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Quad Focused Squat: Clever Tips and Best Variations

February 07, 2024

Quad Focused Squat By Robor Fitness

There's no question about it – the squat reigns supreme as a powerhouse exercise for building lower body strength and size. It is more than just a workout staple for bodybuilders and athletes; it's a full lower-body sculptor with a spotlight on the quads and glutes. But here's the thing: it doesn’t have to be an equal effort between these muscle groups.

We can target the quads more intensely than the glutes by fine-tuning our form and choosing variations that lean toward the quads. Similarly, we can also adjust our form in such a way that gives the glutes preferential treatment, but that's a story for another day (check out our article on squats for glutes, not quads).

Today, our focus is razor-sharp on the quads. We're here to guide you through the best techniques along with quad-focused squat variations to build and develop those key muscles. Get ready to transform your leg workouts with these leg-building strategies!


Quad Anatomy and Role

Before we get into the juicy details of quad-focused squats, let's unpack the role and anatomy of the quads. Understanding the mechanics behind this muscle group is crucial. It helps us grasp why certain variations excel in quad growth and guides us in selecting the right exercises for our leg-building routines.

Quadriceps anatomy

The quads, as their name suggests, consist of four muscles:

  1. Vastus Medialis
  2. Vastus Lateralis
  3. Vastus Intermedius
  4. Rectus Femoris

All four muscles originate at the hip and cross the knee joint, collaborating to perform a leg extension, i.e., straightening the leg. The rectus femoris stands out in this group. Not only does it cross the knee joint, but it also spans the hip joint, aiding in hip flexion. However, this movement isn't a major player in squat movements, so we don’t need to focus on it in today's article.

Knee extension is the key movement for developing the quadriceps. By maximizing the range of leg extension under load, we target the growth and development of the quads effectively. Let's remember this as we explore the best squat variations for quad growth.


Quad-Focused Squat Variations

If we dissect the mechanics of a squat, we'll notice two simultaneous movements: knee extension and hip extension. Picture this: at the squat's lowest point, both the knees and hip joints are deeply flexed. It's then up to the quads to extend the knee joint, while the glutes (alongside adductors) work to extend the hip joint, propelling us back to the upright starting position.

The magic lies in how we can shift this balance. We can transfer the emphasis from the glutes to the quads with smart form adjustments and choosing the best quad-biased variations. And that's precisely what we're about to delve into.

Here are the 7 best quad-focused squat variations that will transform your leg workouts:


Heel Elevated Squat

Everyone is uniquely constructed, with varied limb lengths and mobility levels. This means while some can perform 'ass to grass' squats with perfect form, others may find their form breaking down once they hit parallel. If we don't descend deeply into our squat, we miss out on the significant knee flexion needed to engage the quads fully.

For those with longer femurs, achieving a deep squat can be particularly challenging. Let's break down why.

Benefits of a squat wedge to target the quadriceps

When performing a traditional flat-footed squat, as depicted by the person on the right in the illustration above, the angles at the knee, hip, and ankle joints decrease as they lower into the squat. Our ankle's range of motion typically hits its limit around the point where the thigh is parallel to the floor due to mobility restrictions.

With the ankle joint's mobility maxed out, further descent causes both the hip and knee angles to decrease to maintain the body's center of gravity. This balancing act continues until we're so bent at the hips that we can't go any further without losing balance, which often occurs just below parallel, stopping us from achieving maximum knee flexion.

Enter the squat wedge. This clever tool allows the knees to track further over the toes, providing greater knee flexion as the ankle's mobility is no longer the limiting factor. Interestingly, the ankle angle remains the same between the traditional and the heel-elevated squat.

The squat wedge facilitates maximal knee flexion while minimizing hip flexion — the golden ticket in our quest to grow the quads. It's a game-changer for those looking to optimize their squat mechanics to favor quad development.


Front Squat

Front squat Vs Back Squat joint angles

(Image created by: Chris Beardsley)

Just like the squat wedge paves the way for a deeper squat, the front squat shines with similar benefits. With the weight loaded at the front of your body instead of the back, the center of mass shifts forward. This shift alters the mechanics of the squat significantly.

What this means for your form is that there's less need to bend at the hips to stay balanced as you drop deeper into the squat. Unlike the traditional back squat, the front-loaded position lets you maintain a much more upright stance throughout the exercise.

And as we've covered, a deeper knee flexion equates to more engagement of the quads. More engagement leads to better gains. So, the front squat isn't just a variation of the movement; it's a strategic tweak for those looking to amplify their quad development.


Hack Squat

Moving on to our first machine-based variation, the hack squat stands out as an effective method to target the quads. This machine is ingeniously designed with two 45-degree parallel tracks that guide the weight smoothly up and down.

Because the machine's movement is fixed to this vertical pathway, there's less demand on the stabilizing muscles. This allows you to focus all your energy directly on powering through with your quads.

The hack squat machine also supports you in maintaining an upright torso throughout the exercise. This position is ideal for achieving the deep knee flexion necessary for optimal quad stimulation.

To ensure the quads are taking the brunt of the load, opt for a neutral to low foot position height, and no larger than a shoulder width stance. Overall the hack squat is a superb choice for those looking to isolate and build their quad muscles with precision.

Note - People often confuse the hack squat machine with the V Squat machine. While they look very similar, the movement pattern has subtle differences that impact which muscles are being targeted. For optimum quad growth - stick to the real hack squat machine. 



Bulgarian Split Squat

Bulgarian split squat exercise example


The Bulgarian split squat is not only an exceptional exercise but also the first unilateral movement on our list. Integrating unilateral exercises, which work one side of the body at a time, alongside bilateral exercises is a savvy training strategy (1). It helps correct muscle imbalances, ensuring that both legs develop evenly and maintain equal strength.

Research suggests that unilateral training, like the Bulgarian split squat, not only enhances muscle activation but can also lead to significant strength gains, particularly when overcoming plateaus in bilateral movements. Studies have shown that maintaining continuous tension on the quads during this exercise can potentially stimulate greater muscle hypertrophy.

To ensure that the quads are the primary focus during the Bulgarian split squat, it's advisable to take only a shallow step back. This position increases the flexion at the knee, thereby maximizing the engagement of the quad muscles. Such strategic foot placement can help you make the most out of every rep, targeting the quads for better muscle-building results.


Heel Elevated Trap Bar Deadlift

Right, I know what you're thinking – "This is a deadlift, not a squat." While it's true that it carries the name 'deadlift,' the movement pattern resembles a squat, particularly the dumbbell squat.

When performing this exercise with a trap bar, you hold the weight at your sides with both hands. This positioning necessitates a powerful contraction of the quads to lift the weight and stand up straight. This action blurs the lines between squatting and deadlifting, bringing the quads into significant play.

Incorporating a heel elevation into this deadlift variant amplifies its squat-like qualities. Like with a traditional squat, elevating the heels allows for greater knee flexion – a perfect adjustment for those looking to emphasize quad engagement. This tweak ensures that the quads are under more tension throughout the movement, further enhancing the muscle-building stimulus.

Additionally, the trap bar often allows for a more neutral spine position, which can reduce the stress on the lower back and shift the focus even more onto the lower body. This makes the heel-elevated trap bar deadlift not just a hybrid exercise but also a strategic addition to any leg workout focused on building the quads.


Leg Press

Leg press exercise example


Apologies for the curveball, but yes, while the leg press isn't technically a squat, it mirrors the squat's movement pattern and targets a comparable set of muscles. This machine streamlines the exercise by eliminating the need for balance and stabilization; the sled only goes up and down, similar to the movement in a hack squat.

The leg press is an influential tool for promoting progressive overload, which is fundamental for muscle building. By incrementally increasing the weight, you challenge your muscles to adapt and grow. This machine's safety features allow you to push the envelope and test your limits safely without needing a spotter as you would with free weights.

This capability to push yourself to new boundaries is crucial for building strength, size, and power. The gains you make on the leg press can positively impact your performance in other squat variations, making it a valuable component of a well-rounded quad-focused training regimen.


Goblet Squats

Goblet squats are similar to front squats in that the weight is in front of your body rather than on your back. This shift in the center of mass allows you to maintain an upright posture throughout the squat, enabling you to descend into a deeper knee-flexed position.

This position is advantageous for those striving to achieve the full 'ass to grass' squat depth. And if you're looking to maximize knee flexion to really work those quads, consider incorporating a squat wedge. This addition will elevate your heels, mimicking the benefits of the heel-elevated squat and allowing for even greater knee flexion.

By doing so, goblet squats become not just a squat variant but a targeted move for those aiming to focus on and develop their quad muscles. With its front-loaded weight, the goblet squat engages the quads intensely, making it a must-do for anyone looking to enhance their lower body strength and aesthetics.


Tips for Targeting The Quads During The Squat

Perfecting your squat to target the quads isn't just about the type of squat you perform; it's also about the finer details of your execution. Whether you're loading up a barbell for front squats or positioning yourself on the leg press machine, the devil is in the details.

With the right tips and tweaks to your form, you can ensure that your quads are participating and truly powering through each squat variation. Here's how to fine-tune your approach for maximum quad engagement:

  • Knee flexion is crucial: Consider using a squat wedge to enhance this.
  • Front squats allow for deeper squats due to the forward center of mass, which helps prevent you from tipping backward.
  • Narrower stances target the quads more effectively than wider stances.
  • High bar squats promote a more upright posture, facilitating a deeper knee flexion.
  • Choose variations that favor knee over hip flexion.
  • Maintain tension in the quads throughout the entire movement.
  • Diversify your routine with exercises that challenge the quads from various angles and through different ranges of motion.
  • Embrace progressive overload in your quad-centric exercises to continually challenge and grow these muscles.


The Final Say

As we wrap up our exploration of quad-focused squat variations, let's not just leave these insights on the page. It's time to bring this knowledge into the gym and put it into action!

Each squat variation we've covered offers a unique way to strengthen and sculpt your quads, contributing to a well-rounded fitness routine. Whether you're a seasoned gym enthusiast or just starting, incorporating these exercises will undoubtedly elevate your leg day game.

Don't hesitate to experiment with different variations to find what works best for you and your body. Your quads await the challenge, and the results will speak for themselves.

So, lace up those gym shoes, head to the squat rack, and transform those insights into stronger, more powerful quads. Remember, the fitness journey is a marathon, not a sprint, and with these quad-focused squat variations, you're setting yourself up for success.

See you at the squat rack!



  1. Zhang, W., Chen, X., Xu, K., Xie, H., Li, D., Ding, S., & Sun, J. (2023). Effect of unilateral training and bilateral training on physical performance: A meta-analysis. Frontiers in Physiology, 14.

Thomas D
Thomas D


Thomas is a dedicated fitness enthusiast with over 12 years of experience in the gym. As a level 2 qualified gym instructor, he combines his passion for working out and nutrition to help others achieve their fitness goals. Thomas stays up to date with the latest fitness research and follows the work of top experts in the field. With a balance of textbook knowledge and real-life experience, he provides practical guidance to help others reach their full potential.

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