Many of us have to work hard to create shape and definition in our quads, with a little elbow grease, some training tricks and a dash of intensity.

A quad sweep refers to the shape of the quadriceps muscles, specifically the outermost of the four, the vastus lateralis. When developed well, this muscle sweeps outwards and then downward, creating a rounded shape rather than a strictly vertical one, and giving the legs a fuller, more muscular appearance.

Though your four quadriceps muscles always work together — that is, you can’t work the vastus lateralis or the rectus femoris without also engaging the others – there are ways to make one work harder than the rest, allowing you to specifically shape your legs the way you want them.

Foot position, toe position and the position of your feet on machine carts can influence the emphasis of an exercise. A standard exercise, such as the leg press, can be made more quad-centric by placing your feet lower on the footplate, while a leg extension performed with your toes turned slightly inward will hit the vastus lateralis harder than a standard extension. Using heavier weights when lifting may also be key because, as you know, heavier weights equal greater muscle breakdown, which equals growth and change.

Use this quad routine once a week to start, working your way up to two days a week. Leave at least three full days of rest in between workouts to allow for adequate recovery, and remember to stretch thoroughly to assist in the repair and rebuilding of your muscles.

Related article: 6 Calisthenics Home Exercises That’ll Work Your Abs Butt & Thighs

Get Killer Quads

For each move, rest about one minute between sets to recover, up to two minutes if you’re lifting heavier.

Use this quad routine once a week to start, working your way up to two days a week. Leave at least three full days of rest in between workouts to allow for adequate recovery, and remember to stretch thoroughly to assist in the repair and rebuilding of your muscles.

Exercise Sets Reps
Single-Legged Leg Press 3 (each leg) 10–12
Smith Machine Bulgarian Split Squat 3 (each leg) 10–12
Front Squat 3–4 6–8
Leg Extension 4 10–12
Sissy Squat 3 8–10

Single-Legged Leg Press

Single legged leg press to tone and strengthen your quads and glutes

Target Muscles: quadriceps, gluteus maximus

Set Up:

  • Sit at the leg press machine with your back against the padding.
  • Place one foot on the footplate and put your other foot on the floor underneath the machine.
  • Extend your leg to push the footplate away from you, then slowly bend your knee to return to the start.
  • When your set is complete, repeat on your opposite leg.

Why is this good? Single-legged motions force your legs to work individually, adding stress to build strength and size unilaterally.

Tip: Place your foot lower on the footplate to hit the quads harder.

Related article: 9 Core Crusher Exercises for a Flat Stomach In Just 4 Weeks

Smith Machine Bulgarian Split Squat

Smith machine bulgarian split squat shapes quads legs and strengthens the back

Target Muscles: quadriceps, gluteus maximus, hamstrings

Set Up:

  • Adjust the Smith machine so that the bar rests across the back of your shoulders.
  • Extend your left leg behind you and place the foot, laces down, onto a flat bench.
  • Bend both knees, keeping your weight centred over your working leg.
  • When you’ve come as low as you can go, press through your front heel to stand.
  • When your set is through, switch sides.

Why is this good? The Smith machine adds an element of balance to the one-legged motion, forcing the quads to work harder to maintain stability in the knee and hip.

Tip: If a bench isn’t available, simply stagger your feet so the non-working leg is in front, touching the ground for balance but bearing very little, if any, weight.

Related article: 7 Most Effective Kettlebell Exercises for Toned Arms and Back

Front Squat

Front squat give shapely round glutes and add strength to hamstrings and quads

Target Muscles: quadriceps, gluteus maximus, hamstrings

Set Up:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and rest them lightly on the fronts of your shoulders, with your elbows pointing towards the floor as shown.
  • Bend your knees and hips to lower into a squat.
  • Stop when your thighs are parallel to the ground, then press through your heels to stand.

Why is this good? Squats are the ultimate quad builder, engaging and stressing all four muscles equally. Front squats shift your centre of gravity forward, emphasising the quads more than the glutes.

Tip: If you’re used to back squats, these might feel awkward at first. Use a lighter weight than normal until you get used to the motion, and build up from there. Alternately, try this exercise with a barbell.

Related article: The 25 Best Exercises for Men and Women To Build Muscle

Sissy Squat

Sissy squats target quads and glutes they shape and define the muscles

Target Muscles: quadriceps

Set Up:

  • Stand beside a post or pole, with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Hold the post with your nearest hand with a light but supportive grip.
  • As you bend your knees into a full squat, simultaneously lift your heels from the floor, leaning your torso rearward as shown.
  • Stop when your knees are fully flexed, then reverse to return to the start.

Why is this good? Sissy squats create a deep separation in the mid thigh, giving the sweep a more drastic appearance.

Tip: This is a beginners version. As you advance, try to drop your knees closer to the floor.

Related article: 6 BodyWeight Butt Exercises to Sculpt Head Turning Glutes

Leg Extension

Leg extension exercise targets the quads shapes and adds power with definition

Target Muscles: quadriceps

Set Up:

  • Adjust the machine so the pad touches your shin just above the ankle.
  • Grasp the handles on either side of the machine for stability, and flex your feet.
  • Smoothly lift the lever arm by extending your legs, squeezing the quads hard before returning to the start.
  • Keep a small bend in your knees at the top of the move.

Why is this good? Extensions are isolation moves that specifically target the sweep.

Tip: Rotate your femurs (the thighs — not just your toes!) inward so that your toes point towards one another slightly to better hit and isolate the vastus lateralis.