5 Best Eccentric Quad Exercises (For Bulletproof Knees)

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Understanding the true potential of eccentric quad exercises in regard to muscle building, injury prevention, and rehabilitation will surely change the way you look at training!

Now, while the ever-elusive “perfect exercise” may not truly exist, there are definitely some better choices than others. 

That’s where I come in.

With years of training experience as my backbone, I’ve used myself as a guinea pig and tried out dozens of exercises in order to narrow it down to a select few that I believe are worthy of your time and training regime. 

Let’s take a look at the top 5 eccentric exercises for your quads, talk about how to do them, and explore how they will benefit you!

Why Do Eccentric Quad Exercises?

Eccentric exercises are great for not only improving your flexibility and strength, but also for increasing your muscle size.

In fact, research is suggesting that a focus on eccentric exercises is even more beneficial than focusing on concentric movements for muscle growth.

Loading your muscles under a stretch is also highly effective when it comes to injury prevention and rehabilitating injuries.

This is because your connective tissues and muscles form strong adaptations from this “loaded stretch” type of movement, and come back more resilient after they heal.

1. Reverse Nordic Curl

The Reverse Nordic Curl is the exact opposite of the famous Nordic Curl, which is arguably one of the most effective hamstring exercises of all time.

Similarly, the Reverse Nordic Curl is an amazing exercise for the quads and hip flexors, helping build mobility, strength, and muscle.

To start with this one, kneel down in a tall-kneeling position (doing this on a mat, pillow, or softer surface is more comfortable on your knees), with your hips pushed forwards and your chest in-line with your quads.

You want to create a straight line going up and down the front of your body. 

Keeping that straight line, lean back by bending at the knees, lowering your back to the ground.

Go to a point where you feel a strong stretch in the front of your thighs, then push yourself back up into a tall-kneeling position to repeat.

2. Single Leg Eccentric Step Down

Start with one foot on a raised surface, like a step. 

Have the other foot hanging in the air. 

Keep your hips straight — imagine that you’re wearing a belt, and you want that belt to stay parallel with the ground during the entire movement. 

Hinge at the hips and push your glutes back, then slowly bend your planted knee, lowering your other leg towards the ground. 

Try to keep your knee lined up with the middle of your planted foot as it’s bending.

Take 3-4 seconds going down, then step down with the hanging foot and reset.

3. Eccentric Leg Extension Machine (2 Up, 1 Down)

You’ll need a leg extension machine for this one, or a band attached around your feet and anchored to something below and behind you in a chair.

Start by using both legs to extend the weight up.

Then, take one of your legs off the machine, keeping your other leg extended and holding the weight up by itself.

Slowly lower the weight down by bending your knee, taking about 3-4 seconds for the whole movement. 

Push the weight back up with both legs, and repeat on the other side. 

4. Eccentric Wall Slides

This is very similar to a wall sit, but with a bit more movement involved.

You can put your back against a wall, or use a foam roller between your back and the wall — whatever you prefer!

You want to position your feet far enough from the wall so that if you’d squat down, you would be doing a wall sit.

Once you have the positioning figured out, slowly lower yourself from a standing position (leaning against the wall) all the way down to the ground, bending at the hip and knees.

You want this to take 5-8 seconds.

To hit your quads a little harder, try this while raising your toes up, so that most of your weight is going through your heels.

Or, if you really want a challenge, do this single-legged.

5. Poliquin Step Up

This exercise is a great way to target the VMO (vastus medialis oblique) muscle, a part of the quadriceps muscle group that is important for knee stability and overall knee health.

It’s also one of Ben Patrick‘s favourite exercises when it comes to knees over toes training and improving your jumping performance.

Start by standing on an elevated surface with one foot on a slant board to have your heel elevated.

You can also put your heel up on a weight or book if you don’t have the right equipment – the important thing is that your heel is up and elevated!

Your other leg hangs in the air, and can be used to stabilize your body during the movement or help yourself up during the concentric part if needed.

Keeping your hips level, focus on slowly bending your knee and bringing your free-hanging foot to the ground.

From there, you can lightly tap the ground and come back up, or step down and use both legs to reset into the starting position.

Really focus on keeping your knee lined up with the middle of your foot, and keep the movement slow – you want the way down to take 3-5 seconds.

Key Points To Remember

Eccentric quad exercises can be difficult due to the fact that they require a lot of control and patience — you don’t want to stretch your muscles forcefully, that could be asking for trouble and injury.

Think of it as pulling a rubber band really quickly: it’s hard to know how far is too far if you stretch it quickly, but you’re able to see its limits more effectively if you go slowly. 

That being said, here are a couple of key points to remember when doing eccentric quad exercises:

  • Maintain Strict Form — You’re going to be putting your muscle on a stretch, it’s important not to force the exercise in order to avoid injury. You should be able to control the weight throughout all reps.
  • Keep It Slow — It’s not about being explosive with these; you want to be controlled and take about 3-5 seconds minimum with most eccentric exercises
  • Stretch — The whole point of these is to stretch the muscle, so make sure you’re lengthening your target muscle (e.g. quads) with these

Eccentric Quad Exercises & DOMS

The Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS, can be pretty rough when you first start with these.

The stretching of the quads under a load causes a significant amount of muscular tension and damage — which all exercises do to a certain extent. 

Muscles healing from this damage is what creates bigger and stronger muscles, so it’s a good and expected thing with exercise.

However, with eccentrics, that damage is usually more severe and can cause muscular soreness more intensely, or at least until the muscle adapts.

Remember, our bodies are highly adaptable, and with time and proper loading, the quads will become resistant to muscle soreness, even from these.

Conclusion

There are a lot of things to love about eccentric quad exercises, and are a great tool for building quad strength, building muscle size, improving your quad and hip flexor mobility, and preventing and rehabbing from injuries.

Thankfully, we don’t have to do 50 different exercises — these 5 will do the job, and offer lots of room for progression and gains!

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Eric Richter

I'm Eric, a physiotherapist with a Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology and a Master’s degree in Physiotherapy from the University Of Manitoba. I have enjoyed the better part of a decade working with both amateur and professional athletes, weekend warriors, everyday people, and patients at hospitals to help them take control of their pain and reach their health goals.

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