The 6 Best Quad Focused, Knee Dominant Exercises

Legs 6 min Read

Written by

Keith Hansen

We split exercises into vertical pushing, vertical pulling, horizontal pushing, and horizontal pulling for the upper body.

The lower body is a bit simpler.

Most movements are hip dominant (glute/hamstring focused) or knee dominant (quad focused).

Lower body exercises are categorized by which joint (knee or hip) goes through the most extensive range of motion and contributes the most effort.

Some variations of the squat, like the low bar squat we teach at SST, are a good combo of both knee & hip work.

Also, note that the focus of these exercises is more or less knee dominant by adjusting foot placement.

The knee/hip dominant relationship is inverse. When an exercise becomes more knee dominant, the hip will get less focus. Conversely, the knee will receive less stress when a movement becomes more hip dominant.

1. High Bar Squats

High bar squats are the ultimate knee dominant exercise. You can use huge weights with them and develop tree trunk quads.

Most of your workouts should begin with a heavy barbell movement, and there is no better choice than high bar squats.

If you want to get the most growth in your quads using high bar squats, be sure to get a full range of motion in your knees.

It is recommended to put on some squat shoes or elevate your heels with 5lb plates to help you get lower.

2. Bulgarian Split Squats

Bulgarian split squats are quickly becoming a favorite around the Seriously Strong gym.

Elevate your back leg, so the top of your foot rests on a bench press. A greater distance between your legs makes this exercise more hip dominant. The closer your legs are, the more knee dominant it will be.

You want to get into a deep squat where your back knee gets close to the ground without lifting the heel of your lead leg.

3. Unilateral Leg Presses

Unilateral leg presses are a good finisher for a knee-dominant workout. It’s the least complicated movement on the list, making it suitable at the end of a training session when you are tired.

Like many unilateral (single leg) exercises on this list, foot placement is hugely important.

Placing your foot towards the bottom of the footpad will increase your knee’s range of motion and, ultimately, the amount of work your quad does.

4. Walking Lunges

Walking lunges are a very similar movement to Bulgarian split squats, but they require less balance.

The same rules for foot placement apply: bigger steps make the movement more hip dominant. Keep your steps short enough so that your knee drives far forward at the bottom of the step without lifting your heel.

5. Goblet Squats

Goblet squats are front squats. You’ll use the same body posture and mechanics as with a barbell front squat, but goblet squats don’t require extraordinary levels of mobility in the wrists and T-spine. 

Goblet squats are a very forgiving exercise and require no specialized equipment. Grab a dumbbell, a kettlebell, a watermelon, or your little brother.

Goblet squats are the first exercise we use to teach squat mechanics. Don’t let the simplicity of this exercise fool you.

A 100lb goblet squat is harder than a 200lb back squat, and I guarantee it will grow your quads more.

6. TRX Assisted Step-Ups

Step-ups are hard to do well. They turn into a weird power move where you are thrusting yourself up onto the box most of the time.

If you’re looking to build more strength & muscle from this exercise, you need to slow it down.

Grab a pair of TRX straps or anything you can hold onto to assist you with the up and down portion of this exercise. Again, minimize the force your ground foot generates, and focus on doing the exercise slowly.

A higher box will be more difficult so adjust the height until you find what works best.

You want to be able to do this exercise with a lot of control so maximize hypertrophy in your quads.

Start a Program

Knee dominant exercises are just one part of a well-rounded strength training program.

You’ll find them and everything else you need in the free Seriously Strong Programs.

Check them out below.

Download The Seriously Strong Beginner Program Download The Seriously Strong Intermediate Program Download The Seriously Strong Advanced Program

Keith Hansen

Keith was an All-State wrestler in high school and in 2007 hung up his singlet to attend Florida State University to pursue a B.S. in business management. He wasn't sure what industry he wanted to be involved in at the time, but soon realized after graduating in 2011 that fitness was the ever-constant activity in his life. Keith began studying to become a personal trainer and in 2013 earned the National Strength and Conditioning Association's Personal Trainer certification. After a short stint as a big box gym trainer he realized he wanted to bring something different to Tallahassee. Keith competes in Powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting, and Crossfit.