Written by Ron Harris
15 December 2021




Leg Blast for Bigger Outer Quad Sweep


By Ron Harris


Bigger Isn’t Better – the Illusion of Bigger Is Better


Every bodybuilder worth his salt wants huge legs. If you’re only concerned with how you look in long board shorts or in pants, that may not be the case, but if so, you wouldn’t have even glanced at this article. True bodybuilders want a physique that is balanced and fully developed from all angles. The thing about the quadriceps is that mere size isn’t what makes them impressive. Genuinely impressive quads that make onlookers blurt out “holy shit!” also have a certain shape to them that we refer to as “outer sweep.” When viewed from the front, the quads bow out to the sides. Otherwise, the quads are what we call “straight up and down.” Interestingly, two sets of quads can measure exactly the same, but the pair with excellent sweep will appear to be much larger than the legs that lack that quality. Years ago, I asked Jay Cutler what his thighs measured. I never got that number. Instead, he chuckled and told me, “My quads don’t measure as much as people would think they do – they just have that shape to them.” Granted, there is no doubt in my mind that Cutler’s quads taped out to at least 29-30 inches in shape, but that’s not the point. What made his thighs so stunning that they helped him win four Mr. Olympia titles and were the centerpiece of one of the most iconic photos in bodybuilding history – the “quad stomp” at the 2009 Mr. Olympia contest – was that freaky sweep. At the great risk of seeming arrogant and/or delusional in comparing my quads to Jay’s (as I am well aware we are virtually two different species), I can also state that my measurement is nothing to brag about. Yet all I ever hear about is how great my quads are. Why? They have a highly pronounced outer sweep.


The Bottom of the X-Frame


Do you need one last compelling reason why you should want better quad sweeps? We’ve been talking about the “X-Frame” for years now. You already know that the top of that X is a V, or a V-taper. A great V-taper results from having wide shoulders and upper back along with a narrow waist. To complete that X requires width to the thighs as they flare away from the waist. Unless you have exceptional quad sweep, you don’t have enough “mirror” flare at the bottom to match the taper up top. Put them both together and you have that awesome X-Frame!


What Is the Sweep, and How Do You Get It?


As you probably know, the quadriceps muscle consists of four parts: the vastus medialis, the vastus intermedius (not visible), the rectus femoris and the vastus lateralis. It’s that last segment of the quadriceps that is responsible for what we call the sweep. The question is, is developing that facet of the quads itself enough to give someone a pronounced sweep, or are we dealing with a genetically predetermined muscle shape similar to the situation with biceps peaks? That issue has been debated for decades, and there is no consensus. I don’t think many would argue that some bodybuilders did luck out with that shape to the vastus lateralis. Evidence of this can be seen when perusing photos of these men when they were just starting out competing and significantly smaller than they eventually became. Usually they had a good amount of sweep to their quads at 20 inches, which logic would dictate became even more apparent when they built their thighs to 30 inches or more. Check out pics of guys like Jay, Branch, or Paul DeMayo as teens, and you will see what I mean. So is that it, are we done here? It’s all genetics? Not so fast. Each and every one of you can develop a better sweep to your outer quads by emphasizing the vastus lateralis in your leg training. The more you develop this part of the quads, the better illusion of a sick sweep you will create. Never forget, we are artists of muscle, and we are able to tailor our training to create the work of art we envision. Muscle shape is 100 percent genetics and cannot be altered. What we can do is build up certain areas. For example, a man with a wider waist and hips can focus on shoulder and upper back width until he has created the illusion of a better V-taper. You can do the same thing with your quads.


Close Stance for Killer Sweep


The secret to targeting the vastus lateralis is almost laughably simple. Bring in your foot stance! Most of you were probably taught from the start to take a shoulder-width stance on compound leg movements such as squats, leg presses and hack squats. That’s pretty solid advice, although many of you probably found that squats felt more natural when you opened up your stance wider. You might have also played around with shifting your foot position on the leg press platform to selectively target certain areas. The most common variation is to set your feet higher up and wider on the platform to involve the glutes and hamstrings more. To hit that sweep, you want to do the opposite, and set your feet closer together and lower. How close and how low? That depends on your individual anatomy. Some of you will experience extra pressure and eventually pain in the knees if you stray too far from the standard foot positions. Some of you will be able to do what I do and what I recommend if your knees can take it safely, which is to have your feet all the way together and at the very bottom of the platform. Depending on the model of leg press, sometimes my heels are off the bottom edge. If you are skeptical about the effectiveness of this method, it’s an easy experiment. Just put a couple of plates on the leg press and do 20 slow, controlled reps with a standard foot placement. Wait a couple of minutes, then go back and do 20 more reps with your feet together and lower on the platform. You will find you do feel the outer quads working harder on that second set. You can use the same technique on hack squats. As for squats, I don’t advise taking this extremely close foot stance simply because staying balanced will be an issue. Since the Smith machine is on a track and thus already balanced for you, it is suited to outer sweep emphasis. The mechanics of the squatting motion dictate that you can’t set your feet any “lower,” which in this case would mean behind you. It isn’t necessary anyway. Just placing your feet inside of shoulder width is sufficient on Smith machine squats to shift the emphasis to where we want it.


Go Lighter!


Before any of you come back to me irate that your knees are killing you after embarking on this quest for a killer sweep, I need to point out that you should not attempt to handle the same weights with a closer, lower stance as you do with a standard foot position. Mechanically, you are in a far stronger position to press with a standard or wider stance; the main reason being that the powerful glutes take a greater role in the pressing. If you’ve ever seen someone who can squat or leg press ridiculous numbers, they almost always have enormous, muscular glutes. It’s impossible to take the glutes out of the equation completely, just as you can’t purely isolate any single segment of the quads. We are forcing one segment to work harder, which means the other heads of the quadriceps along with the gluteus maximus aren’t contributing as much as they normally would. In light of this, you might find you get the best results with not much more than half of what you typically use with a standard foot stance and position. Do not attempt to go as heavy as usual. You won’t be able to effectively target the lateralis, and your knees won’t be too happy about it either.


Ditch the Wraps


Some will disagree with me, but I am against the use of knee wraps in general, and even more so when we are putting the knees in a more vulnerable position as we’ve been discussing. That might sound contradictory but hear me out. Knee wraps are most often used to lessen pain and allow for the use of heavier loads. When we are placing our knees in a more vulnerable position, we don’t want to do either of those. You need to be able to feel pain so you can adjust your foot stance accordingly until you no longer do. As for using heavier weights, that too is ill-advised when taking a closer, lower foot stance in compound pressing movements. In short, knee wraps are typically employed in order to lessen or mask knee pain. In my opinion, you should be able to feel said pain in order to make any needed adjustments. Otherwise, you’re only setting yourself up for chronic inflammation of the tendons and ligaments around the knee, or worse, an injury.


What About Leg Extensions?


So far, we’ve only discussed compound pressing movements. Leg extensions can also be employed to further our efforts. MRI studies have shown that toe position does affect the degree to which specific aspects of the quads are recruited. To focus more on the teardrop or vastus lateralis, one performs leg extensions with the toes pointed inward toward the center line of the body. To emphasize the lateralis and give more sweep to the thighs, we turn the toes outward and away. What I just said about going lighter on presses does double for extensions. Don’t even think about stacking out the leg extension machine with toes turned anywhere but straight ahead. Your knees weren’t designed to handle heavy loads in a single-joint movement like this anyway, let alone at an unnatural angle. We will include leg extensions, but we use a moderate weight, higher reps, and exaggerate the contraction to make that lighter weight feel a whole lot heavier. Got all that so far? Good, now let’s give you two solid routines to get your outer squad sweep blown out fast!


Outer Sweep-Focused Quad Workout A


Warm-up:   10 minutes on stationary bike

Leg Press    5 x 20, 15, 15, 12 (increasing weight)

                   10 + 10 (drop set)

Hack Squat  3 x 10-12, 1 x 20-25 (with three-second negatives)

Leg Extension (toes angled in)   3 x 20, one-second squeeze at top of each rep


Outer Sweep-Focused Quad Workout B


Warm-up:  10 minutes on stationary bike

Smith Machine Squat   5 x 20, 15, 15, 12, 10 (increasing weight)

Sissy Squat  4 x 12-15

Leg Press     3 x 12 + 12*


*Do the first 12 reps with feet close together and low on the platform, then reset feet so they are shoulder width and dead center on the platform for 12 more reps. This will “pre-exhaust” the lateralis and force it to work even harder as the other three heads of the quads along with the glutes kick in to drive them further into exhaustion.


Notes: Form is always important, but even more so when we are working muscles in positions where they aren’t mechanically strongest. Control the negative stroke of all your reps and absolutely never bounce out of the bottom position.


The Quad Sweep Hall of Fame


Tom Platz


Any discussion about great quads must begin with The Quadfather, Tom Platz. Though his heyday was now over 30 years ago, no one has come along since to surpass the sheer freakiness of his mighty quads. They had it all: size, shape, a crazy sweep, and intricately carved striations.


Paul ‘Quadzilla’ DeMayo


Next up is the late Paul DeMayo. I knew Paul a bit throughout the ‘90s, when striped tights on leg day were all the rage. The vertical striped patterns only further emphasized the flaring sweep of his vastus lateralis. Those outer quads of Paul’s seemed to almost jump off his femurs.


Jay Cutler


Jay started using his quads to sweep his rivals off the stage back as early as his teenage shows. Later they would serve him well as he faced off against fierce rivals like Ronnie Coleman, Victor Martinez, Dexter Jackson and Chris Cormier.


Branch Warren


Speaking of Jay, it was Branch who beat him out for the overall at the 1993 NPC Teenage Nationals, and certainly it was partly on the strength of his sensational quads. It’s not easy to overpower Cutler on quads, but Branch did it with his outrageously thick development and dramatic outer sweep.


Ben Pakulski


B-Pak’s physique was excellent overall, but it was his quads and calves that usually had the audience gasping in disbelief at what their eyes were beholding. Ben’s quads were huge and appeared even larger due to his insanely developed vastus lateralis.


Big Ramy


I would venture to say that not only does Ramy have the biggest quads of the modern era, but also the craziest sweep. His outer quads seem to leap off his body as if they’re trying to escape the stage.


Hassan Mostafa


He may be new to the pro scene, but I already rank this Egyptian living in Kuwait into this elite group. My first impression of him at the 2019 Tampa Pro was that he resembled a slightly smaller version of Big Ramy, and his tremendous quad development was a big reason why. Those suckers flare out like they’re trying to push aside whoever stands next to him on stage!


Ron Harris got his start in the bodybuilding industry during the eight years he worked in Los Angeles as Associate Producer for ESPN’s “American Muscle Magazine” show in the 1990s. Since 1992 he has published nearly 5,000 articles in bodybuilding and fitness magazines, making him the most prolific bodybuilding writer ever. Ron has been training since the age of 14 and competing as a bodybuilder since 1989. He lives with his wife and two children in the Boston area. Facebook Instagram