Quad Training Tips for Hypertrophy
by Dr. Mike Israetel, Co-founder and Chief Sport Scientist |
Mar 15, 2017
Here are some helpful tips for your quad training. Please note that these are averages based on my experience working with lots of clients and my own training. The recommendations here should be food for thought or places to start, not dogmatic scriptures to follow to the letter.
If you haven’t seen it yet, please check out the Training Volume Landmarks for Muscle Growth article. It discusses the theoretical and practical bases on which the upcoming recommendations are made. And if you love this info but want a bit of help in building your own workouts from the expert scientists at RP, check out the super popular Male Physique or Female Physique Templates.
About 6 sets a week seems to be the minimum for quads, but that’s for deep squats. If you start doing leg presses or leg extensions to conserve gains, your minimum set numbers will need to be higher.
The minimum effective volume for most individuals seems to be about 8 working sets a week. Much less than that is unlikely to grow anyone but the most untrained. For many individuals, even higher MEVs can be the reality, especially if they are slower twitch and come from a background of field sports or endurance training.
Most people respond best to between 12 and 18 weekly sets on average.
Most people seem to encounter serious recovery problems above 20 sets per week. Because the quads are so large and training them with best effects often requires the use of very homeostatically disruptive exercises like the squat, stronger and bigger lifters with more experience often have MRVs of lower than 20 sets. On the other hand, individuals that have plenty of training experience but are on the smaller side and aren’t lifting super heavy weights can have MRVs that exceed 20 sets on occasion.
1.5-3 times per week.
The quads are so big and so strong that they can generate a huge amount of both local and systemic fatigue when subjected to overload training. You can train your biceps hard every other day and feel just fine, but you don’t just walk away (literally) from an overloading quad workout. Some individuals who recover quickly (smaller lifters, usually) can train quads hard (for overload) as often as 3x per week, but they tend to be the exception rather than the rule. Most individuals can tolerate and greatly benefit from 2x a week quad training, but some of the biggest, strongest, and more advanced lifters can’t even do that. In case you were wondering why there’s a 1.5 up there for a frequency recommendation, that’s to denote how some of the biggest lifters can approach their quad training. One big overloading session early in the week, and then a session later in the week that just barely provides an overload (something like a MED equivalent of a single session). For example, for such lifters, they might do a total of 10 sets of squats and leg presses on Monday, and on Friday they might just do 5 sets of lighter sumo squats. This latter session prevents muscle loss and boosts muscle growth in the quads by just a bit, without adding any fatigue and allowing the lifter to heal on time for the next Monday overload.
Quads tend to grow from a diversity of loading (and thus repetition) ranges. Sets as low as 6 reps work great for more explosive, fast-twitch dominant individuals, but they are the exception rather than the rule. For most lifters, sets of 8-15 reps are nearly ideal for quads, and sets of as many as 20 reps can be done on machines because each rep doesn’t take as long to complete and the back is not a limiting factor. Quads generally respond very well to metabolite training, and that’s covered an upcoming section in this article.
Because the quads are a large and complex muscle, they likely benefit from at least 2 exercises per microcycle, and perhaps as many as 3. So if you train quads hard twice a week, one day you might do squats and the other day you might do leg presses and lunges. While quads do need quite a bit of variation even within a microcycle (and thus within a mesocycle), it’s probably best to resist the temptation to over- vary and use up 4 or more quad movements per cycle. If you used, let’s say, 5 quad moves in one micro(and thus meso) cycle, you may very well get excellent hypertrophy within that meso as you’re able to stimulate pretty much every part of that muscle. But the what do you do one or two mesos later? You might only have, what, two or three new quad movements that your body isn’t used to, stale on, and won’t respond to anymore? And if you use them, then what do you do in the one or two mesos after? Just go back to the originals? That’s a fine policy for some months, but you can’t do this sustainably for years as EVERYTHING will get stale because you’re using it too often.
A better approach is to use just two or three quad moves per meso, and then rotate 1-2 quad moves in and out with everyone or two mesos. For example, your exercise selection over several mesos could look like this:
Feet Forward Squat
As you can tell, it’s often months before an old movement is brought back into the mix, and by the time it is, the body is very much primed for new adaptations to that movement. Of course, if you limit yourself to 3 exercises per week or so, this means that you’ll only get to use 1-2 exercises per session. How the heck does that work? Well, for it to work, you have to completely abandon the “3x10” paradigm of training volume. Instead of doing 2-3 sets of a single movement, you might have to do as many as 5,6, or even more. And if you fatigue so much that the reps get super low towards the last sets, don’t be afraid to take a bit of weight off the bar (20% or so) and keep plugging along!
In addition to exercise variation, load variation within the mesocycle should also be practiced. If you train quads hard on two days, you can shoot for 8-10 reps on one of those days and 12-15 reps on another, or perhaps metabolite work on another. In either case, it’s probably best to vary rep ranges somewhat between your different quad training days of the week.
Range of Motion:
Let’s face facts. Training quads with a full range of motion SUCKS. It’s brutal, painful, and each rep seems to take forever. But if you want maximum growth, there’s no other way. This means that you should likely invest in Olympic Weightlifting shoes and control every rep ALL the way down. Squats that are done deep enough to get your butt to your calves, leg presses so deep that (with a tight lower back) your knees are just lateral to your chest, and so on. For some exercises like hack squats and leg presses, you’ll need to bring your stance in and down on the platform, and that WILL reduce how much weight you can do, but that’s just a part of the dance! Remember that stretch under load is an independent driver of hypertrophy, so when you’re wondering why the hell you’re going so deep on quad moves, just remind yourself that there’s something down there you’re after… and that something is the deep, painful tearing of quad tissue that literally causes muscle growth.
Special Metabolite Techniques:
Depending on your personality, metabolite tricks for the quads are either very fun or no fun at all. There are four basic metabolite strategies to quad training, and they all “work” in their own messed up pain-inducing ways.
Take a more isolation-type quad move and take it close to failure, and then, with no rest, move onto a more compound move and repeat. For example, put your 30RM on a leg press and crank out 25 or more reps (rest pause at the top can come in handy here). As soon as you rack the weight, jump (charitably, you’ll kind of just lumber and not jump at this point) up and do as many squats with your 20RM as you can. Now… it might only be like 8 squats, but the metabolite effect will be realer than real.
Start with, for example, 4 25’s on the hack squat. Maybe that’s your 20RM or so. Do a set, rest for a minute. Do the second set, take off one of the 25’s, repeat. 8 sets later, you’ll be struggling with 6 reps at 95lbs and that hot girl at the gym will walk in to see you at your most pathetic. But not to worry, your quads will be so pumped out of your mind, she’ll be sure to swoon. And you might even reward her for her attention by vomiting at her feet from all that lactic acid in your legs!
Take a tight band or specialized occlusion band and wrap it around each leg right at the hip crease. Then perform 4-6 sets of light weight (30RM) quad work without taking the band off between sets. And keep the rest breaks to under a minute. Ouch
Put your 30RM on the hack squat or leg press and do a set close to failure. Write down or remember how many reps that was. About a minute later repeat with another such set, again close to fail. You get to stop doing sets like this only when you hit a certain total rep number. For those just starting out, 50-60 reps should do. For the very well trained deep into their mesocycle, a sum total of 100 reps can be done. About 1 min rest between each set, by the way.
Just like with most bodyparts, your first mesocycle should be moderate weights and reps. The next mesocycle can be more of the same with perhaps slightly different rep ranges and exercises, OR it can be a higher volume block that incorporates lighter weights (closer to the 60%1RM mark) and more metabolite training. After that meso, a shorter (3-4 weeks) mesocycle of strength training (70-85%1RM) with lower volumes is likely a good idea to resensitize your muscles for more growth, at which point you repeat the process.
People will say that you don’t NEED squats to get big legs. And they do have a point. You can grow very big legs without ever squatting. But to get your BIGGEST legs, you almost certainly need to squat. So no matter what else you do for legs, squat high bar, squat strict, squat deep, and squat for reps of 8-12, and you’ll be giving yourself the biggest edge in leg growth.