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Have you ever heard of the phrase “turnip thighs?” Well, it is used to describe thighs that are heavily developed on the top, but with little development around the knee. This is actually a pretty common sight among many an aspiring bodybuilders, and is mostly the result of a poor range of motion (outside of genetics of course).
What do I mean by this? Half squats and half leg presses. I can’t tell you how often I see young guys in the gym with 500 lbs on a squat bar and 1000 lbs on a leg press, only to witness them move the weight all of a few inches. Whenever I see that I just want to shake them and “aggressively” explain that if they cut the weight in half, and used a full range of motion, they would see twice the development (and it would be more complete throughout the thigh).
Of course, not everyone is guilty of being a “half-repper,” and they simply have trouble filling out the lower quad area. Much of the thickness right above the knee is the result of a highly developed vastus medialis, or “teardrop” muscle. Former IFBB pros Tom Platz, Paul Demayo, and Mike Francois had ridiculously thick teardrops. They hung so far over their knees that they actually cast a shadow on the ground. Modern day warriors Ronnie Coleman, Branch Warren, and Kai Greene all have exceptional vastus medialis development, and one thing all of these men have in common is that they squat deep—always below parallel.
OK, so if this is an area of your physique that is lacking, here are some movements you can do.
World-renowned strength coach Charles Poliquin (who was an early mentor for me) loves to use this exercise with many of his Olympic athletes to increase lateral knee stability and to balance the strength between the vastus medialis and vastus lateralis. For bodybuilders, its major benefit is that it gives the teardrop a tremendous workout.
Squat down slowly to a point just below parallel, and then push yourself up only ¼ of the way. Slowly and under full control, return back to the bottom squat position, and then fire yourself up to the top. That counts as a single rep. As you can see, this will overload the bottom position of the squat, which will effectively annihilate the vastus medialis, as it is this muscle that is responsible (along with the hamstrings) for getting you “out of the basement.” This technique also works rather nicely for leg presses and hack squats as well.
The sissy squat is an exercise that you rarely see performed anymore. However, it is one of the best there is for scorching the lower area of the thigh.
Take a shoulder-width stance with toes straight-ahead or pointed slightly outward. Grasp onto a bar or machine at hip level with one arm and hold a weight plate across your chest with the other (if resistance is needed at all). Begin by bending at the knees, while allowing your body to fall backward. Keep your hips and waist straight as your knees come forward and your heels rise off the ground. Lower your body to the point where the knees almost touch the floor (how close you get to the floor will depend on each individual’s knee flexibility). You should feel a powerful stretch through the entire quad. Using thigh strength only, push yourself back to the starting position.
Perform leg extensions as you normally would, but as you near the top of your concentric contraction, turn your feet outward. Squeeze hard at the peak of the contraction. EMG studies have shown that this turning outward of the feet can stimulate greater electrical activity in the vastus medialis than normal extensions, which in turn may lead to greater growth in that region of the muscle. I feel this exercise is especially effective done one leg at a time.