Quad sets are one of those simple yet powerful exercises that can help you maximize your recovery or rehabilitation period.
As with any exercise, quad sets should only be done with a doctor’s approval. But, chances are, if you’ve recently dealt with a knee injury or surgery, quad sets are in your future.
What is a quad set?
“The quad set, or total knee extension (TKE), is a great way to improve quad engagement, which can be off after injury or surgery,” says Carlos Tisdale, CSCS, founder of Low Back Solutions. “I use quad sets to recover from surgery or serious knee injuries.”
Tisdale explains that quad sets can help you regain full range of motion in your knee, but a few guidelines apply.
Start slow and don’t push yourself past the point of muscle fatigue.
“By trying to actively squeeze the quad muscles to fully extend your knee, you’ll never go beyond the normal range of motion that your strength allows you to,” he says. “This natural limiter will prevent injury and improve results.”
Also, when You do not subject the quad set. “[Quad sets] Not good exercises to do before heavy squats, sprinting or sports that involve cutting, jumping or landing,” says Tisdale. “They will tire the muscles that control knee extension,” he explains, which makes your knee susceptible to injury.
How to set up a quad
- Sit on a mat with your legs extended in front of you. Roll a small towel and place it under your knees.
- Use your quad muscles to fully straighten your legs and press the towel behind your knees. Hold the extension for three seconds, then release.
- Complete three sets of 10 repetitions on the affected leg. However, if your quad muscles reach complete fatigue before you complete 10 repetitions, stop, rest, and shorten your next set as needed.
More quad exercises
“Unlike most rehab movements, quad sets are not good to do outside of rehab,” says Tisdale, because they can tire the small muscles responsible for managing knee stability.
If you’re working on a pair of healthy, pain-free knees, here are some alternative quad exercises that can help you build quad strength.
1. Lunge from front to back
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and hold a pair of dumbbells at your sides.
- Keeping your chest up and core engaged, take a big step with your right leg.
- Lower your body until your right thigh is parallel to the floor and your left knee is bent about 90 degrees just above the floor.
- Pause, and then push off with your right leg, returning to a reverse lunge without returning to the starting position.
- That one is representative. Complete all your repetitions and then repeat with your left leg.
2. Banded squat
- Loop a small resistance band around both legs just above your knees. Stand tall with your arms at your sides, feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointed forward.
- Keeping your back flat and core braced, push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Pause, and then push yourself back up to the starting position.
3. Walking lung
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your hands on your hips.
- With a stride slightly less than twice your normal walking stride, bring your left foot forward and plant your left foot.
- Come up onto the ball of your right foot as you bend your left knee 90 degrees (or as far as you can comfortably go) and lower your right knee, allowing it to rotate just above the ground. Your back knee should also be bent at a 90-degree angle.
- With your weight on your left leg, straighten your leg by pushing off your right leg, bringing your right leg forward to meet your left leg as you return to a standing position.
- Lunge forward with your right leg and repeat on the opposite side.
- Continue lunging forward with alternating legs for a specified distance or number of steps.
4. Bulgarian split squats
- Stand facing away from a bench, holding a pair of dumbbells by your side. (If the Bulgarian split squat is a new movement for you, you may want to skip using dumbbells.)
- Place your left toes on the bench behind you.
- Keeping your torso straight, lower your body until your right thigh is parallel to the ground and your left knee is touching the floor.
- Pause, and then return to the starting position. Repeat equally on both legs.
5. Pistol squats
- Stand with your back on a bench or other stable, knee-high platform, holding a dumbbell in front of your chest with both hands. (If the pistol squat is a new movement for you, you may want to skip using dumbbells.)
- Extend your right leg in front of you with your toes, keeping your heel an inch or two off the floor.
- Keeping your chest lifted, your back flat and your core engaged, push your hips back and lower your hips into the bench.
- Return to the starting position without letting your right foot touch the floor.
- Repeat equally on both legs.