Jay Cutler knows quads. Not only is he propelled through life on two of the world’s widest wheels, but he has also analyzed how to train, rest and diet to make those legs bigger and better.
Do you know what he knows?
OK, hotshot, prove it. Grab a number-two pencil and take the Cutler quad quiz. No cheating (Cutler advocates strict form) and no talking (Cutler believes results should speak for themselves). Those who score a perfect 10 are Cutler quad experts. All others should commit the answers to memory and march to the nearest squat rack.
Question 1 Which exercise is best for quad mass?
- A Leg extensions
- B Leg presses
- C Cable side laterals
- D Squats
Cutler’s Answer: D. Nothing builds quad mass like heavy free-weight squats. A lot of experienced guys tend to stay away from them for various reasons, but I would recommend that all bodybuilders squat. Pyramid up to heavy sets of six to eight reps. I squat using a shoulder-width stance and with my heels elevated on 10-pound plates to move the stress away from my glutes and on to my quads. I also angle my toes out slightly. I go very deep, and I pause at the top of each rep and then flex to fully contract the quads. I usually pyramid up to five plates on each side.
Question 2 Which exercise bookends Cutler’s quad workout?
- A Leg extensions
- B Leg presses
- C Side bends
- D Lunges
Cutler’s Answer: A. I start with two warm-up sets of 15 leg extension reps, just to get my knees warm. Over the years, heavy lifting has taken its toll on my knees, so I want to get the blood flowing in my quads and around my knees before I move on to squats and leg presses. I also finish up with leg extensions–four heavy sets with drops. With those, I’m really focused on blasting and squeezing each rep. I perform six to eight reps with heavy weights. I try to go for full extension, keeping my toes pointed straight, and I hold each contraction for a count of two, flexing hard. Then, after six to eight reps, when I’ve reached failure, I reduce the weight by about half and try to bang out another five or six reps for each set. I do four sets like that, and my legs are screaming when I’m done. Finishing with leg extensions really gets the blood in there. Leg extensions can be a great mass builder, as well as somewhat of a detail movement. I attribute a lot of my quad detail and shape to leg extensions. I pick and choose the machine I use, because some have worked better than others, but I especially like the Life Fitness machine.
Question 3 In addition to squats and leg extensions, what other two exercises does Cutler consider essential to intermediate and advanced quad routines?
- A Lunges
- B Leg presses
- C Hack squats
- D Rope skipping
Cutler’s Answer: B and C. I do leg presses in every quad workout, starting with one or two warm-up sets of 10 reps. Then I do two or three full-on working sets of seven to nine reps. I try to drop the backrest as far back as it’ll go to get the deepest rep possible, and I like to keep my feet at a shoulder-width position. I move through each repetition very quickly, but I sometimes pause at the top for a count of one or two. I always get a full extension–I never do halves or quarters. Full reps build maximum muscle. I also always do two or three sets to failure of hack squats. For these, I keep my feet at shoulder width, toes pointed out slightly. I really try to go deep and stretch my quads to focus on building the lower area near the knees.
Question 4 True Or False? Cutler does two types of lunges in his quad routine.
Cutler’s Answer: TRUE. I do barbell and dumbbell lunges. I do these standing in the same spot and alternating legs each rep. I never do walking lunges. With lunges, I’m trying to step with a flat foot to put a lot of pressure on the thigh stretch. These help to bring out the detail in the quads. The differences between barbell and dumbbell lunges are slight, but I tend to feel barbell lunges a little more in my glutes. With the dumbbells, I get a deeper stretch, because the dumbbells hang at your sides and sort of drag you down. Dumbbell lunges are safer to bail out of, too, so it helps to do the barbell lunges first, when you have a little more strength and energy, and then switch to dumbbells.
Question 5 In 100 words or less, how does Cutler place the focus of a lift on his outer thighs?
Cutler’s Answer: I point my toes outward to throw stress to the outer sweep. I find this is also the most comfortable position for lifts such as hack squats and leg presses. Everyone has a position where he feels the tension on the quads the most, and that seems to be the best for me. You have to experiment a little with leg exercises, because subtle differences in positioning can make major differences in how the lifts affect you.
Question 6 True Or False? Cutler doesn’t like front squats.
Cutler’s Answer: FALSE. I love Smith machine front squats. I do them with a medium stance and my toes pointed outward. By doing so, I’m really trying to focus on the outer sweep. I do these very deep, as deep as I can go. The Smith machine allows you to position yourself underneath and take the glutes and hips out of it and really focus on your quads without worrying about balancing. Keep your feet directly under your torso. Putting them forward will only shift stress to the glutes. As with other types of squats, I like to flex at the top of each rep.
Question 7 If Cutler likes free-weight squats so much, why didn’t he do them for four years, from 1998 to 2002?
Cutler’s Answer: The only reason I didn’t squat for years was because they make my thighs grow too much, and I wanted my upper body to catch up with my lower body. I started doing squats again when I began preparing for the 2003 Olympia. The last time I’d done them was 1998. Returning to free-weight squats has been a pleasure. I enjoy getting under the bar and pumping up some real weight. They’ve added more quad sweep, which I was known for early on when I first turned pro. Now that my torso has caught up, I’m able to really grow my lower body again. Squats have also hardened up my glutes and added more size to my hamstrings. Overall, squats added more muscle.
Question 8 Which two of the following exercises does Cutler sometimes add to his quad routine?
- A Adduction-machine squeezes
- B Sissy squats
- C One-leg presses
- D Roman chair squats
Cutler’s Answer: A and C. Before I started squatting again, I was doing one-leg presses and adduction machine work in every quad workout. I still use the adduction machine from time to time, but I have to be careful that my upper inner thighs [which this machine targets] don’t get too big. Now I’m more focused on my outer thighs. If I do one-leg presses, it’s to add some more detail. Again, these tend to hit the inner thighs more, which I’m not so focused on now. Doing leg presses one leg at a time takes a lot of the hips out of the movement. People don’t realize how much of their thigh power comes from their hips. You have to look for ways to minimize hip action in order to focus completely on your quads.
Question 9 In addition to weight training, what other activity does Cutler credit with dramatically increasing his leg growth?
- A Dancing
- B Stretching
- C Cardio training
- D None of the above
Cutler’s Answer: B. I’m a big advocate of stretching. I think it’s an essential part of recuperation and growth, and I put a lot more time and effort into it than most guys. When I’m preparing for a contest, I stretch for 20 minutes every day after my morning workout. My wife, Kerry, is a yoga enthusiast, and she helps me with a lot of stretches. For legs, I do a nearly full split daily to stretch my hamstrings and inner thighs. I also extend each foot behind my glutes to really stretch my quads. In addition, once per week, I get deep-tissue neuromuscular therapy, which really works the muscle fibers and helps release the fascia. Before a contest, I’m in the sauna twice per day, and I do a lot of stretching in there, too, because with all the heat and humidity the muscles are more relaxed and you can get into a really deep stretch without as much tension. It’s all done to recuperate from previous workouts and limber up the muscles, tendons and joints for the next workout. To maximize gains, you have to put at least as much effort into recovery as you put into your workouts.
Question 10 True Or False? Cutler once squatted 120 reps with 225 pounds, after which he fainted.
Cutler’s Answer: FALSE. I don’t have any of those crazy stories. I’ve thrown up doing legs when I’ve gone really heavy, and I was regularly using seven plates per side [675 pounds] for repetition squats when I was just a teenager, but I never felt the need to break out of my routine to shock my legs. My routine when I was an amateur consisted of squats, leg presses, hack squats and leg extensions–the basics. Fortunately, quads are one of those areas that stay with me. I don’t have to work very hard to get them to grow, and when I do work hard on them, they almost get too big.
Extra: Should beginners and intermediates try to copy Cutler’s exact routine?
Cutler’s Answer: NO. Start with leg extensions to warm up your knees. Next, pyramid up in free-weight squats, but don’t go any lower than six reps. Anything less than six is pointless, unless you want to be a powerlifter and not a bodybuilder. The third lift should be leg presses. Three or four sets of each are enough for a beginner. Intermediates can add hack squats. Just stick to the basics, do full reps and push sets to failure.
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