6 Best Quad Isolation Exercises for Athletic Legs

From athletes to bodybuilders, everyone uses isolation exercises to build firm, sculpted, and symmetrical quads.

Isolation exercises allow you to work one muscle at a time, improve strength imbalance, bring out the best definition, as well as provide the same benefits as compound movements.1 Paoli A, Gentil P, Moro T, Marcolin G, Bianco A. Strength Training with Single vs. Multi-joint Exercises at Equal Total Load Volume: Effects on Body Composition, Cardiorespiratory Fitness, and Muscle Strength. Front Physiol. 2017 Dec 22;8:1105. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2017.01105. PMID: 29312007; PMCID: PMC5744434,2 Gentil, Paulo et al. Single vs. Multi-Joint Resistance Exercises: Effects on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy.” Asian Journal of Sports Medicine vol. 6,2 (2015): e24057. doi:10.5812/asjsm.24057

In this article, I’ve shared the six best isolation exercises for the development of your quad muscles.

From beginners to advanced lifters, anyone who wants to build jacked, toned, and proportional quadriceps can integrate these exercises into their lower body training program.

6 Best Quad Isolation Exercises for Strong and Proportional Legs

  1. Leg Extension
  2. Dumbbell Goblet Squat
  3. Seated Leg Press
  4. Machine Hack Squat
  5. Landmine Squat
  6. Barbell Hack Squat

1. Leg Extension

Leg Extension, an isolation quad exercise for muscle gain.

The leg extension is a basic but effective exercise for reinforcing quads muscles. It highly activates the inner and outer quad, making your anterior thigh strong and aesthetic and building well-balanced legs.3 Leg extensions – dangerous for your knees or great rehab exercise? by Kai Sigel, Physiotutors

About Exercise

  • Equipment Needed: Extension Machine
  • Difficulty Level: Suitable for all Fitness Levels
  • Optimal Reps and Sets: 4 sets of 20 reps
  • Secondary Muscles Engaged: None

Steps to Perform

  1. Sit on the machine with your back resting on it.
  2. Select the appropriate weight, position your feet under the pad, and grasp the handles.
  3. Extend your knees until your quads are fully engaged.
  4. Pause for a second, return to the start, and perform for the desired times.

Tips and Mistakes

  • Avoid locking out your knees at the top.
  • Make sure your hips stay on the seat throughout the movement.
  • Start easy and increase the weight and intensity after a few sets.

2. Dumbbell Goblet Squat

Quad isolation exercises

The goblet squat is a free-weight quad exercise that strengthens and tones the anterior thigh, builds lean mass, and increases lower-body muscular endurance. Besides the quadriceps, it engages the abdominals, gluteal, and hamstring muscles and enhances your athletic performance.4 Collins, Kyle S et al. “Differences in Muscle Activity and Kinetics Between the Goblet Squat and Landmine Squat in Men and Women.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research vol. 35,10 (2021): 2661-2668. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000004094

About Exercise

  • Equipment Needed: Dumbbell
  • Difficulty Level: Beginner
  • Optimal Reps and Sets: 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps
  • Other Engaged Muscles: Glutes

Steps to Perform

  1. Grab the top of a dumbbell with your hands and stand upright in a shoulder-width stance with your toes slightly out.
  2. Lower into a squat until your hips, glutes, and knees are in a straight line. You can also go below your knees if your mobility allows.
  3. Pause for two seconds, then extend your knees to return to the standing position.

Tips and Mistakes

  • Push through your feet to stand up back.
  • Avoid lifting your heels off the ground during the ascent phase.

3. Seated Leg Press

The seated leg press is a muscle-building leg exercise that helps develop jacked quads. It is a good alternative to back squats for people who want to push heavier using their quad muscles. The machine provides stability to your core and back and allows you to press heavy weights without troubling your knees.

About Exercise

  • Equipment Needed: Horizontal Leg Press Machine
  • Difficulty Level: Beginner to Intermediate
  • Optimal Reps and Sets: 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps
  • Others Engaged Muscles: None

Steps to Perform

  1. Insert the desired weight into the rack and sit on the machine with your back resting on it.
  2. Position your feet (hip to shoulder width apart) and grasp the handles for support.
  3. Press the weight until you feel the full contraction in your quadriceps.
  4. Pause for a moment, then return to the start and perform for the desired reps and sets.

Tips and Mistakes

4. Machine Hack Squat

Machine Hack Squat, quad isolated workout to build strong legs
Single Leg Hack Squat

The hack squat primarily bolsters the quads and builds strong and athletic legs. It is a great exercise to grow your thighs without putting stress on your lower spine, making it suitable for beginners who can’t perform free-weight squats.

About Exercise

  • Equipment Needed: Hack Squat Machine
  • Difficulty Level: Intermediate
  • Optimal Reps and Sets: 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps
  • Other Engaged Muscles: Hamstrings and Glutes

Steps to Perform

  1. Get under the machine with your shoulders placed under the shoulder pads.
  2. Position your feet shoulder-width apart on the platform with your toes pointing a little out.
  3. Grab the handles for support and brace your abdominal muscles. That’s the start.
  4. Bending your knees, lower into a squat as far as your knees allow.
  5. Pause for a few seconds, feel the contraction, then return to the start by pushing through your heels.

Tips and Mistakes

  • Make sure your knees don’t go beyond your toe line to avoid excessive stress on the joints.
  • You can also perform single-leg hack squats to train your legs individually and improve strength imbalance and muscle symmetry.

5. Landmine Squat

The landmine squat is another exercise to engage the quad muscles from a different angle. It requires you to grab one side of a loaded plate against your chest and perform as many squats as possible.

About Exercise

  • Equipment Needed: Bar, Plates, and Landmine Attachment
  • Difficulty Level: Intermediate
  • Optimal Reps and Sets: 4 sets of 15-20 reps
  • Other Engaged Muscles: Glutes and Adductors

Steps to Perform

  1. Put one end of the bar into a landmine attachment and insert the appropriate weights into another end.
  2. Stand in the shoulder-width stance so the weight is in between your legs.
  3. Lower yourself to grab the working end of the bar with your hands (at your chest height).
  4. Press your feet into the floor to stand straight until your knees are fully extended and your body slightly leaning forward.
  5. Perform as many squats as possible at your own pace, feeling the full engagement.

Tips and Mistakes

  • To make sure the landmine squat produces the best results, use your leg strength to stand back up and avoid your knees collapsing toward each other.

6. Barbell Hack Squat

The barbell hack squat, also known as a reverse deadlift, is also a quad dominating isolation workout. Lifting weights from the back requires your front thigh to work more and help stimulate muscle growth.

About Exercise

  • Equipment Needed: Barbell and Plates
  • Difficulty Level: Advanced
  • Optimal Reps and Sets: 4 sets of 10 reps
  • Other Engaged Muscles: Hamstrings

Steps to Perform

  1. Place a loaded barbell on the floor and stand against it in a shoulder-width stance with your calves close to the bar.
  2. Pushing your hips back and bending your knees, lower your arms to grab the bar with an overhand grip.
  3. Keeping your spine neutral and core tight, press your heels into the floor to extend your knees and stand back until your hips are fully extended. That’s one rep.

Tips and Mistakes

  • Focus on engaging the quad muscles by performing this exercise in a deliberate manner.
  • Keep your abdominal muscles tight and avoid rounding your back to do this movement effectively.

References

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Murshid Akram

I’m a personal trainer, fitness blogger, and founder of thefitnessphantom.com. I help people achieve their best shape through my science-based and practical workout programs.
Picture of Murshid Akram

Murshid Akram

I’m a personal trainer, fitness blogger, and founder of thefitnessphantom.com. I help people achieve their best shape through my science-based and practical workout programs.

About Me

I’m Murshid Akram, a personal trainer, fitness blogger, and founder of thefitnessphantom.com. I primarily design workout plans and share science-based and practical information that can help you become stronger, functional, and healthier.

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