From running to jumping to squatting, there are tons of movements where strong quads come in handy. So taking the time to target this muscle group through quad exercises is always a good idea.
First though, let’s get clear on what, exactly, your quads actually are. Your quads (technically known as quadriceps femoris) are the front muscles of your legs, Ava Fagin, C.S.C.S., sports performance coach at Cleveland State University, tells SELF. They’re called quadriceps because they involve four different muscles: rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius.
Together, your quad muscles are the primary driver of knee extension (basically, any move where your leg goes from bent to straight ) and they also play a big role in hip flexion (essentially, anything that involves bringing your leg closer to your chest) ), Fagin explains. That means your quads assist in loads of everyday movements, like walking, running, lunging, squatting, and climbing stairs.
Here, we explain everything you need to know about strength training for your quads, including what causes weak quads, how to boost your quad strength at home, and ways you can bolster this muscle group without doing squats. Then, we share 15 of the best quad exercises that will smoke the tops of your legs. Consider this your go-to guide on all things quad-related!
How can I make my quadriceps stronger?
You can make your quadriceps stronger by incorporating quad strengthening exercises into your routine. It sounds obvious, but, well, it’s actually that simple.
If you’re a beginner, doing bodyweight quad moves or leg exercises can be challenging enough to strengthen your quads, says Fagin. But if you’re a more advanced exerciser, you may find that you need to add external resistance, like through free weights, to your moves to feel that same amount of effort. That’s because to strengthen a muscle, you need to progressively challenge it—that’s what we call progressive overload. Often, we get that progressive overload from gradually increasing the amount of weight we lift.
So if your goal is to really strengthen your quads, an easy quad workout where you’re not really exerting much effort likely won’t do the trick; instead, you’ll need to do heavy-duty movements (think: dumbbell quad exercises, barbell moves, and kettlebell moves) that really challenge your leg muscles and help them build back stronger.
What causes weak quads?
Sitting a lot and otherwise not taking the time to challenge your quads through regular strength work can weaken this muscle group. That’s because any person can lose muscle unless it is being trained, Fagin explains.
It’s worth noting that in general, people tend to overuse their quads and underuse their glutes, says Fagin. So while it’s important to address weak quads with quad strengthening exercises, you also want to spend time training your glutes as well—here are some easy butt exercises you can try.
How can I strengthen my quads at home?
The best quad exercises include quad exercises at home—meaning you don’t need to go to a gym to smoke this muscle group. Pretty much anything that involves bending your knee will target the quads, says Fagin. That means you can strengthen your quads at home by regularly doing moves like squats, lunges, step-ups, and leg extensions. `
One creative way to work your quads at home? Put on ankle weights, sit in a chair, and extend your legs straight in front of you with your feet off the ground. Then bend your knees as you slowly bring your feet back toward the floor. This movement mimics the leg extension machine at the gym, Fagin explains.
Whichever at-home quad exercises you choose, make sure they are challenging enough to actually build strength in your legs. If your goal is specifically to build significant strength, the general rule of thumb is to use a weight you can lift for about six reps per set with proper form, as SELF previously reported, and to shoot for three to five sets of each exercise. If you’re a beginner, though (or are looking for more general benefits of strength training), you can aim for six to 12 reps and one to three sets.
If you’re able to do way more reps and sets than these recommended ranges, that’s a sign you may need to increase the difficulty of your quad exercises. Adding more weight is an easy way to crank up the intensity of a leg workout, but there are other options available if you are strength training at home and don’t have access to tons of different weights. In that case, you can make your quad exercises harder by increasing your range of motion, slowing down, and incorporating more single-leg work.
What is the best exercise for quads?
There’s not one specific answer to this, and it can depend on what feels good for your body and your goals. But in general, both squats and lunges are among the best quad-strengthening exercises out there, says Fagin. That’s because they involve knee extension and hip flexion, which are the primary actions of the quadriceps. When you do squats or lunges, you’re repeatedly working the primary actions of the quads, which makes these exercises a solid way to engage—and ultimately strengthen—the quadriceps.
Not sure exactly how to do squats? Check out our seven expert-recommended tips.
How can I strengthen my quads without squats?
If you’re not a fan of squats or squat variations, that’s OK. There are other exercises that target your quads, including the lunge, step-up, leg extension, and leg press. These exercises work the primary action of the quads, which, like we mentioned above, is a surefire way to target the quads. Keep in mind, there are tons of variations of these exercises—like walking lunges, kneeling leg extensions, step-ups to knee drive—so you don’t need to do the same leg exercises every single workout.
What else should you know about quad exercises before getting started?
Before we get into our list of great quad exercises, a few caveats: If you’re looking for exercises for bad knees, chat with a doctor or physical therapist first before trying the following movements. They can advise you whether quad-strengthening exercises like the ones below are right for you.
Also, even though it’s incredibly important to have strong quads, you don’t want to neglect your hamstrings (your backside leg muscles) as well as your glutes, like we mentioned. A well-rounded strength routine will incorporate quad exercises, glutes exercises, and hamstring exercises, so that both sides of your legs are thoroughly smoked.
Now, without further ado, here are 15 great quad exercises that you can add to your routine today for stronger legs.