Nick Tumminello's Full Spectrum Bodybuilding: Quads

October 12, 2012

By Nick Tumminello

If you’re wondering what the heck Full Spectrum Bodybuilding means, make sure you read Full Spectrum Bodybuilding: 101 – my first installment in this article series which sets the foundation for the rest of my Functional Spectrum Bodybuilding (FSB) training articles to follow.

I’ve already covered FSB workouts for chest in last month's installment. In this article, I’m going to show you how to use our FSB system to build bigger and stronger quads.

Be Warned: If you visit any city in Japan, people may run the other direction and call in Ultraman to defend them against Quadzilla!

3 Types of FSB Exercise Classifications for Quads

Before we get into the quad training workouts, let’s do a quick review of the FSB exercises classification system which we’ll use for both new and classic quad training exercises.

We categorizes exercises into three types based on how they create a Point of Maximal Loading (PML) on the muscle in our FSB system. This classification system includes compound and isolation exercises with free weights as well as plate loaded machines.

1. Exercises that create the most load (PML) on the muscle (or muscle group) in the lengthened position. These exercises create the most muscle damage. That’s a good thing!

2. Exercises that create the most load (PML) on the muscles in the mid-range position. These exercises aid in increasing motor unit-recruitment!

3. Exercises that create the most load (PML) on the muscle (or muscle group) in the shortened position. These exercises tend to create the best muscle pump!

As you’ll see in the sample quad workouts below, we include at least one exercise from each category in every workout to ensure that we’ve done all we can to maximize muscle growth.

Additionally, in each FSB workout, we also like to include at least one exercise using a CAM style machine because they don’t have a specific PML. This allows us to keep consistent resistance on the target muscle(s) throughout the entire range of motion. Check out this article to learn more about the bodybuilding benefits of machines that use a CAM system.

Here’s a comprehensive list of how we categorize the best quad exercises in each category:

Exercises that create a PML on the quads in the lengthened position:

Barbell Back Squats (especially w/ Bar placed high on traps)
Front Squats
Reverse Lunges (off box)
Leg Press (below parallel feet in center or low on the platform)
Hack Squat

Exercises that create a PML on the quads in the mid-range position:

Walking Lunge
Single Leg Squat
Bulgarian Split Squat
Step Ups

Exercises that create a PML on the quads in the shortened position:

Sled Push
Sled Pull
Reverse Sled Pull

CAM Machine:

Leg Extension

*Note: If you do not have access to a sled, use leg extensions to hit the quads from their shortened position.

How to Properly Perform the Quads Exercises

The list above consists of many classic exercises you already love and already know how to perform along with a few you may not be familiar with. Here are descriptions of a few of the exercises (from the list above), which will explain how to perform the new moves and give a new twist to some old ones.

Barbell back squats (below parallel) (w/ bar placed high on traps)

Barbell Back Squats

In the above diagram, you can see how a higher barbell placement (on the shoulders) encourages a more upright torso (as opposed to a powerlifter style – lower bar position), which emphasizes more muscle activation in the quads.

Many lifters squat and give no thought to the bar placement on their shoulders. However, different bar placement means different torso angle, which means a different training stimulus.

To really hit those quads, we’ve found a higher bar position and a more upright torso is the way to go!

Speaking of barbell squats, here’s a great video we did with international bodybuilder Alejandro (Alex) Cambronero showing one of our favorite squat overload protocols:

If shoulder issues make it difficult (or painful) for you to reach back and grab the bar when performing back squats, try a “Top Squat”, a method invented by legendary bodybuilder Dave Draper.

Reverse lunges (off box)

Stand on an aerobic step platform and perform reverse lunges stepping backward off the platform. Keeping your front foot elevated on the platform enables you to increase the ROM and increase the stretch on your quads.

Here’s our friend Ben Bruno showing you how it’s done:

Leg press & hack squat (proper foot placement)

It’s no secret that the leg press and hack squat are great quad builders. However, lifters can ensure maximal quad activation by placing their feet in the center (or even a bit lower) on the platform. A foot placement that’s high up (toward the top of the platform) will be a bit more hip dominant and creates less (over)-load on the quads. This is not a bad thing if you’re using it to for that purpose. But, since this article is about building bigger and stronger quads, a more middle to lower foot placement is advised.

Single leg squat with knee tap (aka. knee tap squats)

Although the pistol squat is a trendy, cool looking and old-time single leg exercise, it’s not something we use with our clients and athletes at Performance U, for the reasons I explain in this video:

Our favorite single leg squat variation is what we call Knee Tap Squats because it feels and looks more natural, and allows you to keep optimal spinal alignment.

Knee Tap Squats

Start by standing on one leg with the other leg bent behind you. As you drop into a single leg squat, drive your rear leg backward in an attempt to gently touch your knee to the object on the floor (or aerobic step, pad, or towel roll). Squat as low as you can without allowing the heel of your base leg to lift off the floor.

Bulgarian split squat

Check out this video for a demonstration of how to perform rear foot elevated split squats, which are more commonly known as Bulgarian split squats:

Now, in the video above, I mention using a slight forward lean of the torso to bring in a bit more activation from the hamstrings and glutes. That being said, if your goal is to really target the quads, a more upright torso is advised.

Sled exercises: pushes & pulls

Sled training isn’t just for sports athletes, it’s a great way to add training variety to your leg workouts. Plus, not only are sled exercises exciting to do, they’re crazy intense and very knee friendly. In other towards, the sled will give you a crazy pump in your quads without beating up on your knees.

To perform these three sled exercises, you really don't even need to buy an actual sled. You can use a big ole tire as is shown in the videos below.

Sled push

Sled pull

Reverse sled pull

If you get yourself a sled, we recommend the Sorinex Root Hog Sled because it’s the most versatile and durable sled around.

FSB Quad Workouts

Below are 4 samples of FSB quad workouts, each using the exercise applications provided above. But first, a few notes to take into account:

  • In each of our FSB workouts, we shoot for a total of 12-20 total sets per muscle each week. Unless we’re training a muscle group multiple times per week, we’ll do all the sets in one workout

  • We usually choose one exercise from each of the 4 categories (the three above + CAM Machines).

  • To increase the overload and workout volume, we’ll included 2 exercises that create the PML on the muscle in its lengthened position, which are the exercises that have been shown to create the most muscle damage.

Workout 1

PML in Stretch – Barbell Back Squats (below parallel) (w/ Bar placed high on traps) 4-5  sets x 6-10 reps
PML in Mid – Bulgarian Split Squat 3 setsvx 8-12 reps (each leg)
PML in Short – Sled Push 3-4 sets x 45-60 seconds
CAM Machine – Leg Extension 2-3 sets x 10-15 reps

Workout 2

PML in Short – Sled Pull (standing behind the cables) 3-4 sets x 8-15 reps
PML in Stretch – Reverse Lunge (Off box) 4-5 sets x 6-12 reps
PML in Mid – Leg Press (with feet placed high on platform) 3-4 sets x max reps
CAM Machine – Leg Extension (One leg at a time) 2-3 sets x 10-15 reps

Workout 3

PML in Stretch – Front Squat (below parallel) 3-5 sets x 6-12 reps
PML in Mid – Step Ups 3-4 sets x 6-12 reps (each leg)
PML in Short – Sled Pull 3-4 sets x 45-60 seconds
CAM Machine – Leg Extension 2-3 sets x 10-15 reps
PML in Stretch – Bodyweight Squats x 50 reps (burnout)

Workout 4

PML in Stretch - Leg Press 3-4 sets x 6-10 reps
PML in Stretch – Hack Squat 2-3 sets x 8-15 reps
PML in Short – Sled Push 3 sets x 45-60 seconds
PML in Mid - Bulgarian Split Squat 2-3 sets x 10-15 reps
CAM Machine – Leg extension 2-3 sets x 10-15 reps

Additional FSB Training Tips

Order of exercises

Although we usually follow the general compound before isolation exercises rule of thumb, we look at it as more of a guideline than a rule. In other words, we often mix up the order of our exercises to create training variety.

Order of PML

Most often, we begin workouts with creating a PML in the lengthened position of the muscles we’re targeting. However, to create further training variety, we’ll sometimes hit the muscles from the shortened position first in the workout and other times we’ll start with mid-range PML work. There’s no magic order!

Sets & reps schemes

There’s a multitude of set/rep schemes available, which can be applied to the FSB workout structure in order to keep “shocking” your muscles as well as to keep things fresh and interesting. To cover all of the specific set/rep options is beyond the scope of this article series.

Adding in other muscles to your workout

Just because each article in this FSB training series focuses on one muscle group doesn’t mean that we only train one muscle group per workout. We often hit quads, hamstrings and calves on the same day as many bodybuilders commonly do.

In the final installment of my FSB article series, we’ll explore FSB workout splits and show you how we put the concepts from each article together.

Next Up…

The next article in this series will cover FSB for SHOULDERS!