Big quads are way cooler than big biceps. Everyone wants to be a part of the #QuadSquad. However, how does someone grow big quads? How do muscles even grow? In this article, we will break down the basics of muscle hypertrophy along with the best exercises and practices for quad growth.
Understanding Muscle Hypertrophy
Let’s talk about muscle growth. If you’ve spent enough time in a gym, you’ve heard the word hypertrophy mentioned once or twice. Hypertrophy literally means an increase in volume. By definition, it is the enlargement of an organ or tissue due to the increase in size of its cells.
In order for muscles to grow, they have to be stressed. Two factors that play a key role in muscle hypertrophy are…
- Mechanical Tension
- Muscle Fiber Recruitment
External load (the amount of weight you lift) is going to influence mechanical tension. Mechanical tension is the force exerted on your muscles during resistance training. When muscle fibers experience a significant amount of mechanical tension, the muscle’s cells are physically stressed, which triggers anabolic pathways leading to muscle hypertrophy!
Muscle fiber recruitment is defined as the number of muscle fibers working at a given time. This is influenced by motor unit recruitment. A motor unit is the motor neuron and its respective muscle fibers that it innervates. Think of it this way, holding your phone requires small motor units vs. lifting a heavy barbell requires large motor units. Large motor units innervate large muscle fibers, which have the largest capacity and threshold for muscle hypertrophy!
So how can we influence both of these factors for quad growth? It comes down to understanding the force-velocity relationship curve.
From research, we understand muscle fibers can experience high levels of mechanical tension when working very hard to produce a lot of force, but it has to occur at a slow vs. fast speed. As you can see above in the image, this is where maximal strength falls. This can be achieved with lifting a heavy external load. Think about how difficult and challenging it is to move the bar when you’re only working in your 85-95% 1RM range. Lifting heavy weights will also contribute to greater muscle fiber recruitment. With a heavy external load requiring more effort, your body is going to recruit larger motor units to help out. What’s interesting to note is fatigue alone can increase both factors, regardless of the amount of weight you’re lifting. With fatigue, smaller motor units will eventually fatigue out leading to larger motor units being recruited to finish the job. As fatigue increases, the movement is bound to slow down and effort will continue to ramp up, which is going to increase mechanical tension and muscle fiber recruitment. This brings me to the next big question, what is the optimal rep and weight scheme for quad growth?
The New Hypertrophy Continuum
According to a recent article by Schoenfeld et al. 2017 (Brad Schoenfeld PhD is a big name in muscle hypertrophy research), both heavy and light loads can be equally effective in promoting muscle growth provided training is carried out with a high level of effort. This builds off of what was mentioned earlier, working hard until fatigue seems to be one of the most important factors with driving muscle hypertrophy!
How many times should you train a week?
Training a specific muscle group at least 2x a week maximizes growth. At least 9 sets per muscle group can induce hypertrophy, with more volume leading to more gains.
Our recommendation for quad gains:
Train the quads specifically with compound and isolated exercises 2x/week with 9-12 sets per training session, 8-15 reps per set. This would mean if you picked 4 exercises that hit the quads, you could do 3 sets per exercise, 3 sets X 4 exercises = 12 total sets per training session x 2 training sessions = 24 total sets/week. The caveat here is this training volume will stimulate quad hypertrophy differently for each person. Depending on the individual’s contextual factors and their training history – they may need more sets per training session. For example, if you already train your quads 2-3x/week – find out what your current volume is and understand you could technically work up to a total of 45 total sets/week, that’s a lot of quad volume!
Hope you enjoyed learning a thing or two about muscle hypertrophy and how to build massive quads, in our next blog post we’ll discuss the top 5 exercises for quad growth. Stay tuned!
- “Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis." Schoenfeld et al. 2016.
- Schoenfeld BJ, Grgic J, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Strength and hypertrophy adaptations between low-versus high-load resistance training: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Strength Cond Res. 2017;31:3508–23.
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