How Bodybuilder Julian Smith Sculpted the World’s Most Impressive Quads | Men's Health Magazine Australia

How Bodybuilder Julian Smith Sculpted the World’s Most Impressive Quads

I first saw Julian Smith when I was browsing through the explore section on Instagram one day. The dude is built like a brick $hit house, but there is definitely one body part that stands above the rest: dem quads tho!

His quads are straight X-Men level mutant status – in a good way. They’ve got size, separation, and a feathering that would make the My Pillow guy jealous. He’s got wheels of steel that were built on the back of over a decade of dedicated leg training.

There’s simply no more impressive muscle group on the human physique than a well-developed set of quads. Not only can you rock mid-thigh shorts like a boss, but strong quads protect the knees and are crucial to athletic performance.

The best way to work your quads is through knee-dominant exercises like squats and lunges. But lots of people squat and lunge and still don’t have a fraction of the quad-acity that Julian exhibits. So we went to the source for some fitspiration to find out which specific movements have helped Julian to solve the quad-ractic equation. Consider incorporating them into your next lower-body workout. 


Here’s are Smith’s top 4 quad-quaking exercises:

1. Feet-together barbell squat

Julian calls this move “the meat and potatoes of quad development.” Using an inside shoulder-width stance shifts the focus from the glutes to the quads.

Julian recommends 4 to 6 sets of a varied rep range. Some days he goes heavier for lower reps, other days he goes lighter for higher reps, and then sometimes he mixes in heavy and light work within the same training session.

Keep in mind that Julian has the ankle mobility of a mutant and most of you will not be able to perform this type of squat as deep as him or with your feet together. And that’s cool. It took him years to get to this point and you must respect the process.

In terms of depth, only lower to the point where you can maintain that slight natural arch in your lower back. When you start rounding your lumbar spine (it’s called a “butt wink”), that’s too low and can put you at risk of injury. You can also sit onto a box or bench of a set height to prevent you from going too low in the beginning. Most people will do great with a range of motion where the hip crease is just at or slightly below the knee crease.

In terms of foot placement, start by just narrowing your stance a bit more than normal and see how it feels. You can progressively keep bringing your feet closer together as long as you can maintain a pain-free, full range of motion.

Honestly, most guys will get smoked with this move using just their bodyweight. If you feel like you’re going to fall back – most likely due to a lack of hip and/or ankle mobility – start by using your hands to hold onto something for counter-balance like the rail of a power rack or a TRX suspension trainer.

2. Bodyweight sissy squat

This exercise is just about as old school as it gets. Julian says: “Just like the pullup, pushup, or dip, the sissy squat is a foundational bodyweightexercise that must be mastered if you want to max out your quad gains.”

What makes this move so effective? The more your knees travel forward past your toes, the more directly you stress the quadriceps. It’s basically like using your bodyweight to perform a leg extension (see more on that below), which isolates your quads and takes the glutes and hamstrings out of the equation.

I can already hear you bitching and moaning about how the knees should never go past the toes and that this move will destroy your knees. If you have a history of knee pain, poor mobility, and have never done this move before, then yes, it will most likely be too much stress for you in the beginning. But before you totally discount this move, consider two things:

One, you can perform this move self-assisted by holding onto something like a bar, rail, Smith machine, or TRX. You can also modify the range of motion as much as needed to build up to Julian’s level. If this is still too much for you, try squatting with your heels elevated onto a low box/step/board or weight plates, which still gives you the extra quad stress without as much stress on the knees and with less of a balancing component. A hack squat machine or any front-loaded squatting variation are also legit substitutes.

Two, this is what works for Julian and many other top natural bodybuilders and he’s never had a knee injury before. But it may not work for you and that’s okay. Instead of trashing the exercise, learn more about and give it a shot using the advice outlined above. If you dig it, great. If not, no worries. At least you tried it and learned more about it. And that’s always a good thing.

Julian says: “I always go to failure on these, as I would on mostbodyweight exercises! I hit around 3 to 4 sets but I mix up the tempo frequently, which drastically changes the amount of reps I get per set. If I do just a basic up-down tempo I could go as high as 50-plus reps per set. But I often do 10-second negatives, which would push me down closer to the 10 to 15 rep range.”

3. Leg extension

The rise of functional training and a cherry-picked study that found the leg extension to put too much stress on your knees has led to a dramatic decline in the popularity of this classic quad-builder.

Can you build great quads without the leg extension? Absolutely. Can you max out your quad development and achieve the level of muscularity and definition that Julian and other top bodybuilders have? Probably not.

And to be honest, the problem that arises with leg extensions for most people is they go too heavy, use too much momentum and don’t use a full range of motion. It’s really more an issue of bad form and poor programming than it is about being a bad exercise.

Julian claims that “If you want to add size, you need to hit your compound, multi-joint moves like squats and lunges. But if you want to add that sharp detail and crisp feathering, leg extensions are a must!”

Smith recommends 4 sets of between 20 and 30 reps on these. When he occasionally dips into the lower 8 to 12 rep range with heavier weights, he uses full contraction pauses or “quad squeezes” on every rep with his knees fully extended. In terms of proper performance, Julian advises that you keep your butt down on the seat throughout the movement.

4. Smith machine sissy squat

I’ve seen a lot of crazy fitness feats but I’ve never seen anything like this before. This freakish-looking exercise is Smith’s signature quad-quaking move. Make no mistake about it – it’s super advanced and it will take you years to get to this level. Are you willing to put in the time and effort to get there? I guess the better question is, how bad do you want it?

Julian calls this move “old school with a touch of new school,” where you take a challenging move and make it even harder. Standing on a box or bench allows your knees to travel further than the floor would otherwise. This extreme range of motion translates into an extreme muscle-building stimulus for the quads.

Smith recommends 3 to 4 sets with a very slow and controlled 4-second lowering on each rep. Use just the bar on the Smith machine in the beginning and be sure to have mastered the regular sissy squat before attempting this move, for the love of God.

Start implementing these moves into your training today. You’ll know you’re doing them right if your thighs start getting bigger and your shorts start getting shorter.

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