Last updated on November 3rd, 2022 at 05:15 pm
Who else wants to know, “Why Can’t I Feel My Quads During Squats?”
I think most of us would agree that squats are one of the best (if not the best) exercises in existence.
Often lauded as the “King of Exercises”, this lower body movement seems to have it all.
However, one of the most frustrating aspects of squatting is not feeling the target muscles working, especially the quads.
So, allow me to explain what’s going on here.
Why Can’t I Feel My Quads During Squats?
Just because you can’t feel your quads during squats doesn’t mean that they’re not being activated. In fact, during many of the “big” compound lifts most people will complain that they can’t feel the target muscles working. If your quads are getting bigger and stronger then squats are doing their job. That being said, often weaker body parts, such as the glutes or hamstrings, may limit the amount of weight you can squat. Plus, there are far better exercises to activate the quads including, hack squats, front squats, and leg presses.
1. Not “Feeling” Quads Doesn’t Mean They’re Not Being Worked
This is something that holds true with many exercises, but just because you’re not “feeling” it doesn’t mean the muscles aren’t being stimulated.
Squats are viewed as an exercise that works the quads and glutes harder than any other muscles, so we usually expect to feel these muscles working.
However, “feeling” a muscle during exercise is not an indication that it is being worked.
Much the same as not feeling sore after a workout doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good session.
Looking at this from a slightly different perspective, I never, ever feel the bench press in my chest.
It got to the stage where I didn’t really feel as though I was getting anything out of the movement and I wasn’t really progressing.
And that is the whole point.
Are you actually getting stronger in your squats?
Are you lifting more weight or doing more reps on a fairly regular basis?
If you’ve answered yes, then your quads are definitely working during squats, whether you feel them or not.
In fact, I would say that if you are squatting a bar stacked with at least your own body weight, and you’re doing this for 8-10 reps then your quads are hugely involved.
Okay, ideally you want to get to 1.5 x body weight (and above) for 8-10 reps, but hopefully you get my point.
Feeling a muscle is never an indication that it’s being worked.
The first place to look is at your progression with an exercise.
2. Check You Squat Form
Squats may well be one of the best exercises in existence, but they also happen to be one of the most massacred movements ever.
I often find myself cringing in the gym environment when I watch other people squat.
And if I’m being completely honest, it’s typically us guys who make a complete mess of things.
I will hand on heart say, from my own years of personal experience, that women are better squatters (in the main) than guys.
Anyway, let’s not turn this into a battle of sexes, and about gender differences in the gym, so back to the point.
For me, far too many people try to squat with more weight than they should be.
Ego lifting is never good in my book, especially if it means poor technique.
Not only will you not hit the target muscles, but bad form is typically a precursor for injury.
I guess the most common example of poor technique I see with squats is pushing the hips back too far.
Basically, the movement turns from a squat into a modified good morning.
Your knees are barely bent, your hips are pushed much further back than they should be, and your torso is almost parallel to the floor.
This is not a squat.
It’s some type of hybrid good morning and Romanian deadlift.
In fact, I cited this lack of technique as one of the main issues in my article, “Why Are My Hamstrings Sore After Squats?”
And of course this poor form when squatting takes all the emphasis off the quads.
So, perhaps it’s time to lower the load on the bar and fix your form.
How to Get a Huge Squat With Perfect Technique
3. You Have Relative Weakness in the Posterior Chain
Something else that could impact your squatting is relative weakness in other muscles.
This is especially true of the muscles of the posterior chain, namely the glutes and hamstrings.
Basically, your quads are far stronger and more dominant than your glutes and hamstrings.
If this is the case then you’re probably not squatting anywhere near as much weight as you potentially could.
In effect, your strong quads are barely being stimulated under the load of the bar.
Whereas, your weak glutes and hamstrings are struggling to keep up.
This is actually far more common than you think.
We have a tendency to train the “show” muscles more than the ones we can’t see.
This simply means that the muscles that we can see in the mirror get far more attention than the ones behind us.
This is typically seen by strong and well-developed pecs, front delts, biceps, and quads.
And unfortunately, the lats, traps, rhomboids, triceps, glutes, and hamstrings are often left lagging behind.
We generally do this for aesthetic purposes.
We can “see” the pecs, biceps, and quads, so they get a real hammering during our training.
However, weirdly enough, if you were to train the various muscles behind you more often your body would actually look far more athletic and pleasing to the eye.
So, it’s perhaps time to be honest with yourself.
Are your quads a lot stronger when compared to your glutes and hamstrings?
If so, it’s time to re look at your training routine.
4. Squats Aren’t “The Best” Exercise For Quads
I know, “Shock! Horror!”
How can squats not be the best exercise for quads I hear you ask.
Squats are a fantastic exercise.
You can definitely pack on size and strength through squatting.
However, if you really want to “feel your quads” and you want to develop them better, there are far more advanced exercises.
This is something I spoke about in my article, “Can I Just Bench Squat and Deadlift?”
I would place hack squats, front squats, and the leg press far higher on the list as great quad-developers.
Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be performing the barbell back squat for muscle and strength.
You can certainly pack on serious size and get a lot stronger with traditional squats.
However, if your goal is to “feel” the quads and develop them more, then I would focus on these other exercises more.
Something else that definitely works for quad development and overall size and strength is the 20-rep squat routine created by Paul Carter at T-Nation.
Personally, I think the quads respond much better to high-rep training anyway.
If you think about it, you spend the vast majority of your day on your legs.
You walk, you sit down, you stand up, you remain standing for a while.
All of these activities stimulate the major muscles in the legs to some extent.
So, whereas 5-10 reps may blow up your chest, shoulders, and arms, you need something a little “extra” for your legs.
I’m a great fan of a quad dominant workout that includes:
- 20-rep barbell back squats
- 12-rep barbell front squats
- 30-rep leg presses
You try that routine and tell me you don’t feel your quads burning during and afterwards.
Plus, you may want to give walking a miss for a day or two.
So, if feeling and developing your quads is your goal, focus on other exercises, and give it some real volume.
The Most Scientific Way to Train Quads
Just because you can’t feel your quads during squats doesn’t mean they’re not being activated and stimulated. As long as you’re progressing in terms of either reps or weight then the quads are doing their job. However, if you’re not progressing this could point to poor squat technique, or your quads being relatively stronger than your glutes and hamstrings. Additionally, there are better exercises for quad-development than conventional squats.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.