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The evolution of modern weight-training equipment and gyms has created a paradox. On one hand, it’s allowed us to move quickly and easily from one exercise to another; the machines have eliminated the tedious task of breaking the bar down after the exercise. However, excessive use of the machines, especially for the lower body, robs the gym rat of a structural mass base from which to refine for competitive purposes. Muscular thighs with definition emanating from every fiber aren’t built on leg extensions alone. Rather, some form of barbell squats is the best strategy to obtain sculpted thighs.

Squats add to the mass and depth of the anterior thigh muscles. In addition, the gluteal muscles, smaller hip muscles, lower and middle back, hamstrings and even the calves are all activated to some extent during this exercise. Does this mean that to have great thighs you must possess a sadistic gene that pushes you through the pain barrier toward exhaustion on every set? Probably not, but gut-busting work is necessary to maximally enlarge the thighs and there’s no better exercise than barbell squats.

Structure and Function

Even though the squat involves many muscles, we will focus on the muscles of the anterior thigh, which together are called the quadriceps femoris muscle group. The quadriceps femoris (“quads”) is a group of four muscles covering the anterior and lateral parts of the femur bone of the thigh. The three vasti muscles take their origin from the respective part of the femur; the vastus lateralis muscle from the lateral part of the femur; the vastus medialis from the medial part of the femur; and the vastus intermedius from the central, anterior part of the femur. As a result, the vastus lateralis muscle is positioned on the lateral (outer) part of the thigh and the vastus medialis covers the medial (inner) part of the thigh. The vastus intermedius is located intermediate and deep to the vastus lateralis and the vastus medialis muscles. The tendon from the vastus lateralis combines with the tendons from the other two vasti muscles and the tendon of the rectus femoris to form the quadriceps tendon. The quadriceps tendon attaches to the patella (kneecap) and continues inferiorly (toward the foot) from the patella, where it’s called the patellar ligament. The patellar ligament inserts into the tibial tuberosity, a bumpy portion on the tibia bone of the lower leg.

The rectus femoris (rectus=straight) is the fourth muscle in the quadriceps group. Unlike the vasti muscles, it begins on the hipbones at the iliac crest and above the socket where the head of the femur sits (acetabulum) in the hip. Its fibers run straight down from the hip to the knee. The tendon of the rectus femoris joins the tendons from the three vasti muscles to attach to the patella. Together, the three vasti and the rectus femoris muscles form the only real manner we have for extending the leg at the knee. The rectus femoris is much weaker when the hip is flexed (e.g., seated position, such as during leg extensions).

Barbell Squats in a Power Rack

1. Position your squat bar on the support bar in a power rack. The bar should be about mid-chest level when you’re facing it. Warm your knees up with lighter weights in the early sets and save the heavy stuff for the final three or four sets. Set the height of the lower safety bar of the power rack about two inches lower than the bottom position of your squat.

2. You may find that the heavy barbell will be very uncomfortable (even painful) as it rests on your upper trapezius and this will detract from your ability to concentrate on your quadriceps muscles. Most gyms have a bar pad you can wrap around the middle sections of the bar before setting up for the squat. Alternatively, you can wrap the center of the bar with a towel, or place the towel across your upper trapezius so the bar will rest on the towel. If you wrap the bar, be certain it won’t loosen during your set.

3. Grip the bar firmly with a wide grip. Place your head under the bar and bend your knees slightly. Position the wrapped bar high across your shoulders and the upper trapezius muscles (but not on your neck).

4. Keep your head up and tighten your back. Place your feet about shoulder-width apart. Lift the bar from its starting position on the power rack (don’t jerk the bar) by extending (straightening) your knees. Make sure you have full control of the weight before moving into position.

5. Take one step backward, just enough to clear the upper rack supports, so you won’t hit it during the exercise. Place your feet a little wider than shoulder width with your toes pointed slightly outward. Keep your head up and your back straight and tight, but maintain its natural curves. Again, make sure you’re in control of the weight, not the reverse, before beginning the squat.

6. Control the weight as you slowly lower your buttocks toward the floor by allowing your knees to flex. Continue squatting downward until the tops of your thighs are parallel to the floor, or when your knee angle has reached 90 degrees.

The lowest safety bar on your squat rack should’ve been set so it doesn’t contact the barbell at the bottom of the squat. Nevertheless, it should be high enough to “catch” the bar without excessive knee flexion if, for some reason, you fail during the set. It’s best to have a spotter to help you on the heavy sets, but even spotters can mess up. Therefore, it’s important to have properly positioned the lowest safety bar of the power rack before beginning your set.

Never bounce into or out of the bottom position. Such sloppy lifting will only result in knee injuries, not giant thighs. After you’ve reached the bottom, stand up in a smooth, fluid movement. Stop just short of fully locking out your knees, thereby maintaining the tension on the anterior thigh muscles. Keep your back tight and flat and your head up on the way up and on the way down.

Important Tips

All four quadriceps muscles are strongly activated during the ascent. However, the relative degree of muscle activity differs among these muscles. The tension in the vasti muscles diminishes as you approach the top portion of the lift (with knees straightened). Conversely, the rectus femoris is less active at the bottom (flexed knee and flexed hip position), but becomes more activated when the hip and knee are being extended. Since the gluteus maximus muscle is such a strong extensor of the hip, it’s very active during the ascent of the squat. The hamstring muscles can also be activated, particularly since they also act to extend the hip. The erector spinae muscles achieve a moderate isometric contraction during the lift to keep the back flat.

By keeping your head up when squatting, you’ll ensure your back is straight and flat. Excessive forward flexion of the torso will allow you to lift a little more weight, but it’s done with the back extensors and gluteal muscles rather than your quadriceps. Bending forward also increases the risk of lower back injury. While a little hip flexion is reasonable during squatting, this shouldn’t be excessive. After all, you’re not trying to be a powerlifter.

Some preferential muscle development in one or both of these areas is possible with squats, but the very similar anatomical positioning makes such specialization difficult. For example, if you bring both feet close together with toes pointing slightly inward (thus, a medial rotation of the hips, which brings the knees close together), the vastus lateralis will achieve a slightly greater activation because of an increased stretch on this muscle during contraction. This will accentuate the lateral “sweep” in your thighs. A wider foot placement and especially pointing the toes outward (lateral rotation of the knee and hip) will increase the preferential contractile activity of the vastus medialis, thereby accentuating the “tear drop” above the medial side of the knee. Because the rectus femoris and vastus intermedius insert in the middle of the patella, variation in foot stance will have no effect on the activation of these muscles.

Often, good weight trainers can approach leg training thinking they can only be successful if they’re crawling out of the gym after the squats are completed. Usually, this defeatist philosophy results from improper exercise form (e.g., bending forward, lifting too much weight, lack of concentrating on the quadriceps). Sure, you must train heavy, but you must also feel the weight and concentrate on your quadriceps during the exercise. It’s not necessary to start with the mindset that squats should be so exhausting that the cardiology team must be notified at the end of your sets. Rather, think “quads” during your squats, but don’t focus on exhaustion. This will result in an immediate difference in your squats and a huge difference in approaching giant size and the responsiveness of your quads.


Earl JE, Schmitz RJ and Arnold BL. Activation of the VMO and VL during dynamic mini-squat exercises with and without isometric hip adduction. J Electromyogr Kinesiol, 11: 381-386, 2001.

Jones K, Bishop P, Hunter G and Fleisig G. The effects of varying resistance-training loads on intermediate- and high-velocity-specific adaptations. J Strength Cond Res, 15: 349-356, 2001.

Moore, KL and AF Dalley. Clinically Oriented Anatomy, Fourth edition. Baltimore, Lippincott Williams & Williams, 531-546, 1999.

Rahmani A, Viale F, Dalleau G and Lacour JR. Force/velocity and power/velocity relationships in squat exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol, 84: 227-232, 2001.

Rasch, PJ. Kinesiology and Applied Anatomy, 7th edition. Philadelphia, London. Lea & Febiger, 1989, pp. 117-120.

Wallace DA, Salem GJ, Salinas R and Powers CM. Patellofemoral joint kinetics while squatting with and without an external load. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther, 32: 141-148, 2002.

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By: Stephen E. Alway, Ph.D., FACSM
Title: Muscular Thighs Begin With Squats
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Published Date: Mon, 11 Jul 2022 19:38:40 +0000

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Ripped Leg Blast for Carved Thighs



Powerful and thick thighs require gut-busting exercises like squats and leg presses. However, once you have acquired adequate thigh mass and strength, you should consider adding some balance and sharpness to the muscle bellies in your thighs. Although tough to accomplish, leg extensions provide a great way to carve the separations between the muscle bellies, and to accentuate the “teardrop” shape of the four quadriceps muscles of the anterior thigh.

Active Muscles in Leg Extensions

The three vasti muscles comprise most of the anterior thigh.1 The vastus medialis covers the medial (inner) part of the femur bone (thigh bone). When it is well developed, it forms a teardrop-like shape over the medial side of the knee joint. The vastus lateralis muscle attaches to the lateral (outer) part of the femur bone. The vastus intermedius connects to the femur bone between the vastus lateralis and the vastus medialis muscles. The fibers of all three vasti muscles come together at the quadriceps tendon, which crosses the patella (kneecap) to attach to the tibia bone just below the knee.1

Together, the three vasti muscles extend the leg at the knee joint, although the vastus intermedius may be more fatigue resistant than the vastus lateralis.2 The vastus medialis oblique (VMO), which is a small part of the vastus medialis muscle, attaches to the medial part of the patella. It is thought to help the patella track properly during movement of the knee. Improper tracking can increase the likelihood for knee injury.

The vastus medialis and especially the VMO part of this muscle are primarily responsible for tibial rotation (rotation of the tibia bone of the lower leg on the femur) during knee extension. This rotation or “twist” has been shown to increase the activation of the VMO portion of the vastus lateralis even more than doing knee extensions with the hip adducted (thigh rotated so that the medial portion of the knee is facing mostly upwards).3 Dorsiflexion of the foot (moving the ankles so the toes are pointing towards your head) also increases the activation of the VMO by more than 20 percent.4 Likely this is because the dorsiflexor muscles stabilize the tibia during knee flexion and resist rotation of the tibia on the femur as the knee straightens.

The fourth muscle of the quadriceps group is the rectus femoris muscle. It attaches to the anterior part of the hip bone just above the hip joint.1 The largest bulk of the muscle fibers are located on the upper three-quarters of the thigh, whereas the largest belly of the vastus medialis and vastus lateralis are more inferior (i.e., closer to the knee). The distal end of the rectus femoris muscle becomes tendinous and it creates a deep valley between the lateral and medial vastus muscles as it approaches the knee.1 It assists the other quadriceps muscles by extending the leg at the knee joint, although it is less effective when the hip is flexed than if it is straight.

Leg Extensions

The three vastus muscles of the anterior thigh are strongly activated by single-leg knee extensions. The rectus femoris is not activated as strongly, but it does undergo some overload when the anterior thigh is under contractile effort, about halfway up to the top of each repetition.

1. You should always warm up your knees with some stationary cycling prior to getting into leg extensions. Furthermore, the resistance on your first set should be fairly light to allow the joint to fully warm up before you get to the heavier stuff.

2. Adjust the knee extension machine so that the pivot point of the lifting arm is directly adjacent to the center of the side of your knee joint.

3. Position the ankle roller/leg pad over the lower part of the leg (above the ankle joint).

4. Take about three seconds to slowly extend (straighten) both leg so that the weight is lifted upward from the stack.

5. Continue upwards until the tibia and the femur bones form a straight line and the knee angle is straight. Hold this for two seconds at the top.

6. Slowly lower the weight (about four seconds down) towards the starting position. Once the knee has reached 90 degrees, start the upwards extension phase again. Continue for 12-15 repetitions for the first set. Lower the number of repetitions but increase the resistance for subsequent sets.

7. On the next sets, lift the weight upwards until the knee joint becomes almost straight, but just slightly short of a total knee lockout. Be careful that you do not “jam” the knee joint into a fully locked out position, because this could cause knee cartilage damage5, especially with heavy weights. Hold the top position for a count of three before lowering the weight.

8. Lower the weight slowly (four to five seconds) towards the starting position where your knee is flexed to 90 degrees. Just before the weight stack contacts the remaining plates at the bottom, start lifting it upward for the next repetition.

The downward movement should be slower than the upward phase because you are resisting the pull of gravity. The slow lowering of the weight stretches the muscle under a resistance and this is a great stimulus to improve muscle shape and size.6

Make sure that you do not hold your breath during the lift upwards.7 Rather take a breath at the bottom (start) of the lift, and exhale as you extend the knees/legs. Take another breath at the top and slowly exhale as the weight is lowered. Take another breath at the bottom and repeat the sequence.

This is a mechanically simply exercise, but it really can be very challenging and blood depriving8,9, especially if you try to control the weight as it is moving up and down. However, if you are willing to work through some discomfort, you will be soon enjoying your new shape and slabs of carved thighs.

GettyImages 674163248 600


1. Moore K.L. Clinically Orientated Anatomy. Third Edition. Williams & Willkins, Baltimore, 1995; pp 373-500.

2. Watanabe K, Akima H. Neuromuscular activation of vastus intermedius muscle during fatiguing exercise. J Electromyogr Kinesiol 2010;20:661-666.

3. Stoutenberg M, Pluchino AP, Ma F et al. The impact of foot position on electromyographical activity of the superficial quadriceps muscles during leg extension. J Strength Cond Res 2005;19:931-938.

4. Coburn JW, Housh TJ, Cramer JT et al. Mechanomyographic and electromyographic responses of the vastus medialis muscle during isometric and concentric muscle actions. J Strength Cond Res 2005; 19:412-420.

5. Senter C, Hame SL. Biomechanical analysis of tibial torque and knee flexion angle: implications for understanding knee injury. Sports Med 2006;36:635-641.

6. Alway SE, Winchester PK, Davis ME et al. Regionalized adaptations and muscle fiber proliferation in stretch- induced enlargement. J Appl Physiol 1989;66:771-781.

7. Garber CE, Blissmer B, Deschenes MR et al. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory, musculoskeletal, and neuromotor fitness in apparently healthy adults: guidance for prescribing exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2011;43:1334-1359.

8. Denis R, Bringard A, Perrey S. Vastus lateralis oxygenation dynamics during maximal fatiguing concentric and eccentric isokinetic muscle actions. J Electromyogr Kinesiol 2011;21:276-282.

9. Ueda C, Kagaya A. Muscle reoxygenation difference between superficial and deep regions of the muscles during static knee extension. Adv Exp Med Biol 2010;662:329-334.

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By: Stephen E. Alway, Ph.D., FACSM
Title: Ripped Leg Blast for Carved Thighs
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Published Date: Mon, 25 Jul 2022 19:11:16 +0000

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PRIMAL Preworkout



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By: Team FitRx
Title: PRIMAL Preworkout
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