TARGETING INNER/OUTER QUADS | Possible or MYTH?

 

 

“Targeting” the Inner/Outer Quads? Possible or MYTH?

Is targeting the Inner/Outer Quad possible? Can different heads of the quadriceps muscle be specifically targeted using variations in an exercise such as in stance width or toe pointing angle or whatever?

Can it be done? Or is it a Myth?

IT’S ABSOLUTELY A COMPLETE MYTH!

And anyone who tells you otherwise simply does not have a clue of basic muscular anatomy and kinesiology!

Now I can bet that you’ve been sold this myth by someone out there. Be it some bro in your gym or your favourite bodybuilder or even your favourite YouTuber which is frankly very upsetting because people look up to these folks for advice and the very least they could do is some basic research before they go out and spew garbage. But alas!

Anyway, with this article, I’m going to take this claim and I’m going to systematically break down and destroy it using ANATOMICAL FACTS.

So let’s examine the claims first. When most people talk about targeting the Inner or Outer quads, they claim to achieve it using two variations:

1) Change in stance width:
Narrower stance –> Outer Quads;
Wider stance –> Inner Quads

2) Change in direction of where the toes point:
Toes straight/in –> Outer quads;
Toes out –> Inner Quads.

To understand why both these claims are bogus, you need to first understand the anatomy of the Quadriceps muscle. Now I have already covered this in my Muscle Masterclass on Quads and I hope that if you who have already watched that video, you can figure this answer out yourself.

The Quadriceps muscle has 4 heads as the name suggests – Vastus Lateralis, Vastus Medialis, Vastus Intermedius and Rectus Femoris.

Quadriceps Muscles Anatomy | TARGETING INNER/OUTER QUADS | Possible or MYTH?

Keeping aside the other heads, what we want to focus on here are the Vastus Lateralis and the Vastus Medialis which are the Outer and Inner heads of the quadriceps muscles respectively.

Now both of these muscles originate at either sides of the top of the FEMUR bone which is the bone of your upper leg. And they both come together and insert into one common point i.e the patella via the Quadriceps tendon along with the other two muscles.

Vastus Medialis & Vastus Lateralis | TARGETING INNER/OUTER QUADS | Possible or MYTH?

Now lets evaluate those two claims and what actually happens in it…

The first is changing your stance width:

When you make your stance narrow or wide, at WHAT JOINT do you have to move to achieve this? It’s the HIP joint!

To widen my stance, I do what’s called as Hip ABduction which is taking my legs away from the midline of the body.

Hip Abduction | TARGETING INNER/OUTER QUADS | Possible or MYTH?

Conversely to narrow my stance, I do what’s called as Hip ADduction which is bringing my legs closer to the midline of the body.

Hip Adduction | TARGETING INNER/OUTER QUADS | Possible or MYTH?

Now think about this…
Given the fact changing your stance between narrow and wide comes from movement at the HIP joint… HOW ON EARTH DOES VARYING YOUR STANCE AFFECT THE TWO HEADS OF THE QUADS – The VL and the VM? Especially when neither of these muscles even connects to the hip joint!!

Vastus Medialis & Vastus Lateralis Origin | TARGETING INNER/OUTER QUADS | Possible or MYTH?

Neither of these muscles have ANY connection to the hip. They originate at the femur bone and they end at the knee. So how on earth will adduction or abduction of the hip joint create any kind of influence in these heads? The answer is, IT WONT!

Nothing changes for those muscles when you widen or shorten your stance. Whether you keep your legs out or in, these muscles remain as they are as they’re not involved in that in and out movement.

Heck, even if you consider that one muscle of the quadriceps that DOES connect to the hip joint i.e the Rectus Femoris; that muscle is connected to the hip from the FRONT and is involved in hip FLEXION. Abduction/Adduction does not affect that either!

Don’t you see now how senseless this claim is?

Then there’s the second claim of pointing your toes straight, in or out. How do you achieve this toe in and out position?

Again, its by moving at the HIP joint!

To get my toes in, I have to perform what’s called as Hip Internal Rotation.

Hip Internal Rotation | TARGETING INNER/OUTER QUADS | Possible or MYTH?

And to get the toes out, I have to do Hip External Rotation.

Hip External Rotation | TARGETING INNER/OUTER QUADS | Possible or MYTH?

So once again, the movement is at the HIP joint. So how on earth would this affect the VL and VM muscles?

The answer is clear: IT WON’T.

I hope it has now become as obvious to you as it is to me or anyone who understands muscular anatomy.

Now you may say.. “But Suneet, when I do squats with a wide stance, I really feel it in my Inner thighs and when I narrow the stance, I feel it only on the outside. Doesn’t that mean something’s happening?”

Well, there IS something happening but its not what you think.

The reason why you feel it in your inner thighs in a wide stance is because a wide stance, as mentioned before, puts you in a position of hip ABduction. And as you squat in this wide stance position, your hip gets abducted even more as you sit deeper which ultimately causes a DEEP STRETCH in your ADDUCTOR muscles i.e the muscles of your inner thigh.

Extra wide stance squat | TARGETING INNER/OUTER QUADS | Possible or MYTH?

And when a muscle gets overly stretched like that, you’re obviously going to feel a lot of pain there. And the thing is, a wide stance squat DOES work the adductors more as there’s more range of motion. But that’s your ADDUCTORS. That’s NOT your medial head of the quadriceps.

Conversely, when you keep the stance narrow, you almost negate the range of motion of abduction as you sit down into the squat therefore nearly eliminating the stretch that the adductors feel and therefore you feel relatively inactive there on the inside of your legs compared to a regular or wide stance squat. And that’s why you feel it only on the middle or outer part of your thigh.

Narrow stance squat | TARGETING INNER/OUTER QUADS | Possible or MYTH?

IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH QUADRICEPS ACTIVATION. PERIOD.

Same thing with the toes in and out.
Toes in -> knees caved in-> hip adduction -> no adductor stretch
Toes out -> knees flared out -> hip abduction -> more adductor stretch

Make sense now?

So I really hope this article has finally destroyed this myth once and for all for you because frankly, its high time.

A closing thought that I’d like to leave you with is this…
If you’re following someone for advice, be it your local gym trainer or someone on YouTube and you’ve heard them say this bullshit to “target” the inner/Outer quads then please do yourself a favour and NEVER listen to them again.

Because frankly this is literally the BASICS of muscle anatomy and anyone who claims this bullshit clearly doesn’t even have that basic of an understanding of it. So how can you really trust them for any of the advice they give?

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Once again, I hope this article has done its job in opening your eyes. Now please go ahead and share this so together we can finally lay this myth to rest once and for all.

Comment down below and let me know what you think of this article and whether you’ve ever been told about ways you can target your quadriceps head.

Until next time,
Keep Learning, Keep Growing!
Suneet.

Suneet Sebastian

Suneet Sebastian is a self-confessed fitness science nerd. His passion and desire for learning, educating and promoting critical thinking in the fitness industry is what sets him apart from the average "guru". He has made a name for himself as an elite Strength & Conditioning coach among professional athletes and regular enthusiasts alike with his extremely detailed and thorough advice backed by concrete science and leaves absolutely no stone unturned when it comes to educating and empowering those that seek to take their fitness to a whole new level. To know more about Suneet's background and the story behind the foundation of Sebastian Fitness Solutions, click here.

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Showing 22 comments
  • Raj
    Reply

    Haven’t watched the video but I’ll make a semi-literate guess. The quads are designed to work as a single unit. With regard to squat, regardless of stance or where toes are pointing they will do that. There’s no position where one will work in isolation, nor will the share of load of a particular muscle increase or decrease.

    • Suneet Sebastian
      Reply

      “The quads are designed to work as a single unit. With regard to squat, regardless of stance or where toes are pointing they will do that.”
      Yes, but I was looking more for the WHY for this as well. Hopefully now that you’ve watched the video; you know that too 🙂

  • Debanshu
    Reply

    Well done.

  • Bret
    Reply

    But HOW do my outer quads more engaged? Only winners are growing (abductors) and in doing wide stance with feet straight. I wpuld love for outers to grow but they won’t .

    • Suneet Sebastian
      Reply

      Bret, the whole point of the article and video was to show how you CANNOT specifically target the outer or inner heads of the quadriceps because its ANATOMICALLY NOT POSSIBLE as explained via the reasonings shared above.

  • Adrian
    Reply

    This applies for someone with no knee issues. Because depending on your knee issue you can work the VMO harder than the VL or the other way around 🙂

    • Suneet Sebastian
      Reply

      Could you explain how having knee issues can alter muscle anatomy/kinesiology to make them act differently whilst being attached to the same joint and performing the same function?

      Yes, one could develop compromised force production in one head vs the other due to injury, dysfunction or even stiffness but that doesn’t mean there are exercises available to specifically target one head ore than the other.

  • Rico
    Reply

    You are wrong here. You need to look how force is directed through the leg. Gravity goes strict down, so imagine vertical line from your hipsocket to the ground. Now, if you spread your Legs apart for a wide stance, then the force of the weight cannot travel in a vertical line anymore, but the load will travel the nearest to vertical as it can, which is trough the inner part of the quad. It works exactly like the pillars on gothiccathedrals. It’s physics.

    • Suneet Sebastian
      Reply

      While your thought is in the right place, its misapplied. I wish I could draw and show you in the comments but that’s not a feature that’s possible on here.

      I’ll attempt to explain it through words instead…

      Yes, gravity does work strictly down. And if you were to widen your stance, that would put direct load/stress differently on the skeletal system. However, this wouldn’t mean that the muscles would now have a change in direction of load/force. This is because in compound movements, especially those involving fusiform muscles (like the VM and VL are), the muscles work in cohesion to collectively move the bar upward against gravity while contracting in their own respective angles. The load on the bar itself doesn’t apply force in tangents and in different angles based on each muscle. Rather the muscles themselves exert force in their own angles that COLLECTIVELY produce an upward force to lift the weight. Do you note the difference?

      Taking the example of a wider stance. What happens here is that now since the stance is wider, the range of motion for the ADDUCTORS has now increased and therefore, the added difficulty or force needed to be produced is contributed by the adductors.

      A diagram would have really helped but I hope this communicates the picture.

  • Eric Schaitel
    Reply

    You are right about squatting but isolation the Vastus medius and lateralis is possible by using a Standing Hip Flexor machine. I have done squats for a lifetime without getting the development I was striving for until I discovered the machine. I often wondered why some women bodybuilders had better developed legs than a lot of guy’s. It’s because they use machines like this one the guys won’t use.
    My leg development is now looking better than ever and I don’t focus on squats anymore as my one and only. Not only that but my knees are no longer in pain.

    • Suneet Sebastian
      Reply

      Hey Eric,
      I agree with the thought that omission of certain machines can lead to subpar development given certain specific muscles and functions. However, let’s think about this particular case here. You’re saying that the VM and VL can be isolated using the standing hip flexor machine. But HOW? Neither of those two muscles is involved in hip flexion AT ALL. The only muscle of the quadriceps that is involved in hip flexion, is the Rectus Femoris. So this machine is an isolater for that. Not the VM and VL. There’s simply no logical or anatomical reason to consider why this theory could be true.

      Now regarding the results you’ve experienced… perhaps there’s other factors in play? Perhaps with the hip flexor machine, you managed to isolate the Rectus Femoris muscle that sits in between the VM and VL and, by virtue of better development of the RF, you created better separation around its borders which therefore also outlined and showed separation of the VM and VL as a result? A much more plausible explanation isn’t it?

  • Db
    Reply

    First, great scientific approach. Well thought, and true. Second, what would you suggest as the best way to increase outer quad growth? Squats? Deadlift? Hack squats? Obviously, some Olympians have overly defined outer quads (i.e. skiers), so something works better, correct? Thanks!

    • Suneet Sebastian
      Reply

      Given the fact that this article is all about disproving the idea that one can selectively target either the inner or outer quad; the answer is that you can’t.
      Now there’s no doubt that there are some people with overly developed outer/inner quads. But since there’s no anatomical basis to which we can attribute that; its most likely individual difference w.r.t genetics.

      We all have a certain set of muscles that respond very well to training and others that struggle to grow despite how hard we train them. This variance can be seen between two different sets of muscles, the same muscles of different arms/legs and even within different heads of the same muscle. I, for example, have this problem with my triceps long head vs lateral head.

  • Josh
    Reply

    I like this analysis and it added to my knowledge, but whether or not it can or cannot be explained I have seen the difference it makes in the vastus lateralis when I narrow my squat. Even when I land from a high drop during parkour if my landing is wide I feel it in my adductors and inner quads, if I land narrow I feel the pressure and tension much stronger in my outer thighs. I don’t know if its because of the direction of the gravitational pull, the anatomy of the muscles, the arraignment of the fascial lines or something else all together. But the effects are clearly felt and seen.

    As a bit of a tangent, I will say in martial arts in general there are many things that are known through the experience of the martial artist but denied by the current level of scientific knowledge. Only to have what is known by the martial artist be later verified by new science. So I’m not saying your analysis is of the anatomy is wrong, but possibly incomplete. That which we don’t know is always much greater than that which we know.

    • Suneet Sebastian
      Reply

      I get your martial arts analogy and honestly, it might very well be possible. It is however unlikely since even in science, there’s different fields with differing levels of verifiability. The more concrete or “core” a science is; the more likely is it for us to make analysis that’s more ‘rigid’ per se than others. Take for example physics and within it; gravity. Now its not that its ENTIRELY impossible that we may stumble upon some evidence that either enhances or even modifies our stance on gravity. But its highly unlikely relative to sciences that are a lot more open-ended in our current understanding like say Astronomy or even some aspects of Biology.

      The reason behind my, somewhat aggressive stance on this topic is that basic anatomy and kinesiology, which are in essence core sciences with pretty straightforward and well rooted rules and principles; is what’s disproving the idea to begin with. Now in situations like these, when a given muscle has literally no physical involvement in a particular joint action; it’s incredibly hard to fathom HOW it could still be activated or grown based on changes to that same joint action.

      That said, I do respect the fact that there may still yet be something that we’re all missing here and if said thing comes to light and disproves my point; there’d be no one happier than me because it opens up a whole new world of learning and understanding for me and all of us. I also respect how you’ve put forth your point without choosing to attack or dismiss the arguments put forth here. Thank you.

  • Renzo Sanchez
    Reply

    What about feet wide n forward with toes pointing inwards and squatting low for lower outer VL…?

    • Suneet Sebastian
      Reply

      As mentioned in the article and video, I don’t see any anatomical reason why that would work.

  • Paul
    Reply

    Consider these 2 movements: do biceps curls with your elbow above your shoulder vs curls with elbow down, on the side of your chest/abdomen. The motion is the same but your biceps will work differently. You may also consider rotating your arm. Now since the vasus medialis and lateralis are like 10 cm apart, moving your legs (rotation, ab/dduction) stretches them differently and positions them differently with respect to the axis of gravity (on earth it is essentially vertical), thus if you apply exactly the same contraction to all their cells, they will move differently, creating a force (partially) opposing gravity for each muscle (and in fact each muscle cell). Since the resistance of gravity is essential in making muscles work, you see that different positions work the 2 muscles differently. Now the interesting question is to quantify this effect and control it for muscle growth purposes.
    Finally, you should have begun by reading scientific peer reviewed articles (and textbooks) which study the question much more rigorously than by the simple arguments you give here, instead of aggressively making statements that are contrary to many observations, by many people.

    • Paul
      Reply

      Addendum: Why do inner adductors work more in a sumo squat? Because there is a greater need for shortening strength on the inner side of the thigh -compared to the outer. The vastus medialis are close to these adductors (closer than the lateralis) subject to greater stress, thus if they contract equally as the lateralis, or equally as in a narrow stance, the strain will be greater on the medialis -stress, strain in the sense of continuum mechanics. Just as the inner adductors are subject to much more stress in a sumo squat, and if this stress is not counteracted the muscle will elongate -the thigh moves outward, off under gravity, you fall on your butt.

      • Suneet Sebastian
        Reply

        Hey Paul, I’ll try to answer these one by one:

        1) The example of the biceps is an apples-oranges situation in this case. Reason: The short head of the biceps attaches at both the shoulder(Coracoid Process) and the forearm. So when the elbow is raised above the shoulder; the short head enters ‘active insufficiency’ due to shortening at the shoulder; thereby becoming unable to contract maximally at the elbow. On the other hand, as explained in the article and video, 3 out of the 4 heads of the quadriceps (which includes the inner and outer quads) are monoarticular and do not attach at the hip at all. So they are in no way influenced by the change in hip position. The one head of the quad that IS attached to the hip (the rectus femoris), is connected to the front of the Ilium and involves itself in flexion. Not adduction/abduction. So that doesn’t qualify either.

        2) The rest of your first comment fails to account one crucial fact about how muscles work: A muscle simply contracts in a single direction from origin to insertion in the direction of its fibers. And in the case of the quadriceps, they all attach directly to the patella and therefore simply pull on the patella to straighten out the knee. This is, completely independent of how wide or narrow your legs are spread because that change in positioning is not happening at the knee. It’s happening at the hip!

        The point about line of gravity is also missing something important. Regardless of the individual positions of muscles relative to the vertical line of gravity, the overall work done by the body and the individual muscles is still along the line of resistance. Now that line of resistance is vertical in both cases. It’s just that the individual contribution of various functions (hip extension, knee extension, hip adduction and dorsiflexion) changes.

        So, if you’re squatting 300lbs with a wide vs narrow stance. The difference comes down to how the former will involve a greater contribution of adduction to the overall force produced vs the latter where there would be a greater contribution of knee extension and not nearly as much from adduction.

        However, within the single function of knee extension, there isn’t any fundamental or anatomical basis to believe that contribution of each of the individual muscles would change in any way. Since they all span across and connect to the same insertion point and function together as a group.

        3) I did read through scientific peer reviewed articles and textbooks. A lot more than you might give me credit for. And the only studies that talk about preferential recruitment of one head of the quads vs another; are studies that use EMG to come to this conclusion. And if you’re someone who’s also read through the flaws of EMG data and extrapolating that to drawing conclusions; you’d see why they don’t hold a candle to more concrete, core sciences like Anatomy and Kinesiology. My entire argument is based purely on the latter.

        4) In response to the Addendum: Your logic of the medialis having greater stress due to it being closer to the adductors is as flawed as me saying that the tricep lateral head would face more stress in a bicep curl than the triceps long head because its closer to the biceps long head. They’re two entirely different muscles with entirely different functions!

  • Paul
    Reply

    Hi, I see that you censored my comment. I researched the issue as I was advising to do. My second comment was not well thought out, in particular because the attachments of the adductors and quads are different and essential to take into account. The change of stance must still at least slightly modify the relative stress on the medialis and the lateralis because they attach differently to the patella and the tibial tuberosity. The medialis stabilizes more the patella during gait than other quads, which shows the medialis and lateralis bear different stresses. This must be increased during a wide stance squat. There are other factors that could affect the impact variation of different stances, for instance the adductors contraction could move the medialis. After thinking about it I looked for references and found a few articles:
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11528346/
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26705245/
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26670996/
    https://paulogentil.com/pdf/E1.pdf
    The data show there is no difference in the average electromyographic activities for all quads across different stances (width, feet angle). But electromyographic activity is not the only determinant of hypertrophy, in particular it does not reflect directly stress on the muscle. For instance eccentric and concentric work have different effects at the same level of EMG activity. Also, electromyograph are taken superficially on muscles, so they may not reflect the whole spatiotemporal dynamics of muscular activation.

    As a conclusion I will say that I find disappointing that you do not tolerate discussion, contradiction, but to me your webpage was interesting in that it made me research the question. I can only advise that you research the issue further and add data, with references, in your presentation.

    PS: I could have added more details and rigor in my comment, but I will not overdo it If I am not even read. My arguments are probably insufficient still and incorrect, but the point is that there is alot to analyze in the squat, still a lot of research maybe even for the experts.

    • Suneet Sebastian
      Reply

      Hey, I didn’t censor your comment. They just have to be manually approved when I see them so that the spam comments don’t show up. I’ve already responded to those comments btw.

      Coming to this one:

      I’m glad you see the fallacy of the second comment. I had already responded to it before seeing this comment of yours though.

      The medialis, intermedius and lateralis all work together in cohesion to stabilize the patella. They don’t work to stabilize the leg at the hip. That’s the part you’re missing here.
      Gait control at the hip joint is influenced by the muscles that function at the hip joint. Gait control at the knee is influenced by the muscles that function at the knee. You’re mixing up the two.

      It’s also amusing that you shared multiple EMG studies actually backing up what I’ve been saying all along. Amusing because back when I had first published this article (circa 2017), one of the greatest counterarguments placed on me then were EMG studies showing differences in activity across the various heads in various styles of squats. And as mentioned in my previous comment, drawing conclusions based of EMG activity isn’t very reliable. Which is why I didn’t use any of the EMG studies that actually supported my claim.

      My points are purely based on muscular anatomy (origin and insert points) and kinesiology (muscle functions) because they’re rooted and right in front of us to analyze, assess and base conclusions off of. And I am more than open to counter arguments that can justify preferential activation of the various quad heads; if they are as concrete as the aforementioned sciences.

      Lastly, I hope you now know that I didn’t try to censor or ignore your comments and attempt at a discussion. Your next comments will also come through moderation and you may not see them published until I process them. But I will certainly approve and respond to them as and when I am able to. They will definitely not be ignored or censored. You have my word.

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