Understanding the differences between hip dominant and quad dominant exercises is important when it comes to structuring effective training programs.
Without this, you can end up neglecting areas and developing physique and strength weaknesses.
But, what is the difference between hip dominant and quad dominant exercises? Hip dominant exercises primarily train the glutes, hamstrings and adductors, working through hip flexion and extension, such as a hip thrust. Knee dominant exercises primarily train the quadriceps, working through knee flexion and extension, such as a leg extension.
At the end of this article, you will understand the differences between hip and quad dominant exercises and when you might use them.
I will cover:
- What it means to be hip or quad dominant
- 5 differences between hip and quad dominant exercises
- When to use hip and quad dominant exercises
- 6 example hip dominant exercises
- 6 example quad dominant exercises
What Does It Mean To Be Hip Dominant or Knee Dominant?
Hip and knee dominance refers to the muscle groups and joints targeted by certain exercises.
Hip dominant exercises will primarily train hip extension, targeting the glutes and hamstrings.
Knee dominant exercises will primarily train knee extension, targeting the quadriceps.
Many exercises train and have aspects of both, but often focus on one or the other.
These can also be tweaked by varying how you execute different exercises.
It’s important to understand that exercises sit on a spectrum between these two.
Just because an exercise is hip dominant, does not mean it is not training the quads, and vice versa.
5 Differences Between Hip Dominant vs Knee Dominant Exercises
The 5 differences between hip and Knee dominant exercises are:
- They target different muscle groups
- You maximise range of motion at different joints
- Exercise execution changes depending on which is your goal
- Knee dominant exercises are often machines
- You can use heavier loads for hip dominant exercises
1. They Target Different Muscle Groups
The main difference between hip and knee dominant exercises are the muscle groups they primarily target:
- Hip dominant = glutes, hamstrings, adductors
- Knee dominant = quadriceps
2. You Maximise Range Of Motion At Different Joints
With hip dominant exercise the goal is to often maximise the range of motion occurring at the hips, while limiting it at the knee.
Quad dominant exercises are the opposite, looking to maximise range of motion at the knee, while minimising it at the hip.
This is what influences our exercise execution when trying to make exercises more or less dominant at the knee or hip.
3. Exercise Execution Changes Depending On Which Is Your Goal
Exercises can be made more hip or knee dominant by changing how you execute them.
For example, in the squat, you can make it a more ‘knee dominant’ movement by elevating your heels, narrowing your stance, or pushing the knees further forward.
All of these help maximise range of motion at the knee and reduce it at the hip. Therefore, your quads are activated more with this style of squatting.
Alternatively, to make a squat more hip dominant you may do the opposite: swap to a flat shoe, widen your stance, push the knees out, and hinge forward more.
These changes increase the range of motion at the hip and shift more load to the glutes and hamstrings.
4. Knee Dominant Exercises Are Often Machines
While there are good free weight hip dominant options, the constraints of machines make it far easier to adjust your execution to target more quad dominance.
Free weight exercises are often limited on how quad dominant you can make them due to having to keep balanced which often requires a larger degree of stabilization from the hips.
For example, you can limit the hip range of motion far more within a hack squat than you could within a barbell squat.
5. You Can Use Heavier Loads For Hip Dominant Exercises
When adjusting exercises to make them more hip dominant than knee dominant, you can often use more load.
This is due to the hip extensor muscle group being larger than the knee extensors; glutes, hamstrings and adductors, compared to just the quadriceps.
For example, a low bar back squat vs a front squat ‒ you can always back squat more than you can front squat.
Are Hip Dominant or Knee Dominant Exercises Better?
Neither hip dominant or quad dominant exercises are better than each other.
Which you use will largely come down to your individual goals, and what you are trying to achieve with each training session and exercise.
When To Use Hip Dominant Exercises?
Here’s when to use hip dominant exercises:
- To grow your glutes, hamstrings and adductors
- To address a hip extensor weakness
- To increase your deadlift strength
- To improve your hip hinge
1. To Grow Your Glutes, Hamstrings And Adductors
If your goal is to grow your glutes, hamstring and adductors, then including hip dominant exercises, or adjusting execution is going to be key.
Trying to get sufficient volume through heavy hinges and typically hip dominant exercises such as deadlifts and good mornings can be difficult due to the lower back often being a limiting factor.
This is why tweaking execution to machine-based exercises is so important, such as high stance leg presses, as it enables you to increase volume without increasing the amount of loading throughout the low back.
2. To Address A Hip Extensor Weakness
If you have a hip extensor weakness, incorporating more hip dominant exercises can help address this.
You’ll know if you have a hip extensor weakness if you fail lower body exercises at the top end range of motion. For example, if the hardest part of your deadlift is at the lockout.
Hamstring and glute training can often be neglected by beginner lifters leading to these weaknesses down the line.
Try adding one or two more hip dominant exercises to your sessions and building to more over time if needed.
3. To Increase Your Deadlift Strength
Increasing the strength of the hip extensor muscles will help improve your deadlift strength.
This is best done through a variety of other exercises, rather than just deadlifting alone, due to training through a greater range of motion and also a typically higher rep range than you would with a deadlift.
Machines also offer great constraints that help you keep loading in the hip extensors and training through the range of motion intended rather than allowing for excessive form breakdown that can occur more with free weight movements.
Related Article: 7 Compound Leg Exercises That Should Be In Every Program
4. To Improve Your Hip Hinge
Hip hinging is a skill used across many sports, and frequently within the gym, as a fundamental part of deadlift variations and other hip dominant exercises.
However, if your only practice with hinging and hip dominant exercises comes from the deadlift, you may benefit from including more variety.
Learning how to more effectively recruit these muscles will benefit how you use them when hinging with free weights.
Want to learn how to hip hinge? Read our article Learning How To Hip Hinge Properly: 11 Hip Hinge Cues.
When To Use Knee Dominant Exercises?
Here’s when to use knee dominant exercises:
- To grow your quads
- If you have a quad weakness
- To maximise your squat strength
- To address gaps in your program
1. To Grow Your Quads
Wanting to grow bigger quads is common for those with aesthetic goals in their training.
The quickest and easiest route to this is to select exercises that are more quad dominant, and tweaking exercises to make them more effective and aligned with this goal.
Using a range of quad dominant free weight, machine and isolation exercises will enable you to get more out of your training.
2. If You Have A Quad Weakness
A quad weakness may be what is holding back your squat, or you may simply want to bring up your quad strength after a few too many skipped leg days.
You’ll know if you have a quad weakness if you fail lower body exercises in the bottom range of motion. For example, if the hardest part of the squat is at the bottom.
Using more quad dominant exercises will help you train the quads more directly and stop you from shifting load to other potentially more dominant muscles.
3. To Maximise Your Squat Strength
The quads can often be a limiting factor in the squat.
If your goal is to have a stronger squat, then you should be using quad dominant movements that replicate the positions the quads are most active in a squat.
Pick other movements that train the quads in a lengthened position (full knee flexion) such as hack squats, pendulum squats, or leg presses, and get stronger in these bottom ranges.
4. To Address Gaps In Your Program
If you are a powerlifter and the bulk of your lower body training comes in the form of squats and deadlifts, then you are neglecting training the quadriceps in a shortened position.
This shortened position is when the knee is fully extended, thus shortening the muscle length.
Leg extensions are your best option for training this shortened position.
Related Article: 7 Compound Leg Exercises That Should Be In Every Program
6 Hip Dominant Exercise Examples
The top 6 hip dominant exercises are:
- Hip thrusts
- Glute ham raise
- Romanian deadlifts
- Good mornings
- High and wide stance leg press
- Low bar back squats
1. Hip Thrusts
A staple hip dominant exercise, the hip thrust is a great option for training the glutes.
The only limitation can be the relatively short range of motion when using a barbell set up. If you have access to a machine thrust I recommend using this.
Interested in knowing how hip thrusts help your squat and deadlift? Read our articles
2. Glute Ham Raise
Glute Ham Raises are one of the best hip dominant exercises, but also one of the more challenging on this list.
If you find yourself unable to perform multiple reps, eccentrics or assisted reps using a band or partner are a great place to start.
If you do not have access to a glute ham raise, read our article 12 Glute Ham Raise Alternatives (At Home, Dumbbells, Bands).
3. Romanian Deadlifts
Romanian deadlifts are my personal favourite hip dominant exercise.
Training the hip extensors through a full range of motion, with very limited knee involvement makes these a fantastic option for your program when considering hip dominant options.
These are also very good for improving your overall hinging ability and conventional deadlift strength.
4. Good Mornings
Similar to the Romanian deadlift, good mornings are a great option for training the hamstrings and glutes through a large range of motion.
However, these may suit those less experienced with hinging as you naturally have to hinge to counter the bar on your back, or those with limited loading available.
I recommend trying these with a safety squat bar to make them even better.
5. High And Wide Stance Leg Press
While the leg press is typically a knee dominant movement, by placing the feet high and wide on the footplate you can make this more hip dominant.
This is a great option for a hip dominant exercise that targets the adductors, as well as the hamstrings and glutes.
6. Low Bar Back Squats
Squats will always have a degree of both hip and quad involvement; however, the low bar back squat is the most hip dominant squat variation.
It also has the benefit of training the adductors as a hip extensor in the bottom range of motion.
Read our article, Muscles Used In The Squat (Ultimate Guide) to fully understand how the squats work each muscle group.
6 knee Dominant Exercise Examples
The top 6 knee dominant exercises are:
- Hack squat
- Pendulum squat
- Leg extension
- Low and narrow stance leg press
- Front squats
- Goblet squats
1. Hack Squat
These are one of my favourite squat accessory exercises as they develop quad strength in the bottom range of motion, while allowing us to keep this more quad dominant overall than any free weight squat variation.
Try out a narrow stance with a heel elevation to make these even more quad dominant.
2. Pendulum Squat
These are less common in gyms, but fantastic if you have access.
Similar to a hack squat, but these have a more consistent difficulty throughout the entire range of motion rather than a focus on the bottom range.
Keep your feet low on the foot pad and allow your knees to travel forward – a heel elevation will help those with limited ankle mobility.
3. Leg Extension
The most quad dominant exercise on this list, purely using the quads and training through a full range of motion.
Contrasting to the rest of the exercises, the leg extension trains the quadriceps in their shortened position, rather than lengthened.
I recommend performing these after a free weight or machine squat variation and pushing them close to failure.
If you do not have access to a leg extension, read our article 15 Leg Extension Alternatives (At Home, Bands, Free Weight).
4. Low And Narrow Stance Leg Press
The leg press is a great option when it comes to lower body exercises. However, to make it more quad dominant, you need to use a low and narrow stance on the foot plate.
This will help maximise the range of motion at the knee, while limiting it at the hip.
Stop reps when you reach full knee flexion, or you start gaining more hip flexion, rather than just going as deep as possible.
5. Front Squats
Front squats are the most quad dominant barbell squat variations, this is due to the front loading allowing you to stay more upright, minimising the hip range of motion and maximising the knee range of motion and forward travel.
Try wearing squat shoes or elevating your heels on a plate to make these even more quad dominant.
For those that struggle with a front rack position, you could use a safety squat bar for a similar position.
For advice on how to feel your quads more when squatting, read our article Can’t Feel Your Quads When Squatting? Try These 8 Tips.
6. Goblet Squats
Similar to a front squat, the front loading allows you to keep a more upright torso angle and maximise range of motion at the knee.
Goblet squats allow an even more quad dominant range of motion, and are a safer option to push closer to failure and into higher rep ranges too.
These are a great way to finish a session by performing drop sets or as many reps as possible sets.
Related Article: 1.5 Squats: How-to, Benefits, And Should You Do It?
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Leg Press Knee Or Hip Dominant?
A leg press is typically more knee dominant, and can be made more so by placing the feet low and narrow on the foot plate. To make it more hip dominant, you should place your feet high and wide on the foot plate.
Are Goblet Squats Quad Or Hip Dominant?
Goblet squats are quad dominant due to maximising range of motion at the knee and forward knee travel while limiting range of motion and loading at the hip.
Are Lunges Hip Or Knee Dominant?
Lunges can be performed in a more knee or hip dominant way. To make them more knee dominant keep a shorter stride, stay more upright and drive the knees forward over the toes. To make them more hip dominant, take a longer stride and aim to keep a more vertical shin angle.
About The Author
Jacob Wymer is a powerlifting coach and PhD Candidate in Biomechanics and Strength and Conditioning, researching the application of barbell velocity measurements to powerlifting. He is involved in powerlifting across the board, from athlete to meet director. Jacob runs his coaching services at EST Barbell. You can also connect with him on Instagram.