At least five times a week somebody is emailing me and messaging me on my “secrets” for Leg development. I have no secrets.
The key to my leg development has been proper training, proper form and grinding it out. However, if I had to summarize some key tips to help you, they would be as follows:
How to Increase Leg Separation for Those with Stubborn Quads
A complaint I have heard from many people who look to develop perfect quads, is that although they have leg size, they lack leg separation.
Before I can provide my tips it is important to understand quad anatomy.
Quick Anatomy Lesson
The quadriceps is a large muscle group that comprises of four muscles on the front of the thigh. Let's take a quick look at what comprises the main muscles of the quadriceps and their function.
Vastus Lateralis: Originating from the femur, the vastus lateralis extends down the lateral side (outer area) of the thigh and inserts into the patella.
Vastus Medialis: Also originating from the femur, the vastus medialis extends down the medial side (inner area) of the thigh and inserts into the patella. This muscle makes up the much sought-after “tear drop” look.
Vastus Intermedius: This muscle lies between the vastus lateralis and vastus medialis on the front of the femur inserting into the patella.
Rectus Femoris: Originating from the ilium, the rectus femoris occupies the middle of the thigh covering most of the other three quadriceps muscles.
All four quadriceps muscles extend the knee joint. Additionally, the rectus femoris, due to its originating location, also flexes the hip joint.
The quadiriceps, or quads, have three major sections: the vastus lateralis, rectus femoris and vastus medialis.
Basic lower-body exercises such as front squats place emphasis on the rectus femoris on the top of the thigh, and close-stance squats place emphasis on the vastus medialis, the inner quad sweep. Sumo squats and deadlifts work the vastus lateralis, or outer quad sweep. Increasing your repetitions and varying your range of motion, and varying the exercises along with proper diet and excellent form can help get you the leg separation and definition you want.
Training for Separation
Training for separation requires a higher repetition range than you would usually use. So to increase separation you want to stay in the 15-25 rep range, and if you are unable to do this at first, where you can (like with machines such as the leg extension or machine press) incorporate drop sets, with minimal rest between each drop,
Another often overlooked component to get good muscle separation besides exercise variety and higher rep range is using a full range of motion.
A final often overlooked method to increase leg muscle separation is foot placement.
Here are a few exercises I highly recommend to add to your precontest leg workouts to increase the depth of your leg separation.
High Volume Leg Extensions while Incorporating Drop sets
Lean back (It's possible that this will mean reaching the back support, but that's okay.) Curl your feet toward you so that at the end of the movement your toes are pointing toward your face. Squeeze at the top without pause, then return to the start. Try to avoid holding the weight up at the top as this may put unnecessary stress on your knees, specifically the patella tendon. Tip: Try to lift the thighs off the bench. It won't happen, but the simple action of trying to bring the upper leg upward will activate the rectus femoris.
How to execute the high volume version of this basic exercise - Each set has 3 drop sets, first set of the drop set should have a minimum of 10 reps. No rest on drop sets. 6 drop sets total. No more than 30 seconds rest between each of the 6 giant sets.
Leg extensions are a basic quad exercise, but doing this type of high rep drop sets with volume with little rest will leave your quads screaming. While you're going through the reps, you're going to hurt. Power through and remember to point the toes out and curl them to you and remember to squeeze at the top to a full skin tearing contractions.
Leg Press Drop Sets Using Different Foot Positions
To increase muscle separation try incorporating drop sets using these three different foot positions. Perform three sets, one with each foot placement variation and consider it 1 set.
Position #1 High and Wide: Feet placed high and wide (a few inches wider than shoulder width) on the platform will place the emphasis on the inner thighs (adductors), hamstrings, and glutes.
Position #2 – Low and Shoulder Width: Feet placed low and shoulder width apart on the platform will place the emphasis on the lower quads. With no rest switch to:
Position #3 - Narrow: Feet placed narrow (a few inches apart) and midway up on the platform will to place the emphasis on the vastus lateralis on the outside of the thigh, while beginning to recruit a bit of help from the hamstrings as well.
For each position and on EACH rep, when in the extended position, come up on your heals, squeeze the thighs, hold the squeeze for 1 second and then repeat the rep. Perform 4 to 65 sets, minimum 25 reps per drop set. Your thighs will SCREAM uncle.
Leg Presses with a Twist
To increase leg development and leg separation, when fully extended (top of the movement) come up on your heals after each rep and flexing the quads. Getting good depth will also increase quad and hamstring separation.
Preparation - With shoulder width stance, grasp fixed bar or support at hip level with one arm.
Execution - With hips and waist straight, bend knees to allow body to fall backwards as knees come forward. Try to keep the hips as high as possible during the entire movement. To do so, when you go down, focus not on bending the knees, but rather on bringing the knees forward as much as possible. Allow heels to raise from floor. Lower body until knees are almost fully flexed or near floor. Return to original position by extending knees as heels return to floor. Keep waist and hips straight throughout exercise. Knees should point same direction as feet throughout movement. The movement can be made easier by placing arms further down away from head as shown. The exercise can be made more challenging by placing hands further up toward head or by holding a small weight plate on chest. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUiFlZ2FsKA
High Volume Lunges
Lunges are a great shape movement for the quads. They give your thighs that nice round look and really ties each muscle in together. According to the American Council on Exercise, lunges are one of the most effective exercises to sculpt the lower body. In addition to your glutes and legs, lunges also work your core muscles, which help stabilize your body. While lunges are a total thigh exercise with an equal amount of ham and glute involvement, for the sake of this article I will focus on how lunges can be applied specifically to quad training.
What is key here is to get the right depth, squeeze, and perform enough volume. Incorporate short and lung step lunges, as well as reverse lunges and cross step lunges.
Below are just a few examples of lunge variations (choose two types per workout during precontest time and to increase muscle separation):
Basic Lunge – Execution: Stand in a split stance with the right foot forward and the left leg back (The feet should be about 2 to 3 feet apart, depending on your leg length), Before you lunge, make sure your torso is straight and that you’re up on the back toe. Bend the knees and lower the body down until the back knee is a few inches from the floor. At the bottom of the movement, the front thigh should be parallel to the floor and the back knee should point toward the floor. Keep the weight evenly distributed between both legs and push back up, keeping the weight in the heel of the front foot. Repeat for all reps before switching sides. This can be done without weights, with weights (dumbbells or barbell)
Walking Lunge – A favorite of trainers in most gyms is the walking lunge. Walking lunges are just that - you will lunge forward and then walk the trailing leg forward to meet the other foot in the starting position and lunge again with the opposite leg. It is a constant walking motion. Make sure you have at least 30 or so feet of “runway” space to walk.
Barbell Lunge - A barbell distributes the weight more evenly across your shoulders so you can lift heavier than you may be able to with dumbbells. To keep this move safe, only use a weight you can lift or have a spotter nearby. To execute: Place a medium-heavy barbell on the meaty part of your shoulders (use a bar pad if you need to) and take the right foot forward, left foot back in a split stance. Keeping the torso upright and abs engaged, bend the knees to lower the body towards the floor. Keep the front knee behind the toes and be sure to lower straight down rather than forward. Lower down as far as you can go without touching the back knee to the floor. Push into the front heel to stand back up, avoiding locking the knees at the top of the movement. Complete three sets of 15 to 25 repetitions.
Side Lunge - Side lunges are a great way to vary your lunges and put more emphasis on the inner thighs along with the glutes, quads and hips. Side lunges also help you work on balance and stability and are perfect for building strength for sports that involve lateral movement like tennis, racquetball or handball. To execute: Step out to the right, keeping the left leg straight and both feet pointing forward. As your right foot hits the ground, bend at the hips and push your glutes back as you shift all the weight to your right leg. Lunge down until the shin is vertical to the floor and the right knee is in line with your toes, both heels flat. Push into the heel back to starting position and repeat on the other side for 3 sets of 15-25 reps on each leg.
Short Step Lunges - This move offers a tight, small move that really challenges the glutes and thighs of the front leg while engaging the core. To execute: Stand in a split stance with feet close together (about two feet apart, one foot forward, one foot back). Hold weights in each hand and bend the knees, taking the weight towards the floor. This is the start of the movement. Keeping the abs engaged and the shoulders back, push into the front heel and lift up about halfway. Lower back down and repeat. Form pointers: This is a small movement. Start at the bottom and go about halfway up rather than standing all the way up. Keep the torso bent forward throughout the movement, but make sure the back is flat and the abs are engaged. Keep the front foot flat and stay on the toes of the back foot. Complete three sets of 15 to 25 repetitions.
Split Squats - Split squats are another way to vary traditional lunges. In this exercise, you elevate the back foot onto a step or platform which places more emphasis on the front leg and adds a balance challenge, which makes this exercise pretty tough. To execute: Stand about 3 or so feet in front of a step or platform and place the left leg on the platform, either resting on the toe or the top of the foot. Make sure your feet are wide enough that the front knee stays behind the toe when you lunge down. When you have your balance, bend both knees and lower down into a lunge. Push through the front heel to stand up and repeat for 10-16 reps before switching sides. Hold weights for added intensity. Only go down as low as you comfortably can. This move does require flexibility in the hip flexors…if you feel tight in the front of the hips, stick with regular lunges. Make sure the front knee does not go beyond the toe or your risk hurting the knee joint. Complete three sets of 15 to 25 repetitions.
Cross Lunge With Dumbbells - Grasp a set of dumbbells with an overhand grip and hold them to the sides of your body. Keep your arms straight and turn your hands so your palms face your body. Use lightweight dumbbells and gradually increase the weight as you get stronger. Spread your feet hip-width apart, point your toes forward and keep your knees slightly bent. Contract your abdominals and look forward so your back remains straight. Lift your right foot off the floor and take a big diagonal step back to cross it behind your left leg. Land on the toes and ball of your right foot. Bend both knees and lower your hips straight down until your left thigh is close to parallel to the floor and your right knee is about 1 inch from the floor. Imagine making a curtsylike movement. Avoid letting your left knee pass over the toes of your left foot. Move only your lower body – keep your upper body still and facing forward. Push off on the heel of your left foot, squeeze your buttocks and bring your right leg back to its starting position. Alternate your legs and complete three sets of 15 to 25 repetitions. See http://www.howcast.com/…/503083-How-to-Do-a-Crossover-Rever…
You don't want to do all of these lunges in one lower body workout but, if you're an intermediate or advanced exerciser, you can choose 1 to 3 different lunges (such short step lunge, reverse lunge, etc. for each workout, performing each for 3 sets of 15 to 25 reps. If you're a beginner, start with one exercise (such as basic static lunges) and do 1 to 2 sets of 10 to 16 reps, adding weight and an additional exercise when you feel comfortable.
To focus a little more on the outer sweep (vastus lateralis) of the quad nothing beats the hack squat. With a moderate weight place yourself comfortably under the pads of the machine and take a shoulder width stance in the middle of the foot plate. Descend until you reach a full ROM and then return to the starting position. Make sure not to accelerate into the descent too much as this will put too much strain on your knees. Keep the movement at a steady pace. Again, as with most leg movements, do not lock out your knees at the top.
Some gyms are not equipped with a hack squat machine, but do not despair, there is a solution. Simply grasp a loaded barbell from behind your calves (kind of a deadlift but with the weight behind your legs). This old school way is my preferred way to create great separation in my quads. I keep the weight light, typically from 25 to 45 pounds on each side. With your back straight and your head up, begin lifting with your legs until you are almost standing straight up. Without locking your legs return the weight to the starting position without touching the floor.
One of the best things you can do to increase leg separation is continues flexing of the quads and posing.
About the Author Jeff Behar
Jeff Behar, MS, MBA, is a well-known health, fitness, wellness author and anti aging, champion natural bodybuilder (2014 Masters Grand Prix Champion, 2015 California State Masters Champion), and a recognized health, fitness and nutrition expert with over 30 years of experience in the health, fitness, disease prevention, nutrition, and anti-aging fields.
As a recognized health, fitness and nutrition expert, Jeff Behar's has been featured on several radio shows, TV, and in several popular bodybuilding publications such as Flex, Ironman and in several highly regarded peer reviewed scientific journals. Jeff Behar is also the CEO and founder www.MuscleMagFitness.com and www.MyBesthealthPortal.com and a Medical Commentator on exercise for The American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, the worlds largest medical academy for anti-aging and regenerative medicine, provides medical professionals with the latest Anti-Aging, regenerative, functional and metabolic medicine.
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