondering which ones are truly effective? Well, you’re in luck! Today, we’re breaking down the best and worst quad exercises, so you can focus on what really matters and achieve those gains you’ve been dreaming of.

Before we dive into the rankings, let’s establish some ground rules. We’re looking for exercises that not only build overall leg strength but specifically target and maximize quad development. The criteria for our rankings include:

  1. Hypertrophy and Muscle Growth: The exercise should stimulate significant muscle growth in the quads.
  2. Overload Potential: It should be capable of being overloaded progressively in various ways.
  3. Safety: The exercise should be performed safely without risking injury.


Now, let’s start with the bottom of the barrel, the exercises that might be doing you more harm than good.

Sissy Squat

  • While it can help with patellar tendon accommodation, the risk of knee issues outweighs any potential benefits. It’s not an effective hypertrophy exercise and gets the big red X.

Smith Machine Squat

  • Forces unnatural verticality, disrupting normal biomechanics. The one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for everyone. Avoid it like the plague.


Now, let’s move on to the Better Category, where exercises are solid but not the cream of the crop.

Dumbbell Drop Squat: Great for beginners, but limited in load. The automatic form fixture makes it beneficial for those learning the ropes.

Goblet Squat

  • A good exercise, but thoracic fatigue may limit quad engagement. Limited in load but a decent option.

Heavy Resistance Bike or Hill Riding

  • High volume can drive muscle growth. Crank up the resistance for impressive quad size. Effective for athletes and those willing to push the limits.

Leg Extension

  • Effective for hypertrophy but comes with safety concerns. Not suitable for everyone, especially those with knee issues.

Better Still:

Now, let’s step into the Better Still Category, where exercises offer more benefits with added challenges.

Leg Press:

  • You should lower your feet on the platform to properly target the quads. Also, make sure you are not pushing your legs with your hands.
Leg Press MachineSource: Scott Webb / Pexels
Leg Machine

Dumbbell Step Up:

  • Functional and challenges quads effectively. Maintaining an upright posture is crucial for optimal results.

Sled Push or Pull:

  • Unconventional but effective. Absence of eccentric load allows for high volume, making it beneficial for athletes and enthusiasts.

Dumbbell Spanish Squat or TKE Split Squat:

  • Targets terminal knee extension effectively. Safer and more beneficial than traditional leg extension machines.

Almost Best:

Now, the Almost Best Category, where exercises really shine in their quad-targeting capabilities.

Hack Squat:

  • Effective quad targeting with biomechanics that favor proper squat form. Deserves a green circle for being Better Still.

Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat:

  • Effective at hitting quads without the need for back loading. Protects the back and allows for heavy loads.

High-Bar Back Squat:

  • “When you put the bar up high on your upper traps, what you get is a more vertical positioning of your body as you descend into the squat that causes the quads to be more engaged.”

Dumbbell or Barbell Reverse Lunge:

  • Targets quads with an upright posture. Offers balance and support for those with lower back issues.


And now, the pinnacle of quad training, the Best of the Best Category.

Front Squat and Belt Squat:

  • Places load more effectively on quads. High bar variation is preferred for maximizing quad engagement.
  • Front Squat places the load where it belongs, emphasizing quad engagement. For those with mobility issues, the Belt Squat offers a safe and effective alternative, mimicking natural squat positions.

As you can see, the front squats are among the best of the best for developing the quads. This is the same conclusion we at BOXROX reached in 2022 when we wrote an opinion piece regarding “what is the best exercise for quads.” After dissecting a couple of lower body exercises, we concluded the front squat is better for quads compared to our 2nd place back squat.

Related: The Best Front Squat WODs for Electrifying Gains

Now you know some of the most traditional quad exercises ranked worst to best according to Jeff Cavaliere. If you want a deeper explanation of each of the exercises and why they rank high or low in his list, simply click on the video below.

This is not the first time we reproduce a list of exercises ranked from worst to best. Check out this extensive list as well, if you are interested.

15 Biceps Exercises Ranked Worst to Best

Upper Chest Exercises Ranked from Worst to Best

22 Bodyweight Ab Exercises Ranked Worst to Best

Triceps Exercises Ranked Worst to Best

15 Back Exercises Ranked Best to Worst

22 Bodyweight Arm Exercises Ranked Worst to Best

15 Chest Exercises Ranked Worst to Best

15 Glute Exercises Ranked Worst to Best

16 Shoulder Exercises Ranked Worst to Best

If you want to go further in your knowledge regarding your lower body, check out this curated list of articles from BOXROX that we think might be useful for your goals.

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How to Keep Making Gains in the Gym as a Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced Lifter

12 Unique Exercises You Are Not Doing (But Should)

4 Legs Exercises Better for Leg Muscle Gains Without Squatting

The Insanely Effective and Brutal 100 Rep Leg Workout

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