The quadriceps is the largest and strongest muscle in the human body. Supporting most of the weight of the body, involved in the majority of our movements, it allows us to move and plays a major role in physical activities such as walking, running or jumping. Preserving it and strengthening it on a daily basis allows you to maintain good mobility.
Better known as the muscles of the thighs, the quadriceps form, with the hamstrings, the muscle group of the legs. Imposing muscle, actually consisting of four muscles (hence its name, “quadri”), it is part of the anterior compartment of the thigh and is attached to the patella. Antagonist of the hamstrings, the quadriceps is the main muscle that bears the weight of the body when standing. Its role is essential since it allows the leg to be extended at the knee joint and allows the body to move with the legs. Indispensable in everyday life for walking, running or jumping, it needs to be muscular if you want to avoid inflammation and injury. Aesthetically, this interview also allows you to have pretty curved legs, with firm thighs. Let’s discover the exercises that can help on a daily basis.
Quadriceps: how does it look anatomically?
The quadriceps femoris muscle (also called quadriceps femoris before or more simply today, quadriceps) is composed, as its name suggests, of 4 parts or “heads”, constituting the anterior (front) part of the thigh:
- The rectus femoris muscle (anterior) : which goes from the antero-inferior iliac spine (coxal bone) to the base of the patella;
- The vastus medialis (vastus medialis) muscle : which goes from the femoral diaphysis to the tuberosity of the tibia;
- The vastus lateralis muscle (vastus lateralis) : which goes from the greater trochanter to the tuberosity of the tibia;
- Vastus intermedius (crural) muscle : which goes from the anterior surface of the femur towards the tendons of the vastus and rectus femoris muscles.
These four parts meet above the patella. They first form the quadriceps tendon, then the patellar tendon which attaches to the anterior tuberosity of the tibia (ATT). This is innervated by the various branches of the quadriceps nerve, itself the terminal motor branch of the femoral nerve originating from the lumbar plexus.
What is its function ?
The quadriceps has two essential functions:
- Flexor of the thigh on the pelvis, it is mainly in charge of the extension of the knee. The vastus medialis also helps stabilize the patella and knee joint during walking and standing;
- Extensor of the leg above the thigh, it participates, thanks to the rectus femoris, in the flexion of the hip. If the leg is fixed, this muscle even allows an anteversion of the pelvis: the action of tilting the pelvis forward.
Thanks to it, we can squat, but also extend, unbend, straighten or extend the hip and legs in general. Key movements in everyday life!
The vastus lateralis muscle and the vastus medialis muscle also help to prevent off-centering of the patella in the frontal plane. When the knee is in flexion: it can rotate internally thanks to the vastus medialis and externally thanks to the vastus lateralis. In other words, the quadriceps help protect the knee.
“The quadriceps are particularly stressed when practicing a sport, in particular in team sports such as football, rugby or basketball, but also cycling, jogging, sliding sports or even tennis. volume in the front of the thigh, they are an important lever for sprinting and propelling the leg forward, thus increasing their power can improve sports performance, especially in sports such as football, skiing or cycling”details Gwénaëlle Dargnies, masseur-physiotherapist, naturopath in Rennes and author of “Your back will thank you”, published by Eyrolles.
What abnormalities or pathologies can affect it?
Like all muscles, the quadriceps can suffer trauma, during inappropriate movements, or be affected by certain pathologies.
We thus observe, more frequently:
- Disuse atrophy after long-term immobilization. Physiotherapy sessions are prescribed, when possible, to prevent it;
- In poorly trained people, a violent movement can lead to quadriceps tear ;
- A hematoma (blood)during the practice of violent contact sports such as football or rugby;
- quadriceps tendinopathy : either an inflammation of the tendon of the quadriceps on the upper edge of the patella. This pathology is common in athletes;
- patellar tendinopathy : either an inflammation of the patellar tendon connecting the patella to the anterior tibial tuberosity (pathology also common in athletes).
Why train the quadriceps?
The quadriceps play a major role, on a daily basis, in the smooth running of movements aimed at moving. “When well developed, they can therefore help to run faster, jump higher, swim more efficiently, pedal faster. They are even called upon in disciplines that favor the use of the arms. Power comes mainly from the legs!”says the specialist.
Strengthening your quadriceps allows you to:
- Improve the stability and control the movements of the patella (thanks to the vastus medialis), which has the effect of reducing possible pain in the knees;
- Improve the knee’s ability to bend and fully extend without pain;
- Strengthen your support and gain power, both on the ground, in sprints or in a squatting position (which is particularly useful for athletes: in defense in basketball, at the reception when playing a shot in tennis, etc.)
When the quadriceps is weak, the risk of injury, especially to the knee, is greater. Over time, the cartilage can indeed be damaged and cause inflammation in the joint. Conversely, strong quadriceps reduce the risk of knee injury.
Note: Strengthening the quadriceps muscles can be very useful during periods of growth to maintain the knees. “It makes it possible to preserve good stability of the patella and therefore to avoid patella dislocations that can be detected in adolescents and young adults (patellar syndrome)”explains Gwénaëlle Dargnies.
Working your quadriceps is also a great way to burn calories and therefore lose weight. The quadriceps are an extremely energy-intensive muscle: training them burns more calories than when you work your biceps, for example.
Finally comes the aesthetic criterion. Well-muscled quadriceps shape firm, toned thighs and beautiful shapely legs. It is therefore important to train them, that is to say to build them up and stretch them, if you want to show off your legs with pride in spring and summer!
How to muscle them?
Accustomed to carrying a large part of your weight, the quadriceps are difficult to work: “To build them significantly, you have to train regularly, but also, if you can, add difficulty by using accessories (weighted vests, dumbbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, etc.)”suggests the specialist.
The ideal is to set up 90 targeted sessions per week on this muscle group, distributed as follows:
- 3 special quadriceps exercises: 3 sets of 10 repetitions for each exercise;
- 3 special quadriceps exercises: 4 sets of 8 repetitions for each exercise;
- 3 special quadriceps exercises: 5 sets of 6 repetitions for each exercise.
The first results should be seen after 3 months. If not and you still have energy left, you can increase to 120 reps per week by adding an exercise.
Here are some exercises you can do at home to build muscle mass in your quadriceps:
We often talk about squats when it comes to sculpting your glutes (but also the hamstrings or adductors), but the exercise also has interest for the femoral muscles.
“It allows you to use the weight of your body as a workload and to perform a vertical pushing movement of the legs. The most important thing: keep your back as straight as possible and ensure that when bending, the knees do not go beyond the tips of the feet”explains Gwénaëlle Dargnies.
Description of the exercise: Stand upright with your legs apart at hip width. Your feet should be slightly open duck. Go down until you form a right angle with your legs, extend your arms in front of you to maintain your balance and go back up by pushing on your legs. Do you easily perform fifteen repetitions in a row? Complicate the exercise a little in this case, by adding weight or resistance: for example, a kettlebell between your hands or by using a rubber band bar. They will stimulate your muscles more deeply.
Note: squats should only be done after warming up to avoid injury. Take the time to really feel the contractions and above all, lift an appropriate load. If the latter is too heavy, your joints will suffer and lower back pain will appear.
Le Front squat
Similar to squats, this exercise is enhanced with a barbell raised above the shoulders. It targets the quadriceps more and optimizes the work of these muscles.
This exercise is useful for strengthening the muscle group. The lunges improve the dynamism of the muscles but also the endurance. They…