Two 30 lb. metal dumbbells on a black background.

We all know that it’s a cardinal sin of weight training to skip leg day, but did you know that keeping up your lower body workouts can help improve your upper body gains?

While there are a number of muscle groups in the legs that deserve their fair share of exercise, the largest and most often worked group of lower body muscles is the quadricep.

Part of this monopolization of attention is due to the sheer size of the quadricep muscles, but it is also because of the vital roles this muscle group plays in keeping us mobile. The quadricep acts as the primary extensor of the knee as well as the main hip flexor.

Quadriceps are about as far as you can get from a vanity muscle. This group of hardworking muscles is key in any lifting, pushing, carrying, and climbing. This makes the group a highly practical one to work on, especially for those who spend much of their time in sedentary positions.

It is also the main focus for the vast majority of athletes as the quadriceps are a part of nearly all essential movements in sport. But even if you’re not training to go pro, building your quad strength is a positive step toward improving your quality of life. It could mean the difference in years of independence or just getting so you no longer make dad noises when you get up from your chair.

Muscles in the Quadricep

Quadriceps are often referred to as a singular muscle, but they are, in fact, a group of muscles. The group as a whole represents the largest volume of muscle in the human body.

The quadricep sits on the front, or anterior, of the thigh and is made of four smaller, but still very large, muscles.

The rectus femoris is involved in both the extension of the knee and movement of the hip. It is the only one of the four muscles that connects to both joints.

The vastus lateralis runs down the outside of the thigh terminating just above the knee cap. It is the largest of the four muscles and also the most powerful. It is responsible for much of the upward thrust of the legs. 

The vastus medialis is often referred to as the teardrop muscle because, well, it looks like a teardrop. It is located just above the knee on the front of the thigh towards the interior. Its major role is in the tracking of the knee and should be a major focus for those looking to mediate knee pain and weakness.

Lastly, the vastus intermedius , as its name suggests, runs between the other two vastus muscles and underneath the rectus femoris. Its main function is to facilitate knee extension and is the muscle that prevents us from flexing the knee too far.

Dumbbell Quad Exercises

We’ve put together 5 great quadricep exercises to get you building stronger legs. Don’t forget to warm up and stretch before jumping in, and be sure to give yourself time for a cool down when you’re done. Pre-workout supplements can also help to fuel your workouts, read more in our Expert Guide to Pre-Workout for Beginners.

For these leg exercises, you will need a pair of dumbbells. If you’re just getting started and don’t have any equipment yet, just grab a pair of water bottles or a couple of cans of soup. For goblet squats and sumo deadlifts, you’ll want something a little heavier and can use a kettlebell or weight plate, or improvise with a jug of laundry detergent or a backpack full of books.

Whatever equipment you’re using, the most important thing is to make sure that you are practicing good lifting posture, keeping your head up, your back straight, and your core engaged.

Dumbbell Step-Up

The dumbbell step-up is a great quad exercise because it mimics the natural movement and function that we’re trying to improve by strengthening the muscles. By flexing and extending the knee in this controlled and weighted exercise, we can be more confident in our ability to make it up the stairs the next time the elevator is out of order. 

  1. Standing with a dumbbell in each hand, place one foot on a box or stair.
  2. Lean your torso slightly forward.
  3. Shift your weight onto the elevated foot and extend the leg until you are standing on the box.
  4. Reverse the motion and replace your other foot on the ground as you return to the starting position. This should be a controlled motion, try to avoid dropping down. 
  5. Repeat for 10 reps. 
  6. Switch to the other foot for another ten reps. 

 

Goblet Squat

Goblet squats are a great way to add weight to a squat exercise when your back’s not up to barbell squats. The weight distribution in the front of the body also allows for more counterweight so that you can sit back into the proper squat form more easily.  

  1. Hold a dumbbell just under your chest with both hands. 
  2. Place your feet shoulder-width apart or wide enough that you have room to move the weight and your elbows between your knees when you squat. 
  3. Keep your head and chest high and your back straight as you thrust your hips back and bend your knees.
  4. Go as far as you can while maintaining good posture then reverse the motion and return to the starting position. 
  5. Repeat for 10 reps.

 

Lateral Lunge

A great exercise for increasing flexibility in the hip and overall lower body mobility is the lateral lunge. Adding lateral movement training to your quads workouts means you’ll have a greater range of motion that your muscles are trained for, which means fewer weak points that could become problems later on. 

  1. Stand with a dumbbell in each hand raised to your shoulders so that your elbows are out in front of you.
  2. Keep your head and chest up and your back straight as you begin extending your leg out to the side keeping it straight as you bend your other leg and push your hips back. 
  3. Reverse the motion and return to the starting position
  4. Repeat for 10 reps.
  5. Switch sides and repeat for another 10 reps.

 

Split Squat

The name split squat is perhaps a little intimidating, but don’t worry, you don’t have to actually do the splits in order to do split squats. In fact, it’s more similar to a lunge than the splits, and it helps to strengthen your leg muscles and improve your balance. 

  1. Stand holding a dumbbell in each hand down at your sides. 
  2. Keeping your shoulders square and your head and chest up, step forward with one foot into a lunge position. 
  3. Maintain form as you lower your hips into the squat without letting your back knee hit the ground.
  4. Reverse the motion and return to the lunge position.
  5. Repeat for 10 reps.
  6. Return to a standing position and switch legs then repeat for another 10 reps. 

For more intensity and an added dose of stability training, try the Bulgarian split squat

  1. Place one foot behind you, laces down, on a bench or chair, and hold yourself with the other leg slightly out in front of you. 
  2. Keep your chest and head up as you bend your knee and bring your hips towards the ground without letting your back knee touch the ground.
  3. Reverse the motion and return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for 10 reps.
  5. Switch to the other leg and repeat for another 10 reps.

 

Sumo Deadlift

The sumo deadlift is an excellent quad-focused variation on the traditional deadlift. The widened stance shifts the focus from anterior muscles to the quads, while still helping to improve mobility and strength in the lower back and hips. 

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand using an overhand grip so that the weights rest naturally in line with your shoulders. 
  2. Place your feet out beyond your shoulders, about twice as far as your normal deadlift stance, and point your toes outward slightly so that your knees will track over your toes.
  3. Keeping your head and chest up and your back straight, bend your knees gently as you lean forward pushing your hips back and down.
  4. Pause once your back is parallel to the ground, then reverse the motion and stand upright in the starting sumo stance. 
  5. Repeat for 15 reps.

 

Finish Strong with Allo Protein

After any workout, it’s important to refuel your body to feed your muscle growth, and that means protein. But did you know that it’s just as important to get protein before your workout and throughout the day? 

A quick and easy way to add protein to your daily routine is with Allo protein powder for hot coffee. Each packet adds 10 grams of protein to an 8 oz. coffee with 0 trans fats and no added sugars. Find your favorite flavor of creamer or non-creamer protein powder specially formulated for hot coffee, hot tea, hot matcha, and even hot chocolate.

The individual packaging also makes it easy to toss a few packets in your gym bag, backpack, or glove compartment so you are never without. Start adding hassle-free protein to your morning brew or afternoon pick-me-up with Allo protein powder for hot coffee.

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