If you want to get technical, the front of your thigh is composed of four distinct muscles -- together, they're known as the quadriceps. Your quads need your attention because they play a major role in keeping your knees healthy and fully functional. Whether you're into running, hip hop or flag football, strong quads help you stay balanced, power your stride and keep your knee tracking smoothly in its groove. Work your quads two or three times a week, leaving a day or two between workouts for recovery. Keep workouts interesting by using a variety of isometric, dynamic and compound exercises.
Warm up with 10 minutes of cardio activity to increase blood flow to your lower body and raise your core body temperature. Take a brisk walk around the block, jog in place or jump rope. When you break a light sweat, perform a dynamic stretch to further prepare your quads for intense activity. Walking butt kicks are great for firing up the fronts of your thighs. Perform one to three sets of 12 to 15 reps.
Lie on your back with your legs extended in front of you and your arms at your sides. Bend your left knee and place the sole of the foot on the floor near your right knee. Relax your upper body but engage your abs to keep your lower back on the floor. Tighten your right thigh, retracting the knee cap toward your torso. Raise the leg 6 to 8 inches off the floor and hold for five to seven seconds, maintaining the quad contraction. Slowly lower the leg to the floor and rest briefly. Repeat up to 10 times. This is an isometric exercise; it's easy on your knees because there's no joint movement. For greater intensity, wear light ankle weights.
Sit on a firm, stable chair with your feet on the floor in front of you. Attach one end of a resistance band to a back leg of the chair and tie the other end around your right ankle. Make the band fairly taut; you should feel resistance when you pull your foot forward. Grip the edges of the seat lightly, sit tall and tighten your abs. Slowly draw your right foot forward and upward, straightening the knee. Hold briefly at the top of the movement and then slowly lower the leg. Repeat 10 to 15 times for a total of one to three sets. Wear light ankle weights to boost intensity. This is a more dynamic exercise that specifically targets the quads.
Stand with your back against a wall and your feet shoulder-width apart. Walk your feet forward until your heels are about 18 inches from the wall. Direct your knees and toes forward. Tighten your abs and exhale as you slowly slide your back down the wall, bending into a squat. Stop when your hips are just above knee-level. Inhale as you slowly straighten your knees, pushing downward through your heels. Complete one to three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions. Variations include placing a stability ball between your back and the wall, squatting one-legged, squeezing a smaller ball between your knees and holding dumbbells. This is a compound exercise that works your hamstrings, glutes and core, as well as your quads.
Stretch your quads after your workout to prevent soreness and preserve flexibility. Stand facing the back of a sturdy chair. Bend your right leg behind you and grasp the instep of your right foot with your left hand. Gently pull the foot toward your left buttock and direct your knee backward. Hold for up to 30 seconds and release the foot. Switch to your left leg.
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Runner's Knee (Patellofemoral Pain)
- Designing Resistance Training Programs; Steven J. Fleck and William J. Kraemer
- American Council on Exercise: Injury and Recovery Series -- Cartilage Regeneration
- Physio Advisor: Quadriceps Strengthening Exercises
- American Council on Exercise: Stability Ball Wall Squats
- Breathe at regular intervals throughout every exercise.
- Avoid locking the knees when the leg is extended.
- Keep your core muscles engaged when working out your thighs to protect your lower back.
- If you feel knee pain when exercising, stop immediately. Check your form; if the pain persists, try a different exercise.
- If you've injured your knee or strained your quads in the past, speak to your doctor or physical therapist about the advisability of particular exercises.
- If you have high blood pressure or a heart condition, avoid isometric exercises. The longer contraction can cause your blood pressure to rise significantly.
Judy Fisk has been writing professionally since 2011, specializing in fitness, recreation, culture and the arts. A certified fitness instructor with decades of dance training, she has taught older adults, teens and kids. She has written educational and fundraising material for several non-profit organizations and her work has appeared in numerous major online publications. Fisk holds a Bachelor of Arts in public and international affairs from Princeton University.