Strong thighs won't make you look like the Hulk, but they will increase your stamina and lower your risk for a hamstring pull or a knee injury. A program to build stronger thighs will eliminate the tight muscles that lead to sprains and tears, balance the strength of front and back thigh muscles, toughen up weak muscles and injury-proof them, and ease the muscle fatigue that takes you out of the match early or prevents you from keeping up with your kids.
Know Your Thighs
Understanding which muscles to target in your upper legs makes your choice of exercise more effective. Your thighs have three sets of powerful muscles that raise and lower your legs, push off on a jump or sprint, straighten and bend your knees and position your legs. The quads on the front of your thigh are four large muscles that run from your hips along the outer edge and front of your leg to your knees. Hamstrings are three separate muscles that run down the back of your thigh from your glutes to your shinbone just below your knee. Hamstrings get weak and tight when you sit too much, leading to an imbalance of strength with the quads and opening you up for painful pulled muscles. The adductors, three muscles that run down your inner thigh, pull your legs together.
Lunge, Squat and Fly
Strengthening thigh muscles requires no special equipment, no gym membership and no huge commitment of time. Add a few moves to your daily workout to isolate and fortify the muscles in your thighs. A simple lunge activates hamstrings and quads with a bonus workout for your glutes. Basic body-weight squats hit quads, hamstrings and adductors. Inhale down, exhale up and keep your feet flat on the floor. Maintaining correct form in inverted flyers targets adductors as you bend one knee, bringing that leg up in front, close to your supporting leg. Lean forward engaging your core. Keep a straight back as you push the bent leg down and back behind you and extend it parallel to the floor. Mix it up with hamstring curls on a stability ball to add a balance challenge to a hamstring stretch.
As you're toning and strengthening thigh muscles, don't forget to keep aerobics front and center in your fitness workouts. Lose the fat, keep the lean for strong, sexy legs that show off all your hard work. Cardio routines take care of the fat burning -- just choose the exercise style that boosts thigh strength, too. Building thigh muscles burns more calories even when you're at rest, so appearance and endurance benefit. For lean, long leg muscles, get your cardio from non-bulking exercise like spinning. Spinning class is adaptable -- you can set resistance as you get stronger -- and social. You burn calories at or close to your maximum heart rate, according to the American Council on Exercise, and the workout tightens abs as well as flabby thighs. Other bennies: social workouts are fun and lower stress and you can spin year-round in any kind of weather.
Dancers know how to get great thighs -- supple, strong leg muscles are critical in a dance career and those legs have to look good. New York City Ballet principal dancer Maria Kowroski uses Pilates, especially the Cadillac machine exercises, to build lean, strong thighs. Dancing itself is a shortcut to stronger legs and longer endurance. Sign up for a jazz class to Fosse yourself into better shape. Take an open ballet class in a studio for focused barre work, like pliés, that will build power without bulk in your thighs. Try Horton technique for a real challenge. Horton is all about correct form and control. You hold difficult poses long enough to break a sweat and the combinations are nonstop, high-energy and body-weight intensive for your legs.
- American Council on Exercise: Body Weight Squat
- American Council on Exercise: Stability Ball Hamstring Curl
- American Council on Exercise: Glute Activation Lunges
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Muscle Strains in the Thigh
- American Council on Exercise: Inverted Flyers
- MayoClinic.com: Exercise for Weight Loss: Calories Burned in 1 Hour
- American Council on Exercise: What You Need to Know About Group Indoor Cycling
- Dance magazine: Wanted: Body Parts
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .