The Greatest Quad Builder… That No One Wants To Do


Saturday, April 8th, 2006. It’s axiomatic that exercises that give you the best results are always the hardest ones to do. If you want a huge back… you row and deadlift. If you want huge legs you squat… OR… you do THIS exercise – that almost no one wants to do because its one of the hardest of all.

Which exercise am I talking about? FRONT SQUATS! Here is today’s session, starting with front squats. Commentary below.


A1 Front Squats
Set 1: 135 X 20 reps
Set 2: 185 X 15 reps
Set 3: 225 X 10 reps
Set 4: 245 X 8 reps
Set 5: 255 X 5 reps
Set 6: 185 lbs X 14 reps, continuous tension, ¾ reps, 2020 tempo
B1 Barbell Dynamic Lunge
Set 1: 135 lbs X 20 reps each leg
Set 2: 155 lbs X 12 reps per leg
Set 3: 175 lbs X 8 reps per leg
C1 Hammer Strength Isolateral Leg Extension
3 sets X 35 lbs per leg X 12, 11, 9 reps + 2-3 forced reps per set, strict 4022 tempo


A1 Lying Leg Curl (Bodymaster machine)
Set 1: 115 lbs X 15 reps
Set 2: 130 lbs X 11 reps
Set 3: 145 lbs X 10 reps
Set 4: 160 lbs X 7 reps
B1 Dumbbell Stiff Legged Deadlift
Set 1: 85 lbs X 20 reps
Set 2: 90 lbs X 15 reps
Set 3: 95 lbs X 12 reps
Set 4: 100 lbs X 8 reps

Note: 4-point tempo prescriptions are as follows:
2010 tempo =
2 = negative/eccentric action
0 = pause in stretch position
1 = positive/concentric action
0 = pause in contracted position

Tempo is noted where it is important to achieve a desired effect. When no tempo is noted, reps are
simply “controlled”, (not fast, not slow)

Workout Commentary

In my opinion, front squats are one of the absolute best quad builders. Most people don’t do them simply because they are so difficult to perform. Back squats are difficult too, but front squats introduce an additional level of difficulty because it requires flexibility, technique, core strength and also because the bar must be balanced on the front of the shoulders.

There are two styles, the Olympic lifting style and the crossed arm style. I find that athletes and of course Olympic lifters, almost always use the former, while most bodybuilders, myself included,
prefer the latter.

The front squat does everything the back squat does and more. A great advantage for me is that the torso can be held in a more upright (vertical position) and since there is less forward trunk
inclination, this removes some of the stress and shear forces from the lower back. At the same time, this upright position is closer to a bodybuilding squat and throws much more stress on the quads. It is
truly a superb bodybuilding exercise.

I also find that the front squat is particularly effective at developing the tear drop shaped vastus
medialis portion of the quads, and you can emphasize this effect even more by working full squats
(breaking parallel) and only coming up three quarters (no locking out). You can also emphasize the
medialis more by elevating your heels on a board or a wedge.

Elevating your heels is considered controversial and some say that this is damaging to the knees. I’m not convinced that this is the case with a slight elevation, although I would not recommend this method to anyone with existing knee problems. There is certainly a risk to benefit ratio of every technique variation, and you have to decide if the added potential risk is worth the potential benefit depending
on your particular situation (consult the appropriate medical or training professional if you’re not

Have you ever seen Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman’s workout videos? I realize that Mr Olympia’s
bodybuilding video tapes are not workout instruction nor do they really have anything to do with us mere
mortals, but I pay attention to everything in the world of bodybuilding, and I did find it very
interesting to watch Ronnie FRONT squatting 500+ pounds. I also found it interesting that he went rock
bottom and he did ¾ reps without releasing tension for even a single rep. Although he certainly has some
advantages over other bodybuilders, if you know what I mean, everything is relative and he has some
ridiculous quads, even compared to other IFBB pros, doesn’t he?

So if front squats are so good, why don’t more people do them? Simple – because they’re so damn hard.
Here is what I usually see happen: Someone will start front squatting (or try to), and they inevitably
put on way too much weight. Their form is horrible, it feels totally uncomfortable and unbalanced, so
our novice front squatter quits and writes off front squats for good after only one try, and heads back
over to the leg press machine.

I usually advise them to unload the bar and master the form first with very light weights, but
invariably, ego gets in the way, and 315 squatters don’t want to be seen with quarters (or even just
45’s) on each side of an Olympic bar while they patiently master the technique for a new exercise. Alas,
they never learn to front squat, they go back to what is easy and familiar and they never gain all the
benefits of this awesome exercise.

By the way, if you want to see some bodybuilding-style leg training, including front squats – I mean
pure, old-school BODYBUILDING training – not this stuff you read about in the Men’s fitness magazines these
days, check out’s fit show and scroll down to Derek Farnsworth’s leg training (with
Garret Downing and Pete Ciccone).

In this particular clip, Derek front squats in the smith machine, but no doubt, Derek could just have easily been on free weights with 400+ lbs. These guys are intense (maybe “insane” is the proper word!) Wait till you see what they do in the parking lot at the end of the workout – crazy! (Don’t “try this at home, kids!)href=””>

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Comments on The Greatest Quad Builder… That No One Wants To Do Leave a Comment

April 10, 2006

cliff @ 3:36 pm #

Thanks for the in-depth coverage of this rarely executed excercise. I have tried front squats but shied away from them because I was always unsure about my form. The exercise pics are great! I love this site and your intelligent and detailed posts! Keep em coming!

John Bartlett @ 4:27 pm #

Not everyone avoids front squats. I do them often. I’ve noticed the most progress in my quads when I incorporate front squats into my routine.
Regarding Ronnie’s 3/4 reps, Jay Cutler uses the same technique for overloading the muscles. Hey, there just might be something to this 3/4 rep stuff. 🙂

Steven @ 6:17 pm #

i agree about elevating the heels in squat because I myself have trouble keeping my feet flat on the floor doing full squats. Regarding the 3/4 rep scheme, the folks at Ironman are marketing this technique I believe as “X-Reps”? I am sure it was originally called the “Weider Principle of …..” Joe Weider claims every bodybuilding technique it seems! 🙂

Brett @ 7:12 pm #

yep, love front squats and I try to incorporate them regularly into my workouts.
I am a big fan of doing them in Smith Machine as this allows me to focus less on balancing the weight and more on what I want to do with it – for example 3/4 reps.
BTW, has anyone got the link to that training video on I have been looking for it and I can’t find it…

Tom Venuto @ 7:15 pm #

Here is the exact link to the first part (out of five parts) of the Derek Farnsworth, Garrett Downing, and Pete Ciccone Leg training session
You HAVE TO watch this to the very end to see the parking lot scene!!!!

April 11, 2006

Justin Cataldo @ 7:10 am #

Thanks Tom! I had seen this excercise done once before but never knew what it was called. I’ll have to try it! As well as the back extensions with the weight behind the head thing. 🙂
Keep up the good work!

Debbie @ 8:41 am #

Yep front squats are the way to go. As someone who has had numerous knee operations, I can testify to the fact that front squats strengthen the knees like no other exercise. Besides who wouldnt want that sexy sweep to your quads!!? They are killers and I hobble around the next day, they never fail to make my muscles ache, but what a good feeling.

April 15, 2006

Jessica Britt @ 4:29 pm #

I tried to watch it but it kept pausing. I’ll try again. When I started to read this post and I came across front squats, I was like oh, man. I know what front squats are and I have this Arnold Schwarzenegger magazine. It has pictures of Arnold, Franco Columbu, Dave Draper, Mike Katz, Danny Padillo, Frank Zane, Ed Corney and a few others working out in Gold’s Gym in the ’70’s in California and there’s a picture of Aronld doing front squats. I’ve never did them, but by the look on his face as he was performing those front squats, it looks like it’s really hard. I think I’ll need to try front squats and just see for myself what it does for me. 🙂 Thanks for the great blogs, Tom and as always, keep up the great work!

April 28, 2006

John @ 3:26 pm #

FWIW, I like front squats a whole lot. It has been easier for me to balance with at least a slight heel in my shoes, though, for back squats I either use a shoe with no heel elevation. Steven, in an earlier comment, said he had trouble with balancing while performing the full squats, I had the same problem until I got rid of the heel elevation. It also kept me front leaning foreward. Front squats force you to stay balanced and upright and I think that is one of the keys to its effectiveness in that it works the whole body.
Appreciate your site, Tom!

February 6, 2007

Carlos @ 2:07 pm #

I just ran across this and I think its what I am missing. My quads are growing from conventional squats and leg presses but my vastus medialis is lacking and I think incorporating these as well as playing around with the foot placement will get me the development that I see.

October 17, 2011

Mark Winchester Sr. @ 5:32 am #

Front squats w/out question work the quads much harder than back squats. I use a shoe w/ a heel to maintain a more upright postion. Oly lifters also use some type of heel elevated shoe which speaks volumes as to they’re necessity.
I’ve also noticed significantly more trap, delt, lat growth w/ front squats than I ever did w/ back squats.
Front Squats are superior to back squats IMO.

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