You get bigger quads with squats. Period. I don’t think that there is any better or more effective exercise for building the quads than the good old squat. It is a great compound lift that not only works the quadriceps muscle but the rest of your body as well. It uses a number of muscles to perform the necessary movement and is a great exercise for overall strength and function. However, you may have a few valid reasons to not squat, such as injury, tightness, poor form, etc., or you may just be looking to vary up your workout because you just squat too much, you legend, you!
Divide Leg Workouts into Different Days
This isn’t much for the beginners but if you feel that your growth has started to really slow down or come to a halt, it may be useful to split up your leg workouts into different days. Don’t work out the hamstrings and the quads on the same day (calves are a small part so can be done on either or both days). This way, you can properly isolate your quadriceps muscle and focus all your intention on it. You will have better results if you are not already fatigued from all kinds of different workouts for different body parts.
Do More Reps
Although the rep range required for growth varies by individuals, I have found that when doing an isolation exercise for the quadriceps muscle, it helps to aim for more reps rather than a heavier weight. You want bigger quads? Do the work! You should really feel the burn. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t progress with the weights but rather, they shouldn’t be the main goal. Once you can properly do 20-25 reps of an isolation exercise, such as the leg extensions, move the weight up. Increasing the weight too fast can cause a lot of strain on the knees.
If your issue with normal back squats is that you are unable to maintain proper form or suffer from instability and tightness issues, this may be an option for you. Rather than placing the bar on the back, on your shoulders/traps, place it in front of you just above your chest and hold it with your palms facing up. You can go to YouTube and search for front squats to get the form right. The front squat makes sure that you are unable to use bad form and ensures that your back maintains a natural curve throughout. It is also great for improving your core and stability.
Start with a lighter weight and move the weight up only when you get the hang of the exercise. Aim for 4-6 sets of 6-8 reps.
Probably the second most popular exercise for the quads. The leg press is a sort of an upside down squat. However, it is more of an isolation exercise rather than a compound movement. This is one exercise where you can easily add more weight AND do more reps so pick a weight that you are comfortable with and perform 4-6 sets of at least 12-15 reps.
Lunges are another great exercise because they don’t just work the quads. It works your core, improving your stabilizer muscles and also gives the hamstrings a good stretch. Be very careful with this exercise if you have previously torn a hamstring and always ensure that your core is tight and in control during the movement. Once you have mastered the form, you can use heavy weights for a total of 4-6 sets of 8-12 reps (each leg).
One of the best exercises for isolating the quads, however, make sure to never use excessive weight on this exercise because, as I mentioned previously, it can cause a lot of strain on the knees. You really don’t want that. Instead, this exercise works best when you do a lot of reps, around 20-25 reps. This is one exercise that I would suggest you do at the end of your workout as a finisher. Really burn up those quads by doing 4 sets of at least 20 reps. If you can do more than 25 reps, increase the weight by about 5lbs.