The rectus femoris is one of the quadriceps muscles on the front of your leg. It starts at your hip and runs down to just below your knee and its main jobs are to extend your knee and flex your hip -- actions that occur in everyday tasks such as walking, to things you'd do on the sports field such as running and jumping. Strength training isn't just about getting bigger muscles; according to MayoClinic.com strength training also prevents injuries and strengthens bones and joints. So if you want healthy knees, you need to start training your rectus femoris.
While squats may be typically thought of as a total-body movement more commonly associated with powerlifters, bodybuilders and athletes, they're a fantastic exercise for strengthening the rectus femoris too. You need some sort of squat in your training plan, claims strength coach and powerlifter Nia Shanks. You could do traditional barbell back squats, though there are a myriad of variations that work just as well such as front squats, goblet squats where you hold a dumbbell in front of your chest, dumbbell squats with the weight at your sides or squats with your heels elevated on a weight plate, which allows you to descend further.
Single Leg Exercises
You won't see people performing single leg exercises as often as you will regular squats, as the single leg exercises require much more balance and coordination. Try split squats with your back foot elevated on a weight bench, then squat down while keeping the shin of your standing leg vertical. These can also be done with your front foot elevated instead. Single leg exercises are hugely effective in strengthening the rectus femoris and also reducing knee pain, writes corrective exercise specialist Mike Robertson, author of "Bulletproof Knees."
Chances are your gym has a wide array of leg machines. The ones that work the rectus femoris are the leg extension and leg press machines. While these are perfectly acceptable options for rectus femoris strengthening, they might not be as effective as free-weight training. A report from the University of Illinois states that machines force your muscles to move in a fixed range of motion, which can potentially be unnatural and lead to injury. However, beginners may find machines to be a good starting point before progressing to free weights.
To strengthen your rectus femoris muscle or just build your legs in general, train them twice a week, leaving at least 72 hours between sessions. Start each workout with a squatting movement and then move to a single leg exercise, each performed for three to four sets of eight to 10 repetitions. Add in a machine exercise or another type of squat at the end for two sets of 15. Remember to train your hamstrings and glutes on the back of your legs too; otherwise, you may develop muscle imbalances. If you're not sure of any exercise techniques ask one of the gym trainers for assistance.
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.