When your ACE-certified fitness consultant at your neighborhood gym gives you a complimentary assessment – you know, the ones designed to unapologetically point out your weaknesses and rope you into a contract – there's a 90 percent chance that part of the sales tactic includes talking about the quad dominance issues you have.
I got news for you. Everyone is "quad dominant!" Put anyone in a one-minute "wall sit test" and they're going to say they feel it in their quads.
The same goes for almost any larger, truly lower-body movement. Dubbing someone as "quad dominant" based on movements like this is inaccurate, since zero percent of the population will ever feel such movements predominantly in their hamstrings or even their glutes.
I do, however, acknowledge that this term may come from good intentions. If someone has the propensity to raise their heels when squatting, roll in toward their big toes, and let the knees travel forward before anything else happens, then they may be relying on their quads to foot the majority of the load.
But that's a very different story. Someone dominating an exercise with their quads takes on a very different meaning and effect than what some trainers mean by the term "quad dominant."
Quads SHOULD be Dominant!
Everyone is quad dominant. There are four major muscles on the front of the thigh compared to three major muscles on the back of it. As a whole, the four muscles on the front will be stronger and generally produce more force than the three on the back.
In my career, I've never met someone who's "hamstring dominant" or "glute dominant." We need to stop throwing around this term.
Knowing about inherent quad dominance shouldn't deter you from doing exercises that involve the quads or making them stronger. Many fitness assessors will scare new lifters away from doing lifts like squats or deadlifts, based around the thinking that they're likely to exacerbate the bad habits and "issues" they've found.
In truth, performing poorly coached movements with bad technique is what will exacerbate those issues. Enough with the fear mongering.
The money fix for "quad dominance?" Pauses. Do compound movements, but add pauses to your reps.
Paused Deadlift (Concentric Pause)
I'm a fan of using pausing and tempos to increase training intensity (along with helping a lifter stay true to their strength and technique), but they also provide another benefit.
When it comes to squats and deadlifts, pauses allow you to keep the geometry you need to use the right muscles at the right time. A common problem with both squats and deadlifts is the propensity to lurch forward too far with the torso. This can really jack up a deadlifter's back or force a squatter to come up off of his heels, forcing them to use more quads and spinal erectors.
Dropping the weight back by 20% and freezing at rock bottom, or even part of the way up, can give the posterior chain muscles a fighting chance to contribute.