Gyms are great, with their state-of-the-art cardio equipment, rows of shiny new dumbbells and weight machines that look like they belong in a science lab. The truth is this, however: You don't need any of these to exercise your quadriceps and hamstrings. Your own body is one of the most effective workout tools you can use, meaning you can build great upper leg muscles with no equipment and without ever leaving the house.
Before you look at any other exercise, learn the squat. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and squat down as low as you can without rounding your back. Ideally, your hamstrings should be just below parallel with the floor in the bottom position, so if you can't get there then work on your mobility. Squats hit your quadriceps and hamstrings, as well as your calves, glutes and core muscles and you can advance them by pausing in the bottom position for three-seconds, jumping at the top or performing as many reps as you can in 60-seconds.
Single Leg Exercises
Single leg exercises are a step up from the humble squat. Not only do you have to concentrate harder on balance and coordination, each leg has to do more work as they're being used individually, plus they help prevent injuries. Females are at a higher risk of knee ligament strains, but single leg training can increase joint strength and reduce your chances of injury. Try lunges going forward, backward or sideways, single leg squats or step-ups on your stairs or a chair.
Hamstring Focused Exercises
While squatting variations and single-leg exercises hit your hamstrings, they're mainly quad-dominant moves. So to get those hamstrings up to par, you need specific exercises for them too. Glute bridges are the best place to start -- lie on your back with your knees bent to 90 degrees and lift your butt as high as you can in the air. Once these become too easy, try them one leg at a time or with your feet elevated on a chair. Single-leg deadlifts also hit your hams hard. If you have any weights at home, introduce swings into your routine.
Hit your legs twice a week and perform one exercise from each category in every session. To get results, you need to progress. However, with home exercises, it's harder to progress as you can't just keep adding weight. Instead, strength coach Nia Shanks recommends performing more reps in which you go all the way down, halfway up, back down again, then all the way up, or slowing down your tempo to put more strain on the muscles. As you progress, you can also add in extra exercises or incorporate circuits to increase your session intensity.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.